South Fayette grad Drew Saxton puts up big numbers as quarterback at CWRU
Replacing quarterback Rob Cuda at Case Western Reserve was going to be no easy task. Cuda, who graduated in the spring, was named 2017 Presidents’ Athletic Conference Offensive MVP after throwing for 2,830 yards and 29 touchdowns and rushing for 506 and seven touchdowns.
But when the Spartans convened for summer workouts, Cuda’s heir-apparent became clear right away.
“We had seven-on-sevens over the summer, and a couple of the freshman guys came up,” senior all-conference receiver Justin Phan said. “As soon as we started getting into drills, we realized he could read the defense and throw the ball.”
That freshman was Drew Saxton, a South Fayette grad who ranks sixth in WPIAL history with 7,452 passing yards. Saxton has picked up right where he left off in high school.
Through the Spartans’ first four games -- in which they went 4-0 and rose to No. 16 in Division III -- he threw for 1,183 yards, 14 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Saxton actually achieved those numbers in what amounted to three-and-a-half games because he split time with junior Ryan Coolidge in the season opener.
The split, coach Greg Debeljak said, was to make sure Saxton was comfortable in the Spartans’ system. The answer came quickly.
“We knew we were getting a special kid, but you never know if they’re ready or not,” said Debeljak, in his 15th season at CWRU. “He was as prepared to play at the college level as anyone I have ever coached.”
Saxton (6-feet, 185 pounds) earned PAC Rookie of the Week honors for his performance in the opener against Rochester. Oddly enough, his first collegiate touchdown came on a 17-yard run.
Saxton won’t be cut loose on a lot of designed runs like Cuda, but his ability to run when needed was just one more quality that made him a cinch to lead the offense.
“I was never much of a runner at South Fayette,” Saxton said. “But the quarterback draw was the play call, and I just saw a hole and took it.
“The idea of a true freshman coming in and starting was a little out there. It doesn’t happen too often. I just tried to learn quickly and kind of adapt to a new system.”
Since that first game, Saxton has earned two more PAC Rookie of the Week honors and a PAC Offensive Player of the Week laurel. But more than his skills as a passer, Saxton separates himself, Debeljak said, because of his football IQ.
Saxton credits much of that to playing in South Fayette’s system, and his savvy was on display in the Spartans’ Sept. 29 win over Westminster.
On one particular play, Debeljak called for all his receivers to go vertical. Saxton recognized if all the receivers went vertical, it would bring another defensive back into the area of the intended target.
“It was an empty set, and we were in the red zone,” Saxton said. “There were three receivers to the left and two to the right. I didn’t want the third receiver on the left to run vertical because I didn’t want the slot receiver to the right going to the same spot.”
Saxton changed the play -- as Debeljak found out only later -- telling the third receiver on the left to run a short pivot route. The result was a touchdown pass to Phan.
“Even though he’s young, he’s making plays,” Phan said. “It’s just impressive for him to come in and just take over the offense.”
And he is just getting started. The Spartans have high aspirations, and Debeljak is confident Saxton can help them achieve those goals this season and beyond.
“He’s so far above the curve,” Debeljak said. “We weren’t really expecting the entire package that we got.”