SEFFNER — At Armwood, they immortalize their stars as surely as they immobilize tailbacks.
On the southeast corner of Lyle Flagg Stadium, carved on three stately granite monuments, are the names of every player, coach and administrator from each of the three Hawks teams to reach the state championship game.
That’s a constellation of kids that coach Sean Callahan has seen arrive, evolve and exit through the years. But of all of them, the quarterback with the white compression sleeve, blood-stained left wristband and 5.4 weighted GPA may be the one he’ll be saddest to watch depart.
Yep, Josh Grady’s that important.
“I think of all the people that have graduated from this program, I’ll miss him probably more than anybody I’ve ever had,” Callahan said.
On this frigid Tuesday afternoon, the only thing straighter than Callahan’s face may be the row of A’s on Grady’s most recent report card.
It’s not so much Grady’s versatility (1,890 passing, 807 rushing yards) that makes him priceless to the 13-0 Hawks, or his intelligence, study habits, durability or willingness to adjust on the fly.
It’s all those things.
“He’s not the biggest quarterback (6 feet, 190 pounds),” says Callahan, whose team hosts Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer (12-1) on Friday in the Class 4A state semifinals.
“He’s pretty fast, but it’s kind of a funny-looking run he’s got. But Josh has so many positive things, you put them all together and you’ve got a pretty nice quarterback. … He’s like the pied piper. The kids want to be around him, they want to learn from him.”
Never has Grady’s talent — and toughness — been more profound than in the Hawks’ first three playoff games. To compensate for Armwood’s dinged-up backfield, Callahan and offensive coordinator Evan Davis have asked him to assume more of the ball-carrying burden.
In those three contests, Grady, who ran for 422 yards in 10 regular-season games, has run for 385 and six TDs.
“We’re putting the burden on him because he handles the burden so well,” Callahan said.
Considering Grady is already handling a college-type course load, what’s a few more run plays inserted in his three-ring game-plan binder?
“The thing is, he doesn’t have to write down a whole lot (in that binder) because he’s so friggin’ smart,” Davis said.
The son of an accountant and IBM salesman, Grady takes advance-placement courses in statistics, psychology and literature, as well as Spanish III and an economics course. Since arriving at Armwood from Freedom in early 2009, Grady has earned straight A’s.
His last B? An AP world history course as a sophomore at Freedom. His career aspiration after football? Heart surgeon.
“Everyone around the world needs heart surgeons,” he said. “When my parents get old I want to be able to save their lives, not somebody else.”
That intellect commingles with instinct on game nights. Davis, who requires Grady to periodically make checks at the line of scrimmage, says he asks as much of Grady on a Friday night “as anybody can ask a quarterback, even on the college level.”
“He’s got great instincts of when to let the ball go and when to pull it down and run it, and he’s athletic enough to do that,” said Plant coach Robert Weiner, who watched Grady collect 172 total yards in a 17-0 win against the Panthers two months ago.
“That kind of dual threat puts your defense on its heels. I really think that not only is he athletic, but those instincts … and he’s a winner. That’s what you want at that position. You want a quarterback who’s a winner. I have great respect for him.”
Before rolling up his figurative sleeves Friday for the biggest game of his life, Grady will put on the white one he religiously wears on his left arm. A bit farther below will be his soiled white wristband, without which he simply can’t play.
Like the scrubs and surgical gloves he hopes to someday wear, the wristband has blood on it.
Sort of symbolic. Few will argue as Armwood stands on the precipice of a fourth state final berth, Grady is the lifeblood of the team.
“I made it clear in my last staff meeting that if we have to win the ball game and somebody’s going to be the guy that gets the credit or not it’s going to be Josh,” Callahan said. “He’s earned that.”