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Pre-teen phenom headed to UMass football camp

  • COURTESY CRAIG BRYDEN<br/>Daron Bryden, of Enfield, Conn., is an 11-year-old quarterback who has received national attention for tricks throws. He's attending a University of Massachusetts football camp at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough Saturday.<br/>

    COURTESY CRAIG BRYDEN
    Daron Bryden, of Enfield, Conn., is an 11-year-old quarterback who has received national attention for tricks throws. He's attending a University of Massachusetts football camp at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough Saturday.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • COURTESY CRAIG BRYDEN<br/>Daron Bryden, of Enfield, Conn., is an 11-year-old quarterback who has received national attention for tricks throws. He's attending a University of Massachusetts football camp at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough Saturday.

    COURTESY CRAIG BRYDEN
    Daron Bryden, of Enfield, Conn., is an 11-year-old quarterback who has received national attention for tricks throws. He's attending a University of Massachusetts football camp at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough Saturday. Purchase photo reprints »

  • COURTESY CRAIG BRYDEN<br/>Daron Bryden, of Enfield, Conn., is an 11-year-old quarterback who has received national attention for tricks throws. He's attending a University of Massachusetts football camp at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough Saturday.

    COURTESY CRAIG BRYDEN
    Daron Bryden, of Enfield, Conn., is an 11-year-old quarterback who has received national attention for tricks throws. He's attending a University of Massachusetts football camp at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough Saturday. Purchase photo reprints »

  • COURTESY CRAIG BRYDEN<br/>Daron Bryden, of Enfield, Conn., is an 11-year-old quarterback who has received national attention for tricks throws. He's attending a University of Massachusetts football camp at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough Saturday.<br/>
  • COURTESY CRAIG BRYDEN<br/>Daron Bryden, of Enfield, Conn., is an 11-year-old quarterback who has received national attention for tricks throws. He's attending a University of Massachusetts football camp at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough Saturday.
  • COURTESY CRAIG BRYDEN<br/>Daron Bryden, of Enfield, Conn., is an 11-year-old quarterback who has received national attention for tricks throws. He's attending a University of Massachusetts football camp at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough Saturday.

ENFIELD, Conn.

The shortest kid on the field at Gillette Stadium Saturday won’t be a ball boy or one of the coaches’ sons at the University of Massachusetts football camp, although that’s what people might think until they see Daron Bryden throw the ball.

The camp is designed for high school kids, but Bryden, an 11-year-old quarterback from Enfield, Conn., will be among the participants.

I don’t know if Bryden will be an NFL star he dreams of being someday, or somebody who peaks on YouTube before he ever shaves, or most likely something somewhere in between.

But right now he sure looks like one of the best 11-year-old quarterbacks in the country, a demographic that’s admittedly not easy to evaluate. The 4-foot-11 member of the Hartford Hurricanes Pop Warner program is certainly the most well-known pre-teen passer.

Thanks to a “trick throws” video that’s gotten over 48,000 views on YouTube, Bryden has been featured on ESPN, HDNet, Sports Illustrated for Kids, Yahoo and countless other websites. His throwing mechanics, footwork and arm strength are well-developed for his age.

He might be even more well-known if Kids Talent Show, a reality show that never aired, had made it to TV. On it, Bryden beat Matt Hasselbeck, a three-time Pro Bowl quarterback, in a passing accuracy competition.

“He said good game and told my dad that I’m really good,” Bryden said. “He gave me an autographed jersey.”

Any time a kid earns national attention for dedication and proficiency in a sport well beyond most of their peers, it’s natural to conjure images of Earl Woods on the Mike Douglas Show with a golf-club swinging 2-year-old Tiger; Marv Marinovich obsessively pushing his son toward football, and countless tennis players and gymnasts giving up their childhoods in pursuit of athletic glory. It’s a tight rope that can lead to tremendous success on occasion, but also to disappointment and kids that are poorly adjusted socially if they don’t reach the goal.

I wasn’t sure what I would find when I visited the Bryden’s home in Enfield. There’s no denying Craig Bryden’s enthusiasm. He runs a blog about is son’s progress (www.daronqb.blogspot.com) and his Twitter handle is @QuarterbackDad7. But his excitement seems genuine. He’s eager and enthusiastic about his son’s future without being overbearing. He’s proud without being too pushy.

Craig Bryden, 40, played golf at Division II Lenoir Rhyne College in North Carolina. He always loved football, but never played the game. He said if Daron’s passion had been piano instead of football, he’d have dedicated the same energy to help his son pursue that.

“Whatever he wanted. I just want him to be happy,” said Craig Bryden, who has two other children Jackson, 8, and Mikaela, 6.

Craig and his wife Rita are deaf. They speak well and read lips, but Daron sometimes has to help. He repeats my questions and signs them to his father. It remind me of former Minuteman point guard Edgar Padilla, who also had two deaf parents. Padilla said that helping them communicate with adults at an early age, sped up his maturity. Similar circumstances seem to have had similar results for Bryden, who comes off mature for his age.

Daron Bryden’s path to football is one that’s likely growing in popularity. He watched and played Madden NFL, the incredibly popular video game that gets more and more realistic every year. So when Daron, at 6-years-old, told his father he wanted to play quarterback, Craig Bryden looked for someone who could teach him.

“I’ve been a die-hard football fan, but I didn’t know anything about X’s and O’s,” said Bryden, a big Steelers fan who passed that love to his son. “When he told me he wanted to be a quarterback, I did not know what to teach him. I went online to see if there were any local quarterback coaches.”

He found Evan Bowen, the co-founder of Elite Passing Academy. Bowen saw something in Bryden.

“He told me ‘I think your kid can be special,’” Craig Bryden said. “What he told me, he was right.”

Bowen was the first of four coaches to work with Daron, who’s currently training once a month with former NFL backup Todd Krueger. Craig Bryden soaks up the lessons too so he can better help his son when they practice in the family’s backyard. While most quarterbacks his age are content just flinging the ball, Bryden is working on the footwork for three- and five-step drops, his throwing motion and roll outs.

I asked him if he ever gets tired of football.

He laughs like I’m kidding. “No.”

While he’s been to camps in Las Vegas, Ohio and Dallas with kids his own age, the trip to Gillette will be the third time this summer Daron has worked out with high school kids. At Temple’s camp in Philadelphia, an older kid bristled at being paired off with him.

“There was a kid that didn’t want to throw with me who was older than me. The Temple coach said it doesn’t matter because I’m better than half the quarterbacks there,” Bryden said smiling. “It’s been fun playing with all the high school kids. It’s cool to play with them so I can show off my skills. I show up and they’re like ‘you shouldn’t here.’ Then I show them what I can do and they’re like ‘OK.’”

He’s hoping to catch coaches’ eyes down the road.

“It’s good to get my name out so they’d know me,” he said.

That’s been successful so far. Several Division I schools, coaches (including UMass assistants Charley Molnar III and Allen Suber) and recruiting services are following him on Twitter (@DaronQB).

Saturday will be his second UMass camp. He attended one in Amherst earlier this month and came away with a positive impression of the coaching staff, which will naturally make the most irrational of Minuteman fans start hoping he might someday star for UMass.

But so much can happen in the seven years between starting sixth grade and finishing high school. School will get more demanding. Girls will get more noticeable. He’ll grow. Maybe football will remain the biggest driving force in his life. Maybe it won’t. Time will tell.

There’s no rush to get there. He’s good right now and he’s having fun. Tomorrow will arrive soon enough.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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