It was Thanksgiving Day, and Wayland High junior Kevin Kelley was not ready to hand in his pads. The Warriors had just defeated Weston, 22-20, last November, but their 4-7 record was not enough to qualify for the playoffs; their season was over.
Kelley reluctantly gave up his gear to coach Scott Parseghian with the promise that he and his teammates would play deeper into the fall this season.
“From that moment,’’ Parseghian said, “these seniors — there’s 20 of them — they went to work.’’
After completing what they described as a demanding offseason workout regimen, the Warriors are seeing positive results.
With a 10-6 win against previously unbeaten Lincoln-Sudbury Regional last week, Wayland is 4-2. Before getting into the heart of its Dual County League Small Division schedule, Parseghian’s bunch will square off against Westford Academy (5-1) Friday night at home, where they will try to repeat their defensive performance of a week ago.
Reminded of the several key stops made against Lincoln-Sudbury, Wayland inside linebacker Brian Murtagh thought back to what his team did before the season, in its weight room, where a loud, eclectic mix of music blared to help keep players energized. For three or sometimes four days a week in the winter, spring, and summer, football players would be there, working to improve their strength and conditioning so that they might have a chance to reach their goal of making the MIAA postseason playoffs this fall.
“We went through a four-day-a-week lifting regimen,’’ Murtagh said. “We had passing league on Tuesday nights. We were just out there working because come Friday nights in the fall, this is when it pays off.’’
Though physically strong, Wayland’s defense is not a wall of space-eaters. Instead, its defensive line and linebackers have used their quickness to cut into opposing offenses, limiting them to an average of 11 points per contest.
The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Murtagh and fellow inside linebacker Matt Devlin (6-0, 200 pounds) average about 10 tackles a game, while Kelley (5-11, 205 pounds) has been consistently disruptive on the line in Wayland's 4-3 defense.
“It's our senior year,’’ Kelley said. “We're leaving everything out there.’’
Kelley — a two-year captain along with Devlin — had seven tackles in Wayland's first win over Lincoln-Sudbury since 2007. The biggest came with Lincoln-Sudbury facing a fourth-and-goal situation at the Wayland 1-yard line in the fourth quarter. Kelley got through the offensive line so quickly, he tackled Warriors running back Malik Layne before he could make it to the line of scrimmage.
“They weren’t really huge up front,’’ said Lincoln-Sudbury quarterback Henry Guild.“But they were strong and athletic and when we went against them, they were firing off the ball hard. And they hit hard. We had to adjust to that. I think we did, but it took us a little too long. . . . They were one of the quickest teams up front that we faced all year.’’
With its success so far, Wayland’s long-term plan appears to be panning out.
Two years ago, Parseghian, a 1992 Wayland alumnus, used a young lineup when he started two sophomores — Kelley and Devlin — on both sides of the ball and finished 5-6. Last season, Parseghian said, the team had just five seniors, and they played in reserve roles. Now, with a sizable senior class that is laden with experience, players know what is expected of them by their coaches.
That includes an enthusiasm for the gym and a willingness to work with strength coach Sam Breslin , a star quarterback at Wayland (class of 2004) who went on to play collegiately on both sides of the ball at Colgate.
“He's really got these kids bought into the strength program and the speed work,’’ Parseghian said of Breslin. “He's doing a great job. And we’re maintaining it all year, too. We’re lifting three times a week. It’s not like once the season starts we’re like, ‘Alright, we did everything’ and you forget about it, which some teams do because you start focusing on Xs and Os. He’s kept it in their mind, so they know the strength training is huge. And we’re going to keep it going all season, too.’’
Win or lose Friday, Wayland’s players on Monday will be back in the black-and-orange-painted weight room — part of the facilities in the new high school — focused on playing beyond the final Thursday in November.
Many hands aiding
By spreading around its offensive touches, Groton-Dunstable Regional’s team has compiled a 5-1 record with just five players back from last season.
In the triple-option offense taught by coach Derek Asadoorian, the ball starts in the hands of junior quarterback Mack Eberhardt . He can then keep it, or dish it to senior fullback Matt Manning or junior slot receiver Quintin Forbes . While Manning, a two-year captain, sat out the first four games with an injury, sophomore Joey Orlando filled in admirably.
“The kids have really bought in,’’ Asadoorian said. “A lot of different people are stepping up, a lot of people who haven’t had varsity experience, but they’re improving rapidly and a lot of people are contributing. Our stat sheet may look a lot different than others because we’re kind of doing things by committee.’’
Aside from a 41-6 loss to Westford Academy, Asadoorian said, he has been pleasantly surprised by his team’s start in its fifth year of existence.
“Not that we’re resting on our laurels, though,’’ he said. “We’re hoping to take what’s been a little bit of a surprise and turn it into something really special.’’
Groton-Dunstable plays at Oakmont Regional at 7 p.m. Friday.
Vote on playoff plan
On Oct. 26, all 373 MIAA schools will vote at Assabet Regional in Marlborough to decide whether there will be a two-year test of a new statewide football playoff system.
While the pilot program would reduce the number of Super Bowls from 19 to six, it would also allow more teams to make it into the postseason.
Phil Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.