High school football: 10 quarterbacks to watch
There’s a prevailing thought in baseball that momentum is only as good as the next day’s starting pitching. While true, let’s tweak that statement for a moment.
In football, a team is only as good as its quarterback.
The sport’s most pivotal position is put under the spotlight here, as Hearst Connecticut Media breaks down 10 of the region’s top quarterbacks to watch for the upcoming high school season.
Mike Collins, New Canaan: Graduation took a toll on the Rams, snatching the likes of Zach Allen, the Gatorade State Player of the Year now at Boston College, Frank Cognetta and Alex LaPolice, but Collins’ return should ease any concerns. In fact, the Rams didn’t skip a beat under Collins (2,624 yards, 32 touchdowns) last year, racing to 11 wins and a second straight state title. Even more responsibility will fall on the senior going forward.
Patrick Conte, Fairfield Prep: The Jesuits apparently saw enough during practice and in a spot start last year to tab Conte as their replacement for dual-threat Colton Smith. Although the junior might not provide the same level of electricity as Smith in the run game, his arm alone is a reason to get excited. Conte (6-foot-5, 225 pounds) completed 15 of his 24 attempts for 279 yards, two touchdowns and one interception last year.
Coach’s take: “He’s a different sort of kid than Colton was — more of a drop-back guy. He’s still a very good athlete. He’s a big-bodied kid with a strong arm. … Going into preseason camp, he is the No. 1.” — Fairfield Prep’s Keith Hellstern
The Cadets tried a couple different options at quarterback last season before turning to the unproven Babineau full-time in Week 5. The move paid dividends, as Babineau went 8-1 as a starter and led the Cadets to the Class M-Small championship. Now a junior, he’ll have to find a few new playmakers.
Coach’s take: “Looks like he’s another talented St. Joseph’s quarterback. I caught a little glimpse of him at the 7-on-7 Grip It and Rip It at New Canaan. (St. Joseph coach) Joe (Della Vecchia) does a great job of bringing the quarterbacks along. … Looks like the same results.”
— Trinity Catholic’s Donny Panapada
ADAM WOJENSKI, BUNNELL
The strong-armed Wojenski proved to be an ideal fit in the spread offense, firing 27 touchdown passes as a junior. He also threw for 2,478 yards, giving the Bulldogs every reason to believe that big things are in store for an offense that returns a full complement of playmakers, including star wide receiver Zhyaire Fernandes.
Coach’s take: “He’s a very athletic kid. He’s got a big arm. I think he’s going to have a really good year, especially with the skill players they have there.” — New Milford’s Larry Badaracco
Timmy Graham, Darien: The Blue Wave knew what it was doing when it handed the reins to Graham to keep its aerial attack soaring. Graham passed for 2,525 yards and 24 touchdowns, leading the Blue Wave to an FCIAC championship and the Class L-Large final in his first year as a starter. It’s fair to think those numbers could rise his senior season.
Coach’s take: “He knows where to throw the ball, he knows when to throw the ball, and he knows when to eat it.” — Petroccio
Tyler Hansen, New Milford: In what was another underwhelming season for the Green Wave, Hansen was a dose of optimism. Hansen broke out as a junior, registering 2,135 passing yards and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of more than 3-to-1. He also rushed for 585 yards and seven scores in a 3-8 campaign.
Coach’s take: “He pretty much broke like every school passing record we had last year. He did a phenomenal job. He’s putting in the work this summer to get even better.” — New Milford’s Larry Badaracco
Anthony Lombardi, Trinity Catholic: Can the Crusaders continue their ascent up the FCIAC standings and build off last year’s 7-4 record? A talented player such as Lombardi, who completed 58 percent of his passes and threw for 21 touchdowns as a junior, will have a strong say.
Coach’s take: “Everything starts with the quarterback. To have an experienced guy who performed at a high level last year definitely helps. I expect him to continue his growth and take it to the next level.” — Panapada
Christian Lupoli, Notre Dame-West Haven: One of the state’s most dangerous dual-threats, Lupoli (6-3, 190 pounds) brought the Green Knights all the way to the Class L-Small finals in his second year as a starter, losing 38-16 to Windsor. The program’s chances of making it back to the big game will depend on what Lupoli can do as a senior. The University of New Hampshire commit accounted for over 2,700 yards last season.
Coach’s take: “He’s a solid player. He can run and throw. … He won a lot of big games last year and got us to the finals. We went to a spread offense last year, which was to his strength.” — Notre Dame-West Haven’s Tom Marcucci
Taisun Phommachanh, Harding: Rookie of the Year to household name? Phommachanh was far and away the state’s most productive freshman last season, passing for 2,540 yards and 20 touchdowns to fuel a surprisingly potent offense. There’s reason to believe that Phommachanh and the Presidents (5-6 record last year) will be even better with the move to the CSC.
Coach’s take: “I’ve seen a lot of quarterbacks, especially watching the Grip It and Rip It at New Canaan, and he really stands out. We have aspirations of him being a big-time football player.” — Harding’s Eddie Santiago
Jared Piatnik, Bethel: A hard-nosed runner with a knack for making game-changing plays, Piatnik is everything the Wildcats want in a quarterback. At 6-3, 205 pounds, Piatnik was a force in the triple-option attack, rushing for 682 yards and nine scores as a junior. Throw junior Jake Roper into the mix, and the Wildcats will pack a pretty strong one-two punch in the backfield.
Coach’s take: “He fits the offense perfectly. He can run the ball. He runs very hard. He’s not a quarterback who’s going to go down on the first hit. But he can also throw the ball, and they have some talented players who can catch.” — Bunnell’s Sean Mignone