North: Mars QB Nearhoof doesn't need stats to be important
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Mars had arguably the biggest win of any WPIAL football team on the season's opening weekend.
The Planets went on the road last Friday and upended Franklin Regional, which was ranked No. 1 in WPIAL Class AAA by the Post-Gazette, 21-17, in a Greater Allegheny Conference game.
"It was a huge win for us, a great way to start the season," Mars junior quarterback Owen Nearhoof said.
Nearhoof, though, was pretty much a footnote in that game. The victory represented a coming out party for Mars sophomore fullback Josh Schultheis, who rushed for 170 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries.
Nearhoof, meanwhile, had a solid game as he completed 7 of 13 passes for 108 and one touchdown.
"As a coaching staff, we believe you have to establish the run to win, so, in that sense, you can call us a Western Pennsylvania-style team," Mars coach Scott Heinauer said. "I really believe you have to be able to run the football because when it gets later in the season and the weather turns bad, then it gets a lot tougher to pass.
"So, our quarterback isn't going to have the type of stats that some other quarterbacks might have. I'm confident we'll have a 1,000-yard passer when the season is over, but Owen means more to us than just yards."
Nearhoof is Mars' undisputed leader. He took over as the starting quarterback as a sophomore at the beginning of last season and threw for 672 yards and six touchdowns.
"It's easy to say the quarterback should be your leader, but that's not always the way it happens," Heinauer said. "However, our guys really respect Owen and rally around him. They know he works as hard as anybody and he really commands respect on and off the field."
Nearhoof does not shy away from being asked to lead. In fact, he relishes it.
"I want to be that guy who can make the big play when we need it," Nearhoof said. "We have a lot of guys who can make a play, but I want all of my teammates to know they can count on me when they need me."
One way in which Nearhoof has earned the respect of his teammates is by mastering Mars' offense. When Heinauer talks about Nearhoof being a coach on the field, it is obvious he isn't spouting a cliché.
"He knows where everyone should be lined up, what everybody's responsibility is on every play," Heinauer said. "He wasn't able to do that at the start of last season but he has gotten so much better. He's worked hard, both during the season and in the summer, too, to learn the offense."
Having a full season of varsity experience has made a world of difference, according to Nearhoof.
"I experienced just about everything you could experience in one season," Nearhoof said. "I came into this season a lot more confident just because I had a better idea of what I could do as a quarterback and what our offense could do."
Mars' offense had a strong opening-week performance as the Planets had 306 total yards and 19 first downs against Franklin Regional. They will try to keep the momentum going this week when they host Derry Area, a 33-26 winner over Albert Gallatin in a non-conference game in its opener.
"It was a great win and we celebrated it but now it's back to work," Nearhoof said. "It was just one game and we want to win a lot more than one game this season."
As good as Nearhoof is in football, it may not be his best sport. He also started on the basketball team last winter and averaged 15 points a game in helping Mars to the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs.
Football is in Nearhoof's blood, however. His two older brothers also played at Mars, including Nolan, who is a senior at Robert Morris and an All-Northeast Conference defensive lineman.
"I love football season," Nearhoof said. "It's the best thing about going back to school."
First Published September 6, 2012 12:00 am