Liggett success predicated on Gaggin and offensive flexibility
Nate Gaggin is a savvy veteran entrusted with more than most high school athletes are when it comes to decision making on the fly.
It’s a luxury he certainly wasn’t handed; he earned over time, namely four years starting under center with the Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett football team.
Making the right call
It was third down, midway through the fourth quarter on a hot and sunny Saturday afternoon. Liggett led Westland Lutheran, but the difference on the scoreboard wasn’t as big as many had expected it to be.
All momentum had escaped the Knights, who were trying to hang on for their third win of the season.
Needing a first down to more or less ice the game, Gaggin surveyed the defense during his cadence, and then completely changed the play at the line of scrimmage.
By the time he picked himself off of the ground seconds later, Gaggin had covered nearly 15 yards on a quarterback keeper, moving the chains yet again.
By the time the game ended, Liggett’s offense was unstoppable in a 45-31 victory. Gaggin ran for two scores and passed for three.
“That’s what you expect from your senior quarterback,” coach Lou Ray said after the win, one that boosted Liggett’s record to 3-1. “Nate played his heart out.”
That type of play is expected on a weekly basis from the senior on the field.
But it’s the game he plays in his mind that can be just as impressive.
“He has 100 percent freedom to mix it up at the line,” Ray said of Gaggin. “Sometimes, as a coach, you can get a little nervous with him changing what you’ve sent in. But I put my trust in him and his ability to assess a defense and check to whatever would work best is pretty solid.”
The results are tough to argue.
The Knights have scored 143 points this season, averaging 45.3 per game during their current three-game win streak.
Gaggin’s ability to recognize what play is called, look over a defense and decide whether or not the call should stand, has been nothing short of spectacular.
In the Lutheran Westland game alone, Gaggin finished 16-of-26 passing for 251 yards and three scores. He added 162 yards rushing on 13 carries and two touchdowns.
“I think it’s a huge advantage for us,” Gaggin said of the options he has to alter play calls. “It gives us the chance to see what a defense is doing, and then check to something that makes more sense.”
Ray said the team tries to keep a 50-50 balance as far as running and passing is concerned, adding that he estimates Gaggin changes roughly 25 percent of the offense at the line.
“And he should. I’m not out there on the field seeing what he does,” Ray said. “When you play no huddle, you have to be on the fly, but not rush things. He’s got the ability to do that.”
Asked if he’s noticed more running plays checked to passing plays, Ray laughed.
“He’s a quarterback,” Ray said. “He likes to air it out.”
Gaggin and Ray both credited the strength of their relationship as player and coach to how smoothly things have gone. Gaggin understands the responsibility and trust Ray has instilled in him.
Ray, conversely, has learned to use that trust to not second-guess decisions made, successful or not.
“It’s like anything else. I mean, nothing is going to work all the time,” Gaggin explained. “Coach knows that, too. So there may be some plays I check to, and he won’t like the result, but he trusts that I’m seeing something and changing it for a reason.”
Making some noise in the playoffs
And ultimately, both share the same goal: getting to the state playoffs and then making some noise once there.
Since reinstating the program in 2009, Liggett has had just one losing season and has been in the playoffs two straight years. With a favorable schedule the rest of the way, it’s a safe bet the Knights will extend that streak to three.
“But this time we want to do something when we get there,” said Ray, in his second season as the Knights’ head coach. The Knights were eliminated in the first round in each of the past two years. “We’ve made our schedule a little tougher, so we plan on being more prepared for that part of the season.”
“There’s a ton of potential here,” Gaggin said. “Things are looking good so far. It’s just a matter of continuing to get better every time out. … This is a good group of guys, and we’re having fun right now.”