Three decades after he led Boone High’s football team to one of its best seasons ever, Mark Hutsell watches his sons leave their marks as winners.
Under a nighttime sky illuminated by a full moon and football stadium floodlights, Mark Hutsell sits in the visitors’ bleachers watching a younger version of himself playing quarterback on the field. He sits in a top row of the stands to get a panoramic view of the game, focusing on his son’s every move, just as his father did some three decades ago when Hutsell played quarterback at Boone High School and in college. Tonight is the regular-season finale between the Boone Braves and the Edgewater Eagles, the oldest high school rivalry in Orlando. Hutsell has played in it, his eldest son has played in it and now his “quiet and mean middle son,” Sam, is playing in it. In a year, the youngest son likely will play in it. Come to think of it, Hutsell’s late father played in the first game between the two teams, in 1952—but he played for Edgewater. Bill Hutsell married a Boone ’54 grad and the Hutsells have been orange and white ever since.
Mark Hutsell’s wife, Cindy, an English teacher at Boone, is only 10 yards from the field but she has the worst view of the action on it. She’s the coach of Boone’s cheerleading squad, so she’s too busy supervising her girls’ cheers and acrobatic routines to pay much attention to the game. She catches only glimpses of Sam, mostly while he’s on the sidelines with the back of his number 9 jersey facing Boone fans. Her best gauge of how Boone is doing is the scoreboard, and on this Friday night Boone isn’t doing so well. Edgewater would upset the Braves to reclaim the “Spirit Barrel” the two schools fight over each year.
Up in the bleachers, Hutsell can’t help but reflect on the last time he played against Edgewater. That was a lot of football games ago, but the memory remains vivid. Back in the day, Boone-Edgewater was played on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, in the stadium that is now called the Citrus Bowl. The game was a big deal in a small town, and Hutsell was a golden-haired quarterback with a golden arm. Hutsell led a team known as the “Dirty 30” (Boone had only 30 players on its team, about 15 fewer than most teams) to a 29-0 stomping of Edgewater. It was Boone’s eighth victory of the season against two losses, the same regular-season record Sam Hutsell and his 49 teammates compiled 34 years later.
There are other similarities between father and son as quarterbacks, mostly due to genetics and muscle memory. Height, build, spring-loaded right arms and high-percentage completion rates are some of the obvious shared traits linking the past to the present. The biggest difference between Mark and Sam is foot speed. Like his mother, Sam is fast.
Sam also is not likely to repeat his father’s missteps at Boone. In 1975, Mark Hutsell was kicked off Boone’s football team midway into his highly anticipated senior year.
Showing that he doesn’t hold a grudge, Hutsell prepped his three sons to play for his alma mater. (First-born Caitlin, 22, played on Boone’s tennis team, cheered and was voted Most Spirited her senior year.) The second Hutsell football era began in 2004 and likely will continue through the 2011 season. So far, it has left its fingerprints all over Boone’s emergence as a contender for local, regional and state titles. With two of Mark and Cindy’s three sons playing on varsity teams over the last five years—Joel as a standout defensive back from 2004 to 2006 and Sam as starting quarterback in 2007 and 2008—the Boone Braves have won 50 games, including 11 playoffs, and lost 15.
Boone had never won a playoff game until the 2005 post-season, Joel’s junior year. Since then, Boone has won three consecutive 6A Region II championships and, in ’07, the Braves advanced to the state title match, where they suffered their only loss of the season. That year marked Boone’s first undefeated regular season. Head coach Phil Ziglar has never had a better run in 18 years at Boone. And he still has another year with Sam, 17, as quarterback, and potentially two seasons thereafter with the youngest Hutsell, Brad, 15, in the same position.
Overall, Sam is 25-4 (11-3 in ’08 and 14-1 in ’07), the best winning record of any Metro Conference quarterback over the same two-year period. Add to that tally his 6-0 freshmen-team record as quarterback and, well, you do the math. Joel, as a defensive back/running back in 2003, and Brad, the starting quarterback in 2008, also played on undefeated freshmen teams. Ziglar says the Hutsell boys’ 18-0 legacy is a phenomenon in itself.
“They’re winners,” Ziglar says. “They compete. They give you everything they’ve got. That’s something you can’t coach.”
Well, maybe it is. Mark Hutsell, 51, taught his sons the fundamentals of football when they were youngsters, and he coached Sam and Brad on city league teams during their grade-school years. In their father, a former nationally ranked college quarterback, the young Hutsells had a coach who could not only show them how to excel on the field but also serve as a warning against conduct that could harm their futures.
A Living Example
In 1974, Hutsell grabbed college scouts’ attention as he quarterbacked the “Dirty 30” to a bowl victory and an overall 9-2 record, one of only a handful of nine-game or better winning seasons at the school. Hutsell’s quick-release throwing motion and passing accuracy sparked much chatter among prep sports observers in Orlando, leading to high expectations for his senior year.
Although Hutsell led the Metro Conference in passing yardage at mid-season his final year, his team hadn’t won a game. The Braves would finish winless that year. Despite the 0-5 start, Hutsell’s star might have remained bright, but his dismissal from the team for “disciplinary reasons” chilled recruiters’ enthusiasm. Labeled as trouble, Hutsell lost his shot at a scholarship to a well-regarded college football program, where he had hoped his play would persuade an NFL team to take a chance on a 5-foot-ll quarterback.
“I am an example to my children of what can happen to you,” he says, a hint of regret in his tone more than three decades after being booted off the team for underage drinking. “I could have been a better leader.”
With the legal drinking age at 18 in the mid-’70s, high school students could be found in discos all over Orlando, from Lake Buena Vista to Altamonte Springs. Hutsell’s 18th birthday was still a few months away when a Boone coach spotted him walking out of a hotel lounge one weekend night.
“You can make one mistake and it could cost you your life,” says Hutsell, who thinks his boisterous personality and large ego at the time may have sealed his fate with the head coach.
After the big college programs backed away, East Tennessee State University, a Division I-A school with a football program described as “a joke (and a bad one at that)” by a sports writer for the school’s hometown paper, threw Hutsell a bone.
With a new head coach at ETSU in his junior year, Hutsell blossomed into a nationally ranked top-10 quarterback in passing and total offense. The following year, his passing stats put him in the same company as such elite collegiate quarterbacks as Marc Wilson of Brigham Young, Art Schlichter of Ohio State and Dan Marino of Pittsburgh, all NFL draft picks. During his senior season Hutsell was named Associated Press Back of the Week, the first time an ETSU football player had won a national honor. That year ended with a winning season for ETSU—the first in nine years—and with Hutsell playing in the Blue-Gray Football Classic, the now-defunct college all-star game that NFL scouts attended.
Hutsell felt certain he’d be taken in a late round of the 1980 NFL draft. He had filled out questionnaires sent to him by NFL teams, including the Dallas Cowboys, and says he had gotten encouraging reports from scouts.
“I sat in my dorm room for two days waiting for a phone call from a team,” he recalls of a time before live TV coverage of the draft. The call never came.
“Everybody wants a 6-foot-4 quarterback. But I thought somebody might pick him up,” says former ETSU head coach Jack Carlisle. “I can say without a doubt that he is the best quarterback I have ever coached in my 50 years of coaching. It’s a shame he wasn’t two inches taller. I think he could have played in the NFL had somebody given him a chance.”
ETSU inducted Hutsell into its Athletic Hall of Fame in 1996.
After college, he played two seasons in the short-lived American Football Association, a semipro league stocked with NFL hopefuls. He spent his last season (1981) with the Orlando Americans, playing before only a couple thousand spectators in the Citrus Bowl. On the sidelines cheering for the team was Cindy McCarthy, who had graduated from Boone with Hutsell. As classmates they didn’t run in the same circles. She was a bookworm with cheerleader envy (she failed to make Boone’s squad but made UCF’s) and he was a jock who dated cheerleaders.
But “Betty Books,” as Hutsell had once dubbed Cindy at Boone, had come into her own. They began to date, and married a few years later. Hutsell started his own packing-supply distributorship after his football days ended.
Cindy, 50, says she knew all along that their kids would be athletic because she grew up in a sports environment, too. Her father was a sports writer and editor at the Orlando Sentinel. “I figured the odds were going to be pretty good that we’d have a family of jocks,” she says.
Trying to Measure Up
The Hutsell boys say their dad never pushed them to pursue athletic achievements or play particular football positions. Joel, 20, a team captain who was named most valuable defensive player in his senior year, is in college but isn’t playing football. Sam, like his father, is not big—he’s 5-foot-11 “on a good day,” he admits—but he holds out hope to play in college, maybe for a Division I-AA school. What he lacks in size he makes up for with a unyielding drive to win, even in an impromptu hockey game with Brad on the family home’s hardwood floors.
Every stitch in Brad’s head, he can thank Sam,” says Cindy. “Sam will not lose.”
Sam’s 2008 season stats were solid, but he threw sparingly because Boone had a big front line and a star tailback running behind it. Overall, Sam threw 19 touchdowns and only four interceptions over 14 games, completing 66 percent of his passes. He led all Metro passers in yards per completion, with 19. In Boone’s playoff win over host team Sarasota Riverview, he completed 11 of 12 passes, two for long touchdowns, and scored another on a short run. In the regional finals, an away game against Royal Palm Beach, Sam went 10 for 15, completing three bombs for touchdowns. Still, at season’s end he stood in the shadows of taller quarterbacks who played on passing teams with fewer wins.
“The only difference between him and [Nico Ranieri] at Dr. Phillips is the kid at Dr. Phillips is 6-foot-2 and Sam is 5-11,” says Ziglar, comparing Sam with the leading passer in Orlando. “I definitely think [Sam] will play at the next level.“
Sam’s senior season, like his father’s, could determine his fate as a college football recruit. With several key offensive playmakers graduating this year, Ziglar thinks he’ll have to rely on Sam to carry the offensive load as a run-and-shoot quarterback.
“I’m definitely going to have to have a real good year,” says Sam. “It’s going to depend a lot on how I play because we’re losing a lot of talent.”
Regardless of how Sam fares as a senior, the second Hutsell era doesn’t end with him. Brad has some big shoes to fill. The runt of the litter at 5-foot-5, he is hoping for a growth spurt by the time Sam graduates next year. In the meantime, he plans to compete for the backup varsity quarterback position, but Ziglar says he thinks Brad likely will play on the junior varsity squad as a sophomore.
For Brad there is no escaping the pressure of being the last Hutsell brother at Boone. “When you’re a Hutsell, it’s really hard to live up to all that stuff,” says Brad, referring to his brothers’ successes on Boone teams. “My dad was always the one who told me not to worry about it. I just try to do my best.”
Ziglar couldn’t ask for anything more. “Every brother, Joel, all of them, have been great leaders and kids. That’s a plus from their parents.”