State College coach Matt Lintal didn’t have to think hard about how much his first-year quarterback has grown.
Early in the regular-season finale against Central Dauphin, Lintal remembered how the coaching staff yelled from the sideline to relay signals to Tommy Friberg to run a play State College hadn’t practiced all week. Friberg knew exactly what the coaches wanted — a vertical route from Brandon Clark; a bubble screen from Cohen Russell.
The Central Dauphin cornerback jumped Russell’s bubble screen, and Friberg fired an 18-yard touchdown pass to Clark before the safety could make a play.
“At the beginning of the year, we wouldn’t have been able to do that,” Lintal said.
But Friberg now knows everything that’s happening on the field and understands where the ball needs to go. With his knowledge and skill-set, the 6-foot-5 junior has directed one of the most prolific passing attacks in county history, completing 66 percent of his passes while throwing for 1,836 yards with 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
His numbers place him second in county history in passing touchdowns and seventh in passing yards heading into the Little Lions’ matchup with Pine-Richland in the PIAA Class 6A quarterfinals Saturday at Hempfield Area High School in Greensburg.
Friberg is still developing and improving each week in his first year starting at quarterback at the varsity level. He’s absorbed lessons Friday nights on the sideline, where he’s watched video of the Little Lions’ previous series through its Hudl Sideline instant replay system. And he’s more comfortable with the offense after learning all the routes in the Little Lions’ playbook.
“All the coaches helped me out,” Friberg said. “They gave me confidence. They definitely helped me out a lot, taught me all the reads, taught me how to play.”
Friberg’s work with his coaches and teammates has paid off — his name now sits under State College’s Brook Hart in the county record books for passing touchdowns in a season. Hart still owns the single-season county records for both passing touchdowns (29) and passing yards (2,203), set in 2006.
Hart was a first-year starter at quarterback as a senior that season, and he grew more comfortable with seeing different defenses and handling different situations with more experience. He worked with his teammates to develop chemistry and timing ahead of the season. And more than 10 years later, he lists off the names of his offensive linemen and pass-catching threats from that record-setting campaign.
“I’m sure Tommy Friberg would tell you the same,” Hart said. “It makes our job significantly easier when you have incredible talent on the outside catching your passes.”
Hart had an unspoken chemistry with his top wide receiver, Andrew Kerr (10 touchdown catches), after playing sports together since they were 5 or 6 years old. And he had future NFL linebacker Nate Stupar hauling in passes, too.
Friberg’s go-to receiver, Clark, has 14 touchdowns — the most in a season in county history.
“He has a lot of talent as a QB to go first-year QB and do this well,” Clark said.
Russell (33 catches) and tight end Jeremy Bullock (17 catches) have been top targets all year, too. Clark and Bullock both serve as big targets at 6-foot-4, while the 5-foot-7 Russell is perhaps the fastest player on the Little Lions’ roster. They’ve all proven to be reliable and sure-handed receivers for Friberg.
“It’s tough to stop because we have a lot of weapons,” Friberg added.
Hart saw Friberg and his wide receivers in action this season at home against Hollidaysburg and on the road against Mechanicsburg. Hart took note of Friberg’s leadership in his first year at quarterback.
“I think (for) any underclassman to be able to command and control the offense is a pretty impressive feat, especially when you don’t have a ton of experience playing prior,” Hart said. “State College isn’t necessarily a place where a lot of ninth-graders get to start and take their lumps and then as a sophomore they’re a little bit more experienced and junior and so on.”
Friberg has shown what 10-plus games of experience can do for a quarterback. The coaches trust him to adjust on the fly like he did in the win over Central Dauphin in the final game of the regular season. They made a similar decision in last week’s comeback win over Delaware Valley in the first round of the PIAA playoffs. Friberg recovered from throwing four interceptions in the first half to connect with Clark for a pair of touchdowns to tie the game before the Little Lions drew up a play “in the dirt” that resulted in the game-winning score.
Clark and Russell lined up on the same side of the field and ran a double-post route. If Russell got inside the safety, he was the top target. If Russell was outside the safety, Clark became the No. 1 option. Friberg knew where his receivers would be and connected with Russell for a 33-yard touchdown to give the Little Lions the lead for good.
Friberg wasn’t perfect that night, but he showed his potential — his coach thinks he can be a “major college football player.”
“Obviously he’s had a hugely successful junior campaign,” Lintal said. “I think he’s only scratched the surface of how good he can be.
“I think there’s a lot of work still to be done to get him to be an elite quarterback, but he has the skill-set, he has the drive, he has all the intangibles that you need to be able to compete at a really high level.”
In his first year leading the Little Lions’ offense, he’s already left his mark in the county record books.
The best part?
“Throwing all the touchdown passes,” Friberg said. “They’re really exciting and they boost my confidence.”