It was a joke at first, a running gag among Joe Dalsey and his Shawnee football friends and coaches.

"I was like, 'Coach, I'll play quarterback,'" Dalsey said of his half-serious conversations over the winter with Renegades boss Tim Gushue. "I said, 'I play baseball. I've got the arm. I can do it.'"

Dalsey had done just about everything else in his career. He was a guard when he played the sport for the first time as an eighth grader. He had been a tight end, wide receiver and running back on offense, and an end and linebacker on defense during his first three seasons at Shawnee.

Plus, he was a top kicker and punter.

Shawnee’s Joe Dalsey is a versatile athlete who has played several positions during the course of his career.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Shawnee’s Joe Dalsey is a versatile athlete who has played several positions during the course of his career.

"He's a throwback," Gushue said. "He's like one of those guys when you think back to the '70s. Every school had them. Those guys played everywhere, all over the field. That's Joe."

When Shawnee opens its season Friday against  school-district rival Cherokee, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Dalsey will add another position to his portfolio: He will be the Renegades' starting quarterback.

What started out in jest in January has become reality in September, as Dalsey will serve as the signal-caller — while still playing linebacker on defense, and operating as the squad's kicker and punter — for the defending South Jersey Group 4 champions and West Jersey Football League American Division contenders.

Gushue said Dalsey earned the veteran coach's confidence with impressive play under center this summer.

"Our first scrimmage, he did OK but you could see he had work to do," Gushue said. "Then we scrimmaged [preseason No. 1 team] St. Joe, and he really started to come around and find his groove.

"He completed a whole bunch of passes, converted a whole bunch of third downs. Then when we had our game scrimmage against Eastern, he was throwing some great balls."

Dalsey said it's not 100 percent true that he had no experience at quarterback before this summer.

"I did play quarterback sometimes playing two-hand touch in the backyard," Dalsey said.

Dalsey has embraced the challenge of a new position as a senior leader for a team with its sights firmly set on another sectional title.

"I like it a lot," Dalsey said of playing quarterback. "I think I'm getting better every day, really learning a lot."

Dalsey will make his debut at quarterback in Friday night’s opener against Cherokee.
TOM GRALISH / Staff photographer
Dalsey will make his debut at quarterback in Friday night’s opener against Cherokee.

Gushue believes Dalsey could punt and/or kick for an NCAA Division I college program if he focused strictly on being a specialist.

"He's that good," Gushue said of Dalsey, who enters this season with eight career field goals.

At this time last season, Dalsey's main position was defensive end and that still might be his best spot on that side of the football. But he's likely to play mostly weak-side linebacker, and also to take off a few defensive series.

The combination of "quarterback and defensive end –oh boy,'" Gushue said. "We need to be smart. We need to give him some breaks. But I still say this: If I'm standing on the sideline and he's standing next to me, that's not a good thing for Shawnee."

Dalsey (right, No. 82) tackles Cherokee’s Elijah Bard as a defensive end in last year’s game between the school-district rivals.
Akira Suwa/For the Inquirer
Dalsey (right, No. 82) tackles Cherokee’s Elijah Bard as a defensive end in last year’s game between the school-district rivals.

Gushue said Dalsey has intangible qualities that should serve him well as a quarterback.

"He's leadership is so good," Gushue said. "Academically, he's over the top. And he's resilient.

"It's not that he's not hard on himself, because he is. But every good quarterback I've had has had a short memory. We always say, 'The most important play is the next play.' He understands that."

Because of his size, speed and strength, Dalsey likely will be an effective running quarterback for the Renegades. He also will have some experienced receivers such as senior wideouts Joe Moore and Jon Searcy and junior tight end Matt Papa.

"It's exciting," Dalsey said. "I never really thought about quarterback. When I first started playing, they put me at guard because I was one of the bigger kids. I thought maybe one day I could be a tight end and get the ball a little but I never thought about running the offense."

Dalsey said he never thought about playing quarterback for Shawnee until the end of last season, knowing that then-senior Colin Wetterau — a two-year starter — would be graduating with no heir apparent at the position.

"I was joking around in the winter because I knew we didn't have a set quarterback like last year with Colin Wetterau and this year was sort of a crapshoot," Dalsey said. "It was sort of a joke through the winter and through most of the spring with my friends and we all laughed at it and then Coach told me one day that I was actually going for it and that's when it got real."

Game of the week

Cherokee (0-0) at Shawnee (0-0), Friday at 7

The setup: This opener for both teams is a West Jersey Football League American clash between school-district rivals.

The rankings: Shawnee is No. 8 in the Inquirer Top 25. Cherokee is No. 22.

The series: Cherokee leads 9-6 over the last 15 seasons, but Shawnee has won three of four. The last two games have been decided by a total of four points.

Last year: Cherokee won, 42-41, in overtime.

Contrast in coaches: Shawnee's Tim Gushue starts his 36th season. Cherokee's Brian Glatz starts his first season.

New boss for the Chiefs: Glatz is a former standout player and longtime assistant coach at Cherokee. He is just the fourth coach in program history, following Jim Horner, John Scott and P.J. Mehigan.

Shawnee's strength: The Renegades should have a top offensive line led by returning starters in seniors J.C. Dobis and Beau Lanzidelle.

Cherokee athlete to watch: Junior running back Elijah Bard is a playmaker for the Chiefs.

The pick: Shawnee, 17-14.