B ob Souza has coached football at St. Sebastian’s School in Needham for 35 years, and he’s had a number of great teams. Championship teams. Undefeated teams. But even among those exceptional groups, he says, this year’s squad has stood out.
When the Arrows defeated Thayer Academy last week, 14-13, to secure an undefeated regular season (8-0) and clinch a share of the Independent School League title (with Governor’s Academy), the coach’s emotions flowed freely.
His eyes welled up, and his voice began to crack as he addressed the players circled around him. “You did what you set out to do,” Souza told them. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of the whole team. The seniors . . . this is the way you wanted to end it.”
This year’s squad, he says, represents high school football’s perfect storm of rare athletic ability and steadfast dedication to the sport, and yielded the prep school its first league championship since its perfect regular season in 2001.
For Souza, his players are a once-in-a-generation mix.
“I told the kids the other day, next to the years that my own sons played for me, which were special for me, I said this is the most special group of kids that we’ve ever had,” Souza said. “I can’t say enough.”
The team offers the complete package, according to Souza. The Arrows do their work in the classroom and stay out of trouble on the weekends (the importance of which Souza reminds them about after every game). But their talent is truly distinctive.
Senior quarterback Pat Healy, a Southborough resident, is effective with both his arms and his legs. Four times on Saturday, the captain helped St. Sebastian’s convert third downs, in addition to a fourth down bid in the second half.
On a fourth-and-12 in the third quarter, he found receiver Brian O’Malley for a 36-yard score, their second touchdown connection of the day, that gained St. Sebastian’s the lead.
“We weren’t going to let the season go to waste,” said Healy, who is lined up to play lacrosse at Notre Dame next year. “We put too much work in. We were going to finish it.”
Then there’s O’Malley, a Medfield resident who almost never leaves the field. At 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, he is Healy’s top target in the passing game, but he’s also the starting safety and kicker for the Arrows. Against Thayer, he accounted for all of St. Sebastian’s 14 points. Also a standout wrestler and lacrosse player, O’Malley has received interest from Ivy League and New England Small College Athletic Conference schools for football.
The defense is spearheaded by junior linebacker Connor Strachan of Wellesley, who at 6 feet and 230 pounds runs the 40-yard dash in roughly 4.4 seconds, and is the product of a football family tree.
His father, Brian , played at the University of New Hampshire. His uncle, Steve , played at Boston College and then went on to the NFL to play for the Los Angeles Raiders. His brother, Brian Jr. , is a receiver at Brown University.
A starter at St. Sebastian’s since his freshman year, Strachan makes all the defensive calls, and he has instincts that Souza says can’t be taught. Boston College, University of Connecticut, University of Virginia, and Wake Forest have already offered him scholarships, and, though only a junior, he’s one of the team’s emotional leaders.
“He’s a big dog,” Healy said. “He’s a linebacker. He likes to get rowdy and he gets kids pumped up, which is awesome. The whole senior class did a great job of that, too. We all have the same goals. We just want to win. And everyone’s on the same page. It’s great.”
Senior running back Brendan Daly, from Norton, has rushed for more than 1,000 yards with the help of holes opened by senior captain Brian Mullin on the offensive line. Though Daly missed the Thayer game with a slight hamstring tear, he hopes to play Saturday against King School (6-1) in a New England Preparatory School Athletic Council championship game, the Arthur Valicenti Bowl, at Avon Old Farms in Connecticut. Daly will play at Franklin and Marshall College, while Mullin will play at Bowdoin.
The team’s collective success has felt like a long time coming. Two seasons ago, Souza started nine sophomores and Strachan, a freshman. They took their lumps, going 3-5, but they had a feeling their experience would pay off this fall.
“The past three years, it’s been the same group starting,” Strachan said. “It really goes to show how hard we’ve worked. Every summer we work together.”
In 1994, Souza coached his son Mike and the Arrows to an undefeated season. That was one year after his older son, Matt , graduated. He has fond memories of those teams, and he knows this year’s will similarly leave its mark on him no matter the outcome Saturday.
“It’s just really a great group,” Souza said. “For me it’s real tough because even though you do it for 35 years, there’s certain classes that you have a real affinity for, and these kids are one of them. They’re great kids. I’m glad I should get another week with them.”
Hot Waltham hoping
to go out strong
Back in early October, when Waltham looked at the tape of its 24-0 loss to Lincoln-Sudbury, coach John Bourque and his players also took a close look at themselves.
“It was glaring that we certainly didn’t play our best football,” Bourque said. “From that point forward we asked the question: ‘What’s the goal?’ The goal was to run the table.”
And so far, that’s exactly what they’ve done. After beating Westford, 21-20, last week, the Hawks had run off five straight wins and are in second place in the Dual County League’s Large Division with a 6-3 record.
Waltham beat Acton-Boxborough Regional for the first time in its five years in the division. And the Hawks will be gunning for their first win over Malden Catholic in their three-year Thanksgiving rivalry.
Though there will be no playoffs for Waltham this season, Bourque hopes that the team’s strong finish will carry over to next year. The Hawks will have defensive starters returning for their senior year, and so will quarterback Dana Parrelo, who has been the team’s starter since it began its winning streak.
But first, the team’s two senior captains — receiver and linebacker Junior Cherry and two-way tackle Bobby Cappadona — as well as senior running back Jacob Dufrene and receiver and cornerback Lunique Sainvil are hoping for a strong finish to their high school careers next Thursday.
“We’re excited, we’re motivated,” said Bourque, who is in his second season as head coach. “It’s our last game before attaining our goal that we set after our Lincoln-Sudbury game. It’s our next big game because it’s our next game.”
In Natick win, lots of
Flutie and Dunlap
Natick used its two best offensive players — junior quarterback Troy Flutie and sophomore receiver Brian Dunlap — at safety to help beat Walpole, 21-14, and keep its playoff hopes alive. Though Flutie had previously played some defense, the Walpole game was the first time his presence in the secondary was in the game plan. It worked; he picked off a pass in the fourth quarter.
“In high school sports you play your best kids when it matters,” Natick coach Mark Mortarelli said. “And certainly this matters now, and it mattered against Walpole.”Phil Perry can be reached at email@example.com.