UPPER DARBY >> As 5-foot-7 sophomore quarterback Kevin Kerwood trotted onto the Upper Darby High School field last year for his only opportunity of the season, Kareem McAdams was among the first to greet him in the huddle.
Even then, everyone around the Royals’ program knew that one, three-word burst of advice would be sufficient.
“He was nervous,” McAdams was remembering, months later. “But I just told him: Play your game.”
That’s all Kerwood ever intended. And that’s all Rich Gentile, the Royals’ coach, will expect when Kerwood becomes the full-time starter in a junior season of high opportunity. Despite his size, the accomplished wrestler is everything Gentile was hoping to find upon the graduation of valuable quarterback Josh Gouch.
“The best way I can describe him is that he’s a quarterback,” Gentile said. “He makes all the correct reads. Nothing seems to faze him. If it is a bad play or something bad happens, he comes right back and doesn’t let it affect him. And he’s a hard worker.”
With substantial losses on the fringes, but with returning value along the lines, Upper Darby’s season will be determined by how well younger skill players perform. For that, the unflappable Kerwood appears the perfect replacement for Gouch.
Though Kerwood didn’t rally the Royals to victory in his mini-audition against Ridley, he helped them win the second half, 8-6, and to bring the final difference to within two touchdowns. If he looked more seasoned than most sophomores, it was for two reasons: 1) His development as a quarterback in the Clifton Heights Rams program; 2) All those nights going one-on-one, eye-to-eye, flip-for-flip with high school wrestlers, plenty of the upperclass variety.
“At one point when I was younger, I played running back,” Kerwood said. “But in my last two years with Clifton Heights, I played quarterback. I still like to run. We will play some under center and some in the shotgun. So I can do both.”
He can run, if that’s the play. But if the situation calls for him to hang in and battle, he’s been trained for that, too.
“I have been wrestling since I was six-years-old,” Kerwood said. “I wrestled at 150 this year. I did good. I was sixth in districts. I didn’t make it to regionals, because you have to finish in the top five. But wrestling teaches you a lot of stuff, like not to be rattled by anything at all. It teaches you to be tough with anything that you come up against and things like that.”
Upper Darby 2018 Schedule
Kerwood will be up against multiple Central League defenses, all designed for and capable of limiting even the most experienced of quarterbacks. And he will have to do that without departed Royals runner supreme Quaran Davis.
Gentile has a plan to trust Kerwood, with offensive-line carry-overs Eric Miller and Delva Jean-Baptiste helping to clear space for McAdams to run. With receiver Brylan Brown ready to create points and with Kerwood’s savvy, enthusiasm is high after a 6-5 season.
“I think Kevin will do well,” Gentile said. “When Josh got hurt in the Ridley game in the second half, Kevin came in and did a really nice job. He understands the offense. And the best thing about him? He’s a junior. So we will have him for two years.”
Kerwood, who barely flinches whenever critics question his size, is ready for the challenge.
“Getting in there last year was valuable, to be sure,” he said. “That was my first time in a real varsity game getting a lot of playing time. So I was excited. I wasn’t nervous, though.
“This year, we are going to be a great team. We are all coming together as a family and I think we are going to come out good. We don’t have a lot of seniors, but that doesn’t bother us at all.”
To the quarterback Upper Darby needs, to the quarterback Rich Gentile knows is ready, nothing ever does.
Nick Faraglia played some as a sophomore at Bonner & Prendie, then transferred down the street to Upper Darby last year. But he sustained a shoulder injury in training camp and missed the entire season.
Having regained health, the offensive guard and inside linebacker should be valuable.
“We are looking forward to having him,” Gentile said. “We are young. But he does give us a player who has had varsity experience.”
READ THE SIGN
As has been the case for several years, a sign reading, “If you’re not prepared to put the team first, turn around,” is the last thing the Royals see before descending onto the playing and practice fields.
This year, the sign is newer and bigger. As always, the Royals tap it, one by one, before practice.
“It’s important, absolutely,” Gentile said. “If you don’t want to do that, get out of here.”
OFFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH
KAREEM McADAMS >> The 5-11, 205-pound junior tailback has no secrets: He is running into … and through … contact.
“That’s what I love,” he said. “That’s what I did when I was little. That’s what I am known for, just running downhill. I am not that type of guy who will just juke.”
Realizing the potential of such a force, Gentile has envisioned an old-school offense. Very old. Very, very old.
“I’m for 1905 football,” the Royals’ coach said. “My viewpoint is 3.5 yards is a great offensive play. If you get three of them, it’s a first down and you hold onto the ball.”
DEFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH
ERIC MILLER >> The 6-2, 205-pound senior has the reach and the willingness to cause backfield havoc. Though he will take some offensive line shifts, defense is his passion.
“Defense is not planned,” he said. “You have to react to the offense. So it’s kind of like a rush. You don’t know what’s going to happen. But if your follow your cue, it’s going to lead you to where the ball is. And then good things happen from there.”
-By Jack McCaffery, email@example.com
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