By Brian Paglia
Growing up in Ohio, when Tyler and Bill Teknipp were in the backyard playing football against Bill's older brother and Tyler's cousin, Jim, now a tight end at Troy University, they would call one of the plays they had sketched on scraps of paper in Bill's room. Often, the play called resembled something close to an elaborate sequence of haphazard pitches and "fumbles" designed to exploit their one-man advantage, and it worked more often than it failed.
"It could probably still work," Jim Teknipp said.
Last season, at Eagle's Landing, the offense failed more often than it worked. Decimated by injuries and unsettled at quarterback, the Golden Eagles averaged just 6.3 points a game after averaging 19 points a game in 2008, and the drop off from the first playoff appearance in school history was significant -- Eagle's Landing went from 6-5 to 1-9.
But optimism has resurfaced.
"We'll do better than that this year," Bill said. "Definitely. We'll have a successful season this year."
If Eagle's Landing does improve on its 2009 form, Tyler and Bill must play significant roles. Tyler no longer is a platooning sophomore quarterback, but the full-time starter with the offense in his hands. Bill is no longer a freshman tight end still getting to know a new state and varsity football, but a 6-foot-4, 210-pound weapon to abuse defenses.
Off the field, they are as close as brothers, both crazy about sports, especially football, which Eagle's Landing coach Joe Teknipp -- Tyler's dad and Bill's uncle -- said gives them a special connection on the field.
"There is a connection," he said. "There is an ultimate trust there. But, the receivers we have this year, after losing all the ones we did, Tyler has trust in them and they have trust in Tyler."
Indeed, the Teknipps -- all of them -- speak glowingly of Eagle's Landing's receiving corps. They say senior Shaq Lawrence is the fastest player on the team and a home run threat. They say senior Josh Dixon is a dependable possession receiver with the surest hands on the team. They say senior running backs A.J. Hardy and Chasten Burns can contribute to the passing game out of the backfield.
But none have the potential upside of the youngest Teknipp. As a freshman, Bill was thrust onto varsity. The team needed a defensive end, and he was the only true tight end in the program. He joined the varsity team permanently in the Golden Eagles' second game of the season against Woodward Academy.
"It was an experience," Bill said. "Getting that varsity time was a big deal. Going from middle school football to that was a big jump. But, after awhile I got used to it. I was comfortable about half way through the season."
Coach Teknipp said Bill has looked even more comfortable this summer on the 7-on-7 passing league circuit. There have been more moments -- like the one-handed catch he made at a 7-on-7 tournament at the University of Alabama -- where his nephew shows how good he can become.
"As a freshman, you'd look out there and think he's a senior in his uniform," Joe said. "I have to keep reminding myself that he's just 15. When I look at him, I see his brother (Jim) in him so much."
"I know if I'm getting in trouble," Tyler said, "that I always have him as a safety valve. He's just a freakish athlete."
That will come in handy for Tyler, who endured his share of struggles in his first significant taste of varsity competition last season. He completed 33 of 73 passes for 560 yards, but he threw 11 interceptions and only four touchdowns.
Platooning with Phillip Staples did little to help Tyler's confidence, he said. He felt any mistake could send him back to the sideline. He found the speed of the game bewildering and reading defensive coverages painstaking.
"(Playing quarterback) is a lot harder than it looks," Tyler said. "It looks like you can just go out and throw the ball. ... It was a pretty decent transition. You've got to get used to everything. The game moves so much faster when you first get to varsity.
"Then, once you get used to everything, it starts slowing down for you. You can see receivers. You can see the whole field."
Eagle's Landing can start to see the future, too. It's one where the coach's son is throwing passes to his cousin so naturally, it's as if they are kids in the backyard.
"Yea, sometimes I still see the little boys," Coach Teknipp said, "but I can't believe how fast they've grown up."