DERRY — It took Sean Conroy just one visit to a Pinkerton football game for the youngster to begin dreaming the same gridiron dream day after day.
“I wanted to play quarterback at Pinkerton,” said Conroy. “I wanted to wear the (Astros’) uniform and I wanted to be the quarterback.”
That goal seemed far-fetched just one season ago, as classmate Chris St. Onge led the Astros to their second title game appearance in his two years as a starter.
But when Brian O’Reilly and the rest of the Pinkerton coaching staff decided to shake up the backfield that had been hit hard by graduation, St. Onge was moved to running back and Conroy finally earned his shot at fulfilling his dream.
This afternoon, Conroy will help lead Pinkerton into the New Hampshire Division 1 state title game at noon against Exeter, as the Astros’ quarterback, defensive back and long snapper for kicks and punts.
“Sean has really stepped up this season and been a highly effective passer,” said O’Reilly. “He doesn’t make mistakes, he is smart and he is a ferocious hitter at safety.”
The nephew of former Astro and Eagle-Tribune All-Star Chris Conroy (class of 1989), who O’Reilly once called the best defensive back he ever coached, Sean spent every fall as one of the many children on the Pinkerton sidelines, playing catch and idolizing the Astros.
“I grew up in Derry so Pinkerton was right there,” he said. “I went to every game when I was younger and was one of those kids running around. I just dreamed about wearing that jersey. I wanted to be the quarterback and play in a state championship game. Now I am actually doing it.”
Conroy began earning playing time as a sophomore, and as a junior earning a starting spot. But with St. Onge having already locked up the quarterback job, Conroy made his contributions as a starting safety.
“I love playing defense,” he said. “It gave me the confidence that I could play football at the varsity level. I got to start a state championship game last year, and I love to hit.
“I didn’t think I was ever going to start at quarterback again. I though I would be playing different positions for the rest of my career.”
But that all changed following the 2011 season. With Eagle-Tribune All-Stars Emmitt Smith and Kevin Davies both graduating, the Astros lost their two top backs from a season ago. So O’Reilly devised a way to best improve his offense.
“Chris (St. Onge) is a great runner and we needed a running back to compliment Manny (Latimore),” said O’Reilly. “So the decision was made to move Chris to running back with Manny. It was a two-for-one move. It was really an easy decision because we were confident Sean could step right in and be a very good quarterback for us.”
As expected, Conroy has stepped in an been a steady presence for the Astros under center this season. Heading into today’s contest, Conroy has thrown for 668 yards, 10 touchdowns and — most importantly — just a single interception in 11 games. He has not been picked off since the Week 2 matchup with today’s foe, Exeter.
“As the season has gone on I feel like I have become much more confident,” said Conroy. “We don’t throw a ton, but when we do we are efficient. Chris (St. Onge) is my best friend and we have worked together a lot. It has worked out really well.”
When he’s not playing quarterback, Conroy has continued to be a force at safety, with 23 tackles and a pair of interceptions, and is even the team’s long snapper for punts and field goals.
“I don’t know many quarterbacks who would want to do that,” Conroy said with a laugh. “I’ve been snapping for years, and this year the coaches decided it was my job. A lot of people will look at me weird when I go to snap, but any play could be the difference in the game.”
He now hopes to make one of those plays to help Pinkerton take home the title.
“We are really similar teams,” said Conroy. “We are both balanced teams with very strong defenses. But if we do what we do best, I believe we can come out on top.”