NORTH EASTON, Mass. -- It is his team now, and just try and take it away from him.
Having played the role of understudy the past couple of seasons, this is now Nick Olson's time. The Natick senior quarterback is up for the challenge that lies ahead in replacing record-setting signal-caller Troy Flutie, who has since taken his talents to Boston College.
Olson showed off his precision-like passing talents during Sunday's Under Armour 7-on-7 South Regional tournament at Oliver Ames, highlighted with a 20-14 victory over East Bridgewater in the title game.
"This pumps us up a lot," said Olson. "We have a real well-rounded team and don't rely on just one person. It was really nice to see all of our team that was here working together as one."
Throughout the course of this event, Olson was able to connect regularly with all of his receivers. The Red Hawks defeated Dighton-Rehoboth, Foxboro, Dover-Sherborn and Brockton in pool play before upending Oliver Ames and Stoughton in the quarter and semifinal rounds, respectively, to reach the championship game. Their only loss of the day came against an up and coming Quincy squad. Natick will now partake in the 7-on-7 New England championship, along with East Bridgewater, on July 30 at Bishop Fenwick High School.
Olson understands with the position of quarterback at Natick comes great expectations. He says it is something he relishes and is ready for.
"You do expect a lot here, especially coming in behind Troy," he said. "But I really believe that I can perform here. I don't look at myself as Troy's backup anymore. I'm a starter now and ready to bring a state championship to our school. To be a leader of a team now and not have that backup mentality feels awesome."
Among the weapons Olson had before him was wide receiver Brian Dunlap. The senior, who has committed to Harvard University, missed the entire 2013 season due to a torn ligament in his left foot he suffered in a pre-season scrimmage against Holliston. Dunlap says he now feels 100 percent and is ready to pick up where he left off as a sophomore, catching 86 passes for 1,550 yards and 23 touchdowns.
"It's fun being out here and competing again," Dunlap said. "That is probably what I missed most during that process. I'm just trying to have a lot of fun and obviously we are focused and our mindset is going to the Super Bowl. I had a lot of support, especially from my family (father Peter, mother Carolyn, brother Mike and sister Katie). Others were supportive as well texting me or coming over to me and saying something. Little things that people don't realize how much it meant to me."
Dunlap attended all Natick games last season, acting on his own as a coach for the other Red Hawk receivers.
"I was giving guys tips of what I saw or stuff they couldn't see that I could see from the sideline," he said. "I was just trying to be a receiver's coach and help out as much as I could when I could. The last game I played in was the Super Bowl (in 2011) and just having that sour taste in my mouth that I haven't gotten to play a game in that long drives me. I still want to a player-coach too and help the younger guys who don't have much experience and give them tips that I've learned.
Dunlap blanks out the injury when he is on the field, giving zero thought that it could happen again. He considers only a hinderance if you think about it.
"I haven't really thought about it at all," said Dunlap. "If you do think about it, it will only hinder how you play. Just knowing it was a freak accident the last time I'm not worried about it. If you are playing scared to get injured then you won't play as well."
Amherst looking to change direction: Last year, as injuries mounted, Amherst endured a season worth forgetting. The Hurricanes trudged through a 1-10 season despite having one of the premier players in the state. It didn't matter though as one person could not lift this program's fortunes alone, as the team lost all three of its quarterbacks through injury a year ago.
Taj-Amir Torres returns for his season season, ready to bring Amherst to the forefront -- not only in Western Mass., but state wide. The receiver/defensive back has already made a verbal commit to Boston College, choosing the Eagles over offers from UMass and UConn.
"His determination is to be great," Hurricanes head coach David Thompson said. "He leads by example and works hard all the time. He's one of those kids who is first in the weight room and the last one to leave. You wish you had 10 more of him out there. He has earned everything he has received."
Torres will most-likely be a slot receiver or cornerback at the college level. His ability to create space on the offensive side and shutdown an opposing team's best receiver defensively has been put on display a multitude of times throughout his career. Torres says he will start thinking about college once high school is finished. As for now, the 5-foot-9 senior's thoughts remain squarely on the upcoming Hurricane season.
"This year I feel like we can win every single game," said Torres, also a prolific track and field star having won the New England championships in the 100-meter dash. "I never think we can lose. It's all about hard work, executing and discipline. For me, my teammates and coaches have pushed me harder and harder since my freshman year. They don't act like I'm anything different, they all treat me like one of the guys. No one is better than anyone else on this team."
Torres is correct in that regard. Amherst held its own during the 7-on-7 event, winning a couple of games and getting key contributions from Brandon Rivera, Jamie Carey, Mac Rogers, J.J. Sylla and Joseph Tavares.
Brockton on the rebound: When Brockton stumbled to an uncharacteristic 5-6 season a year ago, many came away shocked. It is a rarity anytime the Boxers finish below .500, and it's possible you probably won't see it again anytime soon.
Brockton head coach Peter Colombo has put the ills of a year ago away for good. He is focused on the now and expects the Boxers to be back where they belong, among the state's best. Brockton's running game was hampered throughout the past season. But that appears to be no longer the case. Keep a watchful eye on 6-foot, 215-pound tailback Kerry Raymond to alter the direction of the Boxers for the next couple of years.
Raymond, a downhill runner, is a beast and will certainly be a major obstacle for opposing teams to bring down.
"I feel we can dominate," said the soft-spoken Raymond. "I want the ball and I love running downhill. I feel we have plenty of experience here so it is just a matter of all of us working together. We are focused on going to the Super Bowl this year."
Colombo fathoms a similar belief, realizing he has a running back who with the ability to render havoc on opposing defenses.
"Physically he has always stood out and he has worked hard to get stronger," Colombo said. "He runs track so he has been able to get faster. He's a nice package and has all the tools. We're going to give him the ball and try to wear teams out. We'll compliment him (receiver) Jon Derolus and quarterback Aaron Williams. I think we'll be multi-faceted.
"Being 5-6 at Brockton is not something we come to expect and certainly we want to correct that. It wasn't like we weren't in games last year but it's a very fine line from being 5-6 and what could be a good season considering the type of schedule we play. I think that speaks to the nature on how competitive football has gotten in this state. I'm proud of the football that is being played in this state."
Dunn hoping to bring D-Y back to bowl: Mike Dunn can pretty-much play every position asked of him. Presently the Dennis-Yarmouth senior is looking to handle the quarterback duties and play strong safety on the defensive side. Dunn and the Dolphins are determined to make a second consecutive trip to the Super Bowl. Last year, D-Y put forth an incredible rally only to fall short 28-26 to Doherty in the Division 4 Super Bowl.
"You don't forget that game," Dunn said. "All of us are working hard in the weight room thinking about that game, wanting to get better and win a Super Bowl. We have a lot of strong players coming back and I feel we'll be good again."
Dunn has already received an offer from UNH but is also being look at by Boston College, UConn and UMass.
Lam igniting Quincy: Although they fell short in moving on in pool play, Quincy played exceptionally well throughout the 7-on-7. Last year the Presidents finished a respectable 7-4 in the Patriot League. This year, behind quarterback James Lam, Quincy has the potential to become a playoff-caliber program.
"A ton of us are in the weight room every day, we have a big line up front and our skill positions look solid," Lam said. "We definitely can make the playoffs this year. I know there are a lot of good teams out there, especially in our conference, but I feel like we are competing right up with them."
Lam's ability has already caught the attention from the likes of Boston College, UNH, Central Connecticut State and Colgate.