NEWPORT — Matt Tobin didn't play a single snap last year. He never even suited up.
Instead of a football, Tobin spent his sophomore season with a camera in his hand, forcing him to watch — and videotape — West Canada Valley senior quarterback Josh Chapin's every move.
That was the good news.
"That made it easier for me to pay attention," Tobin said. "I was reading the plays, following Josh around to see what he was doing. ... I had to learn by just watching. I had to be prepared for this year."
By all accounts, he is. And that's even better news for an otherwise battle-tested West Canada Valley football team whose only real question mark this fall had to do with the quarterback position and, more specifically: 'How will the new signal caller handle the demands of head coach Todd Hobin's no-huddle, spread offense — the same offense that worked wonders under Chapin's guidance last season, when the Indians reached the Carrier Dome finals of the Section III Class D tournament?'
Despite a lower back injury that sidelined Tobin all of last season, Hobin was already grooming him to be "that guy." Now, last year's videographer is behind center, and the Indians and his coach are rallying behind him.
"He's a quick learner," all-state senior lineman Jake Lyon said. "He knows the playbook and we have confidence in him. He's already filling that spot as a leader, and I really think we're adjusting pretty well."
Asking Tobin to match Chapin's numbers wouldn't be fair.
Under Tobin's watch, Chapin — an all-state selection in football, basketball and baseball — ran for 1,510 yards and 19 touchdowns and scored three more touchdowns as a special teams return man.
Like Chapin, however, a healthy Tobin — then still a sophomore - starred this spring for a West Canada Valley baseball team that played in the Class D state championship game, and his football coach believes the 5-foot-11, 183-pound Tobin is ready for another challenge.
"Every kid is a little different, and Matt has a little different style," Hobin said. "He never missed a practice or a game last year. He didn't have to be, but he was there every day. That told me, 'This kid is special.' He didn't play, but he was in the game mentally.
"He was always paying attention, always learning something. ... He understands the system. He's ahead of the game mentally. Now, he's got to see it and learn to react."
Playing with a seasoned supporting cast should help.
Lyon, a three-year starter, is a 245-pound, two-way lineman who led the Indians with 84 tackles. He and Chapin earned second-team all-state honors last season. Senior Shawn Pierson, a 208-pound running back and linebacker who last year rushed for 1,086 yards, also returns as an all-state honorable mention after helping West Canada Valley, 7-3 overall and 14th in the final state rankings, reach the section finals for the first time since the unbeaten 1997 team won a state championship.
Watching instead of playing, Tobin said, "was hard, especially with all that we achieved last year. I just tried to stay a part of it as much as I could, even though I couldn't play.
"Everybody has been extremely supportive in helping me learn this year; they know a lot more than I do right now," Tobin said. "We all just want to get back to where we were last year, and improve on that."
After helping West Canada win the Class D East league title last year, Lyon and Pierson were joined on the all-league first team by two other holdovers - tight end and defensive end Mason Schloop (6-4, 235) and two-way lineman Tazren Lilley (6-0, 358). Second-team all-stars Cade Smith, Kristopher Crossett, David Krouse and Nick Nitti also return.
Section III champion Sandy Creek handed West Canada two of last year's three setbacks, including a 32-12 loss in the Carrier Dome final in a game that was tied 12-12 at the half.
Now, the Indians, who host Herkimer in Saturday afternoon's opener, are in a loaded Class D East division with Herkimer, Dolgeville, Frankfort-Schuyler, Westmoreland, Morrisville-Eaton/Hamilton, Mount Markham and Sauquoit Valley.
"(Tobin) is a young quarterback, but he knows the offense and we know he can do great things for us," Pierson said. "Getting so close to being Section III champions last year, that's all the motivation we need. Knowing we were that close has made us all work even harder this season."