Joe Clancy put together one of the most prolific offensive seasons in the annals of the Northeast-10 Conference last fall, tossing 31 touchdown passes while averaging 394.5 passing yards per game.
It was the best season ever by a quarterback at Merrimack College. Until this year.
With three games left in the regular season, the 6-foot-3, 195-pound fifth-year senior from Newburyport is rewriting the record books again while positioning himself for a possible professional career.
“He went from being a very good player last year to being an elite player,” said first-year head coach Dan Curran, the Warriors’ offensive coordinator the previous three seasons.
“I’m not surprised he’s become the player he has. I would not have predicted 34 touchdowns in [seven] weeks, but I’m not surprised. When you’re around great players, they have that special quality. You know from the get-go.”
His 34 TD passes are more than any other Division 2 quarterback in the country, as are his 2,950 passing yards (402.3 yards per game). He has completed 65.4 percent of his passing attempts, with just five interceptions.
His gaudy numbers have almost become routine.
Take his Sept. 13 performance against American International, for example, when he threw for 571 yards and six touchdowns in a 62-50 win, or the 434 yards and seven scores two weeks later against Pace (a 66-14 win).
On Saturday, he put up 441 yards and six TDs in a 51-9 win.
He has done so minus his top receiver from a year ago, All-American Isaiah Voegeli (108 receptions, 14 touchdowns).
“Playing with Isaiah was great because he could do things other guys can’t — that’s just the way he was,” Clancy said. “[But] we had guys who were willing to accept lead roles and wanted to fill in those catches and yards and touchdowns.”
The preparation started over the summer. For three hours a day, five days per week, Clancy and a group of receivers — including senior Shane Ferguson, junior Zach Ingalls, and junior Steven Browne — lifted, ran, and practiced routes together.
It was the first time, according to Ferguson, that there was a strong contingent of Warriors staying on campus to work out over summer. Curran wants to make it more of the norm. The payoff has been invaluable.
“The chemistry and the camaraderie between those guys certainly wasn’t built overnight,” Curran said.
Chemistry is hard to quantify. Scoring isn’t.
While sophomore Jere Brown is the team’s leading receiver (894 yards, 12 touchdowns), Clancy’s top target is Ferguson (61 catches, 578 yards), his roommate and a fellow fifth-year senior.
“He’s an absolute security blanket,” Clancy said. “I can’t even count how many third-down catches he’s had.”
At 4-3, the Warriors are on pace for a final record similar to the 6-4 mark they finished with each of the last two years. They have big rival Bentley on Saturday, then dates at Assumption and Stonehill the next two weekends to wrap up the regular season. Merrimack will need some help if it wants to make noise in the NE-10.
“We know no matter what kind of hole we’re in, we can get out of it,” Ferguson said. “We always feel like we have a chance to win, and it goes back to that summer training. We practice at a fast pace, play at a fast pace. We can put up a lot of points.”
Then, if the pieces fall the right way for Clancy, this fall won’t be his last in football. He has aspirations of being a college coach down the line, but first he wants to give pro ball a try.
Curran, an eight-year pro in the NFL and Arena Football League, said that based on conversations he’s had with folks within the three major leagues — the NFL, AFL, and Canadian Football League — it is likely Clancy will at least get a look.
“It looks like he’s going to get a shot,” Curran said. “That’s all you can ask for.”Tim Healey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @timbhealey.