By Jay Cook |
RED BANK – Emmett McNamara is far from the athlete he was this time last summer.
Maybe the sole similarity is his towering 6’6” height – but the other tangibles and intangibles have soared off the charts in little over a year.
The 18-year-old Little Silver native and rising senior at Red Bank Catholic has quickly transformed from the biggest secret weapon in head coach Frank Edgerly’s back pocket to a clear standout on Shore Conference football scouting reports.
In just over a single calendar year, McNamara has climbed up from the doldrums of the Caseys’ depth chart along the defensive line, has packed on 40-plus pounds of pure muscle, and has captured that ever elusive FBS full-ride scholarship to University of Virginia, all with the help of his teammates.
“When I came in last year, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing,” McNamara said after a Monday afternoon workout at the team facility. “I was 6’6”, 200 pounds, didn’t know what to do or where to go. It was my teammates that helped me out when I was a fourth-stringer last summer. They were the ones that really took me under their wings.”
For McNamara, it was an unlikely road that brought him to this juncture in his football career.
After playing football nearly his entire life, he abruptly stopped after his seventh-grade season with Red Bank AYF – there was no midget team, and he was far too big to play another season of junior midgets.
That hiatus from football continued through his freshman and sophomore years at RBC, where he dabbled with playing basketball and joining the volleyball team, thanks to that superior height advantage.
But he was still yearning for competition. At the first football game of the 2015 season, he watched from the stands at Count Basie Field as his friends took to the turf. From that point on, “I knew I wanted to play,” he said.
At the end of his sophomore year, he jumped right into training for the 2016 season. Right around the same time, the Caseys were going through a change of their own. Former RBC head coach Frank Edgerly came back to Red Bank after seven years in the National Football League.
“It was really kind of cool because it was a new start for him, and a new start for me too,” McNamara said.
“Coming back and seeing the size of him, and seeing him grow into that size and seeing the technique catch up, you’re hoping it all adds up to bigger and better things,” Edgerly said of McNamara. “He went from zero to a hundred in a matter of seconds.”
After 40 tackles and 1.5 sacks during his first high school season last fall, talk of McNamara’s frame, potential and academic acumen began spreading through collegiate coaching ranks.
He racked up 12 total college offers, all before he completed his junior year of high school. Seven came from Ivy League schools – Columbia University, Dartmouth College, Cornell University, University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University, Yale University, Princeton University – and the remaining five were from FBS Division I programs: University of Central Florida, Temple University, Western Michigan University, University of Buffalo, and his ultimate decision, University of Virginia.
“A lot of coaches came in here to visit not just me, but a lot of my teammates,” McNamara said. “I’m just really grateful that they saw the potential in me, that they liked my film, my attitude, and really wanted me to come to camp. That whole experience was really cool, considering I was really just starting out this point last year.”
McNamara said UVA came out of nowhere when they first inquired about him. He received a note from his dad around St. Patrick’s Day, letting him know the university had asked for his transcripts.
About a month and a half later, UVA’s special teams coordinator and outside linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga was sitting beside Edgerly in the athletic office, patiently waiting to meet McNamara.
Edgerly said college coaches inquired as to whether or not a former basketball and volleyball player had the toughness to play football, especially at the next level.
“There’s an old Bill Parcells expression: if they don’t bite as puppies, they’re never going to bite,” Edgerly said. “This kid had a natural toughness to him, and a natural high motor. Whatever he wasn’t able to do, it wasn’t for a lack of toughness or physicality. He’s learning the game and the techniques.”
With the testy waters of college recruiting now behind him, and with a locker nameplate waiting for him in Charlottesville after high school graduation, McNamara is anxious for his senior season to begin.
“I think it’s good that I can fully focus on my team and football this year, and not focus on recruiting,” McNamara said. “It can be a lot, texting and DM’ing coaches. It’s a fun process, but it is stressful. I am happy to have it over with.”
Edgerly is also eager to get the Caseys going this fall. RBC will be returning a plethora of starters, and McNamara figures to be at the top of that heap.
“The improvement he showed from Week Zero to the end of the season was meteoric,” Edgerly said. “We’re hoping with that experience, that success – and now that strength, size, and confidence that comes with it – that he can take his game to another level. If it does, I think he can be a heck of a football player.”
This article was first published in the July 20-27, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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