As a Reading High Hall of Famer, a record-setting performer at Northeastern, and a two-year member of the Patriots, Jim Murphy knows a thing or two about what it takes to play the quarterback position.
So when Murphy says that his son, James, a freshman at Reading, is taking on responsibilities at the age of 14 that he didn’t tackle until his senior year of college, it truly is a sign of the times.
“Between what I’ve been able to teach [James] and the wonderful resources of his other coaches, he’s been pretty well-prepared for the high school level,” said Jim.
“He’s way more prepared than I ever was at that age. He’s able to run a sophisticated scheme, call for run-pass options, and set protections. That type of expertise wasn’t available when I was a kid.”
Jim was only partially joking when he said that his son’s quarterback training began “right out of the womb.”
James picked up a football as a toddler, began playing quarterback in second-grade flag football leagues, and ramped up his training when he entered middle school.
Since sixth grade, he’s been training at QB Focus in Norwood under the tutelage of former BC quarterbacks Mark Hartsell and Scott Mutryn. Murphy has also worked with former Brockton High and Villanova standout QB Tom Colombo and former NFL star Matt Hasselbeck.
Given his pedigree of preparation, it’s hardly surprising Murphy thrived in Pop Warner leagues throughout middle school, winning 30 games and a New England Championship with Reading. When the team’s starting running back got hurt prior to his eighth-grade season, Murphy was given the keys to a spread offense, and promptly tossed 20 touchdowns with two interceptions.
“Going into my eighth-grade year, the pressure was on me,” James Murphy said. “When that happened I started to really understand what playing quarterback was like. I fell in love with it when I was just a kid, but that was the moment when I was like, ‘Wow, this is the best position on the field.’”
After beating out a pair of juniors, for the starting job, the 6-foot-3, 160-pound Murphy debuted in Reading’s home opener Sept. 13 in front of nearly 5,000 fans. He tossed three touchdowns to put the Rockets in front, but watched another young quarterback, Lincoln-Sudbury sophomore Riley O’Connell, counter with a 90-yard scoring drive and two-point conversion to secure a 21-20 win.
Reading (2-1) bounced back with victories at Acton-Boxborough (33-7) and Belmont (19-16) and Murphy has totaled 325 passing yards and 11 touchdowns through his first three starts.
While Murphy is one of the few freshman QBs making waves in Eastern Mass., O’Connell is one of several sophomore standouts.
O’Connell is following the lead of his older brother, Braden, who directed L-S to the D2 Super Bowl in 2017 and the D2 North final in 2018.
As the team water boy in eighth grade, O’Connell recalled how he digested his brother’s approach in his junior season.
“I was just watching the way [Braeden] interacted with his guys and showed leadership,” said O’Connell. “I would look at that and see what I wanted to emulate, and what I wanted to do differently. Some of those intangibles are what made him successful.”
L-S coach Jim Girard said O’Connell has demonstrated maturity beyond his years, passing for 548 yards and six touchdowns, rushing for an additional 84 yards and two scores in a 2-1 start.
“[O’Connell] exhibits a lot of poise and confidence in what he’s doing,” said Girard.
“His overall maturity, both from a physical and emotional standpoint, it’s unusual for a kid that age. Put that together that with his attention to detail and preparation, and you see a leader out there who doesn’t really come across as a sophomore.”
Central Catholic (2-1) is off to a hot start thanks to the play of sophomore quarterback Ayden Pereira. The Auburn, N.H. resident thrived in middle school leagues with the Derry Wolverines, then led the Central Catholic freshman team to an undefeated season.
Pereira has already tallied 11 total touchdowns for the third-ranked Raiders, and is passing on his disciplined training regimen to his younger brother, Jaxon, an eighth grader hoping to attend Central Catholic next year and eventually fill his shoes as the starting quarterback.
“Nowadays, your QB has to be someone who is all-in,” said Central coach Chuck Adamopoulos. “Someone who wants to sit with the [offensive coordinator] and go over video. Ayden is all-in on football and he went very hard in workouts right off the bat.”
“The kids have responded to him because he’s one of the hardest workers and they’re beyond, now, thinking of him as a sophomore.”
During the offseason, Pereira works with the same quarterbacks coach as Andover sophomore Victor Harrington, a two-year starter for the Golden Warriors.
Even without private training, plenty of young quarterbacks are stepping up.
North Attleboro’s Tyler DeMattio stepped in as a freshman last Thanksgiving and threw an 86-yard touchdown on his first varsity pass. Marblehead sophomore Josh Robertson opened the season as the fourth-string quarterback, but was able to lead the Magicians in a 25-20 upset at North Andover in his first action.
And in Milton, sophomore quarterback Chase Vaughan has the Wildcats off to a 3-0 start with 410 passing yards, five touchdowns, and no turnovers.
“Some of [that early success] is that more youth programs are using spread offense,” said Milton coach Steve Dembowski, who mastered the spread attack over 21 years as head coach at Swampscott.
“The coaching is better, so the kids are more prepared to play. They understand the scheme and have some experience in it, even though it might not be at the same speed as the varsity level.”
By learning the ropes in middle school, Springfield Central freshman William Watson has also turned heads in his debut season, earning early offers from UMass Amherst and Boston College.
Murphy is also garnering collegiate interest after standing out in the Underarmour All-American game as an eighth grader last January, but his coaches recognize that he still has a lot to learn.
“[Murphy is] still only 14, and this is going fast for him,” said Reading coach John Fiore. “Like we do with every player, we try to put them in a position where they can focus on their part of every play and be the best they can be . . . He’s incredibly dedicated to becoming a great quarterback.”
Jim Murphy, who trained his son from an early age and coached his Pop Warner teams, expressed confidence in passing him along to Fiore and his experienced staff.
And so far, the second-generation quarterback has consistently impressed.
“[In training camp, Murphy] was making every throw,” said Fiore. “In a nutshell, that’s [why he won the job]. So, is every day perfect? No. But he’s doing everything he can to not repeat a mistake, and that’s all you can ask.”
“This kid is going to have everybody talking about him when it’s all said and done.”
Nate Weitzer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.