Devanna steps up

Football and all sports for that matter test character and will. Football at Merrimack High School this fall tested a friendship.

Put an “A+” on the permanent records of Ryan Devanna and Ben Eichman for handling this one.

Devanna, a junior, and Eichman, a sophomore, were presented with the opportunity to replace a legend in Justin Grassini.

Neither was handed the job. It was a battle, make that is a battle.

And it’s only made the athletes and the Tomahawks better for it.

“He’s a hell of a player, and he’s like a brother to me, the person I go to for the high five first,” said Devanna. “Even with the competition, our relationship is definitely strong. Especially with the competition, and it definitely helps the team aspect. Instead of us butting heads, I think we have the utmost confidence in each other.”

For now, it looks like Devanna could be the guy, having earned his first varsity start on Friday night at Alvirne.

“He worked hard the whole week in practice,” said Tomahawks coach Kip Jackson.

All Devanna did in his premier was dominate the game, hitting 20 of 25 for 246 yards and the 4 TDs in the big 47-26 victory.

Fiitingly, one of those TDs was a bomb to Ben.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Devanna. “But I have to say I have an amazing corps of guys to throw to.”

The performance was a testament to Devanna’s desire to succeed and his never-give-up attitude.

“Coming off Justin Grassini throwing 47 touchdown passes, there was a big weight on my shoulders. I knew I had to get faster. I wasn’t really a fast quarterback. I had to work on my arm strength, too,” said Devanna on how her approached the 2017 season. “He’s a huge act to follow. I worked as hard as I could in the offseason preparing for this.”

Devanna had some experience coming in, just because Grassini was so good last year.

“I played some in the third and fourth quarters on varsity, and I played a half on Mondays in the JV games. I spent a lot of time watching. I sat back and watched film constantly. Hopefully I learned.”

Eichman was always a hurdle to overcome for Devanna, and he knew it.

“I didn’t expect anything, I knew Ben was right behind me. He’s a heck of a quarterback,” said Devanna. “He can run, he can throw, he’s very versatile. Me, I’m more of a stick in the pocket kind of quarterback.

“I approached this year as hard as I possibly could. I worked and when I didn’t start the first couple games, I just kept my head up and worked harder.”

This week, 3-1 Merrimack hosts North. Don’t expect any change in Devanna’s attitude, even with the recent flurry of success.

“I knew through the offseason nothing would be handed to me. I thought I had a shot. I knew it was between us two the whole offseason,” said Devanna, who even took the baseball season off to focus on his prep work for football last spring. “I worked as hard as I possibly could to get this start. I’m going to continue to work that way to keep it.”

Nashua North (2-2) at Merrimack (3-1)

WHEN: Friday, 7 p.m.

WHERE: Merrimack High School’s Student Memorial Field.

LAST WEEK: Nashua South 34, Nashua North 15; Merrimack 47, Alvirne 26

LAST YEAR: Did not play.

FYI: Huge game for both teams as the Tomahawks want to keep pace with their fellow South Conference powers and the Titans try to recover from a two-game losing streak. North’s defense had problems with South’s shifty playmakers last week and it doesn’t get any easier with the ‘Hawks’ Joe and Ben Eichman. Merrimack will likely try to find a way to take receiver Austin Ouellette out of the equation.