LITTLE ROCK — Talking with Bryce Petty’s junior high coach, “what is” trumped “what if.”
More than once, Danny Spencer was asked if Mike Malham Jr.’s offense would have changed if Petty, author of amazing passing numbers at Baylor, had completed high school in Cabot. No way to know, he said. With Malham, the running joke — pardon the pun — is that his Panthers have three plays, all runs. Seriously, the Panthers’ 66 pass attempts this past season is probably a record under Malham.
Running Malham’s offense under Spencer, Petty did throw four passes as a ninth grader in 2005, three of them for touchdowns during a 10-0 season.
End of the “what-if” angle.
Ongoing is the friendship between Spencer and Petty and their families.
Twice after coaching a Thursday night game, Spencer drove 5 1/2 hours to Midlothian, about 35 miles southwest of Dallas, to watch Petty play on a Friday night. He stayed with Petty’s parents, Todd and Dena. When the Pettys were in Cabot, the Spencers considered changing churches because of Dena’s work as youth minister.
“Our son and daughter are big Razorback fans, but they are bigger Bryce Petty fans,” Spencer said. “Especially my wife. If it was up to my wife, our son would have been named Bryce.”
Instead, the 11-year-old is Leyton. A big tennis fan, wife Kim liked it because Lleyton Hewitt was No. 1 in the world at age 20. Spencer agreed because the name and spelling are unique.
Spencer and Petty text regularly, including a good luck before each game and an honest critique afterward, and talk occasionally.
When Baylor made the Fiesta Bowl, Spencer considered taking the family to Arizona for the game. Son and 7-year-old daughter nixed that, something about Christmas at home.
“If my son is half the young man that Bryce is when he grows up, I would be the proudest father in the world,” Spencer said.
A few notes about Petty speak to the quality of the young man. He has been on the Big 12 Commissioner’s honor roll at least a half dozen times, graduated last May, went to Kenya on a mission trip with other Baylor students, and waited almost 1,800 days to become the starting quarterback. Now a leading candidate for the 2014 Heisman Trophy, he was rated the No. 25, 35, and 54 high school quarterback by various recruiting services, sporting numbers that were good, but not spectacular.
During Baylor’s 11-2 season, he completed 250 of 403 passes for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns with three interceptions. Some might credit Art Briles’ system for the yards and TDs, but Petty’s stamp is on the meager number of picks.
Petty told Spencer he felt like he “let so many people down” when he threw an interception in the regular-season loss to Oklahoma State and when he did the same in the Fiesta Bowl.
“He’s harder on himself than the coaches are,” Spencer said. “He demands perfection.”
Starting junior high football, Petty and the other half-scared seventh graders got the “be responsible” speech from Spencer — the talk about keeping up with cleats, helmets, shoulder pads, and never accusing somebody of stealing missing equipment.
That year, Petty lost his cleats, size 9 1/2 or 10. Identifiable by initials inside the shoes, Spencer had them. His rule is that the player must come to him and admit responsibility for the missing item. Petty never fessed up and the coach figured he had another pair of shoes. Correct, to a point. Petty spent the season wearing a size 7 1/2 and running in pain.
Spencer is waiting on the dates of Baylor’s spring practice, hoping to watch.
“Coach Briles just doesn’t let anybody attend,” Spencer said.
An intercession by Petty would go a long way. Like Spencer’s intro to Briles prior to the Buffalo game in September.
“Any coach of Bryce is a coach of mine,” Briles told Spencer.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is email@example.com.