By John Goralski
They played together as infants, and they’ve been friends ever since. They cut their teeth together in the town’s youth leagues. They played side-by-side on a state championship high school football team and will do it again this spring for track. Over this winter, they’ve cheered each other from the sidelines of two different sports.
Zach Maxwell and Stephen Barmore are two peas in a pod. They’ve been best friends for years, and the only thing they’ve ever competed for is headlines. So on Thursday, Feb. 6 it was no surprise that the two sat just a few feet apart to sign letters of commitment for prestigious college football programs.
But, next season, those teams will will square off in a heated college battle. So much for their friendly rivalry.
“They are going to two of the most prestigious programs in the country, and that shows the types of young men that they are and what kinds of families they have,” said Blue Knight football coach Mike Drury. “This says a lot about the community and the kids. We can give them the tools to make them the best football players that they can be. We can give them the direction that we want them to follow, but they do it themselves. They are the ones that put all the work in and do the right things in the classroom.”
Maxwell has made his commitment to play football at West Point for the Army. Maxwell entertained interest from Villanova University, Central CT State University, Sacred Heart University, and Holy Cross, but he said that West Point really captured his attention. He expects to play one season for Army’s prep school before making a push for a varsity spot.
“I feel like I want to do something bigger than myself, and what better way to do that than to serve my country?” he said. “I’m really excited. There are people in my secondary family that have been in the Army, but my dad’s been a police officer for 20 years. It’s kind of in that area.”
Barmore shared in the excitement of his former teammate. “It’s amazing to think that two best friends would end their high school football careers and go off together like this. This is awesome. I’m really happy that I was able to do it with him because we’ve been best friends for a while,” he said. “It’s ironic that we’re both going to two similar programs that will be playing each other next year.”
For three seasons, Maxwell anchored the Southington defense with 184 career tackles and 28 sacks. This past fall, Maxwell turned heads as a ball carrier. He carried the ball 44 times for 452 yards (10.27 avg.) and scored eight times. Drury said that Army coaches were inspired by Maxwell’s aggressiveness and athleticism on both sides of the ball.
“They loved that he’s a tough kid and so athletic for his size,” Drury said. “Every coach that I’ve talked to loved his tenacity. It’s good that he’s a wrestler because they know that he has that regimented mentality that you need to play at Army. They loved him as a player.”
Just a few feet away, Barmore scratched his signature to play for Yale University in New Haven. He’s the second Blue Knight quarterback to be enlisted by the Bulldogs in the past decade. Matt Kelleher was signed in 2006.
“They loved him as a quarterback, but they really loved him as a competitor,” said Drury. “He’s such a competitive kid. He’s an accurate passer with a lot of poise. They really love to have a kid with such a tremendous work ethic.”
Maxwell agreed. “We’ve known each other since we were one year old,” he said. “It’s the best feeling in the world to watch him succeed at quarterback. I knew he was going to go to Yale even before he did, but it’s just awesome.”
For four seasons, Barmore has marshaled the Blue Knight offense. He finished his career with 6,803 passing yards (170.1 avg) with 76 touchdowns and only 25 interceptions. He completed 464-of-761 passing attempts (.610) to finish with a quarterback rating of 110.
On the ground, Barmore was just as big of a threat. He carried the ball 302 times for 1,231 career rushing yards and 22 scores. Defensively, Barmore collected three interceptions, including the final score during Southington’s championship run.
Barmore had offers from Bryant University, Central CT State University, and Villanova. Boston College and Iowa University both showed interest, but he shied away from the high profile sports programs and settled his attention on Yale because of the opportunities presented on and off the field.
This spring, he will try to balance his track schedule with quarterback practices in New Haven. The three-season sports star said that he’s excited about the challenge. With the graduation of last year’s starter, he might have a chance to work himself into the lineup this fall.
“I’ve always been a realist throughout my high school career, and that’s a big part of why I picked Yale,” he said. “Hardly anybody goes to the NFL. That thought hasn’t even entered my mind. This is about where am I going to try to set myself up for life, and Yale definitely presented me with the best opportunity.”
So who will win the rivalry over the next few years? Will it be Army? Will it be Yale? The true winner is the Southington sports fan.
“They are both very prestigious programs and both of those programs are going to be very happy that they get these two young men,” said Drury. “They’ve worked really hard to get to this point. They are great young men with character. They were great captains in our program, and we wish them the best of luck. We’re looking forward to watching them for the next four years.”