NEW CANAAN—Last year, Quintin O’Connell came into the fall as a virtual unknown.

That anonymity is long gone.

While teams were focusing on how to stop his older brother, Ryan, Quintin was not-so-quietly having one of the most productive seasons for the Class L champion Rams.

Heading into 2016 as one of the state’s most feared weapons, Ryan, then a senior, lived up to the billing, amassing 1,306 all-purpose yards and scoring 19 touchdowns while nursing a bum ankle for the latter part of the season.

As just a sophomore however, Quintin wasn’t far behind, leading the team with 695 receiving yards and scoring eight touchdowns.

At times last year, the New Canaan offense was the O’Connell show. Now, with Ryan playing lacrosse at the University of North Carolina, it’s up to Quintin to pick up some of the slack, and the junior couldn’t be more ready.

“I know he’s very excited for this,” Ryan said of his younger brother, who had shoulder surgery as a freshman, but comes into 2017 in good health. “He’s been talking about this for a while. Having a year of experience is going to help him tremendously and he’s going to do big things this year.

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The Quintin O’Connell File

Junior receiver…6-0, 190 pounds…led Rams in receiver last year as a sophomore with 695 yards and eight total touchdowns…lacrosse standout…career high 146 yards against Norwalk last season…younger brother of former New Canaan star Ryan

“It’s going to be different with team’s game-planning for him more than they did last year, so he’s going to have a target on his back, but I’m confident that he’s going to do his job.”

Quintin knows that he’s no longer the third or fourth option on the offense, at that opposing defenses will be keying on trying to contain him game in and game out.

“It’s extremely humbling,” Quintin said. “We’ll see how the first game goes, but going into the season, hearing that teams will game-plan for me is something I’ve never had—maybe in youth, but never at this level between football and lacrosse—and it’ll definitely be different. It’ll make the game harder certainly, but I think I’ve grown and I’m ready for that.”

Being ever focused on winning, even if he doesn’t put up gaudy numbers, O’Connell is confident he’ll be able to help the team—even if that means as a decoy.

“We also have three other receivers and an incredible offensive line, quarterback and running back that can benefit if I have more attention,” O’Connell said. “Overall it helps the team and pushes me to work harder and make harder plays than I would have had to last year, but also with helping my other teammates. If I’m gaining more attention, it’ll definitely free up our other starters who have had great off-seasons and looked really good and can have as much of a breakout season as I did.”

O’Connell’s sophomore campaign started quietly, not registering a catch in the opener against Trinity Catholic. But, in the second game of the season at Ridgefield, the receiver caught seven passes for 49 yards and a touchdown.

And he never looked back.

O’Connell quickly became then-freshman quarterback Drew Pyne’s favorite target, and he delivered time after time. Now that both players have a year of experience under their collective belt, that duo is poised to be one of the most dangerous in the state.

“He certainly outreached my expectations for him,” Rams coach Lou Marinelli said of O’Connell’s sophomore season. “Him and Drew seem to connect; they’re friends, they hang out together, Drew seems to know where he’s going to be, so I think it has a lot to do with the chemistry of the kids.”

While his physical attributes are impossible to ignore, what stands out in the minds of people that watch him play is his unwavering competitive drive.

That drive was instilled in him almost from birth, as growing up with an older brother like Ryan—who was a freak athlete in his own right—made it a necessity to have that win at all costs attitude.

Whether playing pickup football in the backyard, or Playstation 2 in the house, that sibling rivalry molded Quintin into the player he is today.

“I’m always trying to beat him,” Quintin said. “Having that older brother to push me got that into my head when I was young, I was competitive with him and that really carried out my entire athletic career so far, and I’ve just brought that with my friends and onto the field. A lot of it stems from Ry and growing up in a house where my brother and I would play all the time together and I would always try to be just as good as him. Watching him play when I was a freshman I said, ‘wow, I want to try to do the same stuff.’ So, to get on the field and try to win—a lot of it stems from Ryan.”

Like Ryan, Quintin is an accomplished lacrosse player as well. With the O’Connell’s being a lacrosse family through and through, it’s even more impressive what they have already accomplished on the gridiron.

“He’s a tremendous kid, a tremendous leader, a good athlete,” Marinelli said. “He’s one of the better lacrosse players in the state, and I don’t know how many kids have done what he’s done on the football field.”

Better yet, what he still has left to do.

aparelli@bcnnew.com @reportedbytheAP