NORMAN — It started with a long talk after Norman North’s run to the state championship a year ago. Senior quarterback Peyton Gavras pulled aside backup quarterback John Kolar and told the sophomore everything he knew about being the Timberwolves’ quarterback. About always staying focused. About not getting too high or too low. About the pressure and leadership that comes with the position.
Kolar thought he was ready, and he worked hard in intense workouts to make sure he would be. The Timberwolves lost a multitude of key players from the state runner-up team, but Kolar hoped he would become one of the leaders of a new group of Timberwolves bent on continuing the program’s excellence.
One day, 11 months ago, everything changed for Kolar.
David Cornwell transferred in from Jones. The 6-5, 235-pound quarterback prodigy was widely considered one of the best recruits in the nation. He won a lengthy eligibility fight with the OSSAA and would make his Class 6A debut with the Timberwolves.
It was a frustrating day for Kolar, who would eventually move to wide receiver as Alabama commit Cornwell won the starting job.
“It was really hard at first,” Kolar said. “I was preparing to be the starting quarterback, and what are the odds that one of the top prospects in the country comes here?”
Those first few days were tough, but Kolar quickly got over his frustration. He worked with North offensive coordinator Brent Barnes to stay prepared to step in at quarterback if needed, and threw himself into his new role at receiver.
“He’s always been a team-first guy that works hard every day,” coach Wade Standley said. “He was never a backup. He started receiver for us and was a huge part of our offense. He does all the little things right.”
All were attributes Kolar would need when the Timberwolves squared off against Yukon in a vital Week 5 district game. Punting just before halftime from the quick-kick formation, Cornwell took a hit when the ball was partially blocked. He scrambled to recover it and came up limping. By the time he made it to the sideline and collapsed into his teammates’ arms, it was clear that Cornwell was done for the season. Given just 20 minutes at halftime to prepare, Kolar tried to calm his nerves as he stepped in for the biggest moment of his career.
It didn’t work. He called the first series he led, one where the T-Wolves went three-and-out, the most nervous he’s ever been. Yukon grabbed a lead in the third quarter and appeared on its way to a win and control of District 6A-3.
But Kolar wasn’t done. He settled into the offense and began to lead his team back into the game. It began with a deep pass to senior Nick Basquine, and by the time the Timberwolves scored their first touchdown of the half, Kolar knew they could come back to win the game.
Trailing by two touchdowns entering the fourth quarter, it was a tall task. But with Kolar under center, the Timberwolves did just that, winning the game on a Jake Edzards’ field goal as time expired.
“At first I was thinking, ‘if I lose this game, what are people going to say? They’re going to think that we were in trouble now that I was at quarterback,’” Kolar said. “But once we scored that first touchdown I started to get more comfortable, and we all kind of said ‘we can do this.’”
That performance was just the beginning for Kolar, who led the Timberwolves to a 4-1 record and the District 6A-3 championship since he took over starting duties. He’s passed for more than 1,300 yards while throwing for 12 touchdowns and just a pair of interceptions. As dangerous with his feet as he is with his arm, he’s also opened up a new element for North’s offense, providing a dynamic and unpredictable combination with running back Quan Hogan.
As North prepares to host a first-round playoff game with Mustang at 7 p.m. Friday at Harve Collins Field, Kolar’s coaches aren’t at all surprised by his success.
“It all goes back to his work ethic,” Standley said. “You know he’s going to come in and do his job every day. He’s also done a great job of leading the team. That’s a testament to him and the work he puts in. I’m really proud of the progress he’s made.”
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