Rick Sampson didn’t expect to be in this position last summer.
After spending three years as the football coach at Groton from 2008-10, Sampson was set to move up to the collegiate ranks as an assistant under Paul McGonagle at Fitchburg State last fall. But before Sampson got to draw up any X’s and O’s for the Falcons, McGonagle was let go and a new staff was implemented.
Sampson was without a job — until Lowell Catholic , under new athletic director Jack Fletcher, announced a coaching vacancy. Instead of going to college, Sampson was back in high school as the new coach of the Crusaders.
And he couldn’t be happier.
“These young guys have exceeded my expectations,” Sampson said. “They’re a great group of kids who work really hard and are focused. It may sound corny, but these guys just enjoy playing the game of football. I’m so glad it’s worked out this way. I’m lucky I get to work with them.”
The Crusaders have emerged as one of the surprise teams in Eastern Massachusetts in Sampson’s second year as coach. Lowell Catholic is 7-0 and atop the Central Catholic Small standings one year after going 4-6.
The key to their ’ success? Fun.
“The thing about our offense is we’ve had 12 different players score touchdowns this year,” Sampson said. “It’s fun because a lot of different guys get to touch the ball. Everyone gets a chance to shine, and you generally have more success that way.”
Lowell Catholic’s offense has been virtually unstoppable, averaging an EMass-best 40.3 points. Senior quarterback Adam Wentzel is the leader of the up-tempo, spread attack. After missing much of last season with a broken leg, Wentzel is second in Division 4A with 12 touchdowns.
Another key player returning from injury is linebacker Joey Francis, who has three touchdowns as a running back. The senior missed last season with a torn ACL, and credits Sampson with helping him return.
“With a knee injury, so much of it is mental,” Francis said. “Coach Sampson talked with me a lot last year as I was rehabbing because he tore his ACL in college, too. He raised my confidence level.”
A cocaptain for a defense surrendering a league-low 7.4 points per game, Francis said players have responded to Sampson’s coaching. He recalled an instance in practice last season when Sampson yelled at a player for dropping a pass, then went out of his way to apologize for losing his temper, something Francis said not all coaches would do.
“He always tells us the most important thing for a coach is for his players to know that he cares about them,” Francis said. “When he takes time like that to see how players are feeling, make sure we’re not too down on ourselves if we make an error, that shows the players that he cares.”
The Lowell Catholic offense spreads out the scoring: junior back Chris Tamukedde has 10 touchdowns, and senior receiver Chris Regan has seven.
Off to the best start in school history, the Crusaders have their sights set on wrapping up the league and making a run in the postseason. Though they have looked dominant in outscoring opponents, 282-52, the Crusaders are seeking improved play down the stretch.
“We have high expectations for ourselves, and we’re not perfect yet,” Francis said. “We respect every team, and we keep it in our heads that we can be beaten by anyone. At the same time, we like our chances against anyone.”
Katie makes her point
It was only one point in a 40-6 blowout, but it was a significant moment for the Plymouth South football program.
Senior Katie Buker, who walked onto the team as a kicker six weeks ago, booted an extra point in the Eagles’ 40-6 triumph over Randolph Friday night.
A member of the girls’ lacrosse team, Buker is a backup to kicker Gordon Fitzgerald. Despite being a female in an all-male sport, South coach Scott Fry said Buker has been welcomed by teammates.
“Like anyone else, she’s competing for a job, and we want to give players the opportunity to see what they can do,” Fry said. “We don’t treat her any differently.”