Coach and Dad: Raising the best quarterbacks in MIAA history

Courtesy of Scott Barboza

BOSTON – Glance at the top 10 MIAA leaders in career passing touchdowns and you may notice a common characteristic shared by most of the names of that list.

Six of the most accomplished quarterbacks in the history of Massachusetts high school football were raised by former athletes, elite coaches, or played for their father in one capacity or another during their varsity careers.

Former Natick star Troy Flutie currently holds the record with 112 passing touchdowns in a career. The son of Canadian Football League legend Darren Flutie and nephew of former NFL quarterback Doug Flutie, he’s currently producing as a wide receiver during his second season at Boston College.

Yet there are a couple of younger arms gunning for that mark this season in Andover’s E.J. Perry IV (currently sitting at 82 TD passes) and Duxbury’s Bobby Maimaron (90 TD passes).

For those two ESPNBoston all-state selections, the relationship with their head coach is a bit different, as both of their fathers also run their high school program.

Naturally, playing for your father can create even more tension at a high-pressure position.

Football becomes a family affair and it’s difficult to escape from the laborious process of improving on the field. Members of the community and perhaps even teammates might question if the son is truly worthy to start at quarterback, and the father might overcompensate for these concerns by being even tougher on his kid during practices and games.

At the same time, these players are gifted with athleticism and an innate understanding of the game. The inability to escape constant coaching can also help them improve that knowledge over the years, while all those catcalls and whispers behind their back might simply motivate them to work harder.

Balance all the positive and negatives, but in the end you see several examples of quarterbacks that not only found a way to succeed under their father’s tutelage, but thrive as some of the best signal callers that the Bay State has ever seen.

Born to Play

Second to Flutie on the list with 103 career passing touchdowns is the son of long-time Everett head coach John DiBiaso.

A crafty lefty quarterback, who would eventually lead the Crimson Tide to back-to-back undefeated seasons and State Titles in 2010 and 2011, John DiBiaso Jr. was attending his father’s practices from the time he could walk.

“[John Jr.] was always on the field since he was a little kid,” DiBiaso recalled. “He would do his homework in the locker room and then come out during our practices and throw the football."

“He got so good throwing that ball into buckets on the sidelines that he was able to throw a football into each of the hoops on a basketball court by the age of seven. When he came out during halftime of our games and swished it from half court the crowd would just go wild.”

DiBiaso was the son of a football coach himself, so he naturally gravitated towards coaching when he was growing up. Similarly, John Jr. gravitated towards the quarterback position, and he was able to combine the family’s football acumen with natural athletic ability to play at a high level at an early age.

John Jr. led Everett’s Pop Warner team to two New England Regional Championships and surprised some opponents at National Championships in Florida with his ability to run a spread offense.

“Pop Warner is big in Everett,” explained DiBiaso. “[John Jr.] was running no-huddle and a spread system by the time he was eight and they couldn’t believe it down at Nationals. By that time, [John Jr.] was giving me pointers! He wasn’t shy about expressing his opinions about the game. He was extremely observant and I didn’t have to force him to do anything when it came to learning about football.”

As DiBiaso’s son grew into an elite quarterback at an early age, one of the coaches on his staff prepared for a similar evolution.

Now the head coach at Duxbury High, Dave Maimaron spent three years as a passing specialist and defensive backs coach at Everett. He watched John Jr. absorb everything he could during practices and thought about his own son, Bobby, who was just beginning to play Pop Warner football down on the South Shore.

“I knew I was heading towards coaching my son and I had several conversations with [DiBiaso] about preparing to coach your kid,” confirmed Maimaron. “That was very beneficial in learning how to balance those two roles.”

Like John Jr., Bobby Maimaron found immediate success as a seven-year-old quarterback. After taking the coaching job at Duxbury, his father split time between the varsity team and his son’s Pop Warner practices, and began preparing his son for the intricacies of running a high school offense.

“That’s been huge for not just our grade, but all the kids that played Pop Warner in Duxbury,” Bobby said about that early tutelage. “It’s almost like the kids know 90 percent of the offense by the time they get to the freshman level, which is a huge weapon for the program.”

Maimaron led Duxbury to three Division 2A Super Bowls and four Patriot League titles over his first six seasons as head coach. However, when Bobby took over as the Dragons starting quarterback towards the end of the 2013 season, his father had more on his mind than simply winning another trophy.

“[Bobby] was this 125-pound, 14-year-old freshman playing against 18-year-old kids,” Maimaron recalled. “He gave us our best chance to win, but I second-guessed myself over and over about playing him because he was my son.”

Although he said that he initially resisted his father when he was told to leave the safe bubble of the freshman team and dress for his first varsity start, Bobby quickly embraced his role as a young leader for Duxbury.

He’s progressed to the point that he’s now fourth on the all-time leaderboard with 90 career touchdown passes and is currently guiding the No. 1 ranked Dragons to a dominant 3-0 start.

Clearly, learning complex offensive principles from an early age gave quarterbacks like John Jr. and Bobby a head start.

“The game has slowed down so much for [Bobby] now because of all the reps he’s gotten,” Maimaron added. “He’s so comfortable now that he knows what all of our 11 are going to do and if the defense moves he knows what they’re doing too.”

“We used to break down film a lot together and I’d give him a hard time after losses, but this year he's led us to 18 touchdowns on 18 drives and he’s yet to play in the fourth quarter, so there’s not much to critique.”

Football Never Stops

Some of these incredible young athletes have been blessed to receive help and guidance from more than just their fathers.

Troy Flutie smashed statewide records with 112 career passing touchdowns and 9,014 passing yards to surpass the mark of 8,126 yards set by Barnstable’s D.J. Crook, who also happened to play for his father for multiple seasons.

While his father, Darren, raised him to excel as an all-around athlete and standout wide receiver, the entire local football community played a role in Troy’s growth.

The patriarch of Natick’s excellent football tradition, Tom Lamb coached at the school for approximately 27 years, briefly interrupting his tenure to accept a coaching position at Northeastern University.

Lamb had also coached his son, Joel, who quarterbacked the Redhawks for four years and set all of the school’s passing records at the time.

Joel also grew up on the sidelines while his father coached. Tom fondly explained how he has a great memory preserved in a framed photo after Darren Flutie scored the winning touchdown in Natick’s 1984 Super Bowl win. In the background, there is his vivacious eight-year-old son jumping as high as he can in elation.

“[Joel] has been around it so much that he knows the game inside and out and he has all those other intangibles that you get when you’re around football from birth,” Lamb asserted.

Yet the legendary coach recognized, “The father-son thing is very special, but it’s not easy. It’s harder on the son because he never leaves football. We were talking football on the ride home and at the dinner table. But football has still been a wonderful conduit for our relationship and remains so today.”

That same familiarity can cause tension, but also serve as a blessing.

After a storied professional career in which he tallied the fourth-most receiving yards in the history of the Canadian Football League, Darren Flutie returned home to Natick to serve as a volunteer coach with the football team.

He served as an offensive specialist and wide receivers coach under Lamb during the 2008 season. Lamb moved on to the position of Athletic Director the next year, but continued to help Darren with some of the mental and emotional adjustments required when coaching your son.

Darren admitted, “At first I was apprehensive because of the physical nature of the game and wary of the pressure on a kid growing up in Natick with the name Flutie.”

“I was not hard on [Troy]. I wanted him to do his best. I think because I had played at higher levels and seen Doug [Flutie] play, I knew the stress and pressure of the position. I tried to remain objective, but it’s only natural that you throw your heart and soul into coaching when your son’s playing. Like it or not you’re emotionally invested.”

Whatever concerns Darren might’ve had about his son’s ability were washed away immediately when Troy threw four touchdowns in a near-flawless debut against Weymouth in 2010.

Over the next three seasons, Troy lived up to the Flutie name by leading Natick to a 29-6-0 record and posting some historic individual numbers in the process.

Of course, Troy Flutie isn’t the only athlete in the Bay State that comes from a prestigious football legacy.

Current Andover quarterback E.J. Perry IV is the son of head coach E.J. Perry III and nephew to several accomplished football players as well.

Under his father’s guidance, Perry IV set a new state record with 636 passing yards in a single game last fall, and he’s now fifth on the all-time list with 82 career passing touchdowns after throwing 15 through three games this season.

Growing up, Perry IV was given the freedom to choose his preferred sport. After all, his father had starred as a three-sport athlete during his time at Andover high before going on to play basketball at Colby College.

While he’s also the captain of Andover’s basketball team and a standout baseball player, Perry IV is primarily focused on honing his skills on the gridiron.

He recalled how he became even more serious about football right before high school, “I spent a few days with my uncle [John] at his camps. He was the coach at Merrimack [College] at the time and he was also key in my development during my freshman year once I got to Andover [High].”

John Perry is now in his third season as the tight ends coach of the Houston Texans. Before that, he spent five years as the head coach of the Merrimack College team, and before that he coached with E.J. Perry III at Malden Catholic.

Thus, Perry IV was able to learn from both his father and uncle, who shared similar offensive philosophies, as he grew into a capable varsity quarterback.

And Perry III is the eldest of seven siblings, so there were several influential relatives for Perry IV.

John Perry played wide receiver at the University of New Hampshire before he began his storied coaching career. James Perry set passing records during his illustrious career at Brown University, and he’s now the offensive coordinator at Princeton University.

The legacy continues with Matt Perry, who played wide receiver at Northeastern University, and with former Harvard University quarterback Tim Perry.

“[E.J.] was influenced by all my brothers,” Perry III said about his son’s development. “They were either playing quarterback or coaching quarterbacks throughout their careers, so they had a lot of wisdom to impart. [E.J.] was always eager to go to their camps and learn as much as he could about the position. He just absorbed it all like a sponge.”

He continued, “When he was growing up I was trying to give him every option that he wanted and he just took to being a quarterback, being a leader and being under center. Now his arm is just better than anybody. It’s pretty amazing to watch.”

The borderline obsession with football throughout the Perry family has helped E.J. Perry IV earn a scholarship to play at Boston College next season. Those are the fruits of their collective labors, but at times, E.J. and his father irked other family members with their relentless film study.

“We come home and we put the film on and we start debating,” Perry III explained about the post-practice routine with his son. “The great thing about coaching a pitcher, or quarterback that’s your son is that you’re with them all the time. We can go over the game plan anytime and it’s really helpful. But just last night my wife was like, ‘This has to stop.’ It’s constant in our house.”

For some families, football is simply a part of life. E.J. explained that he watches three games with his father every weekend during the fall: The Houston Texans, the Princeton Tigers and the film of Andover High’s last game.

“We talk about what each team does it and how it can apply to us,” Perry IV explained. “There’s been a lot of long nights watching film, talking about what the read should’ve been, but we never really butt heads and it’s always helpful.”

Stronger Sons

What goes on between a father and son behind closed doors is rarely contentious, but it’s difficult to avoid controversy in the public arena when the quarterback and head coach are related.

John DiBiaso recalled how he had to go into the stands to support his daughter (the head cheerleader at the time) after she got into a shouting match with a fan that would not stop taunting John Jr.

Everett’s head coach eventually had the unruly fan removed from a Thanksgiving rivalry game against Malden, and you may be surprised to learn that the ejected party was supposedly a fan of the Crimson Tide.

“Naturally when your father is the coach, people say that you’re starting because of that,” DiBiaso recognized. “But all the success we had during those years validated the decision and we must’ve been doing the right thing.”

Without exception, each quarterback that spoke with ESPNBoston.com about playing for their father admitted that they were subject to a few extra catcalls, or threats at the bottom of the pile in a scrum.

For the athletes, it’s just another hurdle to overcome, but it’s a bit more of an intricate issue for their fathers.

Ask Springfield Central offensive line coach Rich Williams about the strategies involved in coaching your children, and you’ll gain a greater understanding of how these fathers and coaches are walking a metaphorical tight rope.

“The biggest challenge involved in coaching your sons is keeping them from having sense of entitlement,” Williams asserted. “They need to know that they have to work harder and behave better than anybody on the team, because the last thing you want is anybody thinking you’re showing favoritism.”

Rich’s son Cody was named ESPNBoston Offensive Player of the Year in 2013, capping a career as one of the most successful quarterbacks in program history with a 29-5 record as a starter, two consecutive district titles and a Super Bowl championship for the Golden Eagles.

Williams explained that everything his son accomplished, he earned by virtue of an intrinsic drive to work hard and never take anything for granted.

“There’s a couple of ways to get a kid to do something,” Williams began. “You can bully him, you can bribe him, or you can get him to believe in what you’re teaching. My approach as a coach is to get the kids to believe. And Cody never had any trouble following directions and accepting criticism if the coaches believed that it would help him improve.”

While Cody was willing to learn everything he could from Rich, there came a point when his father felt that some outside help would assist with his development as a player.

In a common theme amongst these young stud quarterbacks, Cody began training with one of his father’s old teammates. Beginning in fifth grade, he worked consistently with Tommy Guy, who is the all-time leading passer in Assumption College history and a former Division 2 All-American.

Now one of the most respected football coaches in the country, Guy taught Cody and Rich a great deal about the position over the years. He would eventually join the Golden Eagles staff as offensive coordinator, while Rich took the job as offensive line coach prior to Cody's freshman year.

Even the most accomplished athletes seem to appreciate some extra help in raising their sons.

DiBiaso explained that he tried to let the positional coach handle most of the day-to-day minutiae when his son was playing quarterback.

Like his former colleague, Maimaron laughed that his son began teaching him new things about offensive football at a surprisingly early age, and eventually, both he and Perry III will have to trust another coach to train their sons at the collegiate level.

Darren Flutie is currently going through that transition with his son Troy, and he couldn’t be more pleased with the results.

“I’ve been very appreciative of Boston College and coach [Steve] Addazio,” Darren said when asked about Troy’s development as a student athlete. “I didn’t know what [Troy] would become, but [Addazio] did say he’d turn him into a man and that’s happening in front of my eyes.”

The same could be said about other former MIAA greats.

The son of legendary Brockton coach Armond Colombo, Tom Colombo is fourth on the statewide leaderboard with 85 career passing touchdowns as a high school quarterback.

Now a member of the Villanova Hall of Fame and a coach in his own right, the former Brockton great is yet another living example of how an athlete can follow in their father’s footsteps.

“It’s probably the same as it is any profession. If your father is a plumber, or a carpenter, the younger kids want to follow the family trade,” said DiBiaso, whose son is currently playing at Tufts but wants to pursue a dream of becoming an NFL coach at some point.

For these quarterbacks, there is definitely a fascinating convergence of motivation, guidance and opportunity that could serve as a model for debates on ‘Nature versus Nurture.’

When asked why he believes that so many of coaches’ sons have had incredible high school careers, Darren Flutie speculated, “The most obvious answer is that the kid gets the opportunity. But, while I can’t speak for everyone, for Tom and Joel [Lamb] and myself and Troy, I thought he really responded well to my coaching.”

“I did everything with [Troy]. I did homework with him, I taught him all the little things I had done my whole life aside from football, so I knew how to approach him and how to get him motivated. You don’t know that about all the kids you coach, but with your son, you know how to get the best football out of him.”