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Sports

August 20, 2012

Dandy Dozen —The North Shore's 12 best QBs of the last 40 years: Pingree standout did it all in leading team to Bowl championships

There’s no denying the position’s allure: America is flat-out fascinated with the quarterback.

Sure, there’s a lot to account for on a football field. But it’s the QB that draws us in. We love a quarterback because he’s in control. It starts in the huddle and moves down to the line of scrimmage, where the onus is on him to ignite the ensuing madness. After each play when everyone else is licking their wounds, he’s the guy headed to the sideline — good or bad — to face the coach.

Quarterbacks typically get the most glory in a win and shoulder the most blame in a loss, but the guys that thrive most at the position don’t take much stalk in personal adoration. It’s not about passing yards or completion percentage; it’s about making enough plays at the most crucial moments so when the clock runs out, it’s your teammates — and not the opposition — rejoicing.

When Brendan Oliver was the signal caller for the Pingree School in South Hamilton in 2009 and 2010, few teams celebrated as often as the Highlanders. With back-to-back New England Prep School Championship Bowl wins, an 18-1 record in 19 starts and over 40 career combined touchdowns, Oliver comes in at No. 12 on our list of the Greatest Quarterbacks on the North Shore over the last 40 years.

FITTING THE BILL

At 6-feet-3 and 240 pounds, Oliver looked every bit the part of a classic quarterback. A natural athlete with incredible arm strength, the Danvers native always had the natural gifts. But it’s what he did with those gifts, honing them both in the weightroom and the film room, that separated him from other talented players.

Highlanders head coach Chris Powers, who runs a high-energy spread offense, knows it takes a special kind of kid to thrive in his system. It requires a sharp spiral and an even sharper mind.

“He’s got to have a strong arm and has to be willing to run. And they have to put a lot of extra time in studying defenses,” explained Powers. “It’s a lot of extra pressure that may not be typical to every high school quarterback. Brendan was really good at recognizing the flow of the game. As his career went on, we’d be on the same page calling plays.”

In just over two seasons under center at Pingree, Oliver put up career passing numbers of 218 completions on 384 attempts for 3,788 yards, 40 TDs and just 16 interceptions. He could tuck it and run, too, but his versatility wasn’t limited to just being a dual threat. He could beat you different ways through the air.

It could be in short yardage; quick-hitters on one drive, then a big-strike downfield on the next. A three-sport athlete and dominant pitcher, Oliver had the strength to deliver the ball with force on the outside throws, then rely on his precision to find the smaller windows on tight end seams or look-in passes.

“He has the strongest arm I’ve personally ever seen on a high school quarterback,” said Kyle Jamerson, the leading receiver and fellow senior on that 2010 Pingree team. “He never had any problems throwing deep, but he could throw short too. He could hit any route.”

Oliver's rushing numbers (534 yards and 6 TDs on 77 attempts) weren’t devastating, but they're hardly indicative of just a pocket passer. They weren’t yards gained in open space with defenders dropped back in coverage; Oliver left the sliding for baseball season, earning his yards by rushing between the tackles with his head down.

“I’m pretty sure he was the biggest kid on our team,” said Will Walfield, a co-captain and senior on the Highlanders' undefeated 2010 squad. “He would put his head down and run right through the hole. No matter who was in front of him, he’d run right through ‘em.”

FROM FALCON TO HIGHLANDER

Things on the football field didn’t always seem to work themselves out for Oliver, whose career on the gridiron began with intermittent disappointment.

As a fifth grader in Danvers Pop Warner, Oliver would hop on the scale each week and sometimes being declared too big to line up under center. Being banished to line duty didn’t deter him, though.

“You’re the leader. You’re in complete control of basically everything that happens after and even during the snap. It’s like you’re a coach on the field,” Oliver said when asked why he wanted to be a quarterback. “I like being in control of the game and being able to make the play that can help the team win.”

Fast forward four years to his freshman season at Danvers High School, where the Falcons scheme relied on the rush. It was more than just the football fit that didn’t sit right with Oliver, whose increased maturity had him seeking a different kind of education.

“The major deciding factor was that Pingree was a better opportunity academically and athletically. I think you get noticed more by college coaches by playing against PG (post-graduate) schools,” said Oliver, who now plays football at Trinity College in Hartford. “Academically, Pingree is like a college atmosphere. It’s very self-dependent where you rely on yourself to get all the work done.”

After starting his first game under center in Pingree’s final game of his sophomore season, a 46-15 win over Dexter Southfield, Oliver took the starting job full time as a junior in 2009 and the team finished 7-1 in the regular season. He stepped into the role as leader of the offense by watching Derek Pratt, Pat George and Lamarre Rey lead during his sophomore season.

By the end of the season, the offense produced 31.6 points per game in just the Highlanders' fourth campaign as a varsity football program. The Highlanders secured a spot in the New England Prep School Championship game against the Brooks School and its BYU recruit, Jordan Johnson.

Oliver’s greatest strength as a quarterback and competitor began to show itself. His hand was always at it steadiest in the white-knuckle moments of the game, and no moment was bigger than 4th-and-8 in the fourth quarter against Brooks.

High speed winds and a few missed chances down by the goal line had Pingree trailing 6-0 in the final minutes of the Clark/Francis Bowl at Endicott College in Beverly when Pingree senior captain John St. Pierre recovered a fumble, giving his club one final shot with just over a minute remaining. Oliver, who started all season at linebacker, had his bell rung earlier in the game and was still a little hazy, but in that final minute things seemed to come to focus. He orchestrated a seven-play, 32-yard drive that included a pair of fourth-down completions, the final one with 40 seconds left on 4th-and-8 when he hit Kyle Jamerson on a curl deep in the end zone. The Highlanders would hold on to win 7-6.

“I was kind of out of it, to be honest,” said Oliver. “I wasn’t going to throw it to anyone else in that situation. I didn’t read anything; I just watched what the kid did and as soon as Kyle broke I threw it. I thought we didn’t make it, but I saw the refs hands go up and we all just sprinted over to him. It was awesome.”

The entire drive was pretty surreal, including an Oliver-to-Jamerson-to-Hamden hook-and-ladder play as well as a huge 12-yard pickup on a bullet to Brandon Parker on 4th-and-7.

“That last drive everything seemed to go right,” explained Powers. “Brendan made great decisions, his passing was on the money and his timing was on the money.”

READY TO EXPLODE

Oliver’s grasp on the offense continued to grow as a senior, as did his connection with the various weapons around him. With Jamerson and Parker back along with fellow senior captains Brian Rogers and Walfield, as well as the emergence of junior Kenny Adinkra and sophomore sparkplug Nick Antenucci, there were plenty of mouths to feed offensively. But Oliver had no trouble, hitting 11 different receivers and having seven players with over 100 receiving yards each and six with at least 10 receptions. He finished with 2,327 yards passing, 24 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions.

“The No. 1 thing was the chemistry,” noted Oliver. “As I got older, I started reading defenses. Some kids have a sense or a football IQ where you can read stuff before it happens, and I got better at reading a defense and watching a play progress.”

The Highlanders showed little mercy on their march back to the NEPSAC Championship playoffs, averaging 40.3 points through eight undefeated regular season bouts.

ONE LAST HOORAH

But once again in the Bowl game, the Highlanders were underdogs. This time they faced the Rivers School, with former Marblehead High standout and University of Nebraska recruit Taariq Allen in addition to standout running back Ben Patrick.

Trailing by 16 points, Oliver hit Walfield on a wheel route for a 43-yard touchdown strike on the first play of the fourth quarter. “A lot of those plays in those Bowl games came from both him (Oliver) and Chris (Powers), they kind of worked off each other,” said Walfield. “I remember on the TD pass he threw to me, he told Chris before the huddle that he thought that play would be perfect because he knew their safety wouldn’t be covering me.”

Besides having an outstanding game at middle linebacker in place of Rogers, Oliver finished with 173 yards passing and three touchdowns to go with 47 yards rushing after starting the contest with a pair of interceptions. He added a couple of two-point conversions through the air in the fourth quarter — the second tying the game at 28-28 with just over six minutes left. The Highlanders would go onto win in truly unbelievable fashion when they blocked the go-ahead field goal attempt and Antenucci returned it 84 yards for a score.

With the win, Pingree finished a perfect 9-0 and Oliver and the rest of the departing senior class had accomplished their goal, winning 17 straight games to go out on top as back-to-back NEPSAC champs.

“Every time I think about it I get chills. There’s no better way to end any type of career,” said Oliver. “We all got along, played well together and were perfectly in sync. I think that’s why we did so well.”

That bond was enhanced by the fact that Pingree, unlike other teams around the North Shore, doesn't play for a community outside their own campus. For Oliver, it was always about the 10 other guys in the huddle and the rest of the players on the sideline with green P’s on their helmets. The team-wide attitude helped turn a small school just getting its feet wet in varsity football into a New England powerhouse on the gridiron.

Oliver is preparing for his sophomore season at Trinity, where he is currently listed as a tight end — though he hasn’t ruled out going back to his natural position.

Oliver’s desire to win and commitment to the team was so strong that during his senior year, when the Highlanders lost their last viable option on the defensive line, Oliver volunteered to get down and dirty in the trenches. He risked injury in the middle of an undefeated campaign in his senior year to keep that streak alive.

That’s a true teammate.

That’s a quarterback.

 

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