As a freshman, Ryan Friend’s job as Maine Central Institute’s quarterback was simple. Hand the ball off to backs like Adam Bertrand and Pedro Matos, make the easy throws when asked, and generally stay out of the way. It worked. The Huskies won the Class C state title in their first year in the higher class, after winning the Class D crown the season before.

As a sophomore last season, Friend’s role expanded a little, and the Huskies went 7-1 in the regular season. This fall, now a junior, Friend was ready to take more responsibility.

“I can understand coverages a little better and the routes my receivers are running, understanding where the defense will be,” Friend said. “Confidence-wise, poise-wise, I’m just a lot more calm. I stay calm. I don’t get as frazzled. I like being able to be a leader out there. The ball’s in your hands to make the right decisions.”

More often than not this season, Friend was the cause of frayed nerves for the defense, not fighting them himself. In a dozen games, Friend threw for 2,255 yards and 35 touchdowns. He ran for 775 yards and eight more scores. As a part of 3,030 yards and 43 touchdowns, Friend was the pivotal piece of MCI’s offensive growth this season, and a big reason the Huskies won their second Big 11 Conference title in three years.

For his efforts in leading the Huskies to the Class C state championship game, Ryan Friend is the Central Maine Football Player of the Year. Cony quarterback Riley Geyer also was considered.

The development of Friend has been slow and steady by design, MCI coach Tom Bertrand said. Starting Friend as a freshman was less a gamble and more starting the growth of a leader in training.

“I knew he had the potential to be a calm and confident leader. With the group we had at the time, we basically needed him to hand the ball off to guys who could make some plays. There wasn’t going to be expectations placed on him in terms of running the offense. We made his throws easy. We knew he was athletic enough and smart enough and calm enough to do that,” Bertrand said. “We’ve gained in confidence in him as he’s grown. This year, we intended to be a balanced offense and hoped to evolve into one where he was making more of the calls. I’m a little bit of a control freak, so we haven’t quite gotten there yet, but he’s still making calls on the line. We’re going to do more of that as he gets older.”

With a strong group of receivers, seniors Dominic Wilson and Will Rusell, and junior Nason Berthelette, Bertrand and his coaching staff knew Friend could get the ball to them.

“We just thought, we have these great athletes. We have Dom, Will, and Nason out there, and they’re going to go make plays. We still think of ourselves as a power team. Obviously, we have Isaac (fullback Isaac Bussell) back there and he’s a big man, but we have the athletes out wide. Just put them in space and let them make plays,” Friend said.

What makes Friend a tough matchup is his ability to beat you three way, added John Bapst coach Dan O’Connell, whose team lost to MCI 46-21 in the conference semifinals. He can beat you with his arm, and his feet, but most importantly with his mind. He executes the offense well. He makes good choices in the read game and runs tough.  He reads the defense backfield well, has a great arm and is an accurate passer.  His decision making skills and football IQ are exemplary.”

Bertrand lauded Friend for his offseason work to improve, as well as his commitment to studying the game.

“He’s a guy who will come steal my keys out of my house and come over and throw with his dad or have another guy with him. He’s worked as hard as anyone in the weight room to make himself as fast and as strong as he can be. He needed to be durable this year. He’s a little too tough for his own good. There’s times we’re hoping he’s going to go out of bounds or make that slide, and he’s lowering his shoulder and running people over. In terms of football smarts, he’s getting better and better,” Bertrand said. “He’s very hard on himself. I know he’s taking the loss (in the state championship) personally and owning it. That’s what you look for in a quarterback and a leader.”

“I try to watch as much film as I can,” Friend said. “We run a lot of the same routes and combos as we have since my freshman year. Working on it in the summer in 7 on 7 really helps me a lot to understand the different coverages other teams will be in.”

The next step in Friend’s development as a quarterback is likely a meeting with Cony head coach BL Lippert, a former college quarterback at Colby and one of the top teachers of offensive play in Maine high school football. Bertrand said he’s been in touch with Lippert about incorporating some of the spread offense techniques he uses at Cony into MCI’s offense next season. Now that Friend has had his breakout season, he and the Huskies need to stay a step ahead of defenses that will focus their attention on him next fall.

“We’ll do a lot between now and then to figure out what’s going to work well for him. It’s not all about him, but it starts with him,” Bertrand said.

There’s a basketball season to focus on now, but soon, Friend will turn his attention to his offseason football work and getting even better in his senior season.

“It’s fun. It’s a lot of hard work. Our goal every year is to get back to the state championship game and win it. It all starts this offseason in the weight room and in the summer,” Friend said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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