Passing shot on the mark

After sitting behind heralded QB Andrew Berry for three years, Bel Air senior Jon Donnelly is making the most of his chance to start.


Bel Air quarterback Jon Donnelly was in deep trouble during the first quarter of his first game as the Bobcats' starter.

Donnelly was supposed to roll out and throw downfield. But everything went wrong, from mistakes in the formation to the running of incorrect routes. To make things even worse, Donnelly found three John Carroll defenders quickly in his face.

But Donnelly stayed calm, rolled to the right and waited until he was a few feet from the sideline in front of Bel Air's bench. He ignored the three Patriots and threw the ball about 50 yards -- off his back foot.

The ball landed right in the hands of teammate Brandon Mayo at the 1-yard line. The Bobcats scored moments later on a run by Donnelly for a lead they never lost in their season opener.

That pass announced to the Bel Air football team that Donnelly had arrived.

The 5-foot-10, 155-pound senior had the unenviable task of following Andrew Berry, a three-year starter who many felt was the school's greatest quarterback. But despite waiting three years to get his chance, the senior has found little trouble this season.

"I was not nervous," Donnelly said. "I don't think it was that difficult because the group of players we have this year were the players I had on the team when I was the starting [junior varsity] quarterback. They all knew I was going to be the quarterback, so I think they had confidence in me."

Berry totaled 60 touchdowns (passing and running) and compiled over 4,500 yards of total offense as a starter at Bel Air before moving on to Harvard as a starting cornerback this fall. Donnelly's statistics through the first eight games are on a par with Berry's, as he has completed 78 of 134 passes for 1,258 yards, with 14 touchdowns and two interceptions.

Donnelly also has rushed for 343 yards on 71 carries and scored eight more touchdowns.

The Bobcats like to use swing passes, slant patterns and a variety of short passes to take advantage of Donnelly's quick release.

"The main concern was the pressure to follow somebody of high caliber," Bel Air offensive coordinator Craig Reddish said. "I was a little nervous that he was going to try too hard, and a lot of times when we try to do more than our capabilities, then we make mistakes. But Jon's got a lot of talent."

Donnelly served as the backup on the JV his freshman year before becoming the starter as a sophomore. He was the varsity's third-string quarterback last fall, moving to second string when Berry was injured late in the regular season. Donnelly saw some playing time to help him prepare for becoming this year's starter.

Donnelly also spent long periods of time working with Berry. The two were next-door neighbors for about three years and remain good friends, still talking on a regular basis.

Berry and Donnelly began practicing together during Donnelly's sophomore year. The two kept working on skills throughout this past spring and summer, and Donnelly even went through the workout regimen that Harvard sent Berry.

"I think Jon was perceptive enough to watch how Andrew led the team," Bel Air coach Bruce Riley said. "Jon did a great job of taking advantage of what Andrew had to offer, and Jon was willing to accept what Andrew had to offer."

Donnelly said he didn't worry about being in Berry's shadow, but he did want to earn his teammates' confidence and respect quickly, which he began to do during a scrimmage at Poly in the summer.

Donnelly admitted to having some butterflies at Poly but said he relaxed after his first completion and never looked back.

"Being a quarterback, you have to carry yourself with a certain attitude because your teammates are looking at you on every play to see how you carry yourself," Donnelly said. "I haven't been that nervous."

Mayo, a senior tight end-defensive end, said the players knew that Donnelly would fare well because Berry had taken him under his wing.

"He really is a confident person and quarterback, and from the first practice, he was the man," Mayo said. "We all knew that."

Donnelly also prepared for the starter's job in other ways. He enhanced his endurance and conditioning by running track and field, competing in the 400-meter dash and two sprint relay teams.

Donnelly wants to continue playing football after high school. He has been putting together a highlight film to send to colleges, and he's hoping to add to it in the season's final two games.

Although Bel Air, a Class 3A state semifinalist last season, is just 4-4 after graduating a number of key defensive players, Donnelly has been solid from the start.

"Jon [understood] that it was not, `How in the world am I going to replace Andrew Berry?' " Riley said. "Jon has high expectations for himself and said, `I'm going to do everything possible to make my mark.' "

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