Boston High School: John Donnellan

No. 3 Reading's 'Best ever' QB is still hungry

September, 1, 2013
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."

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.
Reading HuddleScott Barboza/ESPN.comNo. 21 Reading is looking to shed the memory of last year's playoff loss to Tewksbury by qualifying for the postseason for the fifth straight year in 2012.
READING, Mass. -- Who ever said offensive linemen aren’t athletes?

Reading tackle Matt Comerford isn’t your typical 6-foot-4, 280-pound lineman. A multi-disciplined athlete, who played baseball, lacrosse and hockey, his body simply grew into the position.

The senior’s athleticism is on display every spring, when he’s between the pipes for the Rockets lacrosse team. An imposing figure who takes up plenty of the cage, Comerford isn’t that type of goaltender though -- one who would be lampooned in a Disney movie and simply relies on his size to make stops. Quick reflexes and nifty footwork are strengths. He even has some skill with the stick.

But football came late to the potential Division 1 college recruit. He didn’t play until freshman year.

That too, was a function of his size.

“I couldn’t play Pop Warner,” Comerford said after a recent practice, “I was always too big.”

Comerford has heard from a smattering of FBS and FCS schools, but is putting off his college intentions until the football season is through.

This season, Comerford will anchor a line that features varying degrees of game experience. He along with Peter Fodera are the elder statesmen with Andrew Bourque (6-2, 330), Brian Callahan (6-2, 250) and John Donnellan (6-1, 210) expected to fill greater roles.

“We want to develop strength between the tackles on both side of the ball,” Rockets head coach John Fiore said. “I’m pleased with the way the entire team has worked in the offseason. They’ve really worked hard. But, like the rest of our team, our goal is to improve every day.”

Comerford said the lingering memory of last year’s playoff defeat to Tewksbury has set the tone for the team’s offseason preparations. And there are lofty goals surrounding the Rockets, who look to represent the Middlesex League in a playoff game for the fifth straight year.

But there’s yet another objective put ahead of Comerford this season.

There’s the potential he see snaps on the defensive side of the ball as well.

“I think he could relish that,” Fiore said. “He’s a physical kid.”

But as someone who’s contributed in so many ways in so many different sports, Comerford was very vanilla about it all.

“I go out there and do what I’m told,” he said. “That’s the expectation here.”

2011: 8-4 (Lost to Tewksbury in Div. 2 playoff game)
Coach: John Fiore (8th season, 63-28)
Key Returnees: Greg Connery, Sr. RB/FS, 6-1, 175 lbs.; Matt Comerford, Sr. OT/DT, 6-4, 270 lbs.; Alex Valente, Sr. WR/CB, 5-6, 170; Ryan Maney, Sr., E/DB, 6-2, 210; Drew Belcher, Jr. QB, 6-3, 215 lbs.; Peter Fodera, Sr., OL/DL, 5-10, 230; Jared Barros, Sr. E/DB, 5-9, 190; Andrew Bourque, Jr. OL/DL, 6-2, 330.
Strengths: Quarterback play and receiving corps; play along the lines.
Weaknesses: Inexperience in the running game.

Outlook: For a program that’s set bar so high for itself in recent memory, Fiore took the ending to last season in stride, saying “I’m sure there are a couple hundred teams out there that would’ve loved to switch places with us, being able to play past Thanksgiving Day.” The talent is there for the Rockets once again to play into December, and much of that is tied to Belcher’s development as a quarterback, entering his second season as starter. If last year’s stretch run proved anything it’s that the junior signal-caller has a top-flight target in senior wide out Ryan Maney, making a host of high-difficulty-grade catches in the final weeks of the season. If Belcher maintains consistency, the Rockets’ aerial attack has the chance to be among the most prolific in Massachusetts. “I think he’s worked very hard,” Fiore said of Belcher. “Time will tell when the games are for real and he’s getting hit, but I’m pleased with how the whole team is working, and he’s a big part of that.”