Record-setting QB has rapport with coaches

GIRARD — Two friends turn foes on certain days at Girard’s Arrowhead Stadium.

All-Ohio quarterback Mark Waid, who has led the Indians to tonight’s state title game and is arguably the greatest QB in school history, competes against the other person people would argue is the greatest quarterback in Girard history, Nick Cochran.

Cochran, a former Ohio State recruit and the Indians’ current quarterbacks coach, and Waid, the superstar QB who was in the running for Mr. Football, make up different contests to show off their accuracy and arm strength. It’s always fun, but for two fierce competitors, there are bragging rights on the line.

“I feel like we’ve got the best quarterback in the state with the best quarterback coach coaching him in the state,” Girard coach Pat Pearson said. “They’ve really taken it to another level. It’s way beyond football. It’s a brotherhood. And it’s fun to watch those two compete against each other because Coach C will never submit anything to Mark, so sometimes in practice there’s a throwing competition between those two, and Coach C, he still got it, too.”

The relationship between Waid, a 6-foot-3 senior who now holds nearly every relevant passing record in school history, and Cochran, one of the Mahoning Valley’s all-time great athletes, has blossomed into something more than football.

“He’s probably like a son to me,” Cochran said. “We’re really close. We do lunches, dinners — we do a lot together. It’s a special relationship.”

And it’s not only those two who help make Girard’s high-powered offense churn out eye-popping numbers year after year.

One of the masterminds behind the scenes who crunches numbers and devises different schemes like a mad scientist in a basement laboratory is offensive coordinator Sam Caputo. The longtime offensive guru has had coaching stints at Warren G. Harding, Ursuline and then again at Harding.

Caputo, who, like Pearson and Cochran, is a Girard graduate, was out of football for a few years because his job demanded too much time. Pearson is a longtime friend who had reached out to him about coaching a few times after taking the Girard job five years ago. He decided to give Caputo another try when this year’s seniors were about to enter their sophomore season, and Caputo is glad he did.

“The day after their last game (in 2015), Pat called me,” Caputo recalled, “and just told me what a special group this class was and that if you could make it work in your schedule, you need to come be a part of it. I guess the rest is history.

“That phone call was pretty life-changing to me.”

The foursome of Pearson, Cochran, Caputo and Waid help create an offense that’s averaging 46.4 points per game.

None of them will take credit and immediately deflect praise to the rest of the team, but it’s hard to overlook both the career of Waid coupled with the offensive tradition at Girard.

Combining an ultra-talented quarterback with a group of seasoned, innovative coaches has created a juggernaut that is trying to earn the school’s first state title in football. It’s hard to pinpoint what makes it work so well, but one thing the coaches all admit: Waid is once-in-a-generation player.

“His accuracy is unbelievable,” Cochran said, “but the thing about him that sets him apart from everybody is his studying in the classroom — learning the plays and understanding what the defense does and things like that. He’s able to pick things up a lot easier. Our playbook is so big — you end up only calling like seven or eight different plays a game — but you work on 60. He’s able to handle that stuff.”

Even the analytics-focused, numbers-crunching and film-obsessed Caputo is often impressed by Waid’s mental focus.

He talked about how Waid can read the hips of a defender as he turns them in the secondary, which helps him decide which side of the receiver he wants to throw the ball to during a given play.

“He’s such a cerebral player,” Caputo said. “He’s such a quick learner, and he really does a great job of just absorbing everything.”

The humble quarterback just rolls with the punches, enjoying the different coaching styles. He’ll delve into the analytical data with Caputo, learn different mechanics and mental approaches with Cochran and piece the complete game plan together with Pearson.

“I love them to death,” he said. “They’re such an inspiration in my life.”

He and Cochran, especially, seem to have built a special bond, one that began when Waid first started school at Girard in the seventh grade. He used to call Cochran, a Girard native, to play catch and talk football. In fact, he did it to a point he even felt bad.

“I felt like I was annoying him because I would text him all the time, asking if he wanted to throw,” Waid said. “I always felt like I was bugging him. That’s when our connection grew stronger because that’s the way he was growing up. He was always a hard worker, and I think that’s how it all started, with the want to get better and the want to make Girard a better place.

“It’s emotional talking about it because he’ such a big part of my life. I owe everything to him. He’s an incredible person and coach.”

As nostalgic as it may sound, things change when the competition starts and no one — not coaches or players — would divulge who won the majority, but there was a hint or two.

“With the state championship being (today), I’m not going to make him mad,” Waid said.

Too late.

Although, if he brings home a title, there’s probably a better chance for forgiveness.