The Fantastic Frosh: Matawan Quarterback L.C. Pearson Makes History
UNION — It isn’t until George “L.C.” Pearson takes off his helmet and reveals his baby face that it is actually believable he is just a 14-year-old freshman.
On the field, Pearson is like no other ninth-grader this area has ever seen. On Friday at Kean University he completed the greatest season by a freshman quarterback in Shore Conference history by throwing for 198 yards and a career-best four touchdowns to lead Matawan to a 27-7 victory over Carteret in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III championship game. He is likely the first freshman to ever quarterback a Shore Conference team to a state title.
“Most of the time I forget he’s a freshman, to tell you the truth,” said senior wide receiver Justin Ferrara, who caught a 17-yard touchdown pass and was Pearson’s top target in his 10 games as the starting quarterback. “I feel like he should be graduating with me.”
There have been several freshmen whose physical gifts made them playmakers from the start. Matawan had its own young star signal-caller from 2007 to 2010 in Jared Allison, who led the Huskies to the 2009 Central Jersey Group II title and back to the title game the following season as a four-year starter before moving on to play at New Hampshire.
What sets Pearson apart is his poise. He plays the quarterback position like a seasoned veteran would hope to play. The way he calmly goes through his progressions, how he gets out of the pocket when there’s pressure and still keeps his eyes downfield, and how he can shake off mistakes and respond with big plays make it seem impossible he’s only been in high school for three months.
“He’s an unbelievable kid; unlike any kid I’ve ever coached,” said Matawan head coach John Kaye. “Poise, demeanor; nothing fazes him. He just plays.”
He showed off all his skills on Matawan’s first possession, a nine-play, 94-yard drive that put the Huskies up 6-0. He calmly scanned the field before throwing over the middle to junior Dejohn Rogers, who turned the underneath pass into a 45-yard gain. Later in the drive he fired a bullet between defenders to Rogers for a first down. On third-and-17 he avoided pressure and lofted a pass to the end zone that senior Jimmy Pearce caught off a deflection for a 32-yard touchdown.
In the second quarter he hit Ferrara for a 17-yard touchdown to cap a four-play, 84-yard drive that gave Matawan a 13-7 lead it would not relinquish. In a pesky rainstorm during the biggest game of his life, Pearson finished the first half 8-for-10 for 159 yards and two touchdowns.
“Most freshmen make freshman mistakes, but he doesn’t seem to ever do that,” Ferrara said. “He can make any throw, and he has a special talent. He just doesn’t play like a freshman at all.”
It all began in the summer when Pearson helped Matawan win the Shore Conference 7-on-7 Tournament. He engineered a late touchdown drive to lead a young group of Huskies skill players past a veteran Brick team coming off a state title. It was just shorts and shoulder pads with no pass rush, but it was clear Matawan had a potential star at quarterback.
Even with his talent, starting a freshman from day one at quarterback isn’t something most teams are going to do, especially one that was already comprised of mostly sophomores and juniors. Pierce began the season as Matawan’s quarterback in a zone read rushing attack, and the Huskies started 0-2 with losses to top 10 teams St. John Vianney and Rumson-Fair Haven while scoring just a combined 20 points. That’s when Kaye decided to put Pearson at quarterback and switch to more of a spread passing attack.
Pearson rewarded the decision by turning in a historic season in leading Matawan to its seventh state championship in program history. He threw for 1,953 yards and 16 touchdowns, both of which are believed to be Shore Conference records for a freshman. The Huskies went 8-2 with him as the starter, including winning five straight games to end the season as state champions.
“We thought early in the year we’d be more of a run-read team with Jimmy Pierce, but we weren’t having much success,” Kaye said. “We know this kid can wing it as much as any kid I’ve every coached. We were 0-2, so we said let’s put him in there and let’s go.”
Two-way lineman Jake Weber is one of just a handful of senior starters for Matawan, along with Pierce, Ferrara, running back Devon Spann, tight end/linebacker Matt Leibowitz and two-way lineman Dan Corredor. A group trying to end their careers with a championship could have been skeptical when a freshman was handed the reins of the offense, but they knew Pearson had the skills to lead them to a ring.
“We took him in and said ‘You’re our guy now and you have to lead us,' and that’s what he did,” Weber said. “The kid is amazing. After the first game he was a little rattled, but we just kept telling him he had the talent to do it. He really stepped up when we needed him. If it wasn’t for him I don’t think we would have been here today.”
“The seniors encouraged me every day,” Pearson said. “I got their backs and they’ve got mine.”
Rather than being the culmination of the work put in by a senior-laden team, Matawan’s latest championship instead appears to be the start of a great run. Most of the Huskies’ top players return, including Pearson, Rogers, junior all-around playmaker Shawn Ramcheran, standout junior linebackers Alien Shaw and Isaiah Phillip and junior kicker Adam Elliott.
“This team is going to be very scary in the future,” Weber said.
There’s only so much Pearson can do to top winning a state title as a freshman, but the Huskies are going to have a fun time watching him try. Friday night was the moment Pearson announced himself to the rest of the state, showing guts and guile beyond his years.
“He’s only 14 years old,” Kaye said. “But he was ready for this.”
And the scary part is he’s only going to get better.
“I feel bad for whoever has to play him for the next three years,” Ferrara said.