By Jim Hague
How many local high school quarterbacks get the chance to have private football lessons from a former Super Bowl Most Valuable Player?
The answer is: Not many.
Well, there is at least one notable exception, namely Lyndhurst High School junior quarterback Danny Kesack.
It all started when Lyndhurst head coach Scott Rubinetti, seeing Kesack’s talent and potential, reached out to former Giants standout and current respected CBS football analyst Phil Simms to see if he could work with Kesack.
Rubinetti and Simms had a relationship dating back to the late 1990s, when Rubinetti, then an assistant coach at Ramapo High School, coached Simms’ older son, Chris.
“I saw that Danny was a tremendous talent, but just needed to fine tune some things,” Rubinetti said. “I called Phil to see if he would be willing to work with Danny and he said he was fine with it.”
Kesack didn’t know what to think when his coach recommended the tutorials with the Giants great.
“Coach Rubinetti always talked to me about him knowing Phil Simms, but I didn’t give much thought to it,” Kesack said. “When he first said that I could go and work with him, I never thought it was going to happen. I was blessed to get the chance to train with someone like Phil Simms. He’s an awesome dude. He agreed to meet me and we’ve been working together ever since.”
Simms agreed to meet three times a week with Kesack and the two worked on every aspect of the game together.
“I was really nervous at first,” Kesack said. “I never dreamed I could actually be learning from someone so famous. Then, I got to know him and we became close. It meant so much to me.”
Rubinetti calls the sessions with Simms “invaluable.”
“Phil talked to Danny about the position and what it means to be a good quarterback,” Rubinetti said. “He talked to him about what it takes to be good, how to deal with certain situations, how to have poise. It wasn’t just learning about passing routes and throwing, although they did that as well. It was all about a great quarterback teaching a kid the quarterback position better than anyone could do.”
After all, Simms should know a little about being a quarterback. Besides carving his own niche as perhaps the greatest signal caller in the history of the Giants and leading the team to their first of three Super Bowl titles, Simms also produced his sons, Chris, who played eight seasons in the NFL, the last with Tennessee last year, and Matt, who is currently at the University of Tennessee.
“He worked with Danny on all the little things,” Rubinetti said. “He was consistently coaching Danny on every point and it turned out to be awesome, because it took Danny to another level.”
“It meant so much to me,” Kesack said. “I felt like I learned every aspect about being a quarterback. He had it down perfectly. The game comes so much easier to me now. When I’m in the game, I feel like I know what’s going to happen. It’s been a blessing.”
The ease of the game was obvious last Friday night, when Kesack and his Golden Bear teammates made their 2011 debut against North Arlington, a team that soundly defeated Lyndhurst in the season opener a year ago.
“I had been waiting for this game against North Arlington for a year,” Kesack said. “They’re the rival and after they beat us bad last year, I wanted the chance to return the favor.”
Kesack carried the ball 14 times for 236 yards and scored three touchdowns and completed six of seven passes for 230 more yards and two scores, leading the Golden Bears to a convincing 52-16 victory over North Arlington in a game played at Harrison High School.
For his efforts, Kesack has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week. Kesack is the first honoree of the 2011-12 scholastic sports season and the weekly feature will continue throughout the season until the presentations of the Male and Female Athletes of the Year next June.
Rubinetti said that he had no doubts where he was going in the season opener.
“We were just putting the ball in Danny’s hands and letting him make plays,” Rubinetti said. “He did so with his feet and his passing. We gave him the run/pass option and he just made plays.”
No one ever doubted Kesack’s ability to throw the football. It’s his rushing totals that stand out as a surprise, as Lyndhurst compiled almost 700 yards of total offense in the win. Danny Nahra had 215 yards rushing in 18 carries as well.
“Danny is such a tremendous competitor,” Rubinetti said. “I said to him early that the team needed to know he was the most important guy in our offense, that he was our guy, our leader. He had to learn a few things and had to be coddled a little bit, but after the first part of the first quarter, he was our guy. He’s bigger and stronger than the past. Danny wants to be great and now he’s taken his play to another level.”
Needless to say, Kesack is pleased with his transformation.
“I definitely have a lot of confidence now,” Kesack said. “I knew I could do it. I just had to learn to make it happen. When I get the ball, I know what I want to do with it. I’m confident enough to know that I can make the right play.”
So those sessions with the Super Bowl MVP paid off?
“Oh, definitely,” Kesack said. “This is only the beginning for me. I still talk and text Phil all the time. We talk a lot. Everyone always asks me what that’s like, talking all the time with someone who is famous. It’s pretty neat.”
Except for one important aspect that Kesack has yet to tell his tutor.
“I hate to admit it,” Kesack said. “But I’m a Jets fan.”
Safe to say Phil Simms knows that now.