TRUMBULL — Trumbull football coach Bob Maffei, like almost everyone else in town connected with the sport, was aware of Colton Nicholas, a promising quarterback working his way through Pop Warner.
“How do you miss him? He’s 6-5,” Maffei said. “If you’re casting a movie for a quarterback, he fits the part.”
Maffei is hoping Nicholas will provide that missing piece this year for the Eagles. Nicholas would have started for most teams as a sophomore, but Trumbull last season had Johnny McElroy, an All-FCIAC selection who had 27 touchdown passes and ran for four more scores.
Nicholas said, given the circumstances, he had no issues watching from the sideline.
“Not really because I learned a lot from Johnny and what he did,” Nicholas said. “It was a good learning experience, taking a year and watching what he did. We were both close. We worked together.”
Asked what he discovered most from watching McElroy, Nicholas said, “Mainly to keep your eyes downfield, because Johnny would make plays. Before I would have just run but he kept his eyes downfield and made plays.”
Maffei said Nicholas is hardly a carbon copy of his predecessor.
“Johnnie Mac, we’re certainly going to miss him, but Colton is different,” Maffei said. “He’s different than Johnnie. He’s more of a Peyton Manning thinking quarterback, where Johnnie was just so athletic. This kid is going to go through his reads, his progressions and where he’s going to throw the ball and throwing the ball on time. We sit and watch film together and he just gets it.”
Maffei cautioned that Nicholas is hardly a strict pocket passer.
“Colton can run,” Maffei said. “People bounce off of him. He’s not slow by any means and he is hard to tackle. And he can sling it.”
Nicholas went to a regional camp in Maryland and was picked to play for the USA’s Under 17 Select Team in the International Bowl last January.
Since then, Nicholas has been preparing to make his first start for the Eagles, in their Sept. 9 opener against Greenwich. Trumbull is one of the few schools that doesn’t participate in offseason 7 on 7, so Nicholas and the receivers, many like him newcomers to playing a prominent role, have practiced on their own.
“Over the summer I got the guys together and we were working,” Nicholas said. “Getting ready to help the team. Getting the timing down with the receivers.”
Maffei said Trumbull will not be lacking for playmakers on the finishing end of Nicholas’ passes.
“They’re a quick bunch,” Maffei said of the receivers. “They are athletic and they run decent routes and they catch the ball, and that’s the main thing. Colton puts it in the right spot.”
“The receivers are young but they are all kids I’ve played with so we’ve got our timing down, we know each other a lot so it is pretty good,” Nicholas said.
The hype around Nicholas has started making its way outside of Trumbull. Nicholas said he is aware of it but remains unfazed.
“Colton can run. People bounce off of him. He’s not slow by any means and he is hard to tackle. And he can sling it.”
“It’s probably not like Drew Pyne because he’s been all over the news, but I feel like people are watching,” said Nicholas, referring to the New Canaan quarterback with a number of Division I offers who led the team as a freshman last season to a state title.
Asked if the talk created an added burden, Nicholas said, “Not really because the quarterback is kind of used to pressure.”
Trumbull, which was unable to fill a bye week, will play just nine games. The schedule includes two state champions, another finalist and the Cardinals, who reached the Class LL playoffs.
Maffei is confident in his quarterback’s abilities but is trying to shield him right now from the spotlight.
“Let’s not put him in the Hall of Fame yet, let’s see his first game,” Maffei said. “He certainly works at his trade. We’re fortunate to have him.”
Nicholas said he remembered going to Trumbull games growing up, awaiting the chance to one day lead the team.
That comes in less than two weeks.
“At a young age I always wanted to play football, and once I started playing it was like it would be cool to play here at the high school,” Nicholas said. “It’s amazing. I’m real excited.”