On the first day of training camp, Timber Creek High School assistant football coach Durwin Pearson grabbed junior quarterback Devin Leary and made a prediction.
"You're going to throw 50 TD passes this season," Pearson said.
That nice, round, seemingly unreachable number had special meaning for Leary.
When he was in eighth grade, Leary threw for 49 touchdown passes for the Gloucester Township Stallions youth team.
"It's funny because in eighth grade, we lost (the championship game) to Fleetwood, which is Lenape," Leary said of the Mt. Laurel youth program. "Two days ago I was looking at pictures from that year and I was like, 'I need my rematch.'"
Leary got his rematch.
He got his revenge.
He didn't get his 50.
But the record-setting quarterback came close for the second time in four seasons, finishing with a state-record 48 touchdown passes in leading Timber Creek to a 12-0 record and a second consecutive South Jersey Group 4 championship.
Leary, who finished the most prolific passing season in state history with 357 yards and three touchdown passes in Timber Creek's 31-10 victory over Lenape in the sectional title game Dec. 4 at Rowan University, is the Inquirer's Offensive Player of the Year in football.
"What was great about what he did is that he did it within the framework of the team," Timber Creek head coach Rob Hinson said. "He wasn't selfish. He wasn't trying to get stats. He was trying to win games.
"That was his whole focus, just helping us win. All the stats he put up, all that was just part of the team trying to win games."
Leary and Timber Creek this season took the evolution of the passing game in South Jersey high school football to another level.
Operating out of spread formation, Leary completed 62.7 percent of his passes for 3,688 yards and 48 touchdowns, both state records, with just four interceptions.
Leary threw for five touchdowns in three different first halfs as Timber Creek registered 564 points, the second-highest total in South Jersey history.
Shawnee coach Tim Gushue said Leary compared favorably with some of the best quarterbacks in South Jersey history.
"In my 40 years," Gushue said after Leary led Timber Creek to a 38-10 victory over Shawnee in the South Jersey Group 4 semifinals, "Glenn Foley, Kevin Foley (both Cherry Hill East), a couple of the Holy Cross guys, Kyle Horner of Cherokee . . . "
It's tricky to compare Leary statistically with great quarterbacks of the past because the sport has changed so much in recent years, from the rapid expansion of the passing game with no-huddle, spread offenses to 12-game seasons.
Ever the team player, Leary would be the first to note his statistical success is partially a product of both Timber Creek's offensive philosphy as well the work of the team's linemen and receivers.
This season, Timber Creek senior wide receivers Ezrah Archie (20) and Dante Waugh-Hill (12) combined for 32 touchdown catches.
Archie, in particular, seemed to have a special rapport with Leary.
"It was like having a second sense with him," Leary said of Archie. "It was so great to play this season with him, probably the last time I'm going to play with him."
Assuming he stays healthy as a senior, Leary is likely to become the most prolific passer in state history.
Leary finished this season with career marks of 6,809 yards and 74 touchdowns. The South Jersey records in those categories are 7,695 yards and 84 touchdowns, both set by Pennsville's Dylan Cummings in 2013.
The state records are 8,732 yards and 96 touchdowns, both set by Butler's Scott Brown, according to South Jersey sports historian Chuck Langerman.
"He's really, really, really good," Lenape coach Tim McAneney said of Leary, who has eight scholarship offers from programs such as Iowa, Maryland, Rutgers, Boston College, Wake Forest and West Virginia.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Leary next season will need 3,191 yards and 26 touchdowns next season to reach astounding career totals of 10,000 yards and 100 touchdowns.
Those are nice, round numbers, just like 50 is a nice, round number.
Standing on the field after last Sunday's victory over Lenape, Leary remembered Pearson's prediction.
"I remember he told me from Day One and he actually reminded me of this earlier this morning, he said 'Remember what I told you first day of camp?'" Leary said.
"I was like, 'No."
"He said, 'You're going to throw 50 touchdown passes.'
"I came up a little short. But that was our goal.
"At first I looked at him like he was crazy, but now that I'm actually doing it and living it, it's unbelievable."
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