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O’Connell’s Slim Signal Caller

Senior quarterback Morabito 30 pounds lighter after dedicating himself in offseason.

Bishop O’Connell quarterback Nicholas Morabito drops back on a sunny Saturday afternoon and lofts a pass down the right sideline. At first, the senior signal caller doesn’t have a good feeling about the deep throw. But moments later, O’Connell receiver Zachary Allen hauls in the pass and races into the end zone for what proves to be a game-winning 75-yard touchdown against Bishop Ireton.

"I released it — I didn’t think I released it very well," Morabito said. "The wind kind of took it and laid it right into his hands and he scored. It was awesome."

After the Knights’ 20-13 victory on Sept. 4 at OHS, the uncertainty is gone and Morabito is all smiles. Despite briefly doubting himself, Morabito is a more confident quarterback entering his second season as O’Connell’s starter. This is good news for head coach Steve Trimble, who said the Knights need to become more of a passing threat in 2010.

O’Connell operates out of the double wing offense: a smashmouth scheme dominated by run plays. In an era of spread offenses and intricate passing plays, the Knights’ double wing is the antithesis: an exercise in simplicity and brute strength. While fakes and counter plays add an element of deception, O’Connell’s approach is fairly simple: here we come, try to stop us.

IN 2009, Morabito averaged three pass attempts per contest. Opening the passing game would make the Knights’ ground game even more effective, and Morabito is ready to put the ball in the air. Much of the quarterback’s increased confidence comes from his work in the offseason, when he changed his diet and exercise plan.

The 5-foot-9 Morabito played the 2009 season at 210 pounds. He now weighs 180, thanks to running stairs and trading burgers and fries for apples and carrots. He eats more meals throughout the day and focuses on foods high in protein.

"I wanted a lifestyle change," Morabito said. "I feel healthy. I feel great."

Morabito said he made the changes primarily for baseball, which he plans to play in college. The standout shortstop was driven to work hard after the 2009 football season.

"I got a lot of crap" about being out of shape, he said. "People [were] talking; you know how people do. I didn’t want to hear any more of that, so I came out to make a statement."

SO FAR, it’s working.

"He got himself in shape," Trimble said after the Bishop Ireton game. "He lost some weight and became more athletic, which has helped him. He made some plays today running with the ball when the protection broke down that he wouldn’t have been able to make last year. Now I think we can do some bootleg stuff with him, some play action stuff, so he’s really improved and that’s helped improve the offense."

Against Bishop Ireton, Morabito completed 3 of 9 passes for 99 yards and one touchdown. He was also intercepted once.

While asking Morabito to throw more than he did last season would bring added pressure, No. 12 is no stranger to fulfilling additional tasks. The double wing offense requires the quarterback to block on many run plays, an assignment uncommon in most other schemes.

Morabito, who was a lineman before switching to quarterback during his freshman year, enjoys the role.

"I get excited when I hear the run plays" called, he said, "because I like to hit."

Trimble said when choosing a quarterback to lead the double wing, O’Connell coaches favor an aggressive player over an athlete who simply fits the tall, strong-armed mold.

"It’s a huge role," Trimble said. "We ask him to block, so he’s got to go from blocking, to throwing the ball, to handing off, to blocking, to throwing the ball, to handing off. Most quarterbacks don’t ever have to do that. His role is very important. He’s a leader, he’s been around through the whole four years in our program and he’s a kid that we rely on to set our offense and get our tempo going."

Morabito’s teammates notice his effort.

"The O-line can’t make any excuses," running back Joshua Trimble said, "because their quarterback is out there making the same blocks they’re supposed to make."

O’Connell hosts St. Albans at 1 p.m. on Sept. 11. The Knights open Washington Catholic Athletic Conference play on the road against Good Counsel on Sept. 24.

Morabito’s hard work has him looking forward to his senior season — on and off the field.

"The girls like it, too," a smiling Morabito said of his dedication to fitness, "which is kind of nice."