Middle Creek senior quarterback Dominique Shoffner had to fight to win the starting job in his first game as a junior.
His first game as a starter was also the first game for coach Randy Ragland, whose previous teams at Fairmont High School, in Robeson County, had produced some of the top passers in the state.
Now the two are 26-1 overall entering Friday’s second-round game against Sanderson.
“You know, I’ve coached two all-state quarterbacks … and I tell people this and we talk about it privately, but he’s right up there with those guys,” Ragland said.
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Though the Mustangs went 14-1 last year, falling in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4AA East final, Shoffner knew he had some work to do.
Shoffner threw for 2,414 yards and 28 touchdowns last season with 430 yards and nine scores on the ground.
This year, he cut his interceptions down from 18 to three. His completion percentage and yards per game (2,365 total through 12 games) went up as well as his rushing touchdowns (11).
His ability to spread the ball to a variety of teammates – he completed 19 passes to seven different players in a 42-0 win over Wakefield in the first round Nov. 18 – has made Middle Creek’s aerial attack unpredictable and tough to cover.
“He does a good job spreading the ball around,” Ragland said. “He goes through his progressions each play and he doesn’t pass up open receivers.”
His worth as a teammate shows in the box scores, but also behind the scenes.
He sounds more like one of the assistant coaches than one of his teammates. And that’s sometimes how he acts, too.
“He always wanted to do things the right way and expected perfection from his teammates,” Ragland said. “He had all the characteristics of a good leader.
Recent graduate Johnathan Spencer, the 2015 conference player of the year who now plays at Norfolk State, said he learned from the younger player.
“When Dominique first got on varsity, a lot of the guys were wondering about how he would do,” Spencer said. “Some people said he would do well, and a lot of people said he wouldn’t.
“As I watched Dominique grow into a mature QB, he also started to be the guy to yell at the guys to get focused,” he said. “And he was the first guy I’ve played with to ask for extra reps in gassers after practice to get us ready for the game.”
Spencer said Shoffner is a positive example of a winner and a leader.
“Dominique taught me that it’s cool to joke around with your friends but when its game time, it’s time to focus up and ball,” Spencer said.
Shoffner hasn’t been surprised by his team’s success or his record as a starter. He’s keeping everyone focused on the real prize: winning a state title. Last year’s Mustangs team was primed to be the first one in school history make it to the title before falling short in the state semifinals at home.
“That’s definitely a chip on our shoulder,” Shoffner said. “That state championship is our goal. This team, we have the mindset, we know what we’re trying to get at and everybody is buying in.”