Editor’s Note: All six varsity football teams in the Record-Journal coverage area return their quarterbacks this fall. That makes 2017 our Year of the QB. We’re profiling all six. Maloney’s Larue Graham gets the start today.
MERIDEN — Larue Graham has a way of driving Maloney football teammate Mitch McEwen to distraction in practice.
Graham, the senior quarterback, drops back and gives a long look to one area of the field. McEwen, senior linebacker, draws a bead and makes his move. Graham promptly passes somewhere else.
“What makes him successful is I don’t know where he’s going to throw the ball,” McEwen confessed. “He looks me off one way, throws it the other way. Play-action: I bite. He’s just a great quarterback all around.”
McEwen and Maloney are hoping Graham will have equal success confusing enemy defenses this fall.
There’s reason to believe he will. Last year, as a junior, Graham put up the best quarterbacking stats in the area by completing 60.4 percent of his passes (197 of 326) for 2,203 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Each number was the area high. The 2,203 yards and 26 TD passes established new single-season Maloney records. The five TD passes Graham threw against Bristol Central on Oct. 21 tied the program record.
After the season, Graham was named quarterback of the All-Record-Journal Team.
Not bad for a rookie. Not bad for a QB who was ill at ease as his first season as starting varsity QB got under way.
“Last year I was kind of, I want to say, frigid in the pocket — scared,” Graham said. “But now I like what I’m doing. Now, I embrace the role.”
Graham is being hard on himself. He looked shaky in the season-opening loss to South Windsor. Then he and the Spartans rebounded to win their next three games.
In Week 5, Maloney lost again, this time to playoff-bound Middletown. Yet that was the game, Graham says, in which he settled down.
“I started to feel like what a quarterback should feel like. The first game was horrible for me. Each week I got better and better. By the fifth game, I felt like myself.”
Middletown was one of the best teams Maloney faced all season. Was it a case of rising to the competition?
“Yes,” Graham replied. “That’s exactly what it was.”
In no way should Graham’s emergence appear belated. He wasn’t a quarterback prior to arriving at Maloney. Coming up through the ranks of the Meriden Raiders, Graham played fullback.
Then came a fateful afternoon in his freshman year.
“I was at a baseball game,” Graham said. “One of my coaches pulled me aside and had me throw. He said, ‘You’re the freshman quarterback; congratulations.”
A steep learning curve commenced.
“It was huge,” Graham said. “You have to know everything on the field. You have to know what everybody else is doing and you have to correct them if the coaches are not there to correct them. It’s a big commitment.”
Now Graham finds himself manning the exact same position his father did more than 30 years ago. Larue Graham, the Meriden city councilman, was Maloney’s starting quarterback in 1984.
This makes for an interesting father-son parallel. The Platt quarterback when the elder Graham played was Aurelio Marinelli. His son, A.J., is now the QB for Platt.
There are other ties that bind. The younger Graham — “Tre” he’s called, in reference to his being Larue Graham III — works with Matt Kelleher, the former Southington quarterback. Kelleher also works with Marinelli and current Blue Knights QB Will Barmore.
Graham, Marinelli and Barmore all know each other. It must make for a friendly competition.
“We have a big competition, actually,” Graham said.
In Meriden, the competition will culminate on Thanksgiving in the Stoddard Bowl.
In the meantime, Graham and the Spartans face some challenges on offense. They must replace All-State wide receiver Alejandro Ortiz, who broke virtually every Maloney receiving record. Ortiz also put his name high in the state record book for catches in a season (4th, 89) and for a career (13th, 150).
Graham does have last year’s No. 2 receiver back, Victor Marquez (47 receptions, 508 yards), and speaks highly of all his receivers, including the up-and-coming Chris Infante.
Said McEwen: “They just have to be where they have to be. He gets the ball there.”
Graham adds another dimension to the Maloney attack. Drawing on his former days as a fullback, the 5-foot-11, 180-pounder can make plays afoot.
“Tre’s a little bit more of a runner,” said head coach Kevin Frederick. “He’s going to have to utiltize his legs a lot this year, which I think he’s excited for. You’ll see a little more of that this year for sure.”
Whether Graham’s airing or legging it out, his performance will go a long way in determining if Maloney, in its fourth season under Frederick, continues its resurgence. The Spartans, 7-3 for two years running, are looking to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
“Big No. 1 thing for all our quarterbacks is to make great decisions. Having played in the offense for a year, you start to understand a little bit more,” Frederick said. “We put a lot on his plate as the quarterback and he’s got to step up. He’s done that so far.”
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