BRADENTON -- When Saint Stephen's football practice ends, another chance for Fred Billy to improve begins.
The rising sophomore quarterback will often gather up some of his wide receivers and tight ends for the chance at a few more throws.
After a freshman season that saw Billy pile up more than 700 yards on the ground and 16 total touchdowns, head coach Tod Creneti is no longer concerned with Billy's playmaking ability. The next steps are for him to grow as both a passer and a leader.
With the impromptu workout sessions he has held with his targets during the spring and over the course of the offseason, he's accomplishing both.
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"He's just becoming more of a vocal leader," wide receiver Bobby Harrison said. "Last year, he was kind of shy and didn't get out there as much."
When Billy started working as a quarterback last spring, he was new to the position and unsure about his ability. He played quarterback during his final season of Pop Warner, but other than that was a skill-position player. Even when he was under center, he said, he felt like an
athlete playing quarterback.
Quickly, though, his insecurities vanished. He piled up 219 total yards and a rushing touchdown during his first high school game against Orlando Christian in 2014 and ended up leading the Falcons with 1,053 all-purpose yards. By the end of the season, he knew he belonged and was ready to become more of a leader in the spring.
During practice, he isn't shy to get on his teammates when someone makes a mistake, and he takes criticism that he receives from his coaches to heart. After a lazy throw during Wednesday's practice was picked off by assistant coach A.J. Brown, Creneti barked at Billy for the easily avoidable mistake. Billy responded with a perfectly placed rainbow down the right sideline for a touchdown on the next play.
"He wants to be the guy," Creneti said. "He wants to lead our team, and he's learning not just how to be a leader on the field, but he's having to learn how to be a leader off the field. He's learned how to be accountable to his teammates, so right now he's having to work on the part of his game that isn't about running and throwing and making guys miss."
The throwing, however, is still a work in progress, too. For all his success as a freshman, Billy only threw for 882 yards and completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes, which is why after every offseason workout he carved out time to get throws in and tinker with some of the finer aspects of passing, such as his release point and touch.
"I'm trying to make people respect the pass," Billy said, "and also know that I can take it and run."
If he can do that, Saint Stephen's will be able to build even more on its breakout 8-3 season. Saint Stephen's has 16 of its 22 starters back, including its top two wide receivers in Harrison and Jordon Murrell.
What the season will likely hinge on, though, is Billy's left arm, whether it's throwing passes, warding off defenders or pumping up fans.
Sometimes during spring practices, he'll even motion to the imaginary crowd as a way to keep his teammates loose and excited for the season with lofty expectations to come. And he's taking responsibility for making sure that it's a success by filling the holes he had in his game a season ago.
"I've got a year under my belt. I know what to expect," Billy said. "If I can get that down, there's really no stopping Saint Stephen's."