At times, a football team is only as good as the next man up.
First, Melrose had to replace offensive dynamo Mike Pedrini, who graduated and now plays for Tufts. The Red Raiders returned just two starters.
Senior back Rey Guity stepped in to fill Pedrini’s shoes and was off to a great start with seven touchdowns and more than 700 rushing yards through six games when he suffered a knee injury in Week 6.
In stepped Isaac Seide to save the Red Raiders’ season.
The 5-foot-9-inch junior took off running and never looked back.
“Kids stay positive and stick with their development,” said Tim Morris, Melrose’s 24-year head coach. “In today’s society, there’s a lot of griping about roles, but our program fosters the culture of working hard at every level so that you’re ready when your number is called.”
Stepping into a workhorse role, Seide rushed for four scores in the regular-season finale against Burlington. In the first round of the state tournament, he scored twice in the third quarter in a 14-10 comeback victory over Dracut.
With eight more rushing touchdowns in narrow wins over North Reading, Marblehead, and Hopkinton, Seide led Melrose back to the Super Bowl, amassing 1,310 total yards and 21 touchdowns in 12 games.
Melrose (12-0), which lost to Dartmouth in the 2014 and 2015 state finals, will face Nashoba Regional (10-1) at 11 a.m. Saturday at Gillette Stadium.
“At the beginning of the season, Isaac [Seide] wasn’t getting a lot of carries, but he never changed his attitude,” said Melrose senior Colin Kiernan. “He just kept working and now he’s really embraced his role.”
Coming into the season, Morris expressed concern about the depth and experience of his team in the secondary. But Seide, who also plays defensive back, is one of several non-seniors making a tremendous impact at that level.
In a 22-8 state semifinal victory over Hopkinton, it was sophomore defensive back Chris Cusolito coming up with a key interception and multiple pass breakups. Junior safety Kevin Peete also played a key role in slowing Hopkinton’s elite passing attack.
“We’ve been a program that makes it tough for sophomores and juniors to get playing time, because the last six or seven years we’ve been so senior-heavy,” explained Morris. “But when you have depth in the younger grades, it’s a good problem to have.”
With so many key pieces elevating their level of play toward the end of the season, Melrose has won four one-score games to remain undefeated.
“Our kids never really get fazed or panic,” said Morris. “We just have that mentality that the most important play is the next one. They’ve matured a lot over the course of a long season. They always feel like they can win the close ones because of the way we train and condition.”
This Saturday, the Red Raiders will face a Nashoba team that’s almost a mirror image in terms of its ability to win close games and lean on an elite defense.
And although this relatively young Melrose team has few players that saw game action at Gillette two years ago, the coaching staff can share their experience.
“We just stress the fact that it’s not a sightseeing trip,” said Morris. “You’re playing at a nice venue, but it’s a 100-yard field just like you play everywhere. We tell the kids that we’re there on a business trip.”Nate Weitzer can be reached at email@example.com.