About the time Dutch Fork coach Tom Knotts walked off the Williams-Brice Stadium turf last December with the school’s first state championship in football, he began considering what it would take for the Silver Foxes to repeat.
He knew he had talent returning on defense and a legitimate star in running back Matt Colburn, but the question was who was going to take over at quarterback.
In stepped senior Tate Fant. Dutch Fork hardly has missed a beat offensively.
“He was the JV starter for two years, and we run the same system, so he’s been well-versed in what we’re trying to do,” Knotts said. “He’s made good progress. He’s got new receivers – guys that are really in their first year of playing and getting experience – so there’s been some growing pains. His decision-making is still a work in progress, but he’s gotten better, and that’s all you can ask.”
Fant, who is 6-foot-3, 195-pounds, knew the quarterback spot would receive a lot of attention this season. He believes he has answered the challenge.
“We started out with a lot of uncertainty at the quarterback position, and I was able to step up and claim the position,” Fant said. “Throughout the season, I feel like I’ve gotten a lot more confidence. I think we’re jelling a lot better now offensively than we did earlier in the season.”
Making the jump from junior varsity and having one season as a starter on the varsity added a heightened sense of awareness for Fant. He believes he has come a long way since August.
“I remember playing Greenwood in the season opener, and I was pretty nervous, and I think it showed,” he said. “I finally got used to the snaps and the speed of the game, and I think I’m used to it now. It’s just a lot more exciting on the varsity level.”
Fant has been able to rely on a bevy of talented pass catchers. Fourteen players have caught a pass for Dutch Fork and nine of those have scored at least one touchdown. Alec DeBoer, Will Sweeper, Austin Connor and Jo’mal Aiken form the nucleus of the group.
“I really think we have five really good receivers, and then you throw Colburn in the mix, and we have the ability to spread the ball around pretty good,” Knotts said. “We have a few guys that can fly, and they’re starting to understand what we’re trying to do. Tate really throws the long balls and the outs really well, and those guys have helped him some.”
Fant has thrown for 2,748 yards and 26 touchdowns with four interceptions. He has completed 169 of 265 passes.
“We’ve got six really developed receivers, and there’s only one senior among that group,” he said. “We consider them all starters, because each one has specific talent that they can exploit against a defense. It really helps me distribute the ball to all of them. I can count on any one of them and have a lot of faith in all of them.”
Dutch Fork (10-2) will take on Dorman (10-2) Friday night at home with a spot in the Class 4A, Division I semifinals on the line. The Silver Foxes lost to Dorman 48-37 in the fourth game of the season, and Knotts is looking forward to a chance for redemption. Dutch Fork committed four turnovers in that game, and Fant had to throw it a season-high 40 times. The goal is to get Colburn going on the ground and let Fant hit the big plays over the top.
“This team has befuddled me all year so, as coaches, I can say we’re very excited about getting a second chance against Dorman,” Knotts said. “Nobody likes to lose to somebody twice in the same season. I don’t think in my 37-year career I’ve ever lost twice to anybody in one year. I’m fired up about it. Hopefully, our “A” team will show up.”