Not thrown off his game

A success from the start, Oakland Mills quarterback Nick Finney continues to impress despite playing for a team that is winless in '05.

November 02, 2005|By ALEJANDRO DANOIS | ALEJANDRO DANOIS,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Quarterback Nick Finney vividly remembers the August afternoon in 2002 when he stepped onto the field for his first junior varsity scrimmage a few days before beginning his freshman year at Oakland Mills.

Crouching behind his offensive line, Finney surveyed Linganore's defensive alignment while barking out signals. Deftly handling each snap from center, he dropped back to throw with the footwork of a veteran. Oblivious to the oncoming pass rush, Finney stood firm in the pocket, his head swiveling from sideline to sideline as he searched for vulnerabilities in the defense.

Spotting open receivers, Finney unleashed an aerial barrage. Footballs flew out of his grip as if launched from a cannon. The JV offense marched up and down the field as tight spirals zipped into the hands of his teammates.

Coaches and spectators looked around with raised eyebrows, as news about the freshman quarterback with the rifle arm quickly spread to the varsity scrimmage, which was taking place on a separate field.

Ken Hovet, then Oakland Mills' head coach, slipped away from the upperclassmen to take a peek at Finney. Before the workout ended, Finney was instructed to make his way to the other practice field to take some snaps with the varsity.

A few weeks later, he opened the season as Oakland Mills' starting quarterback and has never looked back.

"The things he's able to do, most quarterbacks are not able to do," Oakland Mills coach Dick Hendershott said. "He can make that big throw down the field, he has good feet, he has the innate ability to avoid the rush, and you can't coach that. He has all the physical skills to be a major college quarterback."

As skilled as he is, however, Finney, a senior, has not been immune to adversity. He led the Scorpions to 7-3 records in his first two seasons, including a trip to the state playoffs as a freshman. But Oakland Mills fell to 3-7 last year and is still looking for its first victory after eight games this season.

After starting his career with so much success, Finney admitted the constant losing has been frustrating. But he's not ready to give up.

"I just do as much as I can to motivate my teammates," Finney said. "I have to give them advice, be a captain and try to win a game."

While Finney's play has remained consistent, much has changed for the team the past two years.

Finney, 6 feet 3 and 200 pounds, threw for more than 2,200 yards working out of a pro-style offense with multiple spread and shotgun formations during his first two seasons -- and his passing yardage could have been even more impressive but Oakland Mills rarely passed in the second half of games when it held a comfortable lead.

In one memorable game in 2003, Finney calmly engineered a 93-yard drive in the final two minutes to rally past Wilde Lake. During the winning drive, Finney converted a fourth-and-12, fourth-and-18 and fourth-and-20.

"We blitzed him and did everything we could to disrupt him," Wilde Lake coach Doug DuVall said. "He stood in there and completed all of his fourth-down throws. He's an exceptional player."

It was during Finney's sophomore year, however, that things began to spiral downward for Oakland Mills. Because of an ineligible player, the Scorpions were forced to forfeit their seven wins that season, ending aspirations of a state championship.

A number of talented offensive linemen and skill players graduated before Finney's junior season, and Hovet took his pro-style offense to Marriotts Ridge.

New head coach Hendershott installed a wing T offense that emphasized running the ball. The offensive system, once tailor-made for Finney's skills, now required a different set of skills.

"Our line was a lot smaller and I didn't have as much time to pass as I used to," said Finney, referring to the team's struggles last year. "Running the ball a lot limited me, but the adversity helped me to become a better scrambling quarterback. I still managed to do pretty well."

Although the Scorpions were often overmatched, Finney still made things exciting. In the first quarter of last year's 7-6 loss to Reservoir, he took the snap at his 5-yard line, rolled to his right to avoid the defensive pressure, stepped up and launched a 55-yard spiral to streaking receiver Kevin Beamon.

The defender was a half step behind, and the ball landed perfectly in Beamon's outstretched hands. Without breaking stride, he tucked it away and ran into the end zone.

Over the summer, Finney participated in the prestigious, invitation-only EA Sports Elite 11 quarterbacks camp at the University of Michigan. Along with some of the most celebrated high school quarterbacks in the country, Finney showed the numerous scouts and college coaches that he could throw the ball with the best of them.

Finney knew that his football team was in for an uphill battle this season, and he could easily have transferred to another school with a stronger football program to increase his recruiting visibility. Finney, however, saw this season as an opportunity to improve his ability to throw the ball on the run.

"I didn't want to leave Oakland Mills just because of football," Finney said.

Although his teams have struggled over the past two seasons, that hasn't stopped the steady flow of recruiting mail he receives from major and mid-major Division I programs.

Nor has playing for a winless team stopped Finney from working hard in practice and even playing safety on defense for the rest of the season to lend his teammates some much-needed confidence.

"He's out front in every conditioning drill and leads by example," Hendershott said.

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