The news came to Riverside High School football coach Bill Stubbs completely out of the blue. And it stuck like a knife.
It was midsummer and Stubbs was preparing hard for the upcoming football season. Stubbs was content in knowing that his standout quarterback Deuce Wallace had completely healed from the broken leg he suffered — yet continued to play on — in his team’s win over Newman in October.
Other players had stepped up to get Wallace’s job done the rest of the season, helping the Rebels to an 8-2 regular-season finish and a trip to the playoffs, but Stubbs was ready to see his star player back where he belonged — under center — for his junior season.
But one Saturday in June, Wallace made his way to the Riverside football field house to give his coach some news. He was leaving Riverside, leaving Louisiana and moving back to Tennessee where his father and his grandfather lived.
Wallace explained that his grandfather was getting older and the family wanted to be with him as much as possible. They were leaving on Monday.
“It was a shock,” Stubbs said. “Of course, it was their decision. You try to make some sense out of it, but I wasn’t able to. But, of course, I support the young man 110 percent. Probably, in all my time coaching, one of the closest kids I ever got to. And he was split in two. But you have to do what your parents feel is right. It was a family decision.”
But with Wallace gone, Stubbs had to make a tough decision of his own — who to move into the quarterback spot for the upcoming season?
To hear Stubbs tell it, that decision was easy. Stubbs said he had no hesitation to tap freshman Jordan Loving for the role. Long having been an up-and-coming player to watch because of his impressive size and skill sets for his age, Loving had been working with the varsity during his eighth-grade season. Stubbs said he could see some things in the youngster that foretell a solid future as a Riverside quarterback.
“I guess you can call it fate, you can call it what you want,” Stubbs said. “But we had made the decision last year not to have him play seventh- and eighth-grade football, to keep him with us on the varsity the whole time. What I wanted him to do was learn the offense, because I thought he was ready to start absorbing it. I was going to try to be real strategic about it. I was going to get him the playing time. And we did.”
But when Wallace got hurt, Loving was one of several players to share quarterbacking duties — along with wide receiver Herb McGeee and Kendall Martin. And when Wallace left, Stubbs said he knew the job would go to Loving, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound, 14-year-old freshman.
“It was just that quick,” Loving said, snapping his fingers. “Coach Stubbs told me I was going to be the guy. He had a lot of confidence in me. He told me expectations don’t change just because Deuce left. He told me, ‘We have a world of confidence in you and the team around you.’ Deuce was a great quarterback and a great mentor to me. I was upset that he was leaving because he was like a brother to me. But, at the same time, you know, I was excited that I was going to get my shot.”
“Of course, there was a lot of trepidation because of his age,” Stubbs said. “Deuce played as a freshman here, but Deuce played as a 15-year-old freshman. In my mind, there’s a big difference there. But I’m coming to learn that this young man has a lot more maturity than I really anticipated. I had confidence in his ability, but in the back of my mind, I’m going, ‘God dang. What’s going to happen when the bullets are flying?’ ”
So far, so good. In three games, Loving has completed 41 of 74 passes for 542 yards and eight touchdowns with one interception. More importantly, he has led the Rebels to three victories, including an epic battle at Evangel Christian Academy in Shreveport during which he threw three touchdown passes — including the game-winner. The Rebels will travel to St. James Friday night to take on one of their River Parishes rivals in the District 8-2A opener for both teams.
Stubbs said he and the Rebels staff are still trying to bring Loving along somewhat slowly, “not trying to do things he possibly couldn’t do. I think he really drew his strength from a lot of the veteran kids around him, who have a lot of confidence in him. I can’t tell you how excited I was to see them really support him. That was huge.
“And I don’t think they were doing that just because it benefited them. I think they were pretty much saying, ‘Hey. We’ve got your back.’ ”