Michael Nebrich leads Lake Braddock's football team into state championship game
Lake Braddock junior quarterback Michael Nebrich sat cross-legged on an ottoman less than a foot away from a 60-inch television inside his Fairfax Station home. The lights from the family Christmas tree reflected across his face as he dropped his head and stared at the remote control in his left hand. Paused on the screen behind him was his game-winning pass from last week's state semifinal -- an overtime toss that lifted No. 4 Lake Braddock into its first state championship.
"From the beginning of the season to now, with this group of guys, we talked about it at the beginning of the week, you know, we're actually here," the 16-year-old junior said before hitting the play button.
Nebrich has caught the region off guard this year, going from a relative unknown to being named the Northern Region's offensive player of the year. He has accumulated the kind of statistics that have etched his name into the Virginia High School Leauge's record book, lured college recruiters to practice sessions in Burke and earned the Bruins (12-2) a meeting with Central Region champion Thomas Dale (11-2) in Saturday's Virginia AAA Division 6 final at the University of Virginia's Scott Stadium in Charlottesville. As Nebrich analyzed game tape, his father, Mark, was tucked away in a nearby office editing highlight packages for a Web site that is part of Michael's recruiting package. Mark uses a speadsheet to track recruiters -- 18 of them, he says, and counting -- and he has business cards he hands out to media members and recruiters with Michael's picture, position, phone number and e-mail address.
"We didn't expect this to happen, but we hoped it would," the father said.
Heading into Saturday's game, Nebrich has completed 220 of 410 attempts for 3,083 yards, 20 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. He also has rushed for 23 touchdowns and 1,193 yards on 251 carries. While his passing numbers are the area's second-best behind Kansas State-bound senior Billy Cosh (Arundel), Nebrich is the area's leader in total yards with 4,276. That single-season total is fourth-best in state public school history.
It was Nebrich's approach, however, that made former West Springfield head coach Bill Renner return to the sidelines as an assistant coach this season at Lake Braddock.
"He played with passion, and he played like it mattered to him," said Renner, who saw Nebrich while scouting a Lake Braddock-Annandale game last year. "When a kid has that, he has an opportunity to take what you teach him and apply it."
Since last December, Nebrich has employed the same year-round throwing system that Renner used to groom former West Springfield passers Peter Lalich (Virginia/Oregon State) and his son, Bryn Renner (North Carolina). The system is a timed 20-minute session that requires a specific number of repetitions of five drills that work on release point, hip rotation, weight transfer, balance and a hitch-step. The work has brought recruiters from James Madison, Duke, Temple and Penn State to practice sessions at Lake Braddock.
In the midst of his redshirt year at North Carolina, Bryn Renner trades text messages and phone calls with Nebrich on a daily basis.
"I know most of the defenses that are in the Northern Region, so I'll give him little tips about what routes to throw," Bryn Renner said.
Nebrich threw 13 interceptions in his first five games this season, when he was learning Renner's five-wide spread -- a system that requires a quarterback to know five routes, options on those routes, and also three touch-pass variations on each of those routes. Nebrich has thrown five interceptions in his past nine games.
"Mike had to learn [my system] in real-game situations," said Renner, who did not join the Bruins staff until mid-August. "The biggest compliment to Michael Nebrich and his ability was that [the interceptions] stopped."
Most of Lalich and Renner's passing records came in their senior seasons, which means Nebrich is "way ahead of schedule," Bryn Renner said.
Thomas Dale will pose a stiff test, however. The Knights stifled defending state champion Oscar Smith's air attack in last week's 20-17 upset, holding VHSL career passing leader Phillip Sims (an Alabama recruit) to 3-of-11 passing for 46 yards and a touchdown. The victory snapped a 28-game winning streak for Oscar Smith.
"This team is a real special team," said Nebrich, who will be one of only six players to return next season from a senior-laden team. "The pressure is not really there for me. This is just fun."