The little guy just couldn’t keep his hands to himself. At the age of five, when he was the youngest player on an Overlea Rec Council football team and with his father serving as coach, Pat Downey III was certain to run laps during and after practice for disciplinary reasons.

While his dad was trying to teach the youngsters how and where to stand, how to hold the ball, the proper tackling techniques and other nuances of playing football, the elder Downey frequently looked over at his son to find him wrestling with his teammates.

“All he wanted to do during practice was wrestle with everybody,” said Pat Downey II.  “He took more laps than anybody on the team because he kept disrupting practices. I’d be trying to get everybody in position and teach them plays, and he’d just be grabbing everybody.”

 When the behavior continued into baseball season, the elder Downey figured he might as well get his son involved in a wrestling program. That decision was a very valuable one, considering that Pat Downey III is a two-time defending state champion wrestler who hasn’t lost a scholastic match in two years and is considered one of the nation’s best young prospects in the sport.

The North County High senior will likely earn a college scholarship due to his prowess on the mat.

Following dad’s footsteps

The elder Downey once was a quarterback at Calvert Hall College at a time when the Cardinals won four straight Maryland Scholastic Association championships. So even during off-seasons, through wrestling and baseball practices and games, Downey was being home schooled in the fine art of playing the quarterback position.

The father would take a week off of work during the summer months to volunteer at the quarterback camp of Ron Meehan, the Towson University great who played briefly in the NFL with the Baltimore Colts and the Oakland Raiders.

“From eight in the morning until five o’clock at night, three sessions a day, I had him at Ron Meehan’s camp for about four or five years,” said the elder Downey. “I basically taught him everything I knew about the position.”

Despite the extra hours of tutelage, Pat played running back and middle linebacker during his first few organized football seasons. His skills were better utilized on offense, running and catching the ball at an age where most teams are not proficient at the forward pass.

On most plays, he would have to be dragged down by more than one defender. And his hits as a linebacker raised eyebrows.

But away from the games, father and son were preparing for his eventual turn under center.

 “We worked on the nuances – using the balls of his feet, bending his knees, examining the defense and the secondary, and all the little stuff,” said the elder Downey.

The father would run routes while Pat dropped back with his eyes closed. Without knowing where his dad would be on the field, Pat would open his eyes and have to make split-second decisions to coordinate his body and mechanics, moving his feet, shoulders and hips, in order to rifle a throw on target.

pat downeyAt the age of seven, he was spraying throws that kids five years older were barely comfortable with.

Answering wrestling’s knock

As a freshman at Mount St. Joseph’s, Downey played some safety and quarterback on the junior varsity, but his heart was centered on wrestling, where he placed sixth in the National Prep meet at 145 pounds. At the beginning of his sophomore year, after starting out at Mount St. Joseph’s, he decided to transfer to Loch Raven.

But he arrived as the Raiders football team was already into its early season schedule and did not play. In wrestling, he went a perfect 35-0 with 33 pins, winning the Class 2A-1A state championship at 160 pounds.

Eager to test and push himself, Downey transferred again, this time to North County for his junior year, where he could train and compete on the same team with his friend, two-time 189-pound state finalist Pat Carey. He’d also be stepping up to the larger 4A-3A classification.

A week before North County’s football team began late-summer practices, Downey felt the pull of strapping on the pads and lacing up his cleats again.

Returning to his roots

“Pat coming was a big blessing because we didn’t have anyone who could play the position,” said North County coach Gary Liddick. “The only thing was that he hadn’t played quarterback in over a year, so he was really green.”

The transition to be being back under center, especially having to learn an entirely different offense than those he’d been accustomed to playing in, wasn’t easy. Downey threw his fair share of interceptions and he struggled to hone his timing with the receiving corps early in the season.

“I was rusty and had to get used to the game speed again,” said Downey. “I was putting too much air under the ball and the faster safeties and corners were having a field day. But when I started throwing the ball a lot harder, my completions went up and my interceptions decreased toward the end of the year.”

In a game against Meade last year, Downey finally felt in sync. He threw two, deep scoring strikes to then-sophomore Deon McDaniels. On the first touchdown toss, against a cover two defensive scheme, McDaniels split the safeties on a deep post as Downey caught him in stride for a 50-yard score. The second, and game-deciding, score came on a 30-yard post/corner route.

The Knights finished with a 6-4 record with Downey throwing for 950 yards and nine touchdowns, while also adding 450 yards on the ground. He proceeded to the wrestling mat in the winter and went undefeated again, winning the Class 4A-3A state crown at 171-pound state title. Penn State, Arizona State, North Carolina State and the Naval Academy are a few of the schools recruiting him in wrestling.

On the gridiron, Downey christened his 2010 football season in spectacular fashion, completing 14 out of 20 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns in North County’s resounding 53-19 win over Northeast.

He didn’t have the success against a swarming South River defense in a 48-7 home loss last weekend. Downey was still able to show the arm strength, footwork, high velocity fastballs and pretty deep balls, along with the tenacity and fighting spirit that have some thinking he can also compete as a Division I quarterback in the future.

At 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, he has the size and growth potential to pull it off, as tough as that may seem.

“His biggest attribute is that he’s mentally tough,” said Liddick. “You’ve got a lot of kids playing the position who, if they get bounced around and hit hard a couple of times like Pat did against South River, they make bad decisions and don’t throw the ball as well. You can hit him pretty hard and he’s just going to get up and go about his business.”

It’s a business that has been handed down from a father to a son. Wrestling, where his college bread is definitely buttered, can wait for the next couple of months.

Right now, for North County football and the Downey family, the business at hand is the quarterback business.