Sean Rivers sat quietly in the corner of Daddy Flo'z, a Laurel pizza parlor frequented by Pallotti High School students, fondling a new football. "Wouldn't want to see it get messed up," said Rivers boyishly. "Ya have to rub off the polish, but you can't mess up the ball. That's real important for a game ball."

And Rivers should know all about footballs, he's thrown enough of them.

For the past two seasons, Rivers has been one of the area's most productive -- albeit one of its least known -- quarterbacks.

The 6-foot, 190-pound senior has completed 113 of 177 passes for 1,802 yards and 25 touchdowns en route to what may possibly be his best season yet. Last year, Rivers completed 164 of 304 passes for more than 2,200 yards and 18 touchdowns.

In his two years as a starter, Pallotti is 18-1, including a 9-0 mark this season. All this, despite the fact that the senior operates with a small offensive line and a receiving corps that lacks a speedster.

"Sean probably sets up as fast as any quarterback you'll ever see," said Pallotti Coach Stu Mackintosh. "He's extremely mobile and his ability to set up quick allows him extra time to look for receivers. Sometimes he even waits a little longer than I'd like. But because he has a gun for an arm, he can get a way with it."

But there is more to Rivers than the strength of his arm. Mackintosh is quick to point out that the 17-year-old is very much a self-made quarterback.

"I can remember seeing Sean for the first time as a freshman. He had a very strong athletic body, which at that age jumps out at you," said Mackintosh. "He was always athletic, naturally, but it isn't only that natural ability that lets him make some of the plays that he makes. The difference is the hard work he's done off the field.

"Sean lifts weights in the offseason, and attends camps and works all throughout the summer running sprints and preparing for the season. I'm not saying that Sean's the only one who is training in the offseason, because he's not. But it's that hard work that makes an average athlete a good athlete and an average team a good team."

Such dedication by Rivers didn't seem possible when he first started high school.

"Just a couple of years ago, I had long hair, I didn't do much of anything, and my family had just gone through a separation," Rivers said. "That was a tough time, but it's in the past now.

"It was during that time that I meet Stu. He really gave me a lot of support, and outside my family, I guess I'm closest to Stu. I guess that you might say he's like my conscious, he's always there to tell me when I mess up."

It took a while for Rivers to adapt to Mackintosh's prodding, however.

"I had a tough time dealing with Stu last year," Rivers said. "He was a friend off the field, someone who I could talk to. But then on the field, he would yell at me when I messed up. You can't let things like that bother you. This year, I think I became a little tougher skinned. Now, I listen, and then just let it roll off my back."

Mackintosh hasn't had many complaints this season. Aside from Rivers' impressive completion rate and passing yardage, his most telling statistic may be that he has thrown only three interceptions in his 177 passing attempts. Just a year ago, an "impatient" Rivers was intercepted 17 times.

"Last season Sean had quite a few interceptions because of poor judgements, but we were fortunate, and they never really hurt us," Mackintosh said. "Sean also had a tough time with the touch pass last season, he was impatient when throwing, and a lot of times that led to interceptions or incompleted passes."

This season, Rivers has tapped his two most valuable natural resources: his quick feet and his arm strength. Rivers' 4.7 speed in the 40-yard dash complements his powerful arm.

Combine those two attributes with a talented receiver like Kevin Hammersmith, who has caught 45 passes for 822 yards, and it's easy to see why Pallotti is 9-0.

"A lot of teams that see him, drop straight back so we can't throw deep on anyone, they're satisfied with giving us the 10- to 30-yard pass," Mackintosh said. "We'll take whatever they give us."

Said Rivers, "I can't see why it's such a big deal. The receivers run downfield and have to work to get open, and the linemen do all the blocking to give me time to pass. All I have to do is throw the ball, how tough is that?"

In a recent 35-0 victory over Poolesville, Rivers combined with Hammersmith for four touchdowns spanning 81 yards and then scored himself on a three-yard run. For Poolesville Coach Ernie Ceccato, the difference in the loss was Pallotti's diversified attack, spearheaded by Rivers.

"They had a good team effort, the line gave him {Rivers} time and his receivers were able to get open," said Ceccato. "And I tell you, if you give him {Rivers} a lot of time, he can eat you up.

"If I had to do it again, I don't know what I'd do differently. We tried some different defenses. We ran a 4-3 and a zone for a while. What we were trying to do was take away the deep pass. We also tried a few blitzes. But nothing seemed to be very effective."

Rivers, who carries a 3.0 grade-point average, plans to major in psychology in college. "I have been contacted by about 10 to 15 schools," said Rivers. "But right now I have to worry more about my homework and football more than which college I will go to. So far, I've just let Stu handle everything for me."

Of the teams recruiting Rivers, William and Mary has given Rivers the most attention. However, Mackintosh cautions that no decisions concering college will be made until after the football season.

Regardless of where Rivers goes to college, he's already done a great deal to increase the attention accorded Pallotti, a small private Catholic school. Sitting in a corner booth of the pizza parlor recently, Rivers reflected on what it's like to play for such a small school.

"We can't just beat them this week, we have to beat them throughly," said Rivers. "Since we're a small school, if we beat a big school, they call it luck. If we lose, we're nobody. But if we beat them bad, that's when the point starts getting across. Since we're always the underdog, we have to work twice as hard to prove ourselves."

That, it seems, is what Rivers has been doing the past two years.