ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It wasn't the plan for Jay'ru Campbell to start at quarterback for Cass Tech as a freshman.
But in the first game of the season -- a highly publicized matchup against reigning state champion Harrison -- senior Kevin Biscoe went down with a season-ending knee injury, and Campbell, the only other signal-caller on the roster, was thrown into the action.
Technicians coach Thomas Wilcher wasn't worried about Campbell being able to perform under the pressures. He has pulled several freshmen up to the varsity with the main criteria being their mental stamina, though physical strength is obviously taken into account.
"My deal with putting a kid on varsity is knowing he can handle the mental output, who's going to work hard, a kid who wants to succeed all the time," Wilcher said. "You can have the body, but if you don't have a good attitude, if your mind isn't right, it just isn't going to work."
Much like Michigan coach Brady Hoke proved this year, Wilcher doesn't take grade or age into account when creating the lineups. He said he doesn't worry about pulling a senior for a freshman or sophomore if that's what is best for the team.
"If you work hard you deserve a right to play," Wilcher said. "And when I pull a kid I say you have to have a tough mental output. That's all."
Wilcher said he saw that attitude in Campbell from day one, but Campbell said the part that made his transition from middle school to starting varsity quarterback was the family atmosphere fostered by the seniors.
He believed it was because most of those players, because they were underclassmen on varsity at some point, knew what it was like to feel intimidated or out of touch with the rest of the team.
"I thought coming in to it that there would be groups," Campbell said. "But it really seemed like everyone was a family. It didn’t matter what grade you were in. If you were good enough to play on the team then you were in the family."
Because of Cass Tech's impressive history with churning out FBS recruits, college coaches come through on a weekly basis and check out the top players, who often times are the underclassmen.
This past season, there were four freshmen who made the varsity team. Winter workouts have already begun, and Detroit middle-schoolers have already begun receiving their high school placements.
"Grade doesn't matter here," Campbell said. "If the freshman is good, he's good. We want the best players, Coach plays the best players. Doesn’t matter if it's a freshman."