The eyes of NFA Nation will be focused on InfoCision Stadium in Akron, Ohio, this weekend.
Two of the best high school football teams in the country – Hudson and St. Edward – are squaring off in the Division I, Region I championship game at the University of Akron.
And two of the best senior quarterbacks in the country – Hudson’s Mitch Guadagni and St. Edward’s Brett Kean – will try to get their teams to the Division I state title game at Ohio State.
Saturday is going to be a very proud day for NFA because Guadagni and Kean are both very polished products of the system.
Guadagni has been training with NFA since he was in seventh grade, and Kean started training with NFA and Will Hewlett when he was a sixth grader living in Florida.
Guadagni has been working with NFA Coach Brad Maendler, who also serves as Hudson’s quarterback coach. Kean moved from Florida to the Cleveland area before his junior season at St. Edward and began training with Coach Maendler and Guadagni.
Now, the two friends, Guadagni and Kean, are preparing to play each other in a huge game.
“We knew we had a great team coming back, and St. Ed’s had a great team coming back as well,” said Maendler, who joined the NFA coaching staff in 2009. “It was always in the back of my mind that there’s a good probability this could happen. Division I football in Ohio is extremely competitive and obviously, you have to play well, you have to stay healthy and you’ve got to get a few breaks along the way as well. All those things have to go right to be able to get into this position, but I felt this was a real possibility. Now that it’s here, it’s really exciting.”
How good are these two teams? Hudson is 13-0 and the Explorers are ranked No. 10 nationally by MaxPreps. St. Edward is 11-2 and the Eagles are ranked No. 3 nationally by MaxPreps.
Guadagni, a 6-foot-2, 193-pounder who verbally committed to play his college football at Toledo, has completed 162 of 271 passes for 2,453 yards with 36 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He has also rushed for 1,004 yards and 6 scores on 128 carries.
Kean, a 6-foot-1, 211-pounder who verbally committed to play college football at South Florida, has completed 167 of 275 passes for 2,084 yards and 20 touchdowns with just 7 interceptions.
“They both make it look really easy, but that’s because they work on their games year round,” said Maendler, a former standout collegiate QB at Bemidji State. “These guys are great athletes, but they have great work ethics and they make it look easy. You don’t want your quarterback being a guy who only thinks about playing from August to November. You want them to be thinking about how they’re going to get better year round because it is such a quarterback driven game. It’s important that they’re able to make the plays to make the offense go.”
NFA training partners
Before the current season, Guadagni and Kean returned to NFA and trained together with Maendler.
“It’s prety surreal,” Guadagni said. “I remember this summer sitting and watching Coach Maendler working with other young kids and me and Brett talking about why our teams were better, going back and forth on why our teams are going to make it here. So it’s prety cool knowing that now we’re here and now we get to play for the big one.”
“It’s going to be weird, but at the same time it’s going to be really cool,” Kean said of Saturday’s epic game. “It’s going to be awesome playing against Hudson. They’re a really good team and they’re having an unbelievable year. Mitch is a really good quarterback, so it’s going to be really fun playing against them. I’ll see him before and after the game. I think it’s going to be a really good experience for both of us.”
Training together before the season with NFA and Coach Maendler has obviously paid off for Guadagni and Hudson and Kean and St. Edward.
“I started training Brett in the off-season before his junior year,” Maendler said. “I didn’t get them together in that timeframe, but in the back of my mind I knew I eventually wanted to do that. I’ve been working with Mitch since he was in seventh grade. Knowing that I’ve had some part in these two great players and their development, it’s a ton of fun. They’re both great kids. It’s interesting, when I first got them together the first couple of times, they knew about each other and there were a number of the same colleges that were after them. It’s kind of interesting, the competitive vibe I was getting, but they were both very respectful of each other. They were kind of quiet and very competitive, but three sessions into it, they were normal high school kids talking about football and school and girls and gym shoes. They ended up busting on each other and having a lot of fun, so it was really fun to see them develop that relationship. They’re flat-out good kids.”
And Guadagni and Kean are having flat-out great seasons in their final year of high school.
“It’s been an awesome year,” said Kean, who transferred to St. Ed after his sophomore year at University High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “I think the pressure of deciding where you want to go to college, I’m happy I got that out of the way and I just put 100 percent into my team. My second year here has been really good.”
Said Guadagni: “So far, it’s been the most fun year I’ve ever had in football. I was able to pretty much relax the whole season, not really worrying about anything but our season. And playing with these guys since third grade, seeing what we’ve done so far, it’s a pretty cool experience. Knowing that all these kids stuck together and have been playing together so long, it’s been a pretty sweet season.”
Praise for NFA
Kean and Guadagni both paid their respects to NFA and Coach Maendler.
“When I moved up from Florida, I wanted to stay with NFA and find somebody I could trust,” Kean said. “I’ve been with NFA so long, going back to training with Will. Getting together with Coach Maendler has been awesome. He is so football savvy. You can talk to him about anything, your form reads, progression, he knows exactly what you’re talking about. He helps you so much. When me and Mitch get together and throw with him, he’s watching every little thing you do. You wouldn’t think that little things make a difference, but they really do.”
“Working with Coach Maendler since seventh grade, he really has formed me as a quarterback,” Guadagni said. “Teaching me reads, the R4 process, the rhythm routes and footwork, which I really didn’t know what to do when I got into the NFA program. I was more like a quarterback that just kind of ran the ball up until seventh grade and then I kind of picked up throwing the ball in more of an offensive set. NFA really has helped me with everything, all the little things that really make the ball so much more accurate.”
Guadagni and Kean are obviously two of the better QBs Coach Maendler has helped develop.
“Mitch, he’s just a great football player,” Maendler said. “He could play every one of our skill positions on offense and he would be a D-I recruit. And he started playing defense mid-year. We were in a playoff run and wanted to have our best athletes out there and he’s made a hugh impact with 3 interceptions. What you’ve got is a good kid that’s a good athlete and is so competitive. His upside as a quarterback is ridiculous, I think, just with how much better he’s going to get. And Brett, he can make every throw, he is tremendously accurate and he is so smart. He’s like talking to a coach when you talk football with him.”
Training together has also helped Guadagni and Kean take their games to the next level.
“Many times, me and Brett were working together and he’d make a great throw and I’d get kind of mad and I would want to make an even better one, and I’m sure it’s the other way around,” Guadagni said. “I remember we were doing a drill throwing to the other side of the field and he came over and talked to me about what I was doing wrong. It just kind of showed how we’re big competitors but we’re still very friendly and willing to help each other out.”
“Mitch is a great person – and he’s a great quarterback – so whenever we’re throwing together in the off-season we’re always pushing each other, telling each other what we think, what we see with each other, and how to help each other,” Kean said. “I think just the competitive nature with both of us, you just want to know you helped each other and pushed each other. Through the whole season, we always wanted to play each other and I think it’s awesome that it’s come down to this. It’s kind of crazy, but it’s awesome at the same time.”
Unfortunately, the memorable season will be over for Hudson or St. Edward after Saturday’s showdown.
“I don’t think it makes it more difficult to compete,” Guadagni said. “At this stage of the playoffs, I don’t think we’d want to be playing anyone else. Playing a great team like St. Ed’s, they are a team we always want to play and a team we always want to beat. Knowing that Brett is on the other side of the field, it’s obviously pretty crazy and awesome. But at the same time, it’s a team we want to play and it’s not going to diminish the competitiveness.”