By Alex Geli –
In the summer of 2008, a 14-year-old and his parents sat down with Penn Manor football head coach, Todd Mealy, in their home in Mountville, Pa. The point of this meeting: to get permission from the eighth grader’s parents to play varsity level football as a freshman in the upcoming year.
The 14 year-old: Adam Sahd.
Fast-forward a year, the kid turned out to be one of the youngest kids to play varsity ball in the school’s history, just as Mealy planned.
But Sahd soon learned that all the hype in the world, all the encouragement and expectations, can take a player only so far.
The pressure of the Friday night lights can get to even the most talented players. In this case, a player who has won awards at national camps and combines, which Sahd has. When he finally had a chance to shine under those lights, he got a knock on the head – actually a few knocks, hard too, and to most parts of his body.
It was difficult to understand why these lights, in particular, were a little less charitable. They made Sahd work a little bit harder to earn his own shadow.
Through the first four weeks of Sahd’s youthful competitive football career this year, he threw ten interceptions while only throwing three touchdowns. His QB rating through week 4 was a low, 81.1. Those weeks were a bit… sour.
Sahd tried to put these numbers into words and just spat out, “I’m not doing well.”
But as Sahd gained more experience and got used to the flow of varsity high school football, he matured and got a front row seat to watch his numbers climb and his team’s win column start to fill. As Terrell Owens once said, “get your popcorn ready.”
Rewind the tape back again – Sahd started playing the game of football when he was about 8 years old. Brought up on football by his father, Sahd has now played the last eight years and has taken part in nationally-observed camps and combines. By doing that has landed himself the title of one of the most promising quarterbacks of his generation.
One New Jersey camp showcased the top 100 players of any position in the East Coast called the Ultimate 100 (also called U100). Sahd, then an eighth grader, showed off his attributes including vertical jump, broad jump, 40-yard dash, shuttle run and weight-lifting skills.
“It was cool (and) confidence-boosting,” Sahd said about being selected as one of the top QB’s in the East Coast at that camp.
“(There were) a lot of kids to compete with,” he added.
In late April 2010, Sahd went to – which he would call his favorite camp – the NUC (National Underclassmen Combine) located in Pittsburgh, PA.
Sahd took on similar tests that were just like the U100 and any other combine for that matter. There, Sahd was in the spotlight for sure, winning the quarterback MVP award and also receiving the Overall Camp Leadership Award.
The DeBartolo Sports University had a skills showcase in Philadelphia a year ago that Sahd attended as well. Sahd, again, was on center stage, but this time he had to share the limelight with another quarterback from his home state – such a shame, right? Patrick Moriarty, from Gladwyne, PA, and Sahd shared the honor of being named the Youth Quarterback Combine’s co-MVPs.
Sahd had already gotten a glimpse as a middle schooler of how intimidating high school football could be when he tagged along to team workouts with his older brother, Austin.
There he sat, an eighth grader, with two MVPs in National combines, wearing the label of one of the top quarterback prospects in the U.S. on his back like a “kick me” sign, his confidence was most likely at an all-time high.
All-time high? Not so fast.
Then, just 14 years young, the freshman Sahd, earned a spot on Penn Manor’s surging football club as a backup to senior, P.J. Rehm. Rehm led the team to their winningest season and its first ever playoff win in ’08. Although Rehm’s style was concentrated on the run while Sahd is into passing, the experience at second string turned out to be a stroke of good luck.
Given the chance to be behind an experienced and successful Penn Manor quarterback, made sitting on the bench a good thing. Sitting there was a time of learning and getting a feel for the fast-paced varsity football action.
But Sahd did not let his eagerness to play get the best of him. He didn’t mope, he learned. So when it was Sahd’s turn to step up, he had a better idea what to do than most rookie quarterbacks.
And before Sahd knew it, it was his turn, and his gold helmet seemed to get a little bit tighter. The pressure was on against Cedar Crest.
The Comets needed the win to get home-field advantage for their first playoff game, and Rehm picked a great time to link heads with a defensive player and get taken out of the game.
It was Sahd’s first big chance.
“I was nervous,” Sahd said, “(but) I felt confident going in.”
Sahd was dealt a score of 21-15 in favor of Cedar Crest, and let’s just say that the flop didn’t help him out at all- the Comets sunk to a two-touchdown deficit, 35-22, at the end of the third quarter.
Yeah, way to give your freshman quarterback some leeway in his first ever varsity football game.
But the hole was one Sahd was willing to dig his team out of.
A 26-yard pass play and a crucial conversion on fourth down and ten by Sahd helped the Comets pull out a comeback win and made him the team’s offensive player of the week. The final score was 36-35 with the “W” going to Penn Manor.
Sahd was the role model that day when he took the place of the man he’d been eagerly watching the whole season. He showed that he’d worked hard and transformed himself into a fine looking quarterback.
Not only was he lucky to have Rehm to look up to but he was even luckier when he had his own brother as a teammate that same year. Austin Sahd was a senior in 2009. Austin, Adam said, was his “main motivator” and was happy for him that he got some snaps in a varsity game – not to mention winning it from 13 points down.
“I owe a lot to him,” said the younger Sahd.
A year later with his big brother away at college, someone else had to fill his cleats as main motivator. If Sahd had to pick someone, whether a teammate, coach or family member, he would choose his “wide outs,” Demetrius Dixon and the Comets’ leading pass catcher, Daulton Parmer.
“Keep your head, keep your focus, forget and move on,” are some things Dixon says to Sahd on a regular basis when times for the sophomore quarterback get rough.
“A lot of pressure’s on him,” said Dixon, who also tells the young Sahd not to be afraid to make mistakes.
Well, Sahd’s first game starting at the quarterback position was filled with them; although winning 21-13, he threw four interceptions to Solanco’s defense.
“My performance was alright but could have been a lot better,” Sahd said. “(I was) happy we got the W.”
In week two against Lampeter-Strasburg, Sahd had only two picks and completed 9-26 passes for 202 yards. Notably, one of those nine completions was an 81-yard touchdown pass to Teon Lee. But the Comets, in the end, turned the ball over four times and got wiped out 44-7.
After that second week, the surprisingly struggling Sahd already had six interceptions and only one TD with an 82.4 QB rating.
The Comets fell to 1-2 in week three and Sahd had a turn-a-round game throwing two touchdowns and he limited his mistakes to only one interception.
Bob Forgrave, ex-Penn Manor coach and now the Hempfield head coach, must have had a smile on his face in week four when he saw his offense finally score their first points of the season – 27 to be exact – and presented a 17-point loss to Penn Manor boxed up with a big red ribbon on top, saying, “remember me?” Three interceptions from Sahd definitely helped Hempfield’s mediocre offense rack up the points.
By the end of those four weeks, Sahd averaged two-and-a-half interceptions (10 total) and less than one touchdown (3 total) per game.
“Nobody’s happy with the way he’s played, including himself,” said Penn Manor’s quarterback coach, Scott Lackey, about Sahd’s play. “He’s his worst critic.”
Head coach Mealy was surely taken back by the start of the 2010 season, saying that he was “optimistic that the ball would bounce our way,” referring to the chance of the season going either way with “literally half (the) team who (has) never experienced varsity football before,” he said.
“This year (has been) frustrating because we were really heading into the right direction,” he also said – the right direction being two-straight winning seasons since 2008 with success in the post season.
“The team, overall, (has been) alright (but there has been) a lot of downfalls,” said Sahd. Sahd’s focus, though, was to “finish strong (and) try and get these last wins.”
With the hope of bouncing back fading, the Comets plodded into week five.
And then suddenly a 21-0 shutout victory. That would be bouncing back, alright. The defense showed off their stuff while Sahd didn’t make any mistakes and had a touchdown pass. Thanks to his passing performance and superb punting performance, Sahd led Penn Manor past Ephrata with ease.
Week six wasn’t so easy – physically or emotionally.
After the only interception of the day from Sahd, the McCaskey Red Tornadoes went down the field and scored to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. The McCaskey offense was left with 11 seconds to go to try and make a last ditch effort to pull out a win before overtime. Red Tornado quarterback, Huylo heaved it up to his favorite target, Diante Cherry, who fought off a Penn Manor defender and somehow came out with the ball inside the end zone ending the game 20-14, Red Tornadoes.
“It felt like I got kicked in the stomach,” Lackey said, highlighting the game-ending catch with time expired. “(Our) defense played outstanding (but our) offense can’t score.”
While the whole team and all the fans felt gut-wrenched by the surprise loss, Sahd already had a reason to be upset.
“I was just (upset) that I didn’t have a good game,” said Sahd about his 4-10 day with 80 yards including one touchdown and interception.
After week seven, though, Sahd had a reason – or 38 reasons for that matter – to turn that frown upside down.
With help from senior running back and linebacker, Garret Young, who ran for 166 yards, Sahd led the Comets to a 38-20 victory over Manheim Township.
“(He) helped us out a lot,” said Sahd, relating to Young’s big game running the ball.
The Blue Streaks were reminded that there is such a thing as losing as the tables turned for Penn Manor – no turnovers for Sahd and the Comets, four turnovers for Township – as the Streaks’ four-game winning streak came to a screeching halt.
Offensive leader, Sahd, puppeteered the Streak’s struggling defense and ran for three touchdowns and passed for one. His biggest play was a 44-yard dash that put up six points awaiting kicker Brian Sloss’ extra point. The only other scores were a Young 57-yard run and a field goal by Sloss adding up to 38 points – a large number which the Comets’ offense wasn’t very familiar with.
Why the turn around? Well, something was different from the get-go, before the Comets even strapped on their cleats.
“We believed in ourselves,” Sahd said. And after the game, Sahd had a reason to believe that this was a start to the turn around Sahd had been hoping for.
“(I) felt more confidence in myself and teammates,” he said.
That game proved to be the one of the most productive for Sahd and the Comets, with 315 total yards. Sahd alone went 6-11 for 63 yards and four total touchdowns.
Penn Manor continued to climb and finally reached the peak where they found themselves .500 again in week eight against Warwick.
Sahd only completed three passes in that game, but one was a 50-yard completion to Dixon that concluded with six points, then seven after the PAT, thanks to a couple broken tackles by #80. Sahd had another score on an eight-yard run into the end zone, putting the Comets up 16-0 with time winding down in the fourth quarter. The score was unaltered in the remaining 1:31 and the Comets defense left the Wildcats with a doughnut hole at Warwick’s home, Grosh Field.
Yeah, so much for the other team’s home-field advantage.
Sahd was slowly getting into the groove of things by week eight and reaching into his basket full of talent to get some wins for the Comets – too bad those first few games didn’t disappear statistically.
“I was getting really frustrated,” said Sahd. “We started out really bad.”
Sahd only threw two interceptions through weeks 4-8, while adding four more passing touchdowns to his total of seven for the year. He also increased his quarterback rating by a solid 15.8 points to 96.9, and has done his best impression of former Penn Manor quarterback Rehm by scampering for a load of yards and touchdowns.
To the sophomore quarterback and his quarterback coach though, stats are the least of their worries.
“Your performance is based on wins and losses,” said Lackey. “Stats are nice to have, but it’s all about winning games.”
“(Winning games is) all I care about,” said Sahd, also knocking on wood and adding, “(and being) injury-free.”
Although Sahd looked like he was getting back on track, there was, and always will be in most cases, room for improvement.
Lackey met with Sahd during most homerooms throughout the season to go over “reads and look at film,” he said. Lackey’s ongoing plan is to sharpen the sophomore’s play “every day, whether it’s Saturday, Sunday or a game,” he said.
“I study film a lot more and let the coaches do their job,” said Sahd, explaining how he continues to work at improving his play.
Yet the Comets couldn’t prepare enough for what they faced in week nine – the Wilson Bulldogs, who came into the game undefeated and also came out of the game undefeated. Don’t worry though, they gave Penn Manor a zero of their own, beating them 44-0.
In that game, Sahd didn’t have much of a chance against Wilson’s league-leading defense as the Comets offense only squeaked by 52 yards – 29 of them being by Sahd’s passing. The main focus was that Sahd didn’t let the Comets help beat themselves by not throwing any interceptions.
And then there was one – a much needed one game left.
It was crunch time for the Comets as they faced Cedar Crest in the tenth and final week of the 2010 regular season. The young studs of the Comets led their team to a 56-21 home victory. Sahd had finally earned his shadow from those Friday night lights, but he had to share with fellow sophomore, Parmer. Sahd and Parmer combined for more than 400 total yards and 5 touchdowns.
The wide-out excelled on the special teams side of the ball while Sahd excelled in leading the offense.
Parmer had a 70-yard kickoff return and then another 85-yard return for a touchdown. Sahd went 10-12 for 189 yards with two passing touchdowns and a 23-yard rushing touchdown. One of Sahd’s passing touchdowns was a 73-yard bomb to his more experienced wide receiver, Dixon.
And just like that, coach Mealy’s question was answered.
“What can you do when literally half your team never experienced varsity football before?”
Well, your sophomore quarterback could give you a scare in the beginning, but eventually catch fire and clinch a playoff berth for your club.
“I hoped we would get back on the right track,” said Sahd relating to the Comets’ turnover-filled, 1-3 start.
“And that’s what we did,” Sahd said, as the season sure took a turn for the better. The Comets ended their run at 5-5 with a spot in the District Three Class AAAA playoffs.
The Comets’ young quarterback may have started out sour in 2010, but with the help of his team, he finished off the season pretty sweet.
Sahd ended his first season with a completion rate of 46 percent, 8 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 1111 passing yards and a 106.2 quarterback rating. Although Sahd had a rough start throwing 12 interceptions in his first six weeks, he finished out the regular season with no interceptions and three touchdowns. He also added rushing to his repertoire, helping the Comets win four of their final six games.
“You’re talking about a 15-year-old kid who’s playing the most important role on the team,” Mealy said, noting that “he touches the ball on every play.”
“Next to me, nobody is going to get the most criticism.”