NEW CANAAN — A highly touted freshman quarterback arrives at his new high school to great fanfare, navigating the maze of living up to the hype while fitting in with new teammates.
If this sounds like the third season of Friday Night Lights, with J.D. McCoy, you would be correct. But the real-life version is about to play out right here in our neck of the woods. Fairfield County will get a rare glimpse of what happens in Texas, Florida and real high school football hotbeds.
Even this is an extreme case. Most everyone has now heard of Drew Pyne, who will be entering New Canaan this fall already armed with offers from college powers like Florida State and Alabama without having taken a class at his new high school. The tenants at Dunning Field are going to be under the microscope this fall like never before as the media and fans flock to see if Pyne is indeed the next great thing.
Right now there is some fact, fiction and way too many assumptions being made about the many circumstances that will affect whether this turns into a circus sideshow or more likely the start of what should be four years of watching the making of a big-time quarterback.
While many discount 7 on 7 football because of the absence of linemen, the offseason circuit, including this past weekend’s Grip It & Rip It, in which we got to see Pyne in his new home for the first time, has been a boon for New Canaan. Pyne has had the chance to get acquainted with some of his new teammates. He will now be more than just a marquee name when practices begin next month. That may be even more important than the work he has put in.
Some people mistakenly are already making the comparison of the upcoming being like an amped up Turner Baty situation. Baty arrived with similar hype in 2009 on the eve of the new season that created a quarterback controversy until he beat out Willie Ouellette. The kindest way to put it was awkward.
In contrast, the Rams have known and been able to prepare for Pyne’s arrival for three months. And he enters an unsettled quarterback situation, with six players in contention to replace Michael Collins, who rewrote the school’s record books.
New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli has handled the current landscape in the best manner possible so far, and really the only way, by stating he is overseeing an open competition.
“You’ve got all these kids, you’ve got to give them all a chance,” Marinelli said Friday. “It’s a process. We have to continue to get better and we also have to continue to evaluate. We don’t have a lot of time. We can’t just have tryouts when we start. We have to have a pretty clear path as to what we are going to do. As I’ve always said our seniors are going to get the first shot at it but the best player is going to play. I’m excited about it.”
Marinelli has made it clear that while a greater body of work is needed, and more will be known about Pyne and the other quarterbacks once they face a real pass rush, the freshman is very much in the mix to take the first snap when the Rams open at Trinity Catholic on Sept. 10.
“I’ll tell you this, from what I’ve seen he’s right with the other kids,” Marinelli said. “I think he has a chance to win it.”
I got to meet Pyne for about 10 minutes before play on Friday. He was polite, personable and comfortable talking to an adult, a member of the media no less, he had not yet met. I had hoped to write a story about him prior to Grip It & Rip It, but the family through Marinelli said that Pyne would not yet be giving any interviews. Pyne said on Friday that he did not think it was proper for him to be talking at this time.
As much as we all want to know what Pyne thinks of his unique status, it was the right move. Better in July to fit in than stand out.
Marinelli and a few of his assistants said Pyne has made all the right moves thus far. He will have the pressure both of living up to standards not entirely of his making, and knowing there will probably be a few cruelly waiting to see him fall off the pedestal because of the early college offers. It is a fault in the system, but that is a different story for another day.
For now, there will be a battle looming to be the New Canaan starting quarterback. As long as the protagonists handle themselves accordingly, it will be vanilla until the day Pyne inevitably becomes the starter and Dunning Field is a regular stop for big-time college coaches.
Until then, may the best player win.