Photo Kevin Brooks.
Chris Vacarella (12) gets set to take a snap in the Colquitt County game last season.
If you’re a prep football fan of a certain age, you might recall opening up the sports section on Saturday mornings and seeing the name “Vacarella” in the headlines.
Ramsay High’s Chris Vacarella was a do-it-all star back in the early 1970s, earning All-State, Super All-State and even All-America honors. He went on to Auburn where he played quarterback, running back and wide receiver.
If his son, Christopher, can put up half of the numbers his dad did back then, the Hoover Buccaneers quarterback will have done Dad proud and the Bucs will have another Class 7A title under their belt.
“My dad’s helped me a lot,” the quarterback said. “He’s been a big influence and always given me tips.”
There are similarities in styles. Dad was elusive and athletic, as is son. But Christopher is 5-9 and 140 pounds. His dad was 6-1, 190.
“It’s unfortunate he doesn’t have my size – he may still have some growing to do – but I think he’s much quicker than I was,” his dad said.
“I’ve always tried to help coach my kids just like any other dad,” said Vacarella, who now owns an orthopedic device company.
“I coached Christopher until he knew everything – ‘Yeah, I know, Dad, I know,’” he laughs. “You know, the main thing I teach him is try to be a leader, stay away from things that might get him in trouble. When you play sports you’re always going to be held to a higher standard, always in the spotlight, and you’ve got to accept that responsibility.”
The Bucs’ signal-caller is eager to accept that leadership role. He also knows his strengths on the field.
“Definitely speed and quickness. If I get flushed out of the pocket I can make a play happen,” Christopher said. “I don’t have the strongest arm because of my size. But I’m confident I can make any throw I need to make.”
Besides his dad, Christopher credits former quarterbacks coach Tad Niblett, and Bucs head coach Josh Niblett.
“They’ve improved my technique, in getting my feet set, get balanced. Little things that help me be accurate,” he said.
He got playing time last season backing up Jack Hutcheson, but he took some recovery time after a concussion at Colquitt County in the second game of the season. He contributed later in the season.
Three starters are back on offense. That’s less important at Hoover than most schools because there are always talented players waiting in the wings for their turn to start.
Still, losing two big outstanding running backs, Bradrick Shaw and Marcus Webb, from last season might mean more pressure on the quarterbacks.
“Some games [Niblett] is going to have to expect a big play out of me,” Vacarella said.
Niblett said Vacarella’s ability to get create a good play out of a bad one is one of his strengths.
“Chris has always kind of reminded me of a Johnny Manziel type of quarterback and does a really good job of making things happen,” Niblett said. “But he has to be smart about it, take care of the ball.”
Because of his lack of great height, being agile and moving the pocket is key to finding good passing lanes. But it’s also, as it is for any quarterback who knows he can make a big play with his feet, a challenge to know when to throw and when to go.
“Sometimes his feet can get him in trouble a little bit,” Niblett said, “because we always want to be ready to throw so you got to have your feet in sync with your shoulders and make sure that everything’s in line.”
His footwork has improved tremendously, and Niblett said they work on that every day, making sure his base doesn’t get too wide, and still working on consistency.
The other aspect of the game that Niblett – and Vacarella – say the quarterback has improved on is understanding the offense.
“Playing quarterback for us, you’ve got to understand every component of what’s going on, knowing what everybody else is doing,” Niblett said.
“The other big thing is understanding protections. Our quarterbacks call our protections, so he’s got to do a really good job of that. And that’s not easy.
“I just love Vac’s development and where he’s at. He’s just got to keep staying hungry with what he’s doing and continue being a student of the game.”
Hoover’s season-opener was on Aug. 22, at Murfreesboro, Tenn., against Oakland. The Bucs returned home to face Manatee, Fla., on Aug. 28. Class 7A, Region 3 play begins at Mountain Brook on Sept. 4.