SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Greg Heineman ended his high school football career the same way he spent it: throwing the ball.
The all-time leading passer in Western Massachusetts history racked up the yards throughout three impressive years under center at Minnechaug and was at it again Friday, running the offense for the Western Mass. squad in the annual Chowder Bowl All-Star Classic at Springfield College.
Incidentally, the game marked both the end of Heineman’s high school career and football career. Next year, he’ll attend Endicott College in Beverly to play baseball.
Heineman has been a key figure on the Falcons’ baseball squad the last two seasons, powering Minnechaug to an improbable run to the Division 1 state final last season and the Western Mass. final this year.
“Yeah, it was a tough decision but at the end of the day, baseball is my No. 1,” said Heineman, who made it clear to college coaches early in the recruiting process that he wasn’t interested in playing college football. “I’ve been playing it longer and it was my first love.
“I wasn’t ready to give that up. It was tough because I’ve had so much fun playing football the last few years. I’m going to miss it for sure.”
Still, the record-setting career he had on the football field will be what Greg Heineman is remembered for most.
All told, Heineman passed for 6,335 passing yards while at Minnechaug, easily surpassing the 4,571-yard mark set by his predecessor at Minnechaug, Drew Schwendenmann.
At first glance, it’s easy to write off Heineman’s accomplishment as a result of the system. Under head coach Steve Allosso, the Falcons operate a high-tempo, spread-style offense that involves using as much of the play clock as possible and throwing on the majority of downs -- regardless of the situation.
But the success of Minnechaug during Heineman’s career has been equal parts system and execution.
“Our offense is a progression offense where they go through reads,” said Minnechaug head coach Steve Allosso, who also coached the Western Mass. squad Friday. “I go through films and see this kid going through four to five reads consistently. I’ll tell you right now, you could break down a lot of college quarterbacks and they probably don’t go through the progressions like he does.
“He’s a better quarterback than his numbers say he is.”
And that’s saying something.
Digging into the numbers, it’s clear Heineman is most deserving of the praise that comes along with being the top-ranked passer in the region’s history.
As a sophomore, the 5-foot-11 Heineman threw for 1,848 yards and 12 touchdowns. His junior year, he tossed for 1,831 yards and 20 touchdowns. And this past season, he exploded, throwing for 2,656 yards and 24 touchdowns while leading Minnechaug to a 9-3 record and a playoff berth.
Looking at his senior season, it’s easy to appreciate Heineman’s efficiency and effectiveness within the Falcons’ high-tempo offense. Following the graduation of Mike Mercadante, who ran for 1,729 yards and 20 touchdowns the year before, Heineman needed to pick up the offensive slack and did so brilliantly.
He had two separate 300-plus yard games, going for 348 yards in a win against Westfield and 301 with three scores in a come-from-behind win over Chicopee.
“Cerebrally, he’s a Division 1 quarterback,” Allosso said. “Physically, he could be bigger, stronger, faster. But mentally, his eyes, his mind and his selflessness is probably top two percent in the country.”
For Heineman, though, when he looks back at his high school football career, it won’t be the numbers or records he remembers.
“It’s just a title,” he said, referring to the Western Mass. All-Time passing mark. “It’s more the experience of playing with the team and on Friday nights with some of my best friends.”