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From groupie to quarterback

Jordan Paul didn’t play video games in his spare time as a youngster. He broke down defenses and attended two-a-day practices.

Following around his older cousin, Wendell Fevrine, Paul was as much a staple of New Utrecht football as the Utes’ bright green uniforms.

“He was a groupie,” coach Alan Balkan said. “He would always be with us.”

Paul still is, but as arguably Balkan’s most important piece, a junior quarterback with a cannon for an arm and foot speed to match.

The 6-foot-1, 165-pound signal-caller was called up to the varsity late last year for a cup of coffee, used sparingly at the tail end of the Utes’ disappointing 2-7 campaign. By all accounts -- those of Balkan, himself and junior wide receiver Curtis Smith -- Paul wasn’t ready, completing 5 of 19 passes with two interceptions. He didn’t want to let the upperclassmen down and often hesitated instead of acting on impulse.

“I was nervous; I didn’t want to mess up,” he said. “Before games I would worry about what I’m supposed to.”

Almost as soon as the season ended, that changed. He knew his job description: leader.

Relentlessly working out, he would be the first one to the weight room and last to leave. He organized individual sessions with receivers.

“During the offseason, he got respect,” said Fevrine, New Utrecht’s offensive coordinator, Paul’s older first cousin and guardian. “He worked his butt off. When the seniors left, he assumed a greater role.”

That regimen over the summer paid off.

Paul is displaying better arm strength and improved decision-making. Instead of holding on to the ball in the pocket, he makes his reads quicker, settling for an underneath route rather than taking a sack.

As a result, he was voted a captain by his teammates.

“We feel we can trust him,” Smith, the junior wideout/cornerback, said. “He’ll make the right decisions.”

The Utes’ hopes don’t rest completely on Paul’s shoulders. The 17-year-old has senior running back Davon Collins and fullbacks Eric Pachardo and Dillon Fortune, and a rebuilt offensive line bolstered by tackle Rony Barrow.

The defense is opportunistic. Its strength is 6-foot cornerbacks Jerome Dawes and Smith and safety Matt Corona, in addition to experienced linebackers Mike Lynch and Fortune.

Most of all, Balkan, the 10th-year coach, believes in Paul. He sees last year’s brief cameo as a huge bonus. Instead of adjusting to the speed and pressures of varsity football, Paul is ready to make a difference. Although he is breaking in a new quarterback, Balkan doesn’t expect another sub-par season.

“Hands down, he’s not just managing the game,” Balkan said. “I like his poise, he sees the field, he’s confident in himself. He’s a leader.”

Paul was initially drawn to the program at the age of 8 to watch Fevrine, who went on to play at Pace. He fell in love with the tradition of fans packing the narrow sidelines every Saturday afternoon. He often played catch before games with players, running around the gridiron like a kid in a candy shop. When the games began, he settled on the sideline, imaging the future.

“When am I gonna play?” Paul thought to himself.

His time is now.

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