Ryan Pettway and Michael Bruner were very different people three years ago.
Pettway was an undisciplined baseball player who dreamt of quarterbacking the Wilson football team, and Bruner was a frustrated tight end who wanted to play wide receiver on the freshman squad.
Last night against Huntington Beach the senior Pettway lined up as the mature quarterback and unquestioned leader of a good Wilson team that had the junior Bruner lined up as the top receiving target. The duo hooked up for three touchdowns of 75, 70 and 51 yards in the win over San Jacinto last week, and had another score in the season opening win over Mayfair.
Pettway has already thrown for 791 yards and nine touchdowns this season thanks to increased poise and patience in the pocket. He has helped Wilson answer a pair of opening kickoff returns for touchdowns with touchdown drives of his own in the first two games. Coach Mark Zeigenhagen said that his improvement has come thanks to maturity.
“He’s taken more of an on-field presence with leadership and talking to guys positively,” Ziegenhagen said of Pettway. “In the past he might have made a joking remark or blamed guys for not catching the ball. It was just young quarterback stuff when things aren’t going their way. He’s finally come around after three years in the program and grasping what we’re trying to do.”
Pettway has racked up 3,679 yards passing and 33 touchdowns in 22 career games played at Wilson. He won the starting job as a sophomore and then struggled with inconstancy as a junior.
“He’s taking it more seriously,” Bruner said of Pettway. “Last year I felt like he would joke around too much and wasn’t part of the group, but this year I feel like he’s really part of the group. He’s leading, and now we work more together as a group.”
Pettway said his maturity has come thanks to familiarity with his teammates. He has had both Bruner and starting receiver Tyrie Robinson for two years.
“I have a better connection with my teammates and receivers than I had previously,” Pettway said. “We’ve worked a lot more and a lot harder for this year. We’ve bonded better.”
That bond with Bruner has provided Wilson with almost all of its passing yards. Bruner has 316 yards receiving and four touchdowns this season, and all of that comes just one year after being an inexpereinced and inconsistent sophomore receiver.
“We did some unofficial 40-yard dash times in the spring when he was a sophomore and Bruner ran an unofficial 4.5 so we knew we had a burner,” Ziegenhagen said. “Last year he’d drop the easy ones and make the tougher catches. He took that to heart and got better. This year he got stronger and is still running fast.”
The 6’0″ 175-pound Bruner enlisted the help of former Wilson receiver Zechariah Dolphin, and they worked in the offseason on breaking hard on a slant, stacking on a corner for a fade, getting outside and catching the ball better.
“I had never really seen him or heard of him before last year,” Pettway said of Bruner. “He’s wowed me with his speed and talent. This year he put in the work in the weight room and has blossomed into a great receiver. He’s doing great things.”
Bruner wasn’t sure he’d ever step on a football field again when he was 9 and broke his leg playing Pop Warner.
“I was pretty scared,” Bruner said. “But I couldn’t stop playing. I love football, and couldn’t see myself without the sport. After I came back I found a way to get better by trusting my body and myself.”
Although Bruner is relatively new to his position, he isn’t lacking in confidence.
“I always want the ball,” Bruner said. “That’s how I see it in my head. If I’m open I want the ball, and I feel like every time I get the ball I’m a threat and I can score every time.”
If Wilson wants to challenge Poly for the Moore League title, Bruner and Pettway will need to be scoring a lot more in the near future.