By DAVID VANTRESS
THE GOSHEN NEWS
Things didn’t exactly get off to the best of starts for the Wawasee football team in 2012.
The Warriors stumbled out of the gate to a 2-4 start.
But the Warriors eventually gelled as a team, and as they enter tonight’s Class 4A, Sectional 11 championship game at Concord, they are riding a five-game winning streak and playing some of the best football in the area.
Two stellar sophomores have played a big part in the Warrior surge: Quarterback Gage Reinhard and receiver Clayton Cook.
Both players have had breakout seasons and been a big part of the Wawasee offense.
Reinhard, according to Wawasee coach Tom Wogomon, was supposed to be the quarterback of the future and spend this season learning the nuances and speed of the varsity game.
Circumstances dictated that the future arrive a bit sooner than Wogomon and his staff had planned.
But Reinhard has responded in a big way.
Coming into tonight’s sectional title showdown with the Minutemen, Reinhard has completed 92-of-175 passes for 1,328 yards and 13 TDs with 13 interceptions. He’s averaging 120.7 passing yards per contest.
Has Reinhard has a favorite target in his rookie campaign.
You bet: Cook, his classmate. Cook leads the Wawasee receiving corps with 40 catches for 782 yards and 11 TDs — 71.1 receiving yards per game.
Cook said he’s been a bit surprised by the numbers he’s been able to put up in his sophomore year.
If the two appear to have some pretty good chemistry going on for their relative youth, there’s a good reason for that: Reinhard and Cook have been playing together since the seventh grade.
That longevity, Cook said, has helped to develop the kind of quarterback-receiver symmetry that can really take a team places.
“We’ve been playing together long enough that we just have that trust with each other,” Cook said before a chilly, drizzly practice earlier this week. “I know he can get me the ball, and he knows I can catch it and run with it when he gets it to me. He knows when I run a route, that I’m going to be where I’m supposed to be.”
“I didn’t think I’d have as many TDs as I’ve been able to get,” Cook said.
Reinhard feels the same way about his friend and trusted receiver.
“We’ve gotten to know each other pretty well,” Reinhard said.
Both Reinhard and Cook are quick to place the credit for the Warriors’ success this season where they feel it belongs: The Warrior seniors.
“Those guys have been great leaders,” Reinhard said. “They’ve accepted some young guys like us coming in and making an impact.”
Wogomon, too, has been pleasantly surprised to see two young players step in and make an impact at the varsity level so quickly.
“Gage has that confidence to sit in the pocket, feel the pressure, and make his throws,” Wogomon said.
“He will occasionally make a bad throw, but he’s been getting better at making his reads.”
Wogomon said the development of Reinhard and Cook has been fun to watch: Offensive balance has been one of the Warriors’ keys in 2012, and the Wawasee passing game has helped set up the ground assault.
It doesn’t get much more balanced than Wawasee’s offense: The Warriors have 1,413 rushing yards this season and 1,391 passing yards.
The energy provided by younger players such as Reinhard and Cook, combined with the senior leadership shown by older players, has created the winning mix the Warriors are enjoying at the moment, Wogomon said.
“The excitement level has been up all season, even when we were struggling,” Wogomon said.
“When these guys get here, they have a go-to-work mentality.”