Published November 27. 2012 4:00AM
Norwich - Joey Paparelli is a very versatile athlete. The Norwich Free Academy senior has, during his four years with the football program, played quarterback, running back, cornerback, safety, slot receiver and special teams.
It's funny, then, when Paparelli discusses the hardest transition to being the Wildcats' new starting quarterback.
"It's catching the (shotgun) snap," Paparelli chuckled. "It's a different thing. When (receiver) Ryer (Caruso) came in during the year (at quarterback), he even had trouble with it, and he probably has the best hands on the team. It's just a different feeling. You focus in on it and you can't really react to anywhere different. And (center) Johnny (Crooks) snaps it really hard."
Paparelli has adjusted just fine to his new role and been a catalyst for NFA's unbeaten season.
The Wildcats will try to add a CIAC Class LL championship to their list of accomplishments, beginning when they travel to play fellow unbeaten Newtown in a state quarterfinal tonight.
"Now that I think and look back at it, he's probably been the most unselfish individual of anybody that we've had here because of his willingness to play any position," NFA coach Jemal Davis said. "That's helped us."
The Wildcats, ranked fifth in the division, and the No. 4 Nighthawks are both 10-0.
Newtown is ranked seventh in The Day of New London Top 10 state coaches poll, NFA eighth.
Paparelli had played quarterback prior to this season. He was a quarterback as an eighth-grader for Griswold's senior youth football team. He also came on in relief for Erik Washburn when he was knocked out of last season's Fitch game. NFA won 38-28.
Washburn graduated after being a two-year starter, and Davis had no concerns about Paparelli taking over the job.
"He brings a dimension in that he can make something happen if nothing is there," Davis said. "We're an option team and Joey can hurt you."
Paparelli said: "I was able to learn (quarterback) as a receiver. I could watch in the backfield during practice what was going on and associate the play names with the football that Erik was doing. I was visually learning it. It was just (learning) to do it by myself."
Paparelli has rushed for 755 yards and seven touchdowns and thrown for 688 yards and 13 scores.
The combination of tailback Marcus Outlow (1,118 yards, 17 TDs), fullback Khaleed Exum-Strong (eight TDs), Caruso (420 yards, eight TDs) and Paparelli have paced the Wildcats to an average of 39 points per game.
"(Playing) quarterback has been fun," Paparelli said. "It's been a lot of fun. Everything starts with me, and that's a unique thing. As a leader, as a captain, it helps me get into my role better. I think it's a lot of fun because I have the option to do so many things on so many plays that might not be seen by everyone else."
Newtown beat Masuk of Monroe in last week's South-West Conference final and has an experienced passing game. Junior Cooper Gold has evolved into a full-time tailback and ran for 220 yards and three touchdowns in a 21-14 win over Masuk.
"We've compared them to Ledyard," Paparelli said. "They're a big team with a lot of skill on their roster. Their line, they're big kids, but speed-wise, we feel we match up very well with them and feel that we'll be able to run on them."