Morris' Mr. Everything: Friend named Player of the Year
Talk to Morris head coach and offensive play-caller Alan Thorson or defensive coordinator John Courter about senior Danny Friend, and variations of the word "versatility" frequently get used.
Friend lined up at end, tackle and linebacker in Courter's defense. On offense, he blocked and ran routes from his tight-end position, but he also lined up at split end or even quarterback when needed. And in case those duties were not enough, Friend stepped in at long snapper for the Redskins' special-teams unit.
In those roles, Friend had enough of an impact for the 12-2, state runner-up Redskins to be named the 2012 Morris Daily Herald All-Area Player of the Year in football.
Between Friend's junior and senior seasons, his production in the passing game stayed almost stagnant. He caught a slightly lower number of passes — 15, after having 18 receptions in 2011 — and he scored four touchdowns after getting five the year before. Friend did gain 283 yards this fall after managing 262 as a junior.
On a Morris team that rushed for 3,546 yards and passed for just 1,021 in 2012, Friend's statistical fail to tell the whole story, says Thorson.
"Danny could have had huge numbers," Thorson said. "It's one of the things where it wasn't a rip on Danny or on any of our receivers. It's more a compliment to our three running backs (Collin Grogan, Jeff Perry and Reese Sobol). He's such a good tight end and wide receiver and sixth offensive lineman."
Collectively, the Redskins averaged over 6.5 yards per rushing attempt this season, minimizing their need to throw the ball. They rushed more than five times as much as they passed, meaning Friend was more often a blocker than a route runner.
Friend insists that, even though he committed to a Big Ten school (Indiana) as a tight end this summer, he has no complaints about his use in the offense.
"I have no regrets. We had a great season, and my personal stats don't matter much to me as long as we're winning," Friend said. "(Doing a job that does not garner attention is) not frustrating. Our linemen did it every game and never get any respect. Those five guys up front never see their names anywhere."
The contributions Friend made to the running game may not have earned him attention, but Thorson says they were critical.
"His blocking is the one thing that I think really goes unnoticed," Thorson said. "He's an excellent blocker. He does a great job setting the edge. We ran behind him a majority of the time, and I don't know if our opponents didn't pick up on that, or if they just couldn't stop it."
When the Redskins did pass, Friend was a favorite target. He was second on the team to Anthonee Monson in receptions and receiving yards, and he has twice as many receiving touchdowns as any of his teammates. Two of his touchdowns came in playoff games, including a critical one in a 30-20 semifinal win over Sacred Heart-Griffin.
"That's been Danny for us his whole career," Thorson said. "He's always coming up and making the big play when we needed it."
The numbers reflect more positively to Friend on defense. His 56 total tackles ranked fourth on the team and the first among linemen. He tied for second on the team with seven sacks.
In addition, Friend was the Morris leader in two categories in which it could be considered atypical for a defensive lineman to excel. He tied for the team lead in interceptions with three and had 10 passes defensed, which was twice as many as any of his teammates.
"It helps that he has those big 'ole arms and hands and was able to get them up in the air and bat balls down," Courter said. "He's smart. He was able to read screens and just has great natural talent."
Then again, strictly defining Friend as a defensive linemen would be a mistake. He is officially listed as a defensive end, but he also lined up on the interior of the defensive line, and sometimes at outside linebacker.
The ability of Friend and some of his teammates to move around enabled Courter to utilize a number of defensive formations.
"We weren't stuck in a 50. We weren't stuck in a 40. We were able to adjust, not only week by week, but play by play," Courter said. "It was not just Danny. In general, we could go from a three-man front to a 50 pretty easily. With Danny in that position, we were able to play multiple fronts."
The dynamic defensive role is something Friend embraced.
"It's not something I minded at all. I really enjoyed doing it. Any way I could help the team was fine with me" he said. "Whether we were in a 40 or a 50, or I was lining up at tackle or end or outside linebacker, if I was dropped into the flat, I enjoyed doing it all. It made it fun."
Courter says that it was more than just physical ability that allowed Friend to handle such a large number of roles.
"It's not only the physical aspect where he was versatile, but mentally as well. Whatever I asked him to do, he was right on target," Courter said. "He's a smart player. It's hard to adjust like that, but he was great at it, and I guess that only made him more of a weapon."
On special teams
Officially, Friend had only two statistical contributions to the Redskins' special teams — a blocked field goal, and a kickoff return that went for zero yards.
Like his blocking for the offense, Friend's primary special-teams contribution is not reflected in the statistics. When Morris' regular long-snapper, Nik Countryman, hurt his thumb during the season, Friend filled in for the rest of the year.
"I was used to it. I did it when I was in grade school and playing for the (Morris) Warriors," Friend said. "I was probably in seventh or eighth grade the last time."
Thus, a player who rarely came off the field for the Redskins became a player who came off the field even less.
"It was definitely an adjustment," Friend said. "It was a few more snaps a game. I wasn't getting that break between offense and defense like I was used to getting. Usually me and (punter) Preston Miracle would go out before practice every day and work on it."
If nothing else, the long-snapping was yet another demonstration of Friend's far-reaching value to the Redskins.
"It's something I talked about at our banquet and again at our All-Conference banquet," Thorson said. "I don't know how many people could be a starting offensive lineman for most teams, a tight end and a split end for us, and at one point, he lined up at quarterback when Zach Cinnamon got hurt. He's such a versatile kid."