NEW CANAAN — In the second row of students at the state basketball championships at Mohegan Sun Arena, was New Canaan junior Drew Pyne wearing a black and green Kyrie Irving Celtics jersey and cheering on the Rams as voraciously as anyone.
A reporter covering the game commented that Pyne and several other football players were among the student body, and someone who had never seen him asked which one he was.
“So, that’s him, huh? He looks like any other kid.”
Drew Pyne is a high school student. He cheers for his school at basketball games, he goes to classes and this month, he is going to prom.
He also happens to be the most widely discussed and dissected quarterback in the history of Connecticut high school football.
For good reason.
He is committed to play football at Notre Dame and is already New Canaan’s all-time leading passer after his junior season.
It is easy to understand why people have been talking about him since he was in eighth grade.
Pyne entered New Canaan High School with offers on the table from Alabama, Florida State, Penn State, South Alabama and South Carolina.
All before he ever threw a pass in high school.
That sort of hype surrounding a player is highly unusual in the state and was met with skepticism on all fronts from coaches, media and fans.
In the age of social media and comment sections, those who had doubts about Pyne let them be seen.
A story about him on GameTimeCT from March 2016, when he was in eighth grade, generated more than 100 comments in a week, and all were not favorable.
Along with the doubters and those looking to poke holes in his game came rumors, ranging from Pyne being recruited to play in New Canaan, that he was really 25 years old and that he secretly lived in Florida and flew in for games.
Before a state playoff game this past season, some of Pyne’s teammates had fun with their opponents after seeing some of them posting during the week that Pyne was commuting from Florida.
Within earshot of the opponents during warmups, two players joked how tired Pyne was from flying in from Florida that day.
What was seemingly missed with every comment posted and rumor started is that Pyne is a teenager and a human being.
“People give him a really hard time and don’t give him enough credit,” New Canaan junior defensive back Drew Guida said. “The stuff he does every day preparing both academically and athletically is incredible. People are jealous and they want to find something to hate about. Kids don’t understand how good of a player he is and how vital he is to the team. You hear a lot of kids and they don’t believe he’s as good as the hype, but his stats are remarkable for any high school quarterback. You actually meet him and you know the truth as opposed to what other people are saying.”
Pyne has been busy this spring, being named QB MVP at the New Jersey Rivals Challenge and being selected to play in the Under Armour All-America Game.
Hearst Connecticut Media recently sat down with Pyne to talk about how, through all the talk and rumors, he remains incredibly grounded in football, family and the community.
“That is something I’ve tried to maintain during this whole thing. Having all the stuff surrounding me, but more surrounding my name, is hard sometimes,” Pyne said. “Once people meet me I usually seem to be friends with them rather than them thinking they know me based on all the stuff and talk around my name. Being able to be in a town like New Canaan where the guys took me in so well and the coaches have been able to teach me so well and groom me as a man. The coaches here have really taught me what’s important, and having such a supportive family at home helps a lot.”
How Drew Pyne came to New Canaan is one of the subjects those around Connecticut football like to speculate about.
Pyne’s family was living in Harrison, N.Y., but because his father was changing jobs, the family was looking to move. Moving to a town with a good football program for Drew was a consideration in the family’s relocation, but so was finding a community to call home.
Pyne was already in New Canaan, attending eighth grade at New Canaan Country School, and the family knew about the success the New Canaan football program had been having.
It turns out Pyne’s father, George, was college roommates and football teammates at Brown with Tom Towers from New Canaan.
Towers constantly sang the town’s and New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli’s praises, and George never forgot it.
While in eighth grade, Pyne approached Marinelli about allowing him to hang around the team at practice and stand on the sidelines at games.
“He came to a lot of our games that year. I just thought he was a kid who loved football,” Marinelli said. “He wanted to be around and even as an eighth-grader, he wanted to hop in.”
Pyne was fascinated with following around then-Rams senior, now TCU rising junior quarterback Mike Collins, who was busy setting many New Canaan passing records.
“When I was in eighth grade the coaches here let me tag along and see what was going on,” Pyne said. “I went to all the games and was able to talk to Mike Collins, who was great to me. Seeing how much New Canaan throws the ball and being able to communicate with Mike as an eighth-grader was really important.”
Pyne made an immediate impression on Collins.
“My senior year, he was around and he was someone who really wanted to be around the team and learn all he could,” Collins said. “He was a really good dude and even though he was in eighth grade, we would bounce ideas off each other. He knew the game so well, even then.”
Pyne and Collins remain in touch, with Collins even FaceTiming Pyne at halftime when his schedule allows him to livestream New Canaan games in Texas.
“I was able to do that more freshman and sophomore years while I was at Penn, but whenever I can watch a game live and have the time, he’ll call me at halftime,” Collins said. “I tell him what I’m seeing that maybe he’s not seeing as he’s playing. He’s like a sponge, the way he absorbs information.”
The Pynes moved to New Canaan the spring before Pyne’s freshman season.
The move was not just about football, but about planting roots in a community that Drew and his younger sister, Rachel, could call home for a long time.
Pyne could have played at any boarding school or football academy in the country, but he and his family wanted more.
“We wanted our children to have a normal high school experience. Both Drew and his sister. Being part of a community was very important, and New Canaan let us have both the community and the football,” George Pyne said. “We looked at New Canaan not as a four-year but a 40-year commitment. We felt it was important for Drew to have a high school experience, and who doesn’t want to have their kid home?”
Pyne said when he sees alumni coming back to talk to the current players, he envisions himself doing the same for many years to come.
“It has grown with me every single year,” Pyne said. “Being a freshman and seeing the alumni come back and talk to us before the Darien game, I started seeing what it meant to be a part of this program. Being able to have those relationships and being able to come back to a town that has been really good to me is a priority to me.”
THE FAMILY BUSINESS
Football is in Pyne’s blood.
The Pyne lineage on the gridiron rivals that of any family in the country, with the Pynes the first to have three generations play professional football.
Pyne’s great-grandfather, George Pyne Jr., was an All-American at Holy Cross before playing in the NFL for the Providence Steamrollers in 1931.
Pyne’s grandfather, George Pyne III, played in 1965 for the Boston Patriots of the AFL.
Pyne’s uncle, Jim Pyne, was a unanimous All-American guard out of Virginia Tech and is considered one of the best to ever play at the school. Jim Pyne played in the NFL for nine seasons with Tampa Bay, Detroit, Cleveland and Philadelphia.
Pyne’s father, George Pyne IV, was All-Ivy and All-New England during his time at Brown.
Drew’s brother Brendan is currently a starting outside linebacker at Brown, and Pyne has cousins playing at both Boston College and Lafayette.
With that history, it is no wonder Pyne is obsessed with being a great football player.
“Football comes so naturally to me. It’s always been, if you’re a Pyne, you play football. It is kind of something you’ve been raised with,” Pyne said. “When I wake up and eat breakfast, if you’re me or my brother, you eat breakfast then you go play football or work out or do something geared toward football. It’s a huge part of my life and an everyday routine. As Coach Marinelli says, ‘Football is life sped up.’ I think that’s my favorite quote from him. It’s a great game to learn and have as such a big part of my life.”
On his mother’s side, Paul Harney, Drew’s grandfather, is in the PGA Hall of Fame.
How does a player pick up offers from Division I schools before ever throwing a pass in high school?
That is the question so many had about Pyne when he arrived at practice his freshman season with multiple offers.
While working out in Mobile, Alabama, at QB Country the summer before eighth grade, the South Alabama coach saw Pyne throwing and asked to watch some film of the youngster.
The coach was impressed enough by what he saw to offer Pyne in hopes of landing a verbal commitment from him.
Pyne thought the coach was messing with him and was upset when he saw his mother later in the day.
“Honestly, I couldn’t believe it,” Pyne said. “When they said they were going to offer me I thought, ‘That’s not true,’ and I left and didn’t think anything of it. I talked to my mom about it thinking he was joking, and I thought, ‘That’s not cool,’ but then I texted him later and he said he was serious.”
Within two weeks, Florida State contacted Pyne, and before he got to New Canaan, he had five DI offers.
Pyne’s coach at QB Country, its founder David Morris, was not at all surprised Pyne began seeing offers right away.
“People who don’t realize how special he is don’t know what it takes to be a good quarterback,” Morris said. “If you see him throw or turn on his film, you see right away how special he is and why he got recruited so early. One of the most impressive things about Drew is, as human beings we’re impressed with ourselves and Drew never seems impressed with himself. Which is a unique quality in anyone, especially a young kid.”
Morris played quarterback at Ole Miss and has worked with signal-callers such as Eli Manning, AJ McCarron, Matt Barkley and the New York Giants’ 2019 first-round draft pick, Daniel Jones from Duke.
Pyne continues to work with Morris in person a couple of weekends a year during the offseason.
Coming into school with those expectations, even kids in his class were intrigued.
“I heard about Drew Pyne at the end of eighth grade going into freshman year,” New Canaan junior lineman Matt Rigione said. “It was kind of exciting to meet him with all the hype around him. To be honest, he’s been a great guy with a great personality. It’s been a real pleasure playing with him the last couple years. He’s not obnoxious and I would never think based on his personality he was a DI recruit. He’s just a normal guy”
When Morris talks about Pyne, he constantly references his “twitch.”
“His twitch — his natural quick agility — is the best I’ve ever seen,” Morris said. “Drew Pyne is the twitchiest kid I’ve ever worked with. He’s the best I’ve ever had in that one area. In the NFL, guys like Eli Manning, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have great twitch. Drew has Kyler Murray-type skills and twitch.”
Morris said while Pyne’s twitch is special, his mental makeup is not far behind.
“We always try to steer away from kids getting early exposure because they aren’t ready for it,” Morris said. “There is a lot of jealousy around exposure and kids who have early success, and it takes a special kid to absorb that and not be influenced by it. Drew has a unique mental makeup that is very special.”
In his three-plus decades at New Canaan, Marinelli never had a freshman play on the varsity football team at any position, never mind quarterback.
“It’s unheard of,” Marinelli said. “He wasn’t going to start. We had a senior quarterback, but he hurt his ankle. The backup senior we had that year, who was a tremendous team kid, Spencer Williams, said ‘He’s better than me.’ He knew. It shows you the kind of kids we have that would say that about a freshman taking his spot.”
The teammate’s faith in Pyne was rewarded.
As a freshman, he threw for 2,347 yards and 26 touchdowns with 430 yards rushing, helping lead the Rams to the Class L championship.
His numbers improved in each category his sophomore and junior seasons.
“He is just a winner; he just wants to win,” Marinelli said. “His best games are against the better teams. When things go bad, he puts it into another gear. Sometimes, it’s insurmountable for our team, but he never thinks it’s insurmountable for him. He has that fight. He has that certain thing you look for in competitors at a high level.”
There are many, many adjectives that could be used to describe Drew Pyne, but content isn’t one of them.
In the weight room he is now hanging with the linemen.
“He works very hard,” Rigione said. “He likes to be in the weight room. A few weeks ago, he did 315 for 3 on squat, which is insane for a guy of his size. He lifts with me on the same rack. It’s always impressive to see what he can do.”
Pyne has increased his strength, but not at the cost of his twitch. Pyne feels he can throw harder now and has increased his speed so much that the New Canaan coaches feel he is the fastest player on the team.
As a freshman, he weighed 146 pounds at the end of the season and recalled playing in the Turkey Bowl and being most thankful that Darien’s 6-foot-6, 315-pound lineman Andrew Steuber did not get any hits on him.
With a commitment to eating right while adding weight, Pyne is now up to 194 pounds, with increases in speed and power across the board.
IRISH EYES ARE SMILIN’
Pyne has not signed — that will not come until February of 2020 — but he is committed to play at Notre Dame, fulfilling a lifelong dream.
“There is a video of me from when I was like 3 standing on a bed watching ‘Rudy’ and chanting ‘Rudy, Rudy’ as he’s being carried off the field. It was kind of a lifelong dream that I’ve had and a goal that I’ve had and I am very lucky to be a part of the team,” Pyne said. “My brother and I grew up in the same room and we’d wake up and try to go play our PlayStation 2, and whoever woke up first would go play ‘NCAA Football.’ For some reason, I was always Notre Dame. Then I saw Brady Quinn on TV and fell in love watching him play. Then I got his jersey.”
As excited as he is about heading to play for the Irish, Pyne knows his toughest task lies ahead of him.
“It was very cool to commit, but at the same time I have another season of high school to play. I’m going to a school I love, but I still have to play and work hard, otherwise none of this matters,” he said. “Signing there guarantees nothing. There are guys in the class above and below who I will be competing with for that job. The way I think of it was that an offer or a scholarship was just an opportunity to compete with four or five other guys, especially at quarterback. When you’re going to a prestigious school like Notre Dame, there are guys who are there who are all going to be very good.”