People tend to hear Ethan Reifer before they see him.
“He’s just loud,” said Ben Bevilacqua, a fellow senior and returning starter on the Oakdale football team. “First person you hear when you walk in the room.”
Reifer tends to have a running dialogue going, and not all of it makes sense to those within earshot.
“To be honest, I think he speaks out of his [behind],” close friend and senior teammate Dylan Berney said. “Anything that comes to that kid’s mind, he is going to say it right away.”
There is not a lot of pretense with Reifer. He is who he is, a gifted, uber-confident and fun-loving athlete who maintains a 4.0 grade-point average and pushes those around him to get better.
He doesn’t flinch or back away from much. When Reifer’s predecessor as Oakdale’s starting varsity quarterback, Collin Schlee, came down with mononucleosis the day before their second preseason scrimmage in 2017, Reifer told coach Kurt Stein, “I’ll be fine. Let’s go,” before competently taking the reigns for the next month.
Two years later, Reifer is once again confidently stepping into the shoes of Schlee, who graduated after leading the Bears to an unbeaten, state-championship season last fall and is arguably the greatest quarterback in the history of Frederick County football.
It’s hard to think of anyone more well-suited for the task.
“He has a great personality where things kind of just roll off of his back,” Stein said. “None of the pressures involved in stepping in for a quarterback like Collin bother him. He doesn’t think like that. He just thinks that it’s my chance to play quarterback.”
Reifer fits the profile of a typical Oakdale quarterback. He’s tall — a shade under 6-3 after growing almost an inch in the offseason — with a strong arm and good mobility. He can make plays outside of the pocket or when things break down.
Like previous Oakdale quarterbacks, he is a multi-sport athlete. Reifer is a valuable contributor to the Bears’ basketball and baseball teams. Schlee was a two-time All-Area Player of the Year in basketball for Oakdale.
“Multiple-sport guys tend to make good QBs,” Stein said. “It just seems those guys, long term, develop really well. They’re athletic. They can make plays in the pocket. They can play off script. They have a tendency to have a live arm. Collin certainly did, and Ethan obviously does as a baseball player.”
Reifer grew up playing quarterback. Last season was actually his first season of football that he didn’t, though he received regular repetitions at the position as Schlee’s backup.
Instead, he played a key role as a wide receiver, pulling in four touchdown passes, including one in Oakdale’s 35-7 victory over Glenelg in the Class 2A championship game Dec. 1 in Annapolis.
The receiver-to-starting-varsity-quarterback path at Oakdale was also followed by Schlee’s older brother, Cory, and Schlee himself.
“We have been pretty fortunate at Oakdale over the years where our backup quarterbacks were too good as athletes not to play,” Stein said. “Those guys were too talented to leave on the bench.”
In 2017, Reifer was a sophomore and slated to be the starting junior-varsity quarterback for Oakdale until Schlee came down with mono.
The Bears were state-title contenders, and any early-season loss could have dealt a crippling blow to their playoff chances in the highly competitive 2A West region.
Stein called Reifer into his office and said, “Listen, you are going to have to start the next three, maybe four games” for a team full of older players who weren’t interested in seeing a young newbie throw away their championship dreams.
“He didn’t even flinch,” Stein said.
In the three games Reifer started for Schlee, Oakdale scored 42, 53 and 43 points in blowout victories.
Reifer’s confidence is born out of his outgoing personality and his success as an athlete growing up. He has a lot of trust in his teammates, and his teammates put a lot of trust in him.
“I think a QB needs to be a leader on the field, and him having that confidence obviously translates to him being a leader,” Berney said.
In preparation for the season, Reifer focused on making his arm stronger. His coaches and teammates notice that he can now make throws that he previously couldn’t.
The Bears see no reason to shrink the playbook in Schlee’s absence, and expectations certainly haven’t been lowered within or outside of the program.
Oakdale was an offensive juggernaut last season, averaging 42 points per game last season with an explosive passing attack and running game.
Many of the players that made it happen are no longer in the program, as the Bears graduated 26 seniors, including the starting quarterback, running back and all of the receivers except for Reifer, who will now be the signal-caller.
However, when asked what Oakdale’s offense might look like this season, Reifer responds in precisely the way you think he would.
“Exactly the same.”