Eli Ruiz | Democrat
Liberty’s dual-threat quarterback Quinn Jackson accounted for more than 1,600 yards this season in leading the Indians to their second consecutive Section IX, Class C playoff appearance.
Players of the Year: Dreher and Jackson
Story by Eli Ruiz
December 31, 2013 With yet another local high school football season in the books a season in which Liberty and the combined Roscoe/ Livingston Manor/ Downsville squad were the only local participants in post-season play, two players from both of these teams stood out from the rest: Roscoe/Manor/Downsville’s Brad Dreher and Liberty’s Quinn Jackson. They are the Sullivan County Democrat’s Co-Players of the Year. They are written about here in alphabetical order.
When it comes to a player’s true value to his team, perhaps no local player had the impact this season as Brad Dreher of Roscoe/Livingston Manor/Downsville. Just a season ago, a combined Roscoe/Downsville squad finished their season with a miserable 1-8 record.
Says Dreher, a man of few words, of that period, “It was really tough. When you win just one game an entire season, you just tend to put your head down. You go into games thinking you can’t compete.”
But with Dreher at tailback full time this season, the Blue Devils experienced an amazing turnaround, finishing with a respectable 5-4 record and challenging state-ranked Chester in the Class D championship game.
A varsity starter since his freshman year, Dreher played on the Blue Devils’ offensive line, splitting his time between offensive tackle and linebacker his sophomore year. Much like Quinn Jackson, Dreher said, “I just wanted to help out the team in any way I could. I would have played anywhere coach [Fred] Ahart asked me to if it helped the team. We had a pretty talented team back then and that just happened to be where I was needed at the time so I was more than happy to just be able to contribute.”
But Dreher always had dreams of running the ball. “My junior year, coach was looking for running backs. We had a really young team and we were willing to try anything at that time. It came down to me and my teammate Liam [Fogarty] as the backs.”
A quarterback in his modified football days, Dreher says that the transition to running back from the offensive line wasn’t as tough as one might think. “I already had some experience playing a skill position so it wasn’t all that hard to switch positions last season.”
Dreher finished 2013 with 672 yards on 112 carries and scored eight touchdowns on the ground for a career total of 1,020 rushing yards. He also passed for close to 200 yards this season, threw two touchdowns and caught eight passes for 169 yards.
But that’s not it for Dreher who was just as effective from his linebacker spot, averaging close to nine tackles per contest. “And that’s with most teams purposely running away from him,” said Ahart.
Dreher counts two big games as his highlights for the 2013 season.
“I think the first highlight this season was our second game against Eldred,” he says. “The early-season game against them, though we won, had no meaning at all as it was non-league. The second game against them [a 39-13 win for the Blue Devils] was a league game, and it’s kind of what propelled us into the Class D championship game, so that’s a big highlight for the season.”
Secondly, Dreher named that improbable Class D championship game against Chester as the other highlight to his season. “We lost to them 64-0 just a few weeks prior to the championship game and the fact that we were able to hang with them like we did that day was just huge,” said Dreher.
“I think we earned a lot of respect from Chester that day. We held that team to just 13 first half points, and I think we had a few opportunities to possibly even win that game, but in the end we let some of those big opportunities slip away and they just happened to be the better team that day. Still, I think they respected us after that game.”
Never one to be satisfied with a mere good effort, Dreher says, “I just wish we could have made it a little further into the playoffs. We’ve always been the underdog against Chester, and it would have been really nice, instead of just a moral victory, to have been able to actually beat them. We just let some opportunities slip away and it cost us. All and all, though, I think we had a great year, and despite the loss [to Chester] I think we ended it on a positive note.”
As for his coach of four years, Fred Ahart, he says, “We had a lot of contributors this season, but I don’t believe we would have had the success we had without Brad. He played both sides of the ball and rarely left games and that was something he was just fine with; actually it was something I believe he enjoyed. It’s been a pleasure to watch Brad grow and become such an outstanding young man and a leader on the field and in the classroom where he also ranks among the top of his class.
“I think these awards are very much deserved for Brad and for Liberty’s Quinn Jackson. I’ve followed Quinn since his Pop Warner days and he was just the kind of athlete who always had it. I wish both Brad and Quinn much success in the future and I can’t emphasize more the impact these guys had on the success of their respective teams this season.”
Dreher is equally enamored of his coach: “I’ve played both basketball and football for coach Ahart my entire career and I couldn’t ask for a better coach. I have more respect for that man than anyone. He is a legend and I’m so proud to have been given the opportunity to play under him.”
As for being named our 2013 Co-Player of the Year, Dreher says, “I think it’s just a great honor. I was picked to play in the Exceptional Senior game after this season, but I didn’t get to play due to some conflicts with my schedule.
“But this honor means so much more for me to be recognized in my county. I want to thank coach Ahart and all of my teammates from Roscoe, Livingston Manor and Downsville because without their hard work and contributions, this winning season would never have been possible. I consider this a team award and without my line making those holes for me, I would not have been able to produce as well as I did. I truly couldn’t ask for a better senior year.”
Liberty’s dangerous, dual-threat quarterback Quinn Jackson started out his playing days at a young age as a member of the Fallsburg-area Pop Warner Football League.
Liberty had an up and down 2013, to say the least, as the Indians finished their regular season schedule even at 4-4. But a huge win against cross-county league rival Sullivan-West on October 4 lifted Liberty into the Section IX Class C playoffs. Liberty lost a close game to Burke 24-19.
“He’s a special one,” said Burke coach Ed Van Curen of Jackson after the game. “He can do it through the air, and he’s just as dangerous on the ground. We knew coming in he was the man to watch.”
Man to watch indeed, as Jackson led his Indians to their second straight sectional appearance, and this season unlike last season where the Indians featured a number of standout athletes on its roster his team had no doubt who their on-the-field leader was.
Jackson certainly had the stats to prove his mettle, closing out the 2013 campaign with some outstanding statistics: he completed 52 of 108 passes for a total of 982 yards with 10 passing touchdowns.
With his legs, he rushed for 711 yards on just 110 carries, good for a 6.5-yard average. Jackson was selected to the Exceptional Senior game and was one of just two local players to earn All-Section and All-League honors.
Asked how he felt regarding his various accomplishments this season, Jackson deferred to his team.
“It's all about having teammates that are willing to give you everything they have when they step on the field,” said Jackson.
“And I have to give credit to my outstanding teammates and our wonderful coaching staff. Personally, I feel like I got to play for possibly the best coaching staff around. When you see how hard coach Wilhelm, coach Baldock and the rest of the staff work, as a player, it rubs off on you and in turn we work hard too.”
Having transferred to Liberty from Fallsburg as a freshman, Jackson spent his first two years at Liberty splitting his time between quarterback his natural position from his Pop Warner days for the school’s junior varsity (JV) team and wide-receiver for the varsity.
“I’ve always seen myself as a quarterback first, but coach [ Wilhelm] asked me to play a different position,” explains Jackson.
“We’re a team and whatever I had to do to help us win games, whether that meant playing QB, or anywhere else on the field, I felt I had to do it for the team.”
Jackson briefly spoke about the experience of transferring to Liberty.
“I went to a Liberty Sullivan-West sectional game in 2009 with my dad. That night Liberty upset them 17-14. There was just a great crowd and it seemed like an incredible football environment. On the way home, my dad asked me 'how would you like to play in a game like that someday?' Then he started talking what I thought at the time was crazy talk about moving to Liberty. I had my friends and was happy where I was.
“Somehow over time he convinced me Liberty would be a great fit for me. Things did not always go well for me at first, but now as I look back, it was a great move for me.”
Jackson finally saw his opportunity behind center in his junior year last season, a season in which he led a talented Indians squad to a 7-3 record, an improbable 35-18 win over Class C powerhouse Millbrook and just one victory short of a section title and state tournament play.
As for his time at Liberty, Jackson says, “I loved playing at Liberty these years. I am disappointed that we didn’t win a Section IX title during my time here, but I still got to create and leave with some great football memories.”
“It was just a pleasure watching Quinn grown from his freshman year to the outstanding young man he’s turned out to be,” said Wilhelm. “He has to be one of the toughest, composed athletes I’ve ever coached. He never wanted to leave games, regardless of whether he was hurt or just exhausted; he always came to play and always brought his A-game. He turned out to be an outstanding leader this season and I wish him nothing but success in his future endeavors.”
As for his seasonal highlight Jackson has several.
“I think one of the greatest things to come out of this season and last is the strong relationship and bond I was able to develop with coach Wilhelm,” said Jackson.
“Another highlight was making the playoffs for the second consecutive year. We came in with a really young team, but coach let us know early that one of our goals was reaching the playoffs again. I’m just very proud that in the end we were able to do that.
Jackson leaves with some pretty big numbers, including what is believed to be the longest rushing touchdown in school history (92 yards) as well as the longest touchdown pass (73 yards).
“I’m truly honored to have been chosen as Player of the Year,” said Jackson. “It’s something I will never forget, but again, without my coaches and the great supporting cast they put around me, I don’t believe this would have been possible.”
Rushing: 110-711 yards,
Passing: 52-108, 982 yds.
Scoring: 11 TDs
Rushing: 113-692 yards,
Receiving: 9-165 yds.
Scoring: 11 TDs