Rich Hansen knew that Brandon Wimbush had all the physical tools to be an outstanding high school quarterback, so the veteran St. Peter’s Prep head football coach wanted the prodigy to fully understand that thought.
“I thought he had the chance to be the best quarterback we ever had,” Hansen said. “So I told him in April that he had 24 chances to prove it, to be the best we ever had.”
That alone was saying a lot. After all, there have been a lot of excellent signal callers to come out of the storied program from Grand and Warren. Guys like Joe Dailey went to the University of Nebraska from Prep. In recent years, Brandon Napoleon went to West Virginia University after his days with the Marauders were through.
Not to mention, the best all-around football player to ever wear the maroon, white and silver was also a quarterback who happens to play safety for the New York Giants, namely Will Hill.
So Hansen was really asking a lot of Wimbush, placing such huge expectations of someone who was just beginning his junior year.
“I believed he could be great,” Hansen said. “He had a chance to be great. The expectations are different of him than others. The bar I’ve set for him is so high. It’s actually really unfair, but I believe he could be that good.”
Since preseason workouts, Hansen has made sure to constantly remind Wimbush of that thought. Hansen was admittedly tough on Wimbush.
“If he feels like I could be one of the best ever at Prep, that’s huge,” Wimbush said. “For a guy who has been here for more than 25 years and coached a lot of great quarterbacks in the past to say that about me, it made me realize that he knows what’s best for me and wants the best of me. If he’s going to get on me, that’s fine.”
Wimbush led the Marauders to four straight wins this season, prior to last weekend, when he faced his biggest challenge to date.
The Marauders were set to take on Bergen Catholic in a showdown of two of New Jersey’s parochial – or Non-Public, as the NJSIAA has now designated it – powerhouses.
St. Peter’s had not had success against the Bergen County triumvirate – Bergen Catholic, Don Bosco Prep and St. Joseph of Montvale – in recent years, having dropped 10 straight contests against those programs.
“We knew that we had a losing streak against those Bergen County teams,” Wimbush said. “We had a big sign on our backs. We had to make sure we got one of them.”
“I know what people were saying, that we hadn’t won one of those games,” Hansen said.
Wimbush was determined not to make it an 11-game losing streak, completing 13-of-16 passes for 280 yards and three touchdowns, leading the Marauders to a 25-18 victory over Bergen Catholic.
For his efforts, Wimbush has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Hansen had no clue that Wimbush’s final statistics were as impressive as they were.
“He did some of the things that we expect him to do,” Hansen said. “But I had no idea he was 13 for 16. I knew some of his completions were long, but I had no idea of the numbers. It’s really strange, because I still focus on what he’s doing wrong instead of what he’s doing right. But on the drive home from the game, I heard the numbers and I was shocked. I couldn’t believe he was that efficient. The high completion rate comes from good decision making.”
Hansen was asked why he’s so critical of Wimbush.
“I think it’s a byproduct of the expectations,” Hansen said. “I don’t dwell on the good things like I should. I did with others, like I’d call a play to just watch Will [Hill] do his thing or Kee-Ayre [Griffin], who went on to play running back at Temple] run.”
For the season, Wimbush has now completed 50 of 67 passes (75 percent) for 741 yards and eight touchdowns. More importantly, Wimbush has now completed 26 of his last 30 passes – good for an unfathomable 87 percent_ over the last three games with seven touchdowns.
“That is amazing,” said the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Wimbush, who is considered the top quarterback in New Jersey for the Class of 2015 and the No. 82-ranked prospect overall in the nation. “We have great playmakers on this team who make my job easier and give us production. We’re able to spread the ball around and they’re making great plays. The offensive line is giving me so much time to throw. But I never imagined that kind of number.”
Wimbush said that he’s not paying attention to the recruiting rankings and to the multitude of college offers he has already received, even as a junior.
“I’m just trying to stay humble with all of it,” Wimbush said. “It’s all great to get the attention, but I’m not worried about all the other stuff. I’m concentrating more on winning games. We feel like we can take it all this year. I’m still working my butt off every day and trying to get better. I do feel like I am getting better every game. The five-game experience thus far has been great, but I know I can do more.”
A lot of the college recruiters deem Wimbush as a double threat, being able to pass the ball and run with it. However, there haven’t been a lot of chances thus far to run.
“It’s there if we want him to do it,” Hansen said about the run. “There are plays and options for him to run, because we know he has the ability to do so. He’s a quarterback that is a dual threat, but he has so much confidence in his arm that he doesn’t need to. Are there times where he should take off? Sure, but that will come.”
Wimbush understands the run/pass option very well.
“I have the time to throw it and I’m comfortable in the pocket,” Wimbush said. “If I don’t have to take the extra hits that come with running it, that’s fine. Having a tremendous amount of time to throw has been a blessing. We pride ourselves on having one of the most explosive offenses in the state and it showed Saturday.”
Hansen knows that Wimbush is just beginning to show his true mettle, that perhaps Saturday was the game where he came of age a little.
“It’s all part of the quarterback maturation,” Hansen said. “The mental part of the game is all part of him maturing. He has to have the ability to turn chicken bones into chicken salad, turning a negative into a positive. We still want him to make the right decisions, make the right plays. I think he handles criticism great. He’s a very mature kid. He wants to be great, but he still has a ways to go. He listens to the smallest of details and picks up on it right away.”
And Wimbush is well on his way to becoming the best Prep quarterback ever – as expected and anticipated. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.