Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Collins Hill quarterback Brett Sheehan poses for a portrait during a passing league competition involving Collins Hill, North Gwinnett, Dacula and Northview at Collins Hill High School on June 12.
Brett Sheehan's first year as a quarterback didn't go that smoothly.
As the QB for Collins Hill's eighth-grade team, Sheehan recalls throwing nearly 20 interceptions and just a handful of touchdowns that year. Even worse, he didn't even look like a quarterback, wearing No. 25 on his jersey.
"I was awful," he said with a grin. "I wasn't very good."
Four years later, Sheehan has grown nicely into the position. He took over as the Eagles' starting QB midway through last season.
The senior enters this year as the starter and wants to lead Collins Hill to a fifth straight playoff appearance.
"The ultimate goal is to win the region and see what happens from there," Sheehan said. "Our team, across the board, we have a lot of returning players and a lot of people that are stepping up."
Sheehan began playing football when he was in the fourth grade, but he didn't start playing QB until the eighth grade when the team needed to fill the position. It was a rough first year under center, with those 20 interceptions, but Sheehan stayed with the position.
He led the ninth-grade team to a 5-2 record, but was moved to safety as a sophomore. While on defense, he paid close attention to the quarterback position as Taylor Heinicke, now a star at Old Dominion, broke every major Gwinnett County passing record.
"I learned a lot," Sheehan said. "I learned leadership. I learned how to stay humble. I learned everything from him. What he did on the field with his success, I watched him all the time."
Sheehan spent last summer battling Bradley Johnson, then a senior, for the starting quarterback role. When the team began the year 1-3, head coach Kevin Reach went to Sheehan to pump some life into the offense.
"Once we got him in there, he did an awesome job," Reach said.
Sheehan threw three touchdowns in his first start, a win over Duluth. More importantly, he didn't turn the ball over.
Two weeks later, Sheehan guided a last-minute drive against Mill Creek to give the Eagles another win. The comeback drive built a lot of confidence for Sheehan and the rest of the team.
"Once we got him in here, I think the kids rallied around him," Reach said. "He's good at that. He's good at corralling his teammates."
With Sheehan as the starting QB, Collins Hill was 4-3, which included a first-round playoff loss to eventual state champion Grayson.
Sheehan finished the year throwing for 1,157 yards, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions.
"I think he's a team leader," Reach said. "The kids will follow him. He expects a lot from himself."
Sheehan has put on nearly 20 pounds since last season, boasting a 265-pound power clean and 360-pound squat. The half a season as a starter was enough to attract college recruiters. The 6-foot-3, 185-pounder had several scholarship offers from schools like Georgia State and South Alabama, but he committed to Florida International last month.
"I just want him to keep competing and stick to what we're doing," Reach said. "I'm expecting him to have a big year."