By the end of the 2013 season, Penn sprint football thought it had found a gunslinger in quarterback Mike McCurdy.
And as the 2014 campaign dawns, the time is now to develop the strong-armed sophomore into a pure passer.
McCurdy was a deep ball specialist in 2013 — eight of his 14 touchdown passes were longer than 20 yards — which thrilled fans but wasn’t enough to lift the 3-4 Quakers to a winning record.
This year, he’s aiming higher.
“[The CSFL] championship is what’s on everyone’s mind,” McCurdy said. “However we get there, we’ve got a lot of weapons on offense we can use.”
Some of those weapons are familiar names. Mike Beamish — Penn’s leading rusher the last three seasons — is back. So too are junior wide receivers Jack Epstein and Brendan Dale, who combined for nine touchdowns last year.
But the Red and Blue’s most dangerous weapon in 2014 may be the new and improved mindset of McCurdy himself.
By his own admission, McCurdy forced plenty of throws in 2013, much of that stemming from a commitment to relying on pre-snap reads and deciding where the ball would go before the snap.
He knows that won’t fly in his first full season as the starter.
“I’ve gotta work on that a little bit,” McCurdy said. “Maybe making more reads on the fly, knowing when to take the shot and knowing when to play it safe and keep the ball in our hands.”
The transition to a passing game that mixes in the short and intermediate throw may also ultimately open the door up for McCurdy to make some more plays with his legs. In 2013, he scrambled for 136 yards on 59 attempts, including a 34-yard scamper against Post.
McCurdy spent plenty of time in the offseason working on his speed and footwork in addition to his mental approach, and the preseason results have been promising so far.
“I think he understands exactly what we’re trying to do after a whole season,” coach Bill Wagner said. “And he knows how to get the progression. He just has to be ready — if they take something away — he’s gotta be able to go to that next [receiver].
“And that’s tough to do, even on a pro [level].”
McCurdy doesn’t have the element of unfamiliarity on his side anymore. Plenty has changed since he relieved Keith Braccia just before halftime against Mansfield as a virtual unknown and proceeded to throw four second-half touchdowns in a comeback win.
Yet that may just work out to his advantage. Defenders expecting a freewheeling gunslinger from 2013 game tape may be in for a rude surprise if McCurdy is able to supplement his dazzling deep balls with stick routes, hitches and quick slants.
“Making reads, taking what the defense gives you, for sure,” listed McCurdy as points of emphasis. “The main thing is keeping possession and moving the ball down the field.”
A more methodical McCurdy could lead to a winning record — and more.
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