Nolan Quinn takes the football field each weekend with the friends he grew up with.
The Middle Township High School quarterback's favorite wide receiver, Charles Cooper, is a good buddy. So is center Kevin Hebron.
Quinn wants to win as much as anyone. But the friendships with his teammates mean just as much to him as what the scoreboard says.
Quinn is one of southern New Jersey's top quarterbacks. He is talented enough to play for one of the region's successful parochial schools.
But he has stayed at Middle, a program that has struggled with just eight wins the past four years.
"This is where I grew up playing sports with my friends," the Cape May Court House resident said. "I'm not going to leave them. I'm not going to go somewhere just so I could get better exposure. These guys means more to me."
Quinn is a rarity today. Many players as talented him would have moved on. If they didn't enroll in a parochial school, their families might have moved to a public school district with a successful football program.
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Quinn has started since his freshman year. He has thrown for 3,184 yards and 32 touchdowns since his sophomore season.
There's not much that he doesn't do for Middle. He also punts and kicks field goals and extra points.
"He's an accurate passer," Middle coach Lee Chappine said, "and a shifty runner."
The bond with his teammates began to form in junior football. Quinn started to play when he was 8 years old.
"I wore No. 72," he said of his first season. "I was a third-string tight end."
The next year Quinn was at quarterback and his team won a championship. He has played the position ever since.
"I have no clue why they made me a quarterback," Quinn said. "I guess some of the older guys moved on, or the coaches saw I could throw the ball the year before."
When he was an eighth-grader, Quinn never really considered attending any high school except Middle. He could have attended Lower Cape May Regional because his father, Pat, is the school psychologist.
"I used to joke with my father and the coaches there about going to Lower," Quinn said. "But it never crossed my mind to go anywhere but Middle."
The Panthers won just seven games in Quinn's first three seasons.
"I've never seen him get down," Chappine said.
Quinn survived the defeats by focusing on the next game or even the next season.
But this year is different. He is a senior.
The Panthers opened against perennial power St. Joseph last Saturday.
The Panthers started quickly. On their first possession, they moved the ball to the St. Joe 27-yard line. But the drive stalled.
St. Joe eventually wore down Middle, winning 45-7.
Quinn completed 12-of-16 passes for 106 yards. He also rushed 15 times for 65 yards. Quinn scored the Panthers' touchdown on a 1-yard run. He set up the score with a pair of long passes over the middle to Cooper.
"It was pretty disappointing," Quinn said. "It was my last time playing St. Joe. It's not like I can say there's a next year."
Middle will be the underdog again today when it hosts undefeated Holy Spirit (2-0) at 7 p.m.
Despite the St. Joe loss, Quinn believes better days are ahead.
"Nobody likes to lose," he said, "but I think we've turned a corner."
Staying at Middle hasn't hurt Quinn's college prospects. The days of high school athletes having to play at high-profile programs to be recruited are long over.
Quinn has participated throughout the years in several summer camps where prospects get noticed. He has no scholarship offers yet, but several Football Championship Subdivision schools (formerly Division I-AA) have shown interest.
While Quinn won't end his high school career with a ton of victories, he will leave something just as tangible: The memories of sticking by and playing with the friends he grew up with.
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