Starting with tossing the pigskin in his yard, Phil Cohen has developed into one of the more consistent and accurate passers in the Pequot Conference.
The Warriors' senior captain and quarterback, who is also a catcher, began his career at center and tight end before waiting to go behind center with Valley Regional/Old Lyme, for which Phil has thrown for over 1,000 yards in consecutive campaigns, along with earning a .642 completion percentage in his two seasons as a starter.
"It's unbelievable, but I have to thank my coaches, teammates, and my line is unbelievable in giving me so much time in the pocket," says the Old Lyme student. "As a freshman I knew nothing about the position, yet I look up to Eli Manning and Tom Brady, so I try to learn from the professionals. Although my coaches have taught me everything I know, because I wasn't the greatest my freshman and sophomore years."
Phil's leap from the line to the backfield began at home while using his baseball background.
"Just throwing the ball around, my stepdad said I had a great arm and he encouraged me to try out for quarterback. I just took it and ran with it," says Phil, who has only thrown six interceptions in two years. "Being a catcher in baseball, there are a lot of similar throwing motions, so that helped."
In addition to learning from his predecessor, Jimmy Fairfield-Sonn, Phil worked hard in the offseason.
"[Friend and wide receiver] David Peck and I worked on route reads every summer, and we would even bring a football to baseball practice," Phil says. "Coach [Tim] King and his staff do a great job of getting us in the weight room, so I did that during the summer and winter, too. I also attended passing leagues in New London and got to meet players from conferences around the state. Jimmy was an unbelievable leader and had a work ethic I try to match."
Phil has only thrown two picks in seven games this season, as he helps his defense stay off the field.
"Again, the credit on that goes to my receiving core; they open up so many things for me and it's easier to see the field with them, and I try to make the best reads I can," says Phil. "Turnovers are key, because I want to keep the defense off the field as long as possible. Our scout squad has contributed a huge part into it by showing me what the opposing defenses do. I can see where the blitz is coming from and not force throws."
Warriors' alum Anthony Pagano's quarterback camp has aided his accuracy.
"His knowledge of the game is unmatchable. He knows when to throw the ball and how to lead receivers," Phil says. "Plus, my receivers and offensive line make the job easier."
One showing was Valley's 38-13 win at North Branford on Oct. 18, in which Phil was 20-of-28 for 305 yards and three touchdowns.
"The backside was working out of the trips formation; I had great communication with [junior] Chris Jean-Pierre and [senior] Jean-Luc Poulard," says Phil. "Our receivers and running game were incredible that night."
King feels that Phil has taken control of the game plan on and off the turf.
"He has done a terrific job with our offense," says King. "For his leadership, he takes command of the huddle, and he is terrific on and off the field. When it comes to organizing team events, I can always go to him."
Former North Branford counterpart Brandan Basil showed Phil how to grab a huddle.
"Brandan told me to keep my poise, set the tempo, and pick your guys up. I learned a lot from him and he was a big part of my success," says Phil, who wants to become a physical education teacher and football coach. "It's really humbling that my teammates look up to me, so I try to be as articulate and uplifting as I can be. I try to also lead by example, be clean, and have others follow."
Currently undefeated and ranked first in Class M, Phil's Warriors want that state crown.
"We are just going to take it one game at a time and finish strong," says Phil, who thanks his teammates. "We seniors have been together for four years and football has been the time of our lives. Football is great and practice is the cherry on top."