Quarterback raises hopes at Merrimack Valley
Niyamugabo came to this country at the age of 3, his parents escaping the violence of their native Rwanda and seeking to give their children a chance at a better life in America. After a year in Manchester, the family settled in Penacook, the Concord village where Merrimack Valley is located.
“I have been aware of Ivan since the third grade,” said Kevin O’Brien, Merrimack Valley’s director of athletics.
“He can throw the football as well as anyone I’ve seen,” said O’Brien.
But when Niyamugabo arrived at Merrimack Valley, the Pride’s limited and experienced lineup wasn’t ready to fully utilize his skills. He started at QB his first two seasons, but Merrimack Valley entered this year with a 14-game losing streak.
Enter new head coach Dave Jackson, who brought to Merrimack Valley a resume that includes stints as an assistant at Manchester Memorial High, Nashua High North and St. Anselm College. A believer in the read-option offense popularized by Philadelphia Eagles coach and New Hampshire native Chip Kelly, Jackson increased Niyamugabo’s on-field decision-making responsibilities, freeing him to take full advantage of his athletic skills.
Playing a little more than a half, the 6-foot, 1-inch, 180-pound QB completed 12 of 18 passes for 214 yards with four touchdowns and an interception, and carried the ball five times for 74 yards with another TD as the Pride roared past the Generals, 48-26.
Niyamugabo himself came back faster this year, thanks largely to some rigorous offseason work, and also became a team captain.
He also likes that Jackson is trusting him more to make decisions at the line of scrimmage to take advantage of what he sees on the field.
“I like Peyton Manning, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III ... I try to take elements of their play and apply it to my game,” Niyamugabo said.
He’s also attracted interest from area prep schools, but, he says, he has no plans to leave Merrimack Valley before finishing his senior season.