“I would say I grew a lot in my faith at that time, and I also grew to become a better teammate,” said Staal, who has since earned the starting quarterback job for Grand Haven, leading the Buccaneers to a pair of very impressive early-season wins. “It’s one thing to be out there on Friday night, being a part of the game, soaking it all up, and it’s another to be on the sidelines. It’s very humbling, but I got to be a part of the team, a part of the tradition, and I also got to learn the offense under Adam Poel and Coach (Dave) Larkin.
“I really got to be under their wings and pick up on what they were doing offensively.”
Staal learned a lot from Poel, last year’s starting quarterback, especially on the leadership front.
“Adam’s such a great leader. He’s really calm under pressure, and he gets the job done,” Staal said. “It’s third and 10, he’s going to get it done. I really looked up to him in that sense, and also because he was a really hard worker and a team player. He’s a great role model, especially for me, being an underclassmen quarterback.”
Buccaneers’ coach Mike Farley said Staal took full advantage of his junior season despite not getting a chance to play.
“He was a student of the game, learning the passing game,” Farley said. “He was just like a sponge. All he wanted to do was learn and get better. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Staal had to fight off teammate Steve DeWitt to win the starting quarterback spot this fall, and through two games, he’s shown exactly why he was named the starter. In wins over Traverse City Central and TC West, Stall has completed an astounding 75 percent of his 43 passing attempts for 485 yards and five touchdowns.
“It was a little surprising at first, coming in and not really knowing what a varsity game feels like, since I hadn’t played in one before,” said Staal, who threw four touchdown passes in his first varsity start at Traverse City Central. “I have to give a lot of credit to the line, and my receivers have made it a whole lot easier for me. They deserve as much credit as I do.”
While Staal and the Buccaneers have been impressive over the season’s first two weeks, this Friday’s marquee matchup at Rockford is the real measuring stick for Grand Haven. The Bucs’ stirring victory over the Rams a year ago at Buccaneer Stadium led to the two teams sharing the O-K Red Conference title.
Beating Rockford last year helped Grand Haven get over a mental hurdle against the Rams, according to Farley.
“They know it’s a big game, and that Rockford’s a great program, but there’s no longer the attitude that we hope we can win,” Farley said. “We’re going in there to win. We’re going to do whatever we have to do to win. Now there’s an expectation. It’s not like it used to be when we were hopeful we could win.”
After watching his teammates beat Rockford last year, Staal is excited to see how his squad stacks up against the Rams.
“Rockford has a great tradition,” said Staal, who will turn 18 on Saturday. “Their head coach, Ralph Munger, is one of those football geniuses. They’re a big team, but football’s football. They’ll be big and intimidating, but when it boils down to it, football’s football. They’re lined up in shoulder pads and helmets, just like us.
“Beating them last year kind of opened the door for us and for Grand Haven teams down the road, where this is just another team we can go out there and beat. It takes a lot of hard work and unity, but we can pull it off.”