By Gabriel Stovall
RIVERDALE, Ga. — Joseph Cambridge is a pretty mild mannered, even-keeled kind of guy — even as quarterbacks go.
But here’s how you rile the Riverdale junior up: Tell him he’s nothing more than a pocket passer, and his polite, thoughtful demeanor changes.
At the very thought of being typecast as just a pure pocket passer, his eyebrows raise, his nostrils flare a bit and although he’s smiling, you can sense the seriousness of his defiance by the way his voice raises.
To put it in perspective, we’re talking about a kid who, through six games, has thrown for 1,128 yards and 12 touchdowns to just three interceptions while completing passes at a 60 percent clip.
That’s out of 128 passing attempts. Seventy-seven completions. And to think his season highlight so far was one of his first running plays of the year.
“Week one against North Clayton. Southside Classic,” Cambridge recalls. “It was a zone read play. I ran for a touchdown of 78 yards. It was big because nobody on the team really sees me as a mobile quarterback. I’m usually a pocket quarterback. So when I do something like that, everybody’s surprised.”
His coach, Terry Herrod, isn’t among the surprised, however. Let’s just color him pleased that his 6-foot-3, 175 pound signal caller is starting to figure out how to fuse ability together with drive.
“It’s the work ethic for Joseph,” Herrod said. “He has really, you know, the thing about Cambridge is both of his parents played college sports. Mother played college basketball. Father played college football at Morris Brown. So the thing about him is he’s as talented as anybody. But the thing that’s helped him out is he started to work hard.
“When you take a kid that’s immensely talented, and he begins to work hard and he’s been in a system for two years and throwing to the same guys, you feel comfortable.”
Part of Cambridge’s offseason workout regimen included getting in the weight room to add 15 pounds of muscle to his frame. It also involved him coming out to the Riverdale practice fields every Sunday by himself with position coach Cecil Lester, visualizing how to excel in the minutiae of his craft.
“We just went over situations every day,” Cambridge said. “He’d tell me to imagine a safety or a corner in certain places. We’d simulate the spots of where they are at or where they might be on the field.”
Cambridge said the cerebral work has helped sharpen his eye to where he’s been able to subtract a lot of the second-guessing from his coverage reading. It’s helped him get the ball out quicker — something he says he still wants to get better at — and with more velocity and accuracy.
Doesn’t hurt that he’s got one of the most talented corps of wideouts in the Southern Crescent to throw to either.
Juniors Greg White and Keenan Thomas each have over a dozen catches on the season. And seniors Carlton Crosdale and DeAngelo Harris have stretched the field with regularity.
Crosdale is averaging over 25 yards per catch with six touchdown receptions.
But as dangerous as Cambridge’s pass catchers are, he calls out another group when asked about the most lethal weapons in the Raiders’ offensive arsenal.
“It’s the whole o-line,” Cambridge said. “I can’t even pick one. They’ve all got a high motor and wanna go out and play and win. The offensive line makes everything happen. When they give me time then it gives my wide receivers time to get routes and get open.”
Not to mention providing Cambridge with more running lanes for him to showcase his improved speed.
“When it comes to running, I want to make sure I know how to get to the holes,” he said. “I worked all summer on getting faster and being able to scramble. I want to show people that, yeah, I can run too.”
Herrod said he’ll take some of the blame for pigeonholing Cambridge’s identity.
“I probably held him back from running some last year,” Herrod said. “But you have to think. The kid broke his wrist. So those games I held him back, he probably took some ribbing. ‘You don’t run. Why are you sliding?’ But this year he got in the weight room and got stronger, and he wants to show people he can play the quarterback position and be more than a drop back passer.”
And so far, so good. In addition to Cambridge’s aforementioned passing prowess, he’s also 311 yards on 39 carries — that’s good for almost eight yards a pop. He’s found the end zone four times on the ground as well, and his 16 total touchdowns means he’s had a hand in all but five of Riverdale’s trips to the end zone.
But Herrod cautions those wanting to anoint Cambridge as the next Michael Vick.
“He’s closed games out for us with his ability to run,” Herrod said. “But don’t get it twisted. Joseph is a passer. He’s a passer, and we’re glad we’ve got him.”
And Cambridge will take that. As long as his running and passing abilities get more wins for himself and his teammates — starting Friday against region foe and seventh-ranked Jonesboro.
“Personally, I feel I’ve been play real good and have been able to step up for my team this year,” Cambridge said. “The difference between last year and this year is we want it more now. We know what to fight for and we don’t want that taste in our mouths of being 3-7. So I’ll do what it takes to keep that from happening again.”