He’s a winner in school, and Xavier Essex’s success in the classroom helps him win on the football field.
“In math class, I have to analyze problems in order to solve them,” said Essex, an eighth grade Honor Roll student at Annapolis Area Christian Middle School in Maryland. “I use the same skills to analyze things on the field. In some classes, we work together as a group on projects, which teaches me how to work with my classmates. Everyone has a responsibility to get their part done, just like on the football field.”
Playing quarterback for the Howard County Terps, Essex got it done in a big way this season. While leading the Terps to a 7-2 record and the championship game, he connected on 39-of-54 passes for 645 yards and 8 touchdowns.
“I’m happy that we learned to play together and be supportive of each other in order to be successful as a team,” Essex said. “By playing together, we were able to win most of our games this season. My goal was to be a positive role player on my team and help them win the Super Bowl. I also wanted to give myself options for high school and improve my mechanics and ability to throw in a competitive league.”
The best thing about setting goals is ultimately reaching them, and Essex was able to do that.
“I have to give credit to my great offensive line,” he said. “They allowed me time to execute plays and they are the players that make me better.”
Playing the position for eight years, Essex has blossomed into one of the top eighth grade QBs in the nation. He is an extremely accurate as a passer and able to read and react to opposing defenses.
“I’m working to improve my leadership skills,” Essex said. “I need to show better leadership, be more vocal.”
That is another goal he will ultimately accomplish. Winning the Duel was also on the list, and Essex finished first among incoming eighth graders at NFA’s showcase competition in July.
“I was honored to receive an invitation to the Duel (in Charlotte, N.C.),” he said. “I felt great that I was able to compete and win it. It was a great experience with great competition, and I was able to use the same focus techniques for the Duel that I used for my season.”
Essex has been training with NFA for four years, and the experience has had a profound impact on his overall development.
“NFA has helped me in many ways,” he said. “They taught me not to have unnecessary movements and to have better form when going through the throwing motion and throw with more power. NFA has also taught me that I’m here for the other players to serve, that it’s not just about me. I’ve learned how to be a better teammate, student, friend and son.”
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Madden Lowe was presented with two challenging tests during the 2016 season. The freshman quarterback at Riverbend High School in Fredericksburg, Virginia passed them both with flying colors.
Lowe opened the season as the starting junior varsity QB and he guided the Bears to their best record (8-2) in school history.
“It was great,” Lowe said. “We started out the season with a loss but after that we grinded. It was so fun after that. We worked really hard.”
Even though he was a freshman playing for Riverbend’s JV team, Lowe never doubted his ability to be successful.
“I wasn’t surprised,” he said. “I was trying to be as confident as possible. But I could tell some people around me were sort of surprised. They thought I wasn’t going to perform as well as I did but I was just grateful. It was a great opportunity.”
Lowe’s season was not limited to his strong showing with the junior varsity Bears.
Tony DeMarco, Riverbend’s varsity head coach, was keeping close tabs on Lowe when he was playing quarterback at Ni River Middle School.
“I’ve known Madden for a while,” DeMarco said. “Ni River is our main feeder school and they ran our offense. I would watch their games when Madden was an eighth grader and think, ‘Wow, he’s making reads and getting the ball to the right people.’ Coming into this past season, I wasn’t sure who our quarterback was going to be. There was a period of time where I told our coaches, ‘Don’t be surprised if we start a freshman this year.’ They’re like, ‘What?’ I said, ‘Madden Lowe, I’ve seen the kid play, I know who he is, I know his family. I coached his sister several years ago at our school and she was just a great athlete. He is so grounded.’”
Lowe might have opened the 2016 season as the Bears’ starting varsity quarterback, but DeMarco didn’t want to throw the then 5-foot-10, 145-pounder into a battle he wasn’t completely prepared for from a physical standpoint.
“My kid (Jordan) was our quarterback in 2015, and he was 205 pounds,” DeMarco said. “He got sacked 10 times in one game and that’s still fresh in my mind. So I’m looking at Madden and thinking his body would not take that kind of beating.”
As Lowe gained size – he’s now up to 5-foot-11, 150 pounds – he also gained experience with the JV team and practicing with the Bears’ varsity team.
“I looked at it that if he practices with us, practices against the varsity as the scout team quarterback, he’ll understand the speed of the game and know he has to get the ball out quick,” DeMarco said. “I knew by him going against our varsity defense, it would improve his game as opposed to starting Game 1 for us and just taking a beating from Game 1.”
DeMarco’s patience paid off in a big way.
In the eighth game of the season, Lowe joined Riverbend’s varsity team and he made his debut in the fourth quarter. The Bears were clinging to a 14-13 lead against a solid Freedom High School team and Lowe drove them to the end zone twice in a 28-13 victory.
“I wasn’t expecting it,” Lowe said. “I was pretty nervous at first and then we drove down and got a touchdown. The sideline was wild after that. We came back and did it again to win 28-13. That was so much fun. It’s always going to be great memory.”
Lowe made more memories with the Riverbend varsity, which finished the season with an 8-4 record. In 5 games with the Bears, he completed 12 of 21 passes for 130 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also took the majority of the snaps in Riverbend’s two playoff games and didn’t turn the ball over while helping the Bears post their first postseason victory at home in school history.
“I was just blessed to get an opportunity to play varsity football for Riverbend,” Lowe said. “I’ve been watching games there forever and I was so blessed to play in a few of them. I thought it was a lot of fun. Riverbend has a great atmosphere, a great student section. It’s just so much fun to play in those games.”
Fortunately for the Bears, Lowe has three more years of varsity eligibility.
“Madden played very well for us as a freshman,” DeMarco said. “He doesn’t have the really big arm, but the deep ball is overrated. I have linemen that can throw the football 50 yards and they’re like, ‘Hey coach, put me at quarterback.’ Being a good quarterback is being able to make the reads and get the ball to the right people at the right time. Madden is able to do that, and that makes him stand above probably any freshman I’ve ever coached. He’s already shown he knows how to move the ball around the field, and that forces the defense to have to cover the whole field.”
For as impressive as he was as a freshman, Lowe is looking to be an even better quarterback as his Riverbend varsity career progresses.
“This past season, I wasn’t really expecting anything,” he said. “My goal was to perform the best I could and see where they were going to put me. Just perform as well as possible no matter what team I was on. For next season, I think preparation is the main thing. We’ve got to prepare because the best prepared team is going to win the game. My personal goal is to be the most prepared person on the field.”
Lowe has been training with NFA for three years, and that has helped him prepare to play varsity football at such a young age.
“NFA has helped me so much, throughout personal experiences, the speeches before the game, the selflessness,” Lowe said. “And with my mechanics, NFA really got me straight. I’ve never felt more confident when I throw the ball.”
As a freshman football player, Jared Icenhower was a dual threat for Point Pleasant High School this season.
On one side, Icenhower was the starting quarterback for the Big Blacks’ junior varsity team, which posted a 4-3 record.
“We did pretty well,” he said. “We didn’t start off very well, but we just kept building and we got better throughout the season. I liked how we became closer as a team and worked through the difficulties.”
On the other side, Icenhower played for Point Pleasant’s varsity, one of the top prep teams in West Virginia year in and year out.
In addition to playing QB for the varsity Big Blacks, Icenhower’s offensive skills also came into play at wide receiver.
“I’d switch in and out at receiver,” he said. “And at quarterback, a lot of games we were winning by quite a bit so I got in during the second half almost every game. I was confident when I went in there and did my job. I think I did pretty well.”
How good was Point Pleasant the last four years? How about a perfect 39-0 in the regular season with four straight quarterfinal playoff appearances.
Breaking in to such a strong varsity program can be a challenging task for a freshman, but Icenhower was more than ready to make the step up in class.
“Playing varsity, the speed was the biggest difference,” he said. “It’s so much faster playing varsity, and there’s more pressure. But I just told myself to relax and I did. I was confident in myself and I just went in there and played.”
The Big Blacks averaged almost 50 points a game while winning their first 11 games before falling to James Monroe High School in the playoffs.
“Tough loss,” Icenhower said. “But we had a great season. We’re pretty good. Our offense is really good. We play really fast. We run a hurry-up offense and score a lot of points.”
With Icenhower on the varsity for the next three seasons, look for Point Pleasant to remain a powerful program in the Mountaineer state for the foreseeable future.
“I think I’ll benefit a lot from the experience I got this season,” the 5-foot-11, 165-pounder said. “I was nervous at first, but once the nerves got out I started doing really well. I felt confident in myself and knew I could do it. I’ll keep going to camps and work on anything else I need to do. I need to gain more weight so I’ll lift weights and get stronger. I feel like this year kind of helped me get the feeling of what it’s going to be like. I’ll keep working hard at it.”
Icenhower has trained with NFA the past four years, a critical part of his impressive development as a quarterback.
“They have helped me tremendously,” he said. “I don’t even know if I would still be a quarterback today if it wasn’t for NFA. They’ve helped my overall game a lot and I’ve learned so many things from them.”
Before the season, Icenhower made his third trip to the Duel. He didn’t make the finals the first two tries but finished fifth among incoming freshmen in July.
“I wish I would have done better, but I was happy with how I finished,” Icenhower said. “I worked really hard at it in the off-season. I practiced my footwork and technique and I felt really confident going in. I just did it. It built up my confidence quite a bit. I just kept working on my game and felt like I really improved heading into the season.”
Cam Moncur made his first trip to the Duel in the summer of 2015. In his own words, “it didn’t go well.”
Moncur did something about it.
“My first trip, I didn’t do well at all,” he said. “So I went to a lot more NFA camps and worked on my game a lot more. It helped me a lot coming into my second Duel.”
In July, Moncur did extremely well at the Duel. He finished second among incoming eighth graders.
“After I didn’t do well in the first Duel, I told myself I wasn’t going to let that happen again,” Moncur said. “I told myself I wanted to win. I wanted to be confident. I didn’t necessarily expect to win the Duel, but I wanted to win badly. I was happy placing second but being so close, I obviously would have liked to finish first. Still, I was really happy with it. I wanted to improve and I wanted to win, but to be on that stage and with the NFA organization there and the large number of kids that were participating, doing so well did a lot for me. It gave me a sense of, ‘I got this.’ I can keep progressing.”
An obvious competitor, Moncur built off his Duel success and had a standout season as his team’s starting quarterback at Landon School in Bethesda, Maryland.
“There’s a lot of room for improvement,” he said after the Bears went 2-3. “But as far as the guys on my team, I was really happy to a part of it. I feel like we really grew together as a team and I’m excited about what the future is going to bring.”
Landon School dropped its first two games before ending the season on a high note. “I just think we started understanding each other as teammates and we started progressing,” Moncur said. “Losing our first two games, that obviously frustrated us. But I think we found a new gear inside of ourselves. We pushed harder, played harder, hit harder and just worked better together as a team.”
As for his own performance, Moncur made steady strides in his first season at Landon School. “All in all, I’m very happy with how I played,” the 5-foot-11, 165-pounder said. “I think I was really consistent with how I delivered the ball and doing a good job of spreading it around. But I think as the record shows, there’s a lot more you can do for your team. There were obviously some throws I wish I could take back. But overall, I’m pretty happy with the way I played.”
Being affiliated with NFA the past two years has helped Moncur grow and improve at QB. “In multiple ways,” he said. “I’m a huge follower of the R4 system. I’ve been studying that a lot through the videos and their book. That’s really helped me on the field.”
The training he’s done with NFA has also elevated Moncur’s play. “The camps and the curriculum that they teach, it provides a really, really good set of ideas for you to bring to your game, and for your fundamentals and your mechanics,” he said. “Any time there’s been a slump throwing the ball or there’s been something weird with my mechanics, I can always go back and look at the notes that I took at the camps I attended. That helps me out and helps me improve my throwing.”
Mikie Kovich on the rise in Virginia
When the Woodgrove (Virginia) High School freshman season ended this year, Mikie Kovich continued on and dressed with the Wolverines’ varsity team. Over the next three seasons, the 5-foot-10, 170-pounder has positioned himself to be a big-time contributor with the big boys.
The enthusiastic Kovich led Woodgrove’s frosh team to a 6-2 record while passing for 1,677 yards and 21 touchdowns and running for 614 yards and 7 more scores. “I’m really happy with the season we had,” he said. “It was a blast. I had so much fun and we just went out there and did what we could. I had some really good stats, so that was nice.”
Averaging over 200 yards a game through the air indicates passing is Kovich’s obvious strength, but he also averaged nearly 80 yards a game on the ground. Can you say classic dual threat?
“Definitely, yeah,” Kovich said. “I try to read the coverage the best I can and if I don’t see anything and I’m not able to throw down the field, I definitely tuck and run.”
Kovich has been under center, passing and running the football, since he was 9 years old. That was also the time he started attending NFA camps. “They’ve helped me more than anything, really,” Kovich said. “I would not be half of where I am right now. I probably wouldn’t even be playing quarterback if it wasn’t for National Football Academies.”
His freshman season is over, but Kovich already has a goal set for his sophomore year. “I want to compete for the starting varsity quarterback job next season,” he said. “I think I can do it and I’m really confident. The only thing that worries me is my size, so that’s really what I’m going to focus on over the off-season, lifting and getting bigger and eating.”
Kovich has pretty good size for his age, and a well-timed growth spurt or two would likely boost his game even more. But when he watches football on TV, Kovich zeroes in on Drew Brees, the 6-foot-0 QB for the NFL’s New Orleans Saints.
“I love to watch Drew Brees play, he’s my favorite,” Kovich said. “Just the way he analyzes the defense and the way he’s so low in his stance, the way he moves around the pocket. He just throws the ball with so much power; it’s awesome. I’m definitely trying to pattern myself after him. I always try to catch the Saints games and look at what he’s doing. I try to be like him as much as I can when I’m on the field.”
While he had some doubts when his football career was just getting started, Kovich is showing he made the right decision by sticking at quarterback and growing into the position. “I love being the guy in control, being the guy everybody looks to in tough situations and the guy that knows everybody’s position,” Kovich said. “Just being the guy, you know?”