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MIDDLETOWN – Consider the Colin Skene of the 2021 and 2022 Middletown football seasons. He was a quiet, baby-faced underclassman and more than a little intimidated by the responsibility of leading an offense reliant on established varsity players who had been there and done that.
The situation this fall is reversed. Skene is a battle-tested senior protected by young skill-position players and linemen. He’s spent a lot of time counseling, critiquing and reinforcing. Mostly, he’s trying to convince them they’ve got this, that they’re going to be OK.
“It’s definitely nerve-wracking as a sophomore to step in and be put in big positions and be told you have to make big plays,” he said.
This hasn’t been easy for Skene. He’s still that same introverted, soft spoken kid today as he was two seasons ago. Only now, when he looks in his teammates’ eyes he can tell that they need him as much as he needs them.
“It’s my natural personality. I’ve always been an introvert,” said the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder. “I’m never the outgoing, yelling guy. I've always been very quiet and to myself, and I still am. It’s just that I do want to tell these younger guys, ‘I have confidence in you,’ because they need that. If they drop a ball, I’m not going to say anything that might make them think they’re not a good player. I speak very positively to them.
“Playing quarterback has made me come out of my shell. Last year and the year before, I never did that at all.”
It’s not as if a switch suddenly flipped for Skene, Middletown coach Josh Rosek said. When he looks in the direction of his quarterback, Rosek sees what the course of time and maturation has yielded.
“He’s made a huge improvement not only from when he was a sophomore but to last year and coming into this year,” Rosek said. “He’s taken a leadership role, he’s helped new guys. It’s taken him some time. Every kid is different. Some kids jump on (the leadership aspect of their development) right away, for others it takes time.
“One of the purposes of this program is to develop kids as leaders not only on the field but off the field. To Colin’s credit he’s embraced it, taken off with it, and it’s helped him as a quarterback to gain a bigger picture vision.”
Middletown won just four games in Skene’s sophomore year. Last season, the Blue Dragons lost their first five games but built momentum for 2023 by finishing 4-1 in the second half of the schedule.
In his final season, Skene has wrestled with yet another slow start. After a twice-delayed and unfinished opener against Conard, Middletown lost the handle on a fourth-quarter lead against Glastonbury and couldn’t overcome an early deficit against New Milford despite forcing three second-half turnovers.
Middletown is 1-3 after a 12-7 win at Manchester this past weekend.
“We’re a really young team in a lot of ways,” he said. “We have young sophomores who have had to step up. I like our odds because the progress they have shown these last couple of games is amazing. We’ve gone against some pretty good teams. Unfortunately, we’ve come up a little bit short, but I’m really proud of them. A lot of them play both ways, which is a big deal.”
Skene was mostly a pocket passer as a sophomore and junior. This year, he’s also had to use his legs to help Middletown move the ball. He is averaging double digits in carries per game and has rushed for two touchdowns.
“This year he’s a pocket passer and more importantly he’s a runner,” offensive coordinator Jason Coleman said with a clear emphasis on the fact Skene is also running. “Colin is able to run the ball like a running back, which is huge. It’s a credit to him that we’re relying a lot on him making good decisions with RPO (run-pass option). He gets us lined up, we make a call and he has different reads he has to make. A lot of different reads. It’s not easy. He’s coach Colin and quarterback Colin. He’s doing a hell of a job."
Coleman underscored the added dimension of Skene educating and energizing his younger teammates, especially in the heat of the moment.
“In general, his mental capability of picking up the game and also bringing his teammates along with him with his talent, it’s just very impressive,” Coleman said. “He’s playing with a bunch of new receivers. He’s had to develop a lot of kids and bring them up to his level, which is one of the good traits he has this year. With a young line and young receivers and a senior quarterback, it makes my job easier because it’s almost like he’s a coach on the field.”
This is a lot for one young man’s plate.
“Kind of, but I feel I got really lucky that I’ve had a lot of good coaches around me to help comfort me in those times that I was nervous and thrown into the fire as a 14-year old,” he said. “Looking back now, I’m just glad I had those coaches to support me.”
Skene had a solid football education coming into the program. His father Kyle was a tight end and punter for the Blue Dragons at the start of the Middletown/Woodrow Wilson merger era under John Skubel and Rich Rosek, Josh’s father. The field at Middletown High bears their names.
“We always have great conversations about when he played and his brother Neil played,” Skene said. “Uncle Neil won a title at Middletown in 1987. Whenever (Rich) coach Rosek comes to watch us, he’ll give me a big fist bump.
“My dad has always been very supportive. I love having that from him. We’ll talk about the entire game and everything that’s happened and he’ll ask me questions. It’s always productive.”
Skene also punts for the Blue Dragons, and there’s more versatility in his game that’s not seen on Friday nights, Josh Rosek said.
“One of things a lot of coaches want, when we took him to summer camps they tried him all over the place,” the coach said. “He played at quarterback, at wide receiver, and some had him at safety. He’s just trying to show people that he’s a football player. A lot of time kids get locked in to ‘I’m an X.’ You have to sell yourself. Colin was willing to go to a camp and be a quarterback for half of it and work at another position in the other half. It can make things happen.”
Which is exactly what Skene is doing with this young Middletown team – leading in the moment and maximizing his impact on the Blue Dragons.
“I’ve talked to the younger receivers like Rayjon (Buttram) about when I was 14 playing at the varsity level,” he said. “I tell them, ‘it’s nothing you can’t handle. This will only make you better, to get that experience at a younger age. That way, the next two years you’re super prepared and you’ll be leaders for the next wave of younger guys.”