BILLERICA — Peter Flynn has a knack for developing quarterbacks.
In his 23 years at the helm of the football program at Billerica High, all but one QB has been an all-conference selection.
Four-year starter Nick LaSpada, whose terrific career came to an abrupt halt last Nov. 4 with the diagnosis of blood clots, and Michael Mastrullo (1993-94) are considered two of the best quarterbacks to ever play in the Merrimack Valley Conference.
The system is well-tested. Flynn and his staff make sure that the backup is prepped; he must digest the playbook, be able to properly dissect a defense, and work tirelessly on developing proper mechanics.
It is a system that has junior Jordan Bolarinho ready to follow the same path as Billerica works to replace LaSpada, the state’s Player of the Year as a sophomore in 2009.
Billerica is not alone.
Everett, North Andover, and Pope John are among the teams facing the same challenge: finding a successor to a stellar quarterback who has just graduated.
“A quarterback has to have poise, discipline, and the ability to digest the information, process it, and go out and execute it flawlessly,” Flynn said. “[Bolarinho’s] maturation from the end of last season to now is leaps and bounds. It’s a thing of beauty because he’s doing so well.”
Last season when LaSpada was battling his medical condition, Bolarinho was so well prepared that he stepped in to start the last two games.
“It was shocking when Nick got hurt, but I felt I was ready with everything he taught me,” Bolarinho said. “Having Nick on the sidelines helped. I remember whenever [LaSpada] was done with the offensive sessions, he’d come over to me and explain how to [read] defenses.”
This year, Bolarinho is eager to have full control of the team’s spread offense.
“I kind of take in what happened last year and use it to better myself this year,” Bolarinho said. “I feel I have a mastery of the no-huddle offense, and I feel like the team respects me as the quarterback and thinks I’m ready to make play calls on my own.”
Bolorinho, referred to as Gunner by his teammates, will often be aiming the ball to senior wide receiver Matt Clifford.
“He’s worked all summer and we’re building a great connection with each other,” Clifford said. “I think he’s going to do a great job.”
At Everett, the shoes to fill are just as sizable: those of Jonathan DiBiaso .
Last year, the Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year threw a single-season record 44 touchdowns and eclipsed Tom Colombo as the state’s career leader with 103 TD passes.
“We’re in transition now,” said his father, Everett coach John DiBiaso.
There’s no replacing the younger DiBiaso, but when searching for a replacement there are certain character qualities the elder DiBiaso looks for. “You’ve got to have confidence, and you have to have a little poise under pressure because of the schedule we play,” the coach said.
Junior Pat Long — a more pass-oriented quarterback — and sophomore Lukas Dennis, who can make plays running the ball, have battled all preseason for the top spot.
“In Lukas’s case, he reminds me a lot of some option quarterbacks I’ve had in the past — he runs the option very well,” DiBiaso said. “He has great skills as a runner. [Long] has a prototype body — he’s 6-foot-3 and he looks like a college quarterback. He’s more of a passer, but you’ve got to do a little bit of both.
“We have to get Pat to improve on his running, and Lukas to improve his passing.”
Everett, stacked with great receivers in Jalen Felix, Jakarrie Washington, and Kenny Calaj, runs a spread offense.
Mix in a no-huddle system and each young quarterback is faced with mastering a complex system.
“It’s the most important position on the field,” Long said. “You need to be ready to come on the field, know the plays, and execute everything. But I feel really confident and I know my plays and my reads and I just have to keep working on them.”
According to DiBiaso, both quarterbacks have taken well to the system and have improved throughout the preseason. But the experience of playing in a varsity game is invaluable, and the true test will come Friday when the two take their first snaps against Division 1 Central champion Leominster.
“We’re going to the defending Central Mass. champs on a Friday night with 5,000 fans screaming at them, so there’s going to be very little room for error,” DiBiaso said. “What we’re asking them to do is manage the team, rather than go out and try to win the game by yourself.”
Across the way at Pope John, junior Mike Sullivan is in position to command the Tigers offense in place of Robert McMaster, who last season threw for a school-record 30 touchdowns while completing 79 percent of his passes.Continued...