ATLANTA-Even when they were in elementary school, Garrett Badgero and Jake Chambers knew they had a great connection on the football field.
"We played for the 5th/6th grade Eagles in Atlanta. He was a receiver, I was quarterback and even back then we'd hook up for passes, so it's kind of just developed into now," Badgero said.
Flip ahead several years later and the connection between Badgero and Chambers is still going strong, only this time the two are stars on the Atlanta High School football team.
News File Photos
Atlanta quarterback Garrett Badgero and wide receiver Jake Chambers have hooked up for 11 touchdown passes this season and have helped the Huskies to a 3-2 record through five games. The duo has been playing together since the fifth grade and has Atlanta aiming for a playoff spot for the first time in more than 10 years. LEFT: Chambers hauls in the first of his three touchdowns against Central Lake during a football game earlier this year. RIGHT: Badgero throws a pass during a game against Central Lake earlier this season.
The duo has become the Huskies' version of Detroit Lions' stars Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson and the connection between them has been on display a lot this season as Badgero has hooked up with Chambers for 490 yards and 11 touchdowns.
"We just know how each other works and what moves each other likes to do. We've got little plays that he and I can do to beat coverages," Badgero said.
It's a large part of why the Huskies (3-2) are feeling confident as they head into the last three weeks of the season with their eye on getting back to the playoffs for the first time since 1997 and posting their first winning season since 2002.
"If he knows he can out jump a guy, he'll just tell me to give him a jump ball kind of like Calvin Johnson and let him go up and get it."
- Atlanta quarterback Garrett Badgero on wide receiver Jake Chambers
"It would be the biggest thing ever in sports for me. We haven't been to the playoffs since '97. We always talk about it, but we never get it done and this year we have a legitimate shot," Chambers said. "It would mean the world."
Atlanta's dynamic duo
In his four-year career as Atlanta's quarterback, Badgero has played with quite a few top receivers.
In 2010, Kyle Oates led the area in receiving with 712 yards and five touchdowns. Last year, Trenton Janiga had 764 yards and six scores and Justin Klein had 683 yards to go with nine touchdowns.
If Chambers stays at his current pace, he very well could have one of the greatest seasons in school history, catching 17 or 18 touchdown passes and eclipsing 800 yards.
"Jake knows how to get open and Garrett knows how to find him downfield, so it works out good," Atlanta coach Troy Cheedie said.
In all but one of Atlanta's games this season, Chambers has caught a touchdown pass from Badgero and in three cases, he's had multi-touchdown games. Two weeks ago against Hale, Chambers found the end zone five times and hauled in 216 yards on nine catches.
The chemistry between them also has developed to the point where if Chambers knows he can beat a defensive back, he tells Badgero to throw him the ball, sometimes even asking him to throw the ball a little higher if he knows he can out jump a defender.
While Badgero likes to spread the ball around, Chambers is usually always his first option on a pass play and nearly 31 percent of Badgero's completed passes have gone to Chambers as well as more than 40 percent of his 1,130 passing yards and 11 of his 13 touchdowns.
"If he knows he can out jump a guy, he'll just tell me to give him a jump ball kind of like Calvin Johnson and let him go up and get it," Badgero said.
With Badgero having more control over Atlanta's play-calling this season, the Badgero-Chambers connection has accounted for almost 40 percent of Atlanta's point total and Chambers has shown the ability to catch everything from a short five-yard touchdown to a deep ball that's gone for a 70-yard score.
Chambers, who caught six passes for 34 yards last year, said he has a lot of confidence being the Huskies' No. 1 receiver, in part because Badgero is so good at getting him the ball.
"Normally it's a good feeling because he always throws really tight spirals, so that makes it easier to catch the ball," Chambers said of his quarterback. "A lot of times when he throws it, it just feels like I'm going to score because normally it works out and normally I'm open downfield."
Sticking with what works
The spread offense introduced by Mel Skillman in 2010, has helped the Huskies tremendously and has done wonders for Badgero, who's passed for over 1,000 yards in each of the last three seasons and could break the 2,000-yard this year.
Cheedie became an assistant coach with the Huskies when Skillman arrived and has seen Badgero develop over the last three years. When he took over as head coach this season, he kept the spread offense in place because of the Huskies' experience with and success running it.
"They play together real well. When Coach Mel came in, he came in with the spread offense obviously. He had some hand signals that we could use when (the other team) could beat coverages and stuff," Cheedie said. "Jake and Garrett have been playing together for so long and picked up on that real quick and have used it quite a bit and it works well for us."
While Chambers has been a favorite target of Badgero's this season, Atlanta's collective experience and talent has allowed several other players to shine. Jay Webster has 267 yards receiving on the year and the backfield duo of Jason Ferguson and Josh Barrett has given the Huskies a good balance on offense, which Cheedie said will be crucial in the last three games of the season.
"That's what we need. We can't just rely on the Chambers-Badgero combination," Cheedie said. "When they're not having such a good game, other guys have to be able to step it up."
Even when they were youngsters, Badgero and Chambers realized an obvious truth about sports: It's always more fun to win than lose.
"We wanted to win and that's what we're trying to bring back now, is trying to get the winning season back in Atlanta," Badgero said.
The duo, as well as their teammates, hasn't strayed from that mentality and with two more wins, the Huskies will have locked up their first winning season in more than a decade.
Before that though, there's a little matter of trying to wrap up the North Star League title. The Huskies currently lead the race with a 2-1 record, but Hillman, Mio and Au Gres are close behind at 1-1.
The Huskies are looking to rebound from a somewhat unexpected loss to Au Gres and next week's game against Hillman will go a long way in determining whether or not the Huskies win the league as it is Atlanta's last conference game of the season.
It also will be important for the Huskies' playoff hopes with Atlanta playing an eight-game schedule that requires at least five wins to qualify for the playoffs.
"It's a pretty big game. They're our county rivals. It's the biggest game of the year, but we have to win it if we want to win the league and make the playoffs which is our biggest goal," Chambers said.
A conference title and a playoff berth would be huge accomplishments for the Huskies, who have waded through 10 consecutive losing seasons and now have their eyes on the playoffs.
"Everybody wants it bad. We wanted the past four years that we've been in high school, the seniors have, and this year is our chance to take it," Badgero said. "It's ours if we want it, but, if not, it's ours to throw away too."