Corrected at 10:35 a.m. Dec. 2. See correction below.
There is no surprise at what you get with the Wake Forest High School offense. Well, for a majority of their 42-game winning streak there wasn’t, at least.
But six games into this season, head coach Reggie Lucas threw a surprise at opposing defenses. The Cougars (11-0) have won back-to-back state titles, and made four title game appearances with the same formula. Use a wing-T offense and hand the ball off to anyone of their all-world backs, from Stanford’s Bryce Love to North Carolina freshman Devon Lawrence.
Defenses always knew they would face talented running backs who could take it the distance. The quarterback, however, wasn’t really a threat. For the most part, their job was to hand the ball off and complete the occasional pass to keep the defense honest. Not that they needed to do that often.
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But this season Lucas has what he called his most athletic quarterback in his coaching tenure behind center. Senior Mateo Sudipo (6-1, 190) has taken over the starting quarterback spot, and if you think he’s just there to hand the ball off and watch, you’re in for a different story.
“He’s an athlete, he can throw the ball, he can run the ball,” Lucas said. “In the open field he’s hard to bring down. If we are doing a normal pass and the pocket breaks down, he can extend the play. So you’re talking about a dual threat athletic quarterback, that’s exactly what Mateo brings to our offense.”
Not that the Cougars have had any trouble scoring points, but Lucas brought Sudipo over from the defense and has noticed how much the offense has opened up.
Sudipo started the season at cornerback and part-time wide receiver. He also returned kicks, including an 80-yard score against Southern Nash.
Through 11 games, Sudipo has registered 54 tackles and two interceptions, still moonlighting at the cornerback position. Since he’s become a full-time quarterback, he’s thrown for eight touchdowns (a lot in the Cougars’ system) and rushed for three more. He’s also caught four passes this season, two of them for touchdowns. But it was a return to a position he was familiar with that has really changed the team.
Sudipo started at quarterback on the jayvee for two seasons and never lost a game. When he got to the varsity as a junior, Chris James, a three-year starter, was still there, so the versatile Sudipo filled in wherever he was needed, mainly cornerback.
When they asked him to play behind center full time, he was eager.
“I was ready,” Sudipo said. “I’ve been waiting for that all year, honestly.”
‘Whatever we need’
That didn’t surprise Lucas, who called Sudipo, who was selected to the N.C. Shrine Bowl team, the ultimate team player.
“He does whatever we need him to do and he’s going to be supportive in any role that he’s given,” Lucas said. The great thing about it, Mateo knew prior to the season that at week one if (we) wanted him to be at quarterback he knew what kind of player he was going to be, and he supported the other quarterbacks.”
Seth Hillman, a 6-6, 170 pound senior who has thrown for 682 yards and seven touchdowns, will get some snaps the rest of the season, if the Cougars advance, Lucas said, but that means teams will have to worry about Sudipo lining up anywhere on the field. They just don’t know exactly where.
“I’m honestly a true wide receiver, but my coach said I can make my money at corner,” Sudipo said. “I’m just an athlete who wants to help my team out any way I can so they put me at quarterback and they trust me.”
Sudipo, who also plays basketball for Wake Forest, and has a football offer from Coastal Carolina, doesn’t project to be a quarterback on the next level. Not that he will have any trouble finding a position.
“I do know he can play defensive back on any level,” Lucas said. “I do know he can play wide receiver on any level and he can be a kickoff or punt returner on any level.”
NOTES: Wake Forest hosts Leesville Road (10-2) in the third round of the NCHSAA 4AA playoffs, Friday at 7:30 PM. The Cougars defeated the Pride, 31-18, on Sept. 7.
Mateo Sudipo’s name has been corrected throughout the story. The name was incorrect in an earlier version of this story.