Tough lesson: Peoria High sophomore quarterback continues his football education
PEORIA — Tino Gist got his first real taste of prime time Big 12 Conference football.
Despite a 42-38 loss to Normal Community on Friday night at Peoria Stadium, the Peoria High quarterback showed flashes of what this Lions offense will look like for the next two years. The sophomore was thrust into the role as starting quarterback in Week 3 and hasn’t looked back.
“They were probably the best team that we’re going to play all year,” said Gist, whose full name is Valentino. “A loss is a loss. If we lose, all we can do is just get better from it. … I prefer that we didn’t lose, but it shows what we did wrong and what we can work on.”
The 6-foot, 175-pounder will have plenty of time to hone his skills over the next few seasons, especially after a trio of second-half interceptions against the Class 7A seventh-ranked Ironmen (6-0, 6-0).
Right now, though, Gist is providing a strong arm to a receiving corps chock full of talented guys like Ricky Hearn, Deatric Pollard, Ne-Sha Richardson and Jaylen Robinson. Gist found Pollard for a pair of scores — a 10-yarder in the third quarter and a pretty fade in fourth quarter, requiring the 5-foot-9 senior wideout to toe tap in the end zone before the momentum took him out of bounds.
Plus, any young QB having Eddie Clark in the backfield is a huge benefit. Clark, who took a screen pass from Gist and rumbled 94 yards before being caught on the 1, scored three TDs for the Class 5A sixth-ranked Lions (4-2, 4-1).
“It’s good that I got Eddie,” Gist said of the reigning Journal Star Offensive Player of the Year. “I don’t got to worry about as much. I don’t got to worry about the passing game as much. With the receivers, if the run game don’t work, I know I can go to them. I trust them. I trust Eddie. We all love each other.”
And Thornton also has faith in his underclassman.
The veteran coach inserted Gist into the Week 2 game against Wheaton St. Francis and says he was "taking caring of business a little bit." That play helped Thornton make the switch from Marcus Alexander-Neely to Gist the following week against Danville. He finished 17-for-26 with 199 passing yards in the 58-36 win.
“The decision-making was tremendous,” Thornton said. “He kind of just took it and ran with it. He gives so many guys an opportunity to go be competitors. and we’re just proud of him for making those decisions.”
Added Gist, “I didn’t know I could do all that as a sophomore.”
Peoria High found itself ahead of Normal Community 32-28 early in the third quarter, before mistakes began to pile up. Five of the next six possessions resulted in two fumbles and three interceptions.
This didn’t discourage Thornton, who even noted that he was "super proud" of Gist.
“He went through some things and struggled,” Thornton said. “The fact that he’s a sophomore showed a little bit, but he was able to bounce back from a lot of things and he came back and made good decisions. … I thought he did a really good job of putting things behind him and moving on to the next play.”
Gist takes comfort in knowing that his coach or teammates won’t hang him out to dry.
“It feels good knowing that (coach Thornton) got my back and everything,” Gist said. “For this game, as an example if we lose, he still got my back. My team got my back. I know my team got my back. I know everybody on that field got my back.”
Adam Duvall is a Journal Star sports reporter. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @AdamDuvall.