When Drew Pyne entered the game at quarterback for Notre Dame in the fourth quarter of its 52-0 win over South Florida on Saturday, it brought joy to a number of his former teammates and friends from New Canaan watching on their television sets.
Pyne, a freshman, achieved a lifelong dream in just his second game at the school he grew up rooting for. It was likely the farthest thing from his mind, but it was an early knockout punch to the critics who during Pyne’s four years in New Canaan seemed to enjoy putting him down, certain he was not even Division I stock, let alone would ever step on the field for the country’s most storied program.
For the two people who know Pyne best from his time at New Canaan, there was unbridled joy late Saturday afternoon.
“To see him come in as a freshman and watching his growth and development and then going off to Notre Dame … you’re hoping and praying that things will turn out in his favor,” said Lou Marinelli, the Rams’ coach. “Each year they bring in the best players from throughout the country. For him to get this opportunity and so quick was really a testament to how hard he works and what he does to prepare.”
For Zach LaPolice, the receiver who caught more throws from Pyne than anyone, spending countless hours together in the offseason pushing each other, there was ear-to-ear satisfaction.
“As soon as I saw him get in I was super happy for him,” LaPolice said. “I knew that was one of his dreams. To see my best friend on that football field was awesome.”
LaPolice, also an All-State player last season who is taking a postgrad year at Choate, said Pyne tipped him off the night before via FaceTime there was a good chance, if the Irish built up a big lead, he would make his college debut.
Pyne completed the first of his two passes and mostly spent his appearance handing the ball off as Notre Dame tried to prevent running up the score.
LaPolice had another FaceTime session with Pyne after the game.
“He was ecstatic about it,” LaPolice said.
Pyne’s entry into the Notre Dame record books was the result of a relentless practice ethic focused on making his vision come true. It was one of the many qualities possessed by Pyne that went unseen by the skeptics who saw themselves as scouts on Friday nights.
“There’s a lot of jealousy and you can’t control that,” Marinelli said. “You have to keep on working and let the chips fall where they may, which is exactly what he’s done. He works as hard as anybody I’ve ever had in terms of trying to be good and trying to be one of the better quarterbacks. The best he could be. I think coming into New Canaan, which is a tough place to come into as an outsider, I think his freshman year those senior players really took him under their wing and helped him develop where he felt comfortable enough to be the starting quarterback as a freshman, which I’ve never had before.”
Pyne came to New Canaan with a handful of offers from top programs before he even stepped on Dunning Field. A player with the prima donna gene might have alienated his new teammates before meeting them. But at Grip It & Rit It, the 7 on 7 competition New Canaan hosts each summer, there was Ryan O’Connell, a senior and one of the Rams’ stars, with his arm around the shoulder of Pyne, then a freshman. He had easily won over the upperclassmen.
Pyne came off the bench in his first game to lead a win against Trinity Catholic and by week two the starting job was his. Pyne owns just about all the major passing records in New Canaan history.
Going back to 2013, the Rams have been led at quarterback by Pyne and Michael Collins, who went on to become a starter at TCU and was supposed to have a graduate transfer year this fall at Rice.
It is puzzling why anyone from this area would not want to see a local player succeed on the biggest stage, more so Pyne, who would count among the humblest players in FCIAC history even if he wasn’t a considerable talent.
“I’ve never seen Drew toot his own horn or anything like that,” Marinelli said. “If you go back and look at the newspaper articles throughout his whole career, whenever the spotlight came on him he just deflected it off, to his offensive line or receivers or running backs. He’s never one to boast or be cocky in any way.”
LaPolice and Pyne went to a camp at Yale as freshmen and by junior year were close to inseparable. LaPolice caught 12 touchdowns from Pyne last season, their families became close friends and at the start of quarantine, when Pyne returned from Notre Dame, the two worked out together every other day.
LaPolice said the criticism Pyne received from outside of town was occasionally discussed.
“We talked about it in patches,” LaPolice said. “He paid no mind to it and I didn’t either. He was confused because he knows the person he is. He’s not a person to let any of that go to his head and clearly it didn’t.”
Pyne never took his eye off the prize. Now he’s completed one more pass at Notre Dame than some expected, but that is hardly his end game.
And Pyne still has two games less than four seasons to go.