EVERETT — The pressure of playing for Everett’s defending state champion football team hasn’t fazed first-year starting quarterback Jake Willcox. The 6-foot-1-inch, 180-pound junior has been through it all before.
After taking over the reins from graduated Jordan McAfee, a Globe All-Scholastic, Willcox leads an Everett offense that averages 44 points per game and has only been forced to punt four times all season.
Willcox is an incredible 78-of-102 passing for 1,650 yards, 21 touchdowns, and just two interceptions over eight decisive wins for the Tide, painting his latest masterpiece in a Division 1 North semifinal last Friday night with three touchdowns and 202 passing yards in a 49-21 win at Lexington.
On Saturday evening, the third-seeded Tide (8-0) will meet fellow undefeated power Central Catholic (9-0), the North’s top seed, in a huge sectional final matchup, but confidence is deservedly high amongst Everett’s star players, beginning with Willcox and the star receivers he calls his brothers.
Senior wide receivers Jason Maitre and Anthony Norcia have played with Willcox from the time they were 7 years old.
That trio came within 1 point of a Pop Warner state title in seventh grade, but a potential game-winning touchdown from Willcox to Norcia was negated by a holding penalty, as Worcester bested Everett that year.
The following season, Willcox and current junior Mike Sainristil led a loaded Pop Warner team to a state title before winning three games in Florida for a national championship under the guidance of his father, Dennis Willcox, the coach of that eighth-grade team.
“Being in big games isn’t anything foreign to Jake,” said Dennis, who is in his eighth season as the quarterbacks coach at Everett High.
“He’s always been a good leader. He understood the quarterback position at a young age and he’s been groomed for [the starting role] for a long time. He knows the offense, he knows how to read defenses and he picks up on things pretty quickly.”
Sainristil lit the MIAA on fire as a sophomore last season, scoring 11 total touchdowns as a receiver, cornerback, and kick returner to help the Tide roll to a state championship. The junior continues to function as an elite triple threat, compiling 403 yards from scrimmage and nine total touchdowns through eight games this season.
Maitre has totaled 260 receiving yards and four touchdowns in his final high school campaign to go along with three rushing touchdowns. Norcia, meanwhile, has 25 receptions for 455 yards and three scores.
All three receivers will attest their familiarity with Willcox dating back to their middle school years has helped make the quarterback transition at Everett relatively seamless.
“We have chemistry. We have a bond and we hang out every day,” Maitre said about the relationship between himself, his fellow receivers, and Willcox.
“Even when McAfee was at quarterback, we’d come down and work out with Jake, so it wasn’t that big of a transition.”
For these four Everett natives, winning a state championship last year was an unbelievable feeling.
But for a group of kids that grew up watching Everett snare nine Super Bowls within a 15-year span from 1997-2011, leading their school to a second consecutive title represents an opportunity to create their own legacy.
“It’s been my dream since I was a kid to be a captain and now the role has changed quite a bit, because now we’re setting the tone,” Norcia said. “We went to high school games every Friday night and couldn’t wait for our shot. We saw Everett win so many Super Bowls, and now it’s us.”
An even-tempered young man with a quiet confidence about him, Willcox began playing quarterback at the age of 7, running an advanced spread offense at the Pop Warner level.
That preparation paid immediate dividends when the junior QB announced Everett’s continued dominance with a 70-yard touchdown strike to Maitre on the first play of the season to set the tone in a 38-7 rout of rival Xaverian.
“I had to wait my time and I’m happy it’s here,” Willcox said. “Of course I had butterflies before that first game, but once we got out there I was ready. I’ve been preparing for this forever.”
And as he’ll readily admit, going through another title run with the friends he grew up with makes it easier for Willcox to find his groove on game day.
“Playing in bigger games when I was younger helps a lot with my nerves now,” said Willcox.
“Especially since I’m playing with all my friends — everything feels natural. We’re like brothers and we enjoy playing with each other. We know we only have a couple games left and we want to go out with a bang.”
Central Catholic vs. Everett (Lawrence High, 5)
North Andover at Lincoln-Sudbury, 7.
Lynn English vs. Tewksbury (Manning Field, Lynn, 2)
Marblehead at Melrose, 7.
Watertown at Lynnfield, 7.
Stoneham at Hamilton-Wenham, 1.
St. Mary’s vs. Brighton (Manning Field, Lynn, 7)
Lynn Tech vs. Cathedral (Manning Field, Lynn, 7)
Catholic Memorial at Xaverian, 6.
Bridgewater-Raynham at King Philip, 7.
Duxbury at North Attleborough, 7.
Milton at Hopkinton, 7.
Scituate at Dennis-Yarmouth, 6.
Middleborough at Old Rochester, 7.
Abington at Mashpee, 7.
Millis at Wareham, 7.
St. John’s (S) vs. Shrewsbury (Doyle Field, Leominster, 5)
Nashoba vs. Marlborough (Doyle Field, Leominster, 11 a.m.).
Nipmuc vs. Auburn (Foley Stadium, Worcester, 5).
Littleton vs. St. Peter-Marian (Doyle Field, Leominster, 2).
Blackstone Valley vs. Leicester (Foley Stadium, Worcester, 2).
Nashoba Valley Tech vs. Bartlett (Foley Stadium, Worcester, 11 a.m.).
Central (R.I.) at Minnechaug, 10 a.m.
West Springfield at Longmeadow, 7.
Wahconah at Frontier, 3.
Hoosac Valley at Ware, 12:30.
NONLEAGUE — Blue Hills at Sacred Heart, 1; Bourne at Apponequet, 3; Weymouth at Attleboro, 4; Westwood at Dover-Sherborn, 5; Dartmouth at Somerset Berkley, 5; Andover at St. John’s Prep, 6; North Quincy at Oliver Ames, 6; Wellesley at Franklin, 6; Sharon at Norton, 6; Burlington at Pentucket, 7; Carver at Bishop Stang, 7; Chelmsford at Reading, 7; Randolph at Old Colony, 7; Triton at Bishop Fenwick, 7; Medway at East Bridgewater, 7; Norwood at Canton, 7; Bellingham at Seekonk, 7; Westford at Beverly, 7; Durfee at Brookline, 7; Dracut at Belmont, 6; Lexington at Methuen, 6; Somerville at Newburyport, 7; Danvers at Billerica, 7; Latin Academy at Greater Lawrence, 7; Swampscott at Gloucester, 7; Marshfield at Whitman-Hanson, 7.
OTHER — Cheshire Academy at Worcester Academy, 6.
NONLEAGUE — Quabbin vs. Worcester North (Foley Stadium, Worcester, 11 a.m.); Hudson vs. Burncoat (Foley Stadium, Worcester, 2); Shepherd Hill vs. Doherty (Foley Stadium, Worcester, 5); West Boylston at Millbury, 7; Quaboag at Gardner, 7; Abby Kelley Foster at Southbridge, 7; Groton-Dunstable at Wachusett, 7; David Prouty at Murdock, 7; North Middlesex at Leominster, 7; Algonquin at Fitchburg, 7; Oakmont at Northbridge, 7; Blackstone-Millville at Assabet, 7; Maynard at Ayer Shirley, 7; St. Bernard’s at Lunenburg, 7; Tyngsborough at Monty Tech, 7.
NONLEAGUE — Saugus at Greater Lowell, 1; South Shore Voc-Tech at Greater New Bedford, 12; Medford at Winchester, 1.
NONLEAGUE — Clinton at Holy Name, 12; Oxford at Sutton, 1; Bay Path at Uxbridge, 1; Grafton at Westborough, 1;
EVERGREEN — Dexter Southfield at Pingree, 12; New Hampton at Tilton, 1; Hebron (Maine) at Kents Hill, 1; Proctor at Holderness, 4.
ISL — St. Sebastian’s at Thayer, 10:30 a.m.; Rivers at Roxbury Latin, 12; Nobles at Milton Academy, 1; Belmont Hill at Governor’s Academy, 1; Groton at St. Mark’s, 1:30; BB&N at Brooks, 4; St. George’s at Middlesex, 4.
OTHER — Phillips Andover at Phillips Exeter, 3:30; Phillips Andover at Phillips Exeter, 3:30.
NONLEAGUE — Lawrence Academy at Tabor, 1; St. Paul’s at Hyde (Maine), 1; Cushing at Portsmouth Abbey, 1:30.
NONLEAGUE — Burke vs. KIPP Academy at Manning Field, Lynn, 7.Nate Weitzer can be reached at email@example.com