Conor Easthope’s varsity football career didn’t get off to the kind of start he had “hoped” for in Pioneer’s season opener in August. That first game included a difficult and frustrating finish for the sophomore quarterback.
With only seconds left, Pioneer decided to throw the ball down field and take a chance, despite being deep in their end of the field in a tie game with visiting Anchor Bay.
Easthope fired a pass down the middle that was intercepted and led to a game-losing field goal as time expired.
It was a tough way to finish your first game. But this is about beginnings, not endings. And the way things are beginning to shape up for Easthope gives plenty of hope to the Pioneer football team for not only the rest of this season but over the course of the next two seasons as well.
Easthope possesses all the “Ps” that come with being a great young quarterback – poise, potential and physical ability. He also plays for Pioneer so he certainly “passes” the QB “P” test. But football is a numbers game, not a letters game and it’s the numbers on the scoreboard at the end of the game that matters most.
Take last year, for example.
Easthope was the starting quarterback on junior varsity as a freshman and helped lead the Pioneers to a 4-5 record. Despite picking up four wins, Easthope was not pleased with the end results from his first year running the offense at Pioneer High School.
“We ended up with a losing record and that didn’t sit well with me,” he said.
Maybe it was that attitude that earned him a shot this year at starting on the varsity.
“Coach (Bill) Bellers told me last year after the season that I would at least be given a chance to be the starting quarterback on varsity,” he said. “That was all I could really ask for and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.”
It wasn’t easy. In a close competition during camp, Easthope was named the starter. And he’s done everything to prove he was worth the difficult assignment – at least so far.
Easthope huddled up with his parents last year and talked about goals and expectations for this season.
“It was great news to hear that I would have a shot at being the starter,” he said. “And we talked about how since I was being given a shot it was time to work really hard and try and take advantage of the opportunity. I spent the whole off-season trying to improve my all-around game.”
Breaking it down, Easthope said he improved the most in the off-season on the mental side of the game. He obviously has the physical tools so a lot of the focus was on learning the quarterback position to help get the most out of his right arm.
“I really worked hard in the off-season on reading coverages and identifying what defenses were doing and where to throw the ball and timing,” he said. “It’s something I’m still working on every day.”
He added: “I haven’t proven a lot yet. I just want to put the team in position to win games and when we do that the respect will follow.”
Respect is certainly being earned and confidence is on the rise for Easthope, who has helped lead the Pioneers to three straight wins after that loss to Anchor Bay.
Bouncing back so quickly from such a tough loss is testament to his character. Being a successful quarterback requires having a short memory and Easthope admits he felt bad after the game, but 24 hours later he had turned the page.
“Coach Bellers has the 24-hour rule,” he said. “You get 24 hours to either celebrate a win or be upset about a loss and then you move on to the next game. I think for a quarterback the key is to never get too high or too low. I’m getting more comfortable with the offense and with wins comes more confidence.”
There is no doubt that going from JV to varsity is a huge jump. But so far, so good in this transition year.
“The first game was a physical test and I could have done a lot of things better,” he said. “But despite the interception it was just a lot of fun. I had fun going out there and playing football.”
Easthope’s best game so far in his young career came this past Friday when he threw five touchdown passes in a win over Huron at Pioneer.
“It’s a rivalry game so it’s a big one,” he said. “Coming in we thought they would be in a zone but they ended up blitzing a lot and the offensive line did a great job picking it up and giving me time. We took what they gave us and ended up taking quite a few shots down field. And our defense was outstanding again.”
Easthope said the first hit he took he got the wind knocked out of him a bit and almost had to come out of the game. Add toughness to the list of adjectives for this young gun slinger.
“The whole team just did a great job,” he said. “It was a great win.”
But 24 hours later it was on to the next game. The ultimate goal is making the playoffs.
“We have the tough part of our schedule coming up (Bedford, Saline and Monroe) and we don’t want to lose another game,” Easthope said. “We are getting better every day in practice and I think we are up for the challenge. We are holding ourselves to the highest level because we believe we have the talent.”
Easthope’s personal long-term goal is to keep playing football in college.
“I’ve always been interested in college football,” he said. “It would be awesome to get an offer to go play college football.”
He’s well on his way – but there is plenty of work to do between then and now.