The life of the new kid in high school is not easy.

There are friends to make, teachers to adapt to and foreign hallways to navigate.

Imagine adding the pressures of being a starting quarterback.

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That's what Joe Callahan of Holy Spirit High School went through last year and what Tom Bradway of Mainland Regional is dealing with this season.

"It's pretty tough," Callahan said. "You have to learn a new system and meet all new people. You have to make sure people believe in you."

The two quarterbacks will lead their teams against each other tonight in one of the region's best rivalries. Mainland (3-0) plays at Holy Spirit (3-1) at 7 p.m.

Callahan, a 17-year-old junior, transferred to Spirit from St. Augustine Prep in the summer of 2008. Bradway is a freshman.

If they were a defensive linemen or a safety, it wouldn't have mattered that Brady and Callahan were new guys. But quarterbacks must be leaders and earn the trust of their teammates.

"Quarterback is unlike any other position in any other sport," Spirit coach Charles Roman said. "The growing pains you go through early on toughen you up. Your first year at quarterback it doesn't matter what grade you are. You could be a freshman or a senior. It's a challenge."

Bradway, 15, is aware of the pressure he's under.

"There's going to be bumps in the road," he said. "I have to stay positive. I know somebody is always watching me."

A quarterback doesn't earn his teammates' faith immediately. The process took much of last season for Callahan. The Absecon resident took over as a starter midway through the year.

"He was just getting to know his teammates at the start of last season)," Roman said. "I don't think he was comfortable. I don't know if he was fully accepted right away because we had a team that was already in place. He struggled with just taking snaps."

Spirit's offense was conservative last season. That was by design. Eventually, Callahan bonded with his new teammates. They started to look at him differently in the huddle.

"They treated me as one of the leaders and their quarterback," Callahan said.

This year Callahan has gotten more of a chance to shine. He completed 12-of-25 passes for 274 yards in a 19-14 loss to St. Joseph last Saturday. Callahan hit wide receivers Dan McNair and Joe Sarnese in stride for 64 and 67-yard touchdown passes, respectively.

Bradway said he hasn't had any problems getting along with the team's upperclassmen. The Linwood resident does take some good-natured kidding from his older teammates, however.

"I was a little concerned how I would be accepted," he said. "I'm thankful for how they treated me. They see I want to win. It's made it easier because I have the same goal as them."

It's tough enough to start as a freshman, but Bradway also had to replace Brent Caprio, who led the Mustangs to the South Jersey Group IV title last season with 27 touchdown passes and 21 touchdown runs.

Predictably, Bradway has his share of ups and downs.

He scored the winning touchdown in a 22-16 triple-overtime win over Ocean City two weeks ago. Bradway completed just 3-of-11 passes in a season-opening 17-7 win over Vineland.

His struggles are similar to what Callahan experienced last year.

"That kid is going to be a great player," Roman said of Bradway. "He's learning the system. They're not doing everything they did with Caprio. Game to game he's going to get significantly better. He's going to be a big-time player."

Tonight is another high-profile challenge for both quarterbacks. The stands at Holy Spirit should be packed. Both teams need a win to boost their playoff hopes.

Then there's the revenge factor. Mainland snapped Spirit's 17-game winning streak with a 24-0 victory last year. Spirit will try to end Mainland's 15-game winning streak tonight.

The schools are located a few miles apart from each other on Route 9. Like any rivalry, the ties that bind feed the rivalry. Just about everybody on the Holy Spirit side will know somebody on the Mainland side and vice versa.

He may be a newcomer to Mainland and high school football but nobody knows that better than Bradway. His father Terry is a Holy Spirit graduate.

"Mainland vs. Holy Spirit," Bradway said. "It has a nice ring to it."

E-mail Michael McGarry:

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