By Malcolm Butler
Jaden Osborne has been a staple under center or in the shotgun formation for Ruston during the past three seasons.
And ultimately, Osborne helped lead the Bearcats back to the promised land – Ceasar’s Superdome – despite the fact Ruston came up just short in a bid for the program’s first title since 1990.
Osborne, the 2022 Lincoln Parish Journal co-Offensive MVP on the all-parish team, will graduate in May and move on to what’s next for the young man.
So as is normal with the position, one of the big questions surrounding the Bearcats in 2023 will be the QB position. It’s a position that is always under a microscope. Understandably.
And according to Ruston head coach Jerrod Baugh, the odds-on-favorite to assume the role in 2023 is junior-to-be Josh Brantley.
“I am excited to see how he will mature,” said Baugh. “Now there will be some pressure on him to pick up where Jaden left off and try to add to what it is what we have already done. I’m not trying to put any pressure on him, but it is what it is.
“I think he has some really good leadership qualities. He is one of the leaders in his class. I think trying to step up and be a leader of the team and be the quarterback, that is what he must figure out. And I think he is ready to do that. I really do.”
Brantley, who was the starting QB for the Ruston freshman team in 2021 and the JV team in 2022, is beyond excited about the opportunity in front of him.
“I have been waiting for this moment since I was a little boy,” said Brantley. “I always dreamed of being the starting quarterback for Ruston High. So, I am going to go out and work hard and have fun.”
Having fun is one thing. Taking over the reigns of the Non-Select Division I state runner-up is another thing. And Brantley knows he has some work to do in the off-season.
“We just had a great season and being the starting quarterback (for the Bearcats) is a high standard,” said Brantley. “I have to put in a lot of work this off-season to come back and try to win it all.”
So what does Brantley bring to the table?
“I think he is a really physical player,” said Baugh. “Josh is such a big body. He gets loose and takes over running and secondary guys aren’t really interested in trying to tackle him.
“I think Josh can add some physicality to the QB position that (Jaden Osborne and Eric Outley) haven’t been able to just because of their body type. That ends up giving us two back running game stuff. I think that adds a dimension for us.”
Osborne is excited to watch his successor.
“He has all the tools,” said Osborne. “He is going to be ready from that standpoint. He is really smart. He can pick up on things quickly. He probably picked up on things faster than I picked up on things. And when his athletic ability needs to take over, he lets it take over.”
Brantley said he has learned a lot from watching Osborne the past two years. Osborne passed for 1,579 yards and 17 TDs while rushing for 385 yards and two more scores this year and Brantley had a front row seat to watching the three-year starter perform.
“When Jaden is out there, he plays loose and is calm,” said Brantley. “You don’t hear too much from him. He went out there and made plays.”
For the Bearcats to return to the dome, Brantley must do more than just run the football. Osborne’s ability to make some big-time passes in critical situations in 2022 was one of the main reasons Ruston won 12 games playing a very tough schedule.
Can Brantley do the same thing?
“He has come a long way throwing the football this year,” said Baugh. “He has kind of an odd-looking release. It’s still that way, but he had a really good JV season. Towards the end of the JV season, he came on really strong. I would have been comfortable if something had happened to Jaden putting Josh into the ball game.”
When asked where he needed to make the biggest stride during the off-season, Brantley was quick to respond with a similar answer to his coach.
“Throwing the ball,” said Brantley. “I am going to work at it all summer and during the offseason. I have a lot of work to do.”
Baugh, Brantley and the Bearcats have high expectations for 2023. A lot of key players return to the field for Ruston.
And although QB isn’t one of them, it’s a position that Baugh is excited about.
“(Josh) really brings a lot to the table,” said Baugh. “I think the upside to him is really high. Just look at him. If you drew a picture of a quarterback, he looks the part as to what you would want to see.”