Tom O’Connor didn’t even notice the way Rob Quaine was handling himself during the high school passing league this summer. It wasn’t so much what Quaine was doing differently – it was what he wasn’t doing.
“In the beginning, it was slow to catch my attention,” said O’Connor, the head coach of the Pilgrim football team, “because I didn’t even realize he wasn’t throwing those picks that he would thrown the year before.”
But the more O’Connor watched his junior quarterback lead the team, the more he began to like what he saw. In nine passing league games, Quaine threw one interception. In two other passing league tournaments that Pilgrim entered, Quaine didn’t turn the ball over once.
For a player who quarterbacked the Pats through a tough, winless campaign a year ago and struggled at times with crucial turnovers, it was a drastic change. It may have only been passing league, but it was impressive nonetheless.
“I’m sitting there watching and he’s tall back there,” O’Connor said. “He eats the ball – his four seconds are up and he eats it. He’s not forcing the issue. That’s the maturity level step that I was hoping he could take this year. It seems like he’s taken it early, earlier than I thought he would take it.”
If Pilgrim is going to improve on its record and overall play as a team, it begins with Quaine, who is now experienced, confident and capable as the Pats’ signal caller.
He took his lumps a year ago, especially early in the season.
“It was a little nerve-wracking,” Quaine said of stepping onto the field as the varsity quarterback for the first time.
Yet, as the season wore on last year, he got better. It didn’t translate into wins for the Pats, but it did help the coaches to believe that they had found their quarterback for the next few years, one who could help put the program on a significantly better track. Against Warwick Vets on Thanksgiving, he completed 11-of-26 passes for 146 yards.
“His progression all of last year from the first hike to the last snap, which was Thanksgiving, and what he’s done from Thanksgiving to now is at least twice as much,” O’Connor said. “He’s a whole different person out there. He’s very confident, he lets things go.”
O’Connor mentioned a game against North Kingstown last season and last week’s Injury Fund game against Bishop Hendricken as evidence of Quaine’s maturity from one year to the next.
Against the Skippers, after a solid first quarter, Quaine threw a second-quarter interception and never quite recovered mentally. Against the Hawks – perhaps the top team in the state – the Pats fumbled the opening kickoff, but Quaine was the first player on the sidelines to offer encouragement to the kick return team as it came off the field.
When Pilgrim’s offense did get on the field, Quaine marched it all the way inside the Hawks’ 10-yard-line. Though that drive eventually stalled, it was filled with positives. Quaine completed two long passes down the right side and navigated a team that went winless in Division II last season to a near touchdown against the three-time defending Division I Super Bowl champion.
Later in the game, Quaine led a scoring drive and completed a pass for a two-point conversion. Along the way, he even audibled out of a few plays because of what he saw in Hendricken’s defense.
From last season to this one, it’s night and day.
“I felt a lot more confident this year because I knew that I trusted my teammates and backs and everyone on the field,” Quaine said. “We came together as a family through hell week. Playing Hendricken, everyone can get intimidated, but I felt that on our first drive, we didn’t back down.”
Pilgrim opens its season on Friday night at Smithfield in a non-league game, and Quaine will have his first bona fide chance to put his improvements on display. He’s gotten taller and he’s gotten stronger, but more importantly he’s more comfortable.
Whereas stepping into the starting quarterback role as a sophomore was eye opening, guiding the Pats now no longer comes with a shock factor.
Expectations are higher, and Quaine is at the center of it all. O’Connor eventually took notice of Quaine’s progress this summer, and he may be the first of many.
“The passing league and the Hendricken game, he showed a lot of maturity,” O’Connor said. “He showed that he can now lead a team in his junior year.”