Fairfax football coach Kevin Simonds knew he had to make a change. His team started the 2013 season with three straight wins, but a 41-0 beatdown at the hands of Westfield reminded him that his boys weren’t cut out for matchups against bigger Division 6 opponents, at least not the way his roster was set up at the time. If the senior-laden Rebels wanted to compete in the playoffs this fall, they would need some kind of spark to propel them to the next level.
Simonds’s initial move was to bench senior quarterback Ben Blackburn in favor of Brian Monter, a 6-foot-3-inch tall senior defensive end whose size and athleticism figured to put defenses back on their heels. Simonds was wary about playing him both ways, but he couldn’t afford to lose Monter’s leadership on the defensive side of the ball.
That decision came back to bite Simonds on his team’s second defensive series against Westfield. Pursing a swing pass toward the sideline, Monter collided with teammate Nick Scott and tore a knee ligament in the process.
Simonds went back to Blackburn against Jefferson and Langley, but a 28-7 defeat against the Saxons forced his hand yet again. The Rebels were past the season’s midway point with a respectable 4-2 record, but none of their victories had come against a playoff quality opponent.
So Simonds moved Scott, his star player, from running back to quarterback. That decision meant shelving Scott’s versatility on defense since Simonds wanted to minimize his best player’s risk of injury. Now all Scott’s efforts are focused under center, where he keeps defenses guessing with both his speed and his big arm.
“The thing you find is just that Nick is a gifted kid. He’s just overall a great kid who you love having in the program,” Simonds said. “But the biggest thing with Nick is he can make plays. When you put the ball in his hands every single snap, you don’t know if he’s going to throw the ball, if he’s going to run the ball, if he’s going to hand the ball off to Jabril [Cartier] or Max [Kavaljian] or any of those guys.”
Scott made his first start at quarterback two weeks ago against McLean. He completed six of seven pass attempts for 147 yards, not to mention 180 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Simonds’s vision was materializing just as the hapless Highlanders were left wondering: should they clog the box in hopes of stopping the Nick Scott who’s committed to Penn State as a running back, or should they drop back in hopes of stopping the Nick Scott who can toss a perfect 60-yard spiral?
The Rebels’ reconfigured weapon did more damage last Friday in a 51-22 win against Marshall. Coasting past defenders like Usain Bolt at a walkathon, he called his own number for three rushing touchdowns and added a 59-yard punt return touchdown, all in the first half. Though he has yet to throw a touchdown pass, Scott has also yet to toss an interception, and he’s led his team to its highest point totals of the season each of the last two weeks.
Scott finds comfort in his new position mostly because it’s not new to him. He played quarterback his first two years of high school at Brookline High, the school he attended outside Boston before transferring to Fairfax last year. He didn’t do much passing there, though, instead lining up in direct-snap, read-option scenarios to utilize his running ability.
“I’m the kind of quarterback where even if it’s a pass play, in my head I’m like, ‘Alright, alright, run!’ I’m a running back at heart,” Scott said. “So yeah, I can throw the ball, but usually I’ll try to tuck it in.”
Scott’s teammates were immediately wowed by the cannon at his disposal when he arrived to his new school last summer. Scott would casually sling soaring deep balls during practice, making teammates realize they had more than a new running back on their hands.
“I’ve always wanted him to play quarterback so we could run the read option and spread the ball out more,” senior fullback Max Kavaljian said. “His throwing ability is actually really good. His running ability is really good. There are some things he needs to work on, but that’s something he can do easily. He opens up our offense extremely well.”
With Scott leading the charge, the Rebels are eager to break free of the mediocrity that has characterized the program in recent years. Last season Fairfax finished 5-5 and missed the playoffs by just .2 percent to West Springfield. If they find a way to take down Stone Bridge this Friday, the Rebels will enter their season finale against South Lakes tied atop the Liberty District with Stone Bridge and Langley at 7-2, 5-1.
Still, if they’re to get past the powerhouses that have given them headaches in the past, Fairfax players understand they need to play mistake-free football.
“That’s probably the number one thing because usually when we’re playing big teams like that they take advantage of [mistakes] in a heartbeat and that’s what really kills us,” Kavaljian said. “So we just need to take advantage of opportunities and play really hard. That’s really it.”
Getting to the playoffs would be a step up from last season, but that’s not all the Rebels are aiming for this year.
“We don’t want to just get into the playoffs,” Simonds said. “We want to make noise in the playoffs, which we haven’t done yet, and I think this is the year we should be able to do that.”