By David Willis
---- — Former Andover High All-Scholastic running back Andy Coke made a fascinating discovery upon arriving at his first college pre-season camp last summer.
“I felt ready when I arrived at Brown (University) last year,” he said. “I also definitely noticed other freshmen that weren’t ready for the intensity of the game. I felt like I had an advantage over them.
“I feel like Andover mentally prepared me for what was asked from me in college football. Coach (E.J.) Perry and his staff had me ready.”
Coke, currently a favorite to earn the starting running back job at Brown, is far from alone.
When the 2013 college football season kicks off later this summer, approximately 20 athletes who played football at Andover High over the past three seasons will be taking the gridiron for colleges across the country.
And the former Golden Warriors say they feel ready for action, both on the field and in the classroom.
“The last few years we have had a great program,” said 2012 All-Scholastic Will Heikkinen, who is headed to Brown. “We have had a lot of guys having success at colleges from NESCAC (New England Small College Athletic Conference) to Brian Miller at Boston College. And there are a lot of guys excited to play this season.”
The man throwing to Heikkinen the last two seasons was record-setting QB C.J. Scarpa, who was planning to leave Andover on Tuesday to start workouts at Division 1-AA Elon University in North Carolina.
“I feel like playing at Andover High prepared me more than any other team could,” Scarpa said. “We had a great group of coaches that had backgrounds in college football and really motivated us. Plus the guys are so focused that we really worked hard to prepare one another.”
Another of Scarpa’s favorite targets the last two years was receiver Cam Farnham, who initially planned to focus on baseball in college. But as he began the recruiting process, his interest in football began to grow.
“I have always loved football, but I didn’t really know about playing in college at first,” the 5-foot-7, 145-pound Farnham said. “But when I met (Endicott offensive coordinator) Tony Volpone, he showed me that was the right place for me. I had a lot of help from the coaches on recruiting. There were college coaches at the school every morning meeting with us. We got to meet a lot of people.”
But it isn’t just on the field where Golden Warriors feel like they can have success after high school.
“The coaches really check up on our grades,” Farnham said. “Coach Perry emails all the teachers to make sure we are doing our work and not acting up in class. They check our progress reports and let us be late for practice if we need extra work.
“You can only go as far as your smarts will take you. And I don’t think we had one person go academically ineligible this season.”
With former Warriors playing at elite academic colleges including Amherst (linebacker Ned Deane), Brown, Boston College, Ithaca (QB Tom Dempsey), Trinity College (lineman Lyle Baker) and Colby (Connor Clancy and Brendan Paquette), Perry said that success inspires others to be successful.
“A lot of guys have combined their football and academic success to go to very successful academic schools,” said Perry, who is heading into his fourth year as Warriors coach. “One class passes that dedication on to the next class. They see the best way to give yourself the best opportunity is to have the academics.”
One player still working through the recruiting process is linebacker/kicker Mark Zavrl, who will play a post-grad year at elite Phillips Exeter after a knee injury ended his senior season at Andover High.
“Andover has a great reputation in football and in the classroom,” Zavrl said. “The recruiting process is difficult and scary, but it makes it easier because we have seen people do it before.
“We learn about discipline at Andover. We have the no-huddle offense that requires a lot of time and effort to learn the plays. We have something like 194 plays, with multiple options on each one. That means a lot of studying and meetings to learn the playbook.”
The athletes who have already begun their college years are not afraid to pass on words of advice to those taking that step up, or still in high school preparing.
“I would tell them to work as hard as they can,” Coke said. “Mentally and physically, be prepared and made a good first impression.”