A basketball star tried playing high school football, and it’s worked out pretty well
Some athletes work their entire adolescent lives to get a chance to have a shining moment in their senior year. For St. Mary’s of Lynn senior back Jalen Echevarria, all it took was a little motivation to do something he hadn’t done in four years: play organized football.
Echevarria, whose Spartans (8-4) will face Blackstone Valley Tech in the Division 7 Super Bowl Saturday morning at Gillette Stadium, is a basketball player through and through.
The two-time Globe All-Scholastic in basketball helped lead St. Mary’s to back-to-back appearances in the state finals in 2016-17, winning the Division 4 title his freshman season. He enters his senior year 24 points shy of 1,000.
The last three years, Echevarria has spent the fall sports season preparing for basketball. Spending countless hours in the gym working on his game, or lifting weights, football was always just something fun to do in the backyard with his friends. But at the behest of St. Mary’s basketball coach, David Brown, who is also his uncle, Echevarria decided to give high school football a shot.
“[Brown] told me and my father it’s my last year in high school,” Echevarria said.
“They both played basketball and football in high school . . . and [Brown] doesn’t want me regretting not playing football, so I took his word and played.”
The 5-foot-8-inch, 140-pound back played Pop Warner, but decided after his eighth-grade year to focus solely on basketball.
“I was really small and didn’t think I fit in with the football team,” Echevarria said. “So I just started focusing on basketball and working out every day.”
Luckily for the St. Mary’s football team, Echevarria fits right in.
The electric speedster has racked up 1,194 yards and 16 touchdowns on 138 carries; he has been the Spartans’ leading receiver as well, nabbing 14 catches for 337 yards and five touchdowns.
“Jalen is one of those special kids,” St. Mary’s first-year coach Sean Driscoll said. “He gave different options [on offense] and gave us some balance.”
In a Week 1 victory over defending Super Bowl champion Millis, Driscoll took note of Echevarria’s competitiveness and athleticism, punctuated by a 95-yard return on the opening kickoff, in addition to TD runs of 8 and 65 yards.
Described by Driscoll as “the best athlete in the school,” Echevarria forms a complementary 1-2 punch with George Freeman, a fellow senior back. Freeman, a 5-7, 185-pound bruising between-the-tackles runner, handles the lion’s share of the short-yardage, ground-and-pound carries while Echevarria, the feature back, makes plays in space outside the numbers.
“George is fast, but he’s not an outside runner,” Echevarria said. “I’m an outside runner, which has created more space for him to run in the middle.”
Together, the duo has combined for 1,915 yards and 20 touchdowns this season, leading a St. Mary’s ground game that has amassed over 2,700 yards.
Driscoll and his staff knew once they saw Echevarria beginning to reach his potential on the football field that their offense could be something special.
“Once we got going and realized how good he could be,” Driscoll said. “We knew we could really open our offense up and be a little more creative.”
Evident to anyone who watches him play football or basketball, Echevarria is a natural athlete. His athleticism comes in handy on the football field. But it was even more important when Echevarria showed up to the fourth day of practice without any prior training to get back into “football shape.”
“I winged it,” Echevarria said. “I didn’t train or anything.”
Despite his lack of experience, Echevarria’s skill has benefited more than just the team as a whole. His knack for slipping through the smallest of holes to break off a big run has made life a breeze for his offensive line.
“[Jalen] definitely makes my job a lot easier,” senior right tackle DJ DiCenzo said. “All I need to do is just get a little movement up front and he’ll blow right by me. His speed and ability to find holes is incredible.”
Although he insists he is a basketball player, Echevarria’s focus is on one thing and one thing only. With two basketball state championship appearances and an appearance at TD Garden already in his back pocket, Echevarria knows he’s got one more piece of jewelry to add to his hand.
“I’m looking forward to being a state champ and getting a Super Bowl ring.”