The year of the quarterback: High School signal-callers are better than ever
It was not long ago that a local high school quarterback racking up either 1,500 yards passing or 1,000 yards rushing would stand out among his peers.
Now, he'd be just another face in the crowd.
In this modern era of high-octane offense, those lofty numbers are not just reached, but in many cases surpassed by most quarterbacks, becoming the standard, not the exception.
While some quarterbacks are still traditional drop-back passers and a few are still straight-up runners, the last few years have seen the emergence of the hybrid signal-caller who piles up stats and points with his arm and legs while leading defensive coordinators to many sleepless nights.
How deep is the quarterback position across the region?
So deep that a player with over 2,000 passing yards and double-digit touchdown throws will not make the All-FCIAC first team.
So deep that Matt White of Ludlowe (1,144 passing, 1,002 rushing) is not even mentioned by coaches rattling off the top quarterbacks in the FCIAC, whereas 10 years ago he would be the clear choice as the league's best player at the position.
Marce Petroccio has coached Staples for 20 years and does not remember a time when the quarterback position was so rich in talent.
"I have not seen so many good quarterbacks across the board, not that I can recall," Petroccio said. "Now you have to deal with their legs and their arms and for defenses, that is very difficult. I think we are now seeing the best athletes play the position ... the evolution of the position has been remarkable."
It started with one team, then two and now it seems the majority of area teams use some variation of the spread offense, and its effect on quarterback play has been profound.
The spread -- a multiple-receiver set with the quarterback lined up in the shotgun -- is tough to run without an intelligent, athletic quarterback at the helm. Therefore, coaches are now putting their best athletes under center instead of in the backfield or split wide.
"Kids like to pass and catch. They aren't going to run it down your throat like in the old days," New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli said. "The NFL has become a passing league, most colleges are pass-heavy and the Canadian Football League has always been. It makes the game more fun for kids."
Spread offenses -- and their offspring such as the pistol and read-option -- force defenses to stay at home more, waiting to see if the play is a draw, pass, option run or end around, giving passers more time to throw and runners more lanes to run in.
In the past, defenses could stack the line against a running team or send blitzes at the quarterback of a passing team, but now they must adjust on the fly to what offenses are showing them.
"For opposing coaches, it makes defensive schemes very difficult," Bethel coach Jason Gill said. "Now that so many quarterbacks can scramble and throw or take off down the field, they are harder to contain."
The options presented to the quarterback also free up some signal-callers to change plays at the line, something unheard of until recent years.
"The kids now are more like college and pro quarterbacks in their ability to check down and change plays at the line," Shelton coach Jeff Roy said. "It makes them understand the offense better and know what everyone is supposed to be doing."
Thirty-six teams participated in last summer's Grip it and Rip it passing tournament at New Canaan High School with quarterbacks from other schools attending various passing camps and competitions throughout the offseason.
Many also spend the winter training and throwing with private coaches at indoor facilities such as Chelsea Piers, Bluestreak and the Sono Ice House.
The influx of these programs keeps players not only throwing year-round but also reading defenses and working on their all-important timing with receivers.
Darien senior Silas Wyper is one of the best quarterbacks in the FCIAC but did not start a game last season. Wyper believes the work he was able to do at camps is one of the main reasons he has been so successful this season, leading the Blue Wave to the No. 1 seed in next week's Class L playoffs.
"You don't realize the timing you have with guys until you have to work with new receivers," Wyper said. "Being able to do that last summer was an incredible experience. You work on timing but you also learn about reading defenses."
Starting them young
The current crop of players was the first to go through youth football with these offenses as options, making them comfortable before they ever set foot on a varsity field.
Some youth leagues run the same offenses as the high schools in their town, making for an easier transition and more skilled players with advanced football IQs.
Drew Tarantino has been the varsity quarterback at Newtown for three seasons and said learning the Nighthawks' offense in middle school gave him a clear advantage once he joined the varsity.
"Since I started playing in third grade, we have always thrown a lot, but in sixth grade, we started doing what the high school does," Tarantino said, "It helped me out a lot because I was ahead of the game. It helped out my teammates, too, because we were all familiar with the playbook."
Boom!: The "Madden" Effect
Since there have been video games, parents have been complaining their kids spend too much time playing them.
Next time mom or dad gives you a hard time, tell them that playing "Madden" or "NCAA Football" on a gaming console may actually help you become the next great high school quarterback.
While it will never replace film work or actual practice, getting to read defenses while having fun playing a video game can only help a player's acumen when they hit the field.
"The video games are so sophisticated and realistic now," Roy said. "The kids learn much more about a Cover-2 defense from playing `Madden' than from me on a chalkboard."
The games also have the benefit of improving hand-eye coordination and the speed of decision-making.
"I play NCAA and I think it helps because you are looking at the defense from the same vision," Tarantino said. "Reading the defenses definitely translates. I am pretty good at the game so it does help me."
More InformationThe modern Quarterbacks
The pure passers
Drew Tarantino, Newtown: 2414 yards, 32 TDs
Jordan Vazzano, St. Joseph: 2404 yards, 30 TDs
Nick Roberts, Trumbull: 3104 yards, 32 TDs
Brad Westmark, Brookfield: 1122 yards, 9 TDs*
Ryan Dunn, Ridgefield: 1830 yards, 24 TDs*
Jack Shaban, Barlow: 1841 rushing yards, 32 TDs
Vochan Fowler Bassick: 1029 rushing yards, 7 TDs*
Joseph Piatnik, Bethel: 1062 rushing, 16 TDs*
The dual threats
Nick Cascione, New Canaan: 1979 yards, 28 TDs, 487 rushing, 10 TDs
Jack Massie, Staples: 1345 yards, 14 TDs, 602 rushing, 8 TDs*
Brett Phillips, Wilton: 1167 passing, 7 TDs, 985, 8 TDs
Jake Kasuba, Foran: 2751 yards, 25 TD, 406 rushing, 3 TDs*
Colton Smith, Prep: 1452 yards, 9 TDS, 1101 rushing 20 TDs*
Mark Piccirillo, Shelton: 1740 yards, 17 TDs, 556, 15 TDs*
Anferny Ith, Danbury: 1736 yards, 16 TDs, 500 rushing 3 TDs*
Silas Wyper, Darien: 2474 yards, 18 TDs, 401 rushing 3 TDs
Matt White, Ludlowe: 1144 yards, 9 TDs, 1002 rushing, 14 TDs*
* -- Statistics as of Nov. 28
-- SCOTT ERICSON