READING, Mass. -- Like several other high-profile high school head coaches around Massachusetts, Reading High's John Fiore has become distinguished for his Belichickian affinity against the hyperbole machine.
It takes a special breed of athlete to break Fiore from his canon. Friday night, following the Rockets' preseason scrimmage with Andover, Fiore was asked to reflect on the body of work of his prized quarterback, returning ESPN Boston All-State selection Drew Belcher.
He took a deep breath. And then, he let it rip.
"He's the best, bar none," Fiore said. "I wasn't on the staff when Jimmy Murphy was here, I came on staff in 1993. I saw the three Pizzotti's, I saw guys like Mike Boyd, Stan Andre...[Belcher] is the best. He does it all. He throws it like Chris [Pizzotti], runs it like Stan [Andre], has a little bit of wiggle like [Brian] Bourque, just bar none [the best]. And he's a winner. I've said that many a time, so that's where we're at."
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Belcher earned All-State honors a year ago after leading the Rockets to their second 13-0 campaign and MIAA Division 2 Eastern Mass Super Bowl title in four seasons, nearly pitching a shutout of Mansfield in the championship game. Some signal-callers across the Bay State put up gaudier passing figures than Belcher, but few were more efficient, completing 107 of 169 passes for 1,710 yards, 21 touchdowns and just two interceptions. And none were as physically imposing when they tucked the ball and ran as when Belcher came around on a quarterback power; he carried 138 times for 804 yards and 15 scores, running a spread-oriented offense that often deployed "heavy" personnel for its base package.
And still further, Belcher's winning ways are without peer. Among active quarterbacks in the MIAA, none have won more games as a starting quarterback than Belcher, who has gone 21-4 since the start of his sophomore season in 2011. Only Springfield Central's Cody Williams (20-3, 86.9 percent) has a better winning percentage than Belcher's 84, among quarterbacks with at least two year's varsity experience.
What separates him from the rest?
"Work ethic," Fiore said. "He wants to know about defenses, he wants to know about offenses, he wants to know football. He wants to understand it. Case in point, our 7-on-7 stuff, those tournaments all summer long, he called every single play for us -- every formation, every play, no cards, no book. Shoot, I don't know what else to say [but] glowing things.
"He's throwing BB's in the air, he's picking apart coverages, the wideouts are communicating stuff they want to hear back to him. It's good stuff. It's real good stuff. I don't know where it goes from here, but I'm sure it will end up positive. He's an outstanding kid."
Said Belcher, ""I've always had a chip on my shoulder my whole life. Every single day, I'm trying to get better. That's how I believe -- if you're not getting better, you're getting worse. ... Being from Reading, we've always had great history at quarterback, with Chris Pizzotti, Jimmy Murphy, Stan Andre, Brian Bourque, so I'm just trying to be like those guys, and work hard every day. That's what they did."
So now, here comes the elephant in the room -- why no scholarship offers yet for Reading's "best ever" quarterback?
Of the four quarterbacks selected to ESPN Boston's Preseason All-State Team, Belcher is the only one who remains uncommitted without any offers; Williams (Monmouth), Natick's Troy Flutie (Boston College) and St. John's of Shrewsbury's Andrew Smiley (Navy lacrosse) have all found future destinations. Boston College and Delaware are the latest to reach out to Belcher, and they -- like everyone else -- want to see senior film.
Scouts seem to be divided as to how he projects to the next level of football. He won't dart around the field, extending the play with 4.5 speed when the pocket collapses, like Flutie. He doesn't run an uptempo no-huddle offense, reading backside ends and making defenders whiff with lacrosse-esque shiftiness, like Smiley. Belcher is more of a throwback, a big-bodied type who can take hits in the pocket and deliver vicious throws in a timely fashion.
But if there are frustrations mounting in Reading, they're certainly keeping them in-house.
"It doesn't matter to me," Belcher said. "If we handle everything we can as a team, that stuff will just take care of itself. That's how I'm playing it off. I'm just looking forward to the season, and trying to win a state championship. I'll let that other stuff take care of itself."
READING AT A GLANCE
Coach: John Fiore (9th season, 76-28)
Last Season: 13-0, won Div. 2 EMass Super Bowl
Returning Starters: 12 (six offense, six defense)
Key Returnees: Drew Belcher, Sr. QB; Liam Kenneally, Sr. LB/FB; Andrew Bourque, Sr. OL/DL; Rob DiLoreto, Sr. TE/LB; John Donnellan, Sr. OL/DL; Jimmy King, Sr. OL/DL.
Strengths: Running game, quarterback, offensive line
Weaknesses: Run defense, inexperience at secondary
Outlook: The Rockets lost a little firepower in the passing game, where they must replace Ryan Maney, a long target who stressed defenses vertically last season. But this is a deep receiving corps that will look to nearly a half-dozen bodies to get involved in the passing game, including DiLoreto, who figures to have an even bigger 2013 campaign after showing some promise in passing leagues this summer. Elsewhere, it's more of the same gameplan for the Rockets, who will pound the ball in between the tackles with power plays behind an offensive line that returns three starters. The most intriguing piece of the offense might be Kenneally, who will serve in an "H-back" role lining up at tailback, fullback and wing tight end, can set the edge in the running game and release to the flat for some quick catches to move the chains. Defensively, it will be interesting to see how the Rockets experiment with Belcher. Last season, he saw time at linebacker in sub packages. This season, it looks like Belcher will be the starting free safety. After two seasons of staring down safeties, Belcher feels like it's a smooth transition going the other way. "I'm reading defenses like that, and I'm able to know what he's thinking," he said.