Thirty minutes before the first day of school on Aug. 28, Cade Fortney received a concerning phone call from Nick Paloskey, his friend and teammate on the Bellefonte football team.
Paloskey, the starting quarterback, told Fortney that he was going to the emergency room and said he might have appendicitis.
Fortney relayed the news to fellow wide receiver Dylan Deitrich, and the Red Raiders players spent that Monday and Tuesday talking about the team’s situation under center. “Who’s going to be the quarterback? Who’s going to be the quarterback?” they wondered. The answer buzzed onto Fortney’s phone in the form of a text message as he ate dinner that week after practice.
“I’m like, ‘Hey dad, guess what?’” Fortney said. “I’m like, ‘Dylan said he’s going to be the quarterback.’”
Deitrich never played quarterback in his life before this season — not in youth football, not in high school, not even in the backyard with his friends — but he’s already proven to be one of the area’s top players at his new position. In two games leading the Bellefonte offense, Deitrich has connected with Fortney on four passing touchdowns and established himself as the county’s second-leading rusher.
Deitrich turned out to be a natural at the position with his strong arm and athletic ability. After two weeks, the coaches now question why he never played the position earlier in his career.
“I would have liked to have seen him after six years of it,” Bellefonte head coach Shanon Manning said. “He still loves the receiver position, and he plays a hybrid position on offense. He’s a running back-receiver type, so he’s eager to get back in that role.”
Whether Deitrich lines up at wide receiver again this season, Manning said, depends on Paloskey’s recovery from appendicitis. The coach is hoping Paloskey returns at some point, but for now, he’s focused on this week’s game against Central Mountain with Deitrich set to make his third start as the signal-caller.
But, in the two days following Paloskey’s initial call to Fortney, the situation at QB was far from settled. The younger quarterbacks in the program weren’t ready to face a tough team like Huntingdon on Sept. 1. So they needed to pick a veteran athlete with a good arm who could handle the pressure. Deitrich, a senior who played shortstop on Bellefonte’s 2016 state championship baseball team, fit the criteria, and one of the coaches emailed him about the position change.
Deitrich had just gotten out of his car after practice when he saw the email.
“I was pretty shocked,” Deitrich said.
But Deitrich responded immediately to say he’d give it a shot and then texted Fortney. Deitrich never wanted to play quarterback in his career. In backyard games, he said he played “everything else but quarterback.” In youth football, Paloskey played quarterback with Deitrich and Fortney at running back/wide receiver. That’s how this season started for the trio of seniors, but everything changed three days after the team’s win over Jersey Shore in the opener.
At 9 a.m. on Aug. 28, Manning received the news from Paloskey and expressed his concern for his quarterback’s health. Fortney and a few teammates visited Paloskey at the hospital after school that Tuesday. By that Wednesday, Aug. 30, Manning said Deitrich took snaps under center at practice and showed why the coaching staff turned to him. He knew the receivers’ routes, he had the respect of his teammates, and he boasted a strong arm.
“When we’re throwing our wide receiver drills, he looks like a quarterback throwing it out there,” said Fortney, who has 13 catches for 223 yards the past two weeks.
Bellefonte wide receivers coach Bob Sealy made a similar assessment after seeing Deitrich’s arm during those drills. He knew Deitrich could handle playing the new position. The senior simply needed some repetitions.
In his debut under center against Huntingdon, Deitrich took charge of the offense and finished 10 of 16 passing for 133 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. He even looked the part on a short completion.
“It sounds odd. We threw a comeback against Huntingdon,” Sealy said. “He didn’t get a first down, but a comeback is a route that we don’t throw a lot of. But he knew right where to throw it.”
He also burned Huntingdon for 124 yards rushing and two rushing touchdowns, and he put together a similar performance last week against Philipsburg-Osceola with three passing touchdowns to go with 120 yards rushing and one rushing touchdown.
Despite Deitrich’s success, Bellefonte has kept its offense simple and utilized just five plays last week. The coaches are working with Deitrich on making half-field reads this week as he continues to learn how to play quarterback.
“There’s a lot of pressure on you,” Deitrich said. “You’re trying to perform while learning an offense at a new position that you’ve never played before. It’s tough, but I’ve done the best I can. I’ve tried to adapt to it.”
Dylan Deitrich has impressed in two games at quarterback after starting the season at wide receiver. Deitrich now ranks third in the area in passing yards and second in rushing yards. Here’s a look at his statistics this season:
Completions/attempts: 17/29 (58.6 percent)
Passing yards: 240
Passing touchdowns: 4
Rushing yards: 303
Rushing touchdowns: 4