Confidence is a funny thing. For some, small misfortunes can shake the foundations of confidence to a breaking point. Yet, for others, in spite of undeniable disadvantages and obstacles, confidence in self remains steadfast. When a person of the latter persuasion is just 14 years old, the result is all the more incredible.
Enter Millard North quarterback Ben Weindel, a young man of the latter persuasion.
Weindel’s high school football story, for this intent, began on September 28, 2018. Though, certainly, the foundations of what came after were laid long before, it was on that Friday night that Weindel entered the football consciousness of the Omaha metro.
On that night, Millard North faced Elkhorn High. The season had already gone off the rails, by Millard North standards. The Mustangs began the season 0-4 and had escaped the previous week with a narrow victory over Fremont. Millard North had been plagued with injuries to key starters on an already-young team. “We lost three starters in the first half of the first game of the season,” said assistant coach Mark Chavez. “It was unreal.”
Just before halftime in the Elkhorn game, another stroke of misfortune came the way of Millard North. Senior quarterback Cam Wiemers went down with an injury. It didn’t look good. Weindel remembers that moment.
“Coach was saying, ‘Ben!’ Everybody was saying, ‘Ben!’ I just went on the field and took one snap before halftime.”
With that one snap, Weindel was already in rare company. Freshmen just don’t play varsity football at Millard North. It’s a certainty that should rank among its peers: death and taxes. There have been a few in Fred Petito’s 36 years as the head man for the Mustangs, but they were clearly exceptions to the rule.
After the halftime break, Wiemers would not return. The game was in the hands of a player whose latest game experience had been on a Wednesday afternoon in 2017 at Kiewit Middle School. And yet, Petito says he never hesitated.
“It was never really a question,” Petito said. “Because from the neck up, he’s mature beyond his years. He’s totally fearless.”
Weindel’s stat line from that second half isn’t much to look at. He rushed seven times for 19 yards and didn’t complete — or even attempt — a pass. What Weindel did was lead two third-quarter touchdown drives, both capped by Andrew Bednar touchdowns, that sealed the second win of the season for Millard North.
In Petito’s read-heavy, check-at-the-line, triple-option offense, that means more than it might elsewhere. “You have to be as good pre-snap as you are when the ball gets going,” Petito said.
On the horizon, there was a decision for Petito and company to make. Wiemers’s injury was season-ending. The circumstances were unique in Petito’s time at Millard North. “We’ve never started a freshman at any position here,” he said. That it could be a freshman starting at quarterback made the decision appreciably bigger.
As the next Friday approached, Weindel was named the starter. Petito recalls that eyebrows were raised from some on the team. But the staff believed in Weindel. He gave them the best chance to be successful. “He just has good poise,” Petito said. “I didn’t think he was in over his head.”
In his first start, the youngster did not disappoint. Weindel ran for 133 yards on 24 carries, including a fourth-quarter, game-tying touchdown. And in overtime, Weindel completed a pass, just his second of the game, to Noah Knoell for a touchdown that set up the game-winning extra point.
How’s that for poise?
Weindel credits his other athletic successes with this ability that seems to belie his age. “I’ve been in a lot of big situations,” Weindel said. “I pitched in the state championship game. I’ve done that two years.”
Naturally, most would probably expect that the 2019 season would see Weindel crowned as the incumbent for the starting job. But there seems to be a deep well of talent at the position for the Mustangs.
“It’s going to be a very good competition between him and Brandon Lundquist,” Petito said. “We’ve got another guy, our third guy, Jimmy Q [Quaintance]. I think all three of those guys can play at a championship level.”
Weindel appears to be thriving on the competition dynamic, making strides in his control of the offense. Petito makes no claim about who is leading the race, but he makes clear that Weindel has a very high IQ for the triple-option offense.
It remains to be seen how it all shakes out. Who will take the first snap against Millard West is, as yet, an unanswered question. What isn’t in question is the poise, confidence, and ability of Ben Weindel.
While confidence may be a finicky, unpredictable trait, Weindel doesn’t appear to exhibit any waver. Is he ready to be “the guy?” He answers in his matter-of-fact, straightforward way.
“I’m ready. I feel good.”
Don’t miss Millard North take on Millard West Friday, August 30th at 7pm CDT. Watch live on yurview.com.