Sean Ryan swears that even after four years of attending Stone Bridge -- and playing for the Bulldogs' football team -- some of his teammates still believe that senior wingback Andrew Ryan is his cousin.
The two, it turns out, are not related. But perpetuating the notion has always been a sort of game to Sean, a senior quarterback who enjoys that playful deception in much the same way he relishes baffling opposing defenders.
"It's always fun when you can keep people guessing a little bit," Ryan said.
That hasn't been a problem for Ryan. When this season began, those outside the Stone Bridge program saw Ryan as a first-year starter who had to replace two-time all-Region II and All-Extra Offensive Player of the Year Michael O'Brien. They saw Ryan as a small, 5-foot-8, 160-pounder who looks much more the part of an all-state outfielder, for which he is best known, than an imposing figure on the football field.
But what those within the Bulldogs' program have long understood is this: Ryan could have started two years ago.
"He hates to hear me say that," said Matt Griffith, the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. "But it's true. He was just in the unfortunate situation of being behind Mike O'Brien. I'm not even saying that Mike was necessarily a better quarterback; he was just a year older.
"But we've known since Sean's sophomore year that he was a stud."
There are three things that stand out when evaluating Ryan's play at quarterback. The first is that his knowledge of the game and his ability to read defenses and pick up blitzes is superior. It allows the coaching staff to make adjustments to their game plan on the fly.
"He has a great knack for understanding everything that's going on on the field," said Mickey Thompson, coach of No. 16 Stone Bridge. "He sees things that we sometimes haven't even coached yet. The whole game unfolds in front of him, and very few kids can say that."
In opening the season with three straight wins, Ryan has completed an area-best 66 percent of his passes, connecting on 33 of 50 attempts for 479 yards with five touchdowns and one interception. Those passing numbers have come in what is essentially two full games, since the Bulldogs have built big leads and stopped throwing in the second half of wins over Thomas Johnson and O'Connell.
Ryan also has rushed for 155 yards and two touchdowns.
"He's got a strong arm, and that's great, but the big thing is that he's so daggone accurate," Griffith said. "He knows how to lead the receiver and put the ball where only they can make the catch. And he's so unbelievably fast. If teams do try to stop the pass, he's capable of beating them with his feet, too."
Ryan benefits from having a pair of big targets and two more quick receivers playing with him. Tight ends Brian Calloway (15 catches, 219 yards) and Ed Wang (6 catches, 87 yards) stand 6 foot 3 and 6 foot 6, respectively. Andrew Ryan and Khalil Conteh, though considerably smaller, bring tremendous speed.
"They're all amazing," Ryan said. "Really, they make me look good. And I have to say, Coach Thompson told me all winter he was going to let me throw more this year, but I'm not sure I believed him."
Ryan is glad Thompson kept his word. "Hey, I'll take it," Ryan said. "I'm just excited he's giving me the opportunity to make plays for the team."