MONTICELLO — Luke Lambert had high expectations for this season.
But not even the Monticello senior would have predicted things to turn out this well. After all, he had attempted just one varsity pass before this season, making more of an impact as a wide receiver and outside linebacker.
Lambert may have questioned a person’s sanity before the season if they mentioned his transformation from backup quarterback to one of the state’s passing leaders.
“I would have called them crazy,” Lambert said with a laugh. “I expected to have a good season. It’s all about the wins to me. I really didn’t expect our stats to be this high and this good, but with receivers like we have and the plays coach is calling, it really makes it easy. I’m just happy where we’re at with it.”
Despite playing in only five regular-season football games, Lambert has enjoyed a career year. He ranks among Class 2A’s best in six offensive categories, helping the Panthers to a 4-1 record before their first-round home playoff game against Union Community Friday at Dean Nelson Field.
“He’s a great leader,” Monticello Coach Wes Wilson said. “He’s got that ‘it’ factor. Kids follow him. We knew he had that ability. He’s just done a great job this year. He’s done a tremendous job leading and keeping the guys focused.”
Lambert played behind starting QB Jeff Carlson last season. Wilson and the coaches realized they were leaving talent on the bench, so they devised packages to work him in with the receiving corps. It resulted in 215 yards on 27 catches and a touchdown.
“He’s too good of an athlete and football player to sit on the sidelines,” Wilson said. “As our backup quarterback, we moved him out there and had him play quite a bit. He did a great job for us.
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“He’s another guy on the field that understood situations. He was able to run good routes, because he knew what he was looking for from the quarterback spot, so he knew where to run to get open.”
Lambert embraced the chance to continue to study the offense and the temporary role. He displayed his team-first attitude without hesitation.
“I would do anything to help the team out,” said Lambert, who had 45 1/2 tackles and a team-high four interceptions in 2019. “Coach said that was the best way I could help us that year, so I was totally down for it. Honestly, it gave me another year to learn from Jeff. He helped me learn the offense and I learned the reads. It gave me more experience.”
Stepping into the receivers’ shoes helped him understand their perspective, which has paid dividends this year. He has a better grasp on what his targets are thinking and reading each play. They have developed good chemistry, knowing when and where to deliver passes.
“It helped me learn the tendencies,” Lambert said. “I talked to the receivers a lot about it. The experience helped me a lot.”
Numbers certainly prove it. Lambert has compiled more yardage each game this year than all of last season, passing for more than 240 yards in three separate victories and eclipsing the 100-yard rushing mark for 384 total yards in a win over Bellevue.
Lambert’s 1,606 all-purpose yards and 15 passing TDs are third in 2A. His 1,229 passing yards and 15.8 yards per completion are fourth. Lambert owns a 154.9 QB rating, which is second-best in 2A.
“He’s so calm,” Wilson said. “He never gets too excited. It’s like having another coach out there. He never gets rattled. He takes care of the football.
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“He makes the right decision. He studies well. He does all the little things that you want your quarterback to do to be successful and lead your team.”
Justin Recker, who stands 6-foot-6, has nine TD catches and is tied for second in 2A. Tyler Luensman is third in 2A with 550 receiving yards and tied for sixth with 30 receptions. Lambert has connected with eight receivers. No surprise that he loves to air it out and throw downfield.
“I love it,” Lambert said. “Anytime they call a deep ball I know my receivers are going to get open and make the play. I love throwing deep. I’m confident every time I throw it up that they’re going to get it and make the play for me. I really love those big plays.”
Union (0-7) inherits the task of stopping the Panthers’ offense. Lambert will likely play a key role again and he will do anything Monticello needs to advance.
“Luke is just a great kid,” Wilson said. “He’ll do whatever it takes to win. He’s not worried about his stats, how many catches he had last year or how many yards he gets this year. He’s just worried about the team and whatever that takes first.”
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