Vellon on historic pace as quarterback of high-powered Amsterdam offense

Amsterdam quarterback Jhai Vellon looks to pass the ball against Queensbury in a Class A football showdown Friday, Sept. 16, 2022 at Wilbur Lynch Literary Academy in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam quarterback Jhai Vellon looks to pass the ball against Queensbury in a Class A football showdown Friday, Sept. 16, 2022 at Wilbur Lynch Literary Academy in Amsterdam.

AMSTERDAM — When Jhai Vellon got the nod to take over at quarterback late in Amsterdam’s winless spring 2021 football season, it was primarily because Rugged Rams coach John Homich and his staff hoped the then-sophomore would be able to inject some life into the team’s offense with his running ability.

Eighteen months later, and my, how things have changed.

Oh, Vellon can still run — he accounts for nearly half of the Rams’ rushing attempts and more than half of their rushing yards this season — but it’s his development as a passer that’s turned him from an exciting young sophomore into a polished, dynamic senior that’s leading the lone unbeaten team remaining in Section II Class A.

“Watching him perform at the camps he went to this year,” Homich said Wednesday, “it’s just incredible. The amount of zip he puts on the ball, his footwork, his escapability in the pocket, and just the overall IQ of his game and being able to read defenses.”

Through four games this season, Vellon is putting up numbers — through the air and on the ground — that read like something out of a Madden video game or a fantasy football enthusiast’s wildest dreams. He’s on pace for the greatest statistical season ever produced by a quarterback at one of Section II’s most storied programs, one that’s captured a pair of state championships and 10 area titles.

As a passer, Vellon is 60 of 86 — a 69.8% completion rate — for 1,073 yards with 14 touchdowns against just two interceptions. As a runner, he’s carried the ball 45 times for 479 yards and eight more scores. Amsterdam’s offense has generated 24 touchdowns this season, and Vellon has either thrown or run for all but two of them.

He’s already close to surpassing his stellar numbers from last fall, when in eight games he passed for 1,336 yards and 15 touchdowns while adding 727 rushing yards and nine scores.

“They used me as a runner [in 2021] against Ballston Spa,” Vellon said. “Now, I feel like I’ve developed more as a quarterback, both my skill and how I’m reading defenses.”

Vellon’s ability as a dual threat is in many ways reminiscent of one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever pull on Amsterdam purple and gold, T.J. Czeski. In 2005, Czeski established school records with 1,618 passing yards and 27 touchdowns through the air, while also adding another 674 yards and five more touchdowns on the ground as he captained Amsterdam to a Class A state championship.

Czeski put up those numbers in 13 games, in an offense that hewed much more closely to Amsterdam’s ground-and-pound roots. Vellon’s put up his numbers in just four games in a modern spread offense that’s much more Air Raid than Power I.

As for who Vellon models his game after? His biggest inspiration is Buffalo Bills superstar Josh Allen.

“He’s big, strong, he can throw the ball and he can run with it,” Vellon said.

Vellon’s 1,552 yards of total offense represent more than 80% of Amsterdam’s offensive production heading into Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. road game against Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, but that doesn’t mean he’s the only Rugged Ram who’s gotten in on the high-scoring party.

Seven different Amsterdam receivers have caught at least one pass this year, with five hauling in at least one touchdown. 

Vellon’s favorite targets have been two that he’s been throwing the ball to for more than a decade. Seniors Ceasar Thompson and Louie Gonzalez have combined for 47 receptions, 787 yards and 11 scores, with Thompson (29 catches, 563 yards, 6 TDs) exceeding 100 receiving yards in each of Amsterdam’s last three games.

“Ten years, we’ve been going strong,” Vellon said. “I just know if I throw the ball up to them, they’re going to go get it.”

“The connection they have — from Little Giants, to modified, to JV, now varsity — those guys know where each other are going to be at all times,” Homich said. 

Vellon’s also been at his very best in the biggest situations. Since becoming Amsterdam’s starting quarterback, Vellon has been a part of eight games decided by a touchdown or less, and has engineered multiple go-ahead or game-winning scoring drives.

This year, he threw a school-record seven touchdown passes and led a 34-point second-half surge in Amsterdam’s 60-35 Week 2 win over Queensbury, and last week against Columbia threw for 366 yards and accounted for five total touchdowns (three passing, two rushing) as the Rams survived a plethora of injuries in a wild 50-42 win.

“Big moments,” Homich said, “call for big time players. And he loves those moments.”

For an Amsterdam team that’s desperate to return to the Section II Class A playoffs after missing out last year due to a quarter points tiebreaker that eliminated them following a three-way tie with Averill Park and La Salle atop the Capital Division, moments like those will be even more important as the regular season hits its October stretch run.

“Last season put a bad taste in everybody’s mouth,” Homich said. “[Vellon] used that as a motivation source. He never missed a day in the gym lifting, or the field work we had. He really puts in his work and betters his craft so that we’re in a good position this year.”

Categories: High School Football, High School Sports, Sports, Sports

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