BY PETER JACKEL Journal Times MOUNT PLEASANT - When Tom Stauss went Christmas shopping at Best Buy last December, little did he know he would find a quarterback.
As Stauss, offensive coordinator for the Horlick High School football team, waited in line to ring up his purchases, he saw Justin Kammler working at the cash register.
The same Justin Kammler who quit Horlick's team after his sophomore year in 2002 because he was beat up mentally and physically.
The same Justin Kammler who passed for two touchdowns and ran for a third in Horlick's 29-6 season-opening Southeast Conference victory over Park at Hammes Field Friday night.
Behind Kammler, who completed 21 of 34 passes for 273 yards and also led his team in rushing with 42 yards, Horlick beat Park for only the fourth time since 1985. Park still leads the all-time series, which dates back to 1928, 46-26-6.
"A year ago, we were wondering what we were going to do (at quarterback) and then I saw him at Best Buy,” Stauss said. "I said, `Justin Kammler, why are you not out for football?' "He had grown about seven inches and I had seen some things with him when he was a sophomore. He was only about 5-foot-5 when he was a sophomore, but I could see he had some skills.” That same kid stood 6-foot Friday night and he had an undeniable command that was all the more remarkable given the complexity of Horlick's offense. He threw touchdown passes of 11 yards to Chris Maragos and 54 to Chris Hall, and ran for a 4-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
By no means was Kammler flawless, considering his third-quarter interception set up Park's only touchdown and he was inches away from having another interception returned for what probably would have been another score.
Considering that he was sitting home during last year's Park-Horlick game, though, his performance Friday was nothing less than remarkable.
"My sophomore year was kind of a learning experience for me,” Kammler said. "I got hit a lot, I got roughed up a lot and I just didn't think I would be able to play varsity football. I would have probably been the third or fourth string.” How things have changed.
"He played awesome,” said Maragos, who caught nine passes for 115 yards. "I didn't think he could run like that, to tell you the truth. His arm strength and accuracy really impressed me a lot.” As decisive as Horlick's victory was, Park showed considerable potential, especially with its running attack.
Phil Johnson showed no lingering effects from tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee last year, rushing for 62 yards on 10 carries and making several electrifying moves. And Johnny Clay, a 6-3, 230-pound sophomore, rushed for 77 yards on 11 carries, including a 4-yard touchdown run that was set up by Diondre Jenkins' interception return to the 1.
It's just that the Panthers were hindered by the mistakes typical of a team that returned just two of starters.
On the final play of the first quarter, Park's John Bodnar was intercepted by Matt Ferron on second-and-goal at Horlick's 7. Horlick then went on a lengthy drive en route to its first touchdown of the game.
And early in the third quarter, punter Ryan Brown's desperation pass fell incomplete when his protection broke down. That gave Horlick possession at Park's 23 and set up the Rebels' second touchdown.
"I explained to our kids that you cannot win the game when you have missed opportunities,” first-year Park coach Dennis Thompson said. "We're a young team and we're going to bounce back. This is a learning opportunity for these guys.”