Veteran Lampeter-Strasburg football coach John Manion understood the interceptions would come. They’re part of the growing process for a first-year varsity quarterback, especially a sophomore.
And come the interceptions did for Sean McTaggart. Five of them in the first four games. Rock bottom came in a 20-7 loss to Conestoga Valley in Week Four. McTaggart threw two to the other team that night.
“CV was a rough game,” McTaggart said. “When I made a mistake or two I hung my head.”
And led him to commit other costly mistakes, fumbling three times.
“The conversation we had after Week Four was just relax,” coach Manion said. “It wasn’t about the turnovers. It was about how he was handling the turnovers...It bothered him he had a fumble. That got in his head a little bit. And then he had another fumble.”
Manion was trying to teach his QB to have poise.
“Overcoming adversity,” McTaggart said. “When things go wrong how to handle it.”
McTaggart has since responded by throwing just four interceptions the rest of the season - 7 games - and leading Lampeter-Strasburg (6-5) into Friday’s District 3-4A semifinal playoff matchup at defending district champ Berks Catholic (8-2).
The 6-foot, 190-pound sophomore sensation finished the regular season as one of only five L-L League quarterbacks with 1,500-plus passing yards and one of 12 with 500-plus rushing yards.
However, he’s the only L-L signal-caller with both 1,500-plus passing yards and 500-plus rushing yards. In other words, he’s a dual threat, capabilities that fit perfectly for the Pioneers’ pistol/Wing-T offense.
More on that in a bit. Because first you should know something else: McTaggart, a quarterback, also returns kickoffs.
While Lancaster Catholic QB Gavin Sullivan and Elco's Braden Bohannon did return a few kicks or punts earlier in the season, McTaggart is the only L-L League signal-caller to have regularly returned kicks in 2018.
'I run when I have to'
Even if they have the speed for it, quarterbacks aren’t often used at kick returner in part because coaches don’t want to risk injury to their signal-caller, and also because they want to keep the QB fresh.
“I don’t have a problem with it,” Manion said.
Thus far, McTaggart has tallied 151 yards on 6 returns, for an average of 25.2 yards. By the way, he had returned kicks for the Pioneers’ JV team last season. So he was familiar with the duties when Manion put him back there midway through this 2018 varsity campaign.
But the question should be asked of the league’s longest-tenured coach: in his 21 years at the L-S helm, has Manion ever put one of his QBs at kickoff returner?
“Nate Shank might have returned punts for us,” Manion said.
Shank was the Lampeter-Strasburg QB in 2011, leading the Pioneers to a district title game as a senior that year – he went on to play baseball at NCAA Division I Saint Joseph’s University.
Coincidentally, McTaggart also reminds Manion of another Shank.
“I can see us using Sean more like we were with Bear,” Manion said.
Manion is referring to the well-known Collin “Bear” Shank, who threw for the second-most career yards in L-L history (8,012), ran for 1,525 yards and accounted for 101 total touchdowns as the L-S four-year QB from 2012 through 2015.
More specifically, Manion is referring the run-pass similarities between Bear Shank and McTaggart.
“Last week how we used Sean is more the direction we’re going to go probably,” Manion said.
In a 37-0 district quarterfinal win over Elco last Friday, McTaggart ran for a career-high 153 rushing yards behind the blocking of linemen Zac Shelley, Shawn Thomas, Cam D’Imperio, Jack Eckman and Johnny Franklin.
Though, McTaggart wants make one thing clear: he’s a pass-first quarterback.
“I run when I have to,” he said. “Or when I see something.”
McTaggart also spreads the wealth considering five L-S wideouts each have 200 or more receiving yards.
And he’s taken to the L-S offense so quickly due to the fact that a similar, though more basic, version of the Pioneers’ pistol/Wing-T is operated not only on the school’s JV and freshmen teams, but also down through the Willow Street youth level squads.
“It was probably fifth grade where we started running actual pistol looks,” McTaggart said.
'A natural competitor'
On top of his QB and kick return responsibilities, McTaggart would prefer to play defense, too, if it were up to him.
“He could probably be there on secondary,” Manion said. “But we didn’t want to put him back there yet since he’s learning the ropes on offense.”
This consistent theme of McTaggart wanting to be on the field at all times translates in practices.
“He bugs us to run scout team if the scout-offense isn’t working well,” Manion said. “Every now and then we’ll throw him a bone. So he’ll compete if things aren’t looking good (on scout offense), he’ll jump in.”
The competitive streak emerges on Friday nights.
“He’s an emotional kid. He gets excited,” Manion said. “He competes. He’ll get excited over the good stuff and he’ll get mad at himself over the bad stuff.”
It’s understandable for a high school teenage sophomore to be emotional. Still, McTaggart says he’s trying to better himself in that department, to stay level-headed when things get tough.
Fortunately, he has senior captains Eckman, D’Imperio and Joey Underwood to lean on in those situations.
“We’re all friends outside of football, too,” said D’Imperio, who was McTaggart’s starting center on the JV team last year. “So he’s comfortable with us as it is. And then on the field we always try to keep his head up.”
And encourage him to keep his fiery spirit.
“He’s definitely just a natural competitor,” D’Imperio said. “No matter what the score is he’s trying to keep everything going.”
He’s certainly kept things going this season. In more ways than one.