Most Wednesday nights during the high school football season, veteran coaches across the South Shore will gather at local restaurants to swap stories and talk strategy.
Just not on the night before Thanksgiving.
That’s because old friends like Norwell assistant Jeff Perkins and Hanover defensive coordinator Brian Kelliher are now on opposite sides of a border rivalry.
On Thursday morning, Norwell hosts Hanover in the 55th installment of their Thanksgiving series, as the holiday tradition returns across the state after a one-year hiatus due to the pandemic. Hanover leads the series, 31-22-1.
Kelliher attended Rockland High. His sixth-grade English teacher? Perkins. And when Kelliher and the Bulldogs faced Randolph in 1990, Perkins was the head coach of the Blue Devils.
After playing at Western New England, Kelliher started his coaching career at Randolph with Perkins, and the pair wound up together as assistants at Hingham under Paul Killinger.
When Kelliher became the head coach at Rockland in 2012, he brought Perkins onto his staff, and eventually, the 1977 Bridgewater State graduate went to help another Rockland native, Braintree coach Brian Chamberlain, for two years.
With retirement on his mind, Perkins, pivoted, and joined the Norwell staff in 2018 after Paul Killinger died suddenly, leaving his brother, Norwell coach Mark Killinger, in need of another veteran presence on the staff.
So now he’ll have to match wits with his former pupil, Kelliher, while trying to steer Norwell (4-6) to an upset over Hanover (7-3), which recently fell, 15-14, to Billerica in the Division 3 state quarterfinals.
“Now [Perkins and I] don’t go out the night before the game,” said Kelliher. “I’m against him, but at the end of the day, Thanksgiving is about family, and he’s like a big brother, mentor, and friend all rolled into one. He’s truly one of the most generous people I’ve ever encountered and he really has affected hundreds of players over his career.”
“But you always want to beat your brother and your friend. You never want to go out on the wrong side on Thanksgiving.”
For Perkins, now 66, football is about passing life lessons down to the next generation. As a senior at Pentucket Regional, he was convinced to join the football team by his friends — including current Pentucket coach Steve Hayden — and he credits then head coach Tom Flaherty with molding him into the teacher and coach he is today.
Kelliher not only credits Perkins for teaching him about football, but for showing him that a middle school teacher can be cool. The Weymouth middle school teacher laughed when he recalled how sharp Perkins looked driving his Datsun 260ZX back in the late 1980s.
During his 13 years at Hingham, Perkins had a chance to coach his son, Michael, during one of the Harbormen’s two Super Bowl runs in that span.
Kelliher recently coached Hanover’s eighth-grade team to an Old Colony Youth Football League title, with his son, Jake, making a crucial interception in the end zone.
Hanover’s junior quarterback Michael Landolfi is the son of head coach Chris Landolfi, and there are other familial connections on the squad.
Starting cornerback Tom Jenkins, playing his first full season of varsity football, is the grandson of South Shore coaching legend Charlie Sorrento.
The 80-year-old Sorrento was on staff with Perkins and Kelliher at Hingham, during one of several stops on his long coaching journey. Now the talented artist volunteers for Hanover on a limited basis, and often gifts graduating players with paintings or decorated game balls to commemorate their careers.
“[Sorrento] brings an extra flair to practice and the sidelines whenever he shows up,” said Jenkins. “He knows so much about the game, because he’s seen everything that can happen. He’s seen every formation, and he can always tell me all about it, how to stop it, and how to win against it.”
“All we talk about is football when we’re together and I’m sure we’ll have a few conversations around the Thanksgiving dinner table about it after the Norwell game.”
Both Perkins and Kelliher said they plan to have a brief conversation on the field after the game, then part ways to spend the holiday with their respective families.
After the season, they’ll be sure to try and meet again on a weekly basis. By continuing to sharpen their minds, these veterans can ensure that the next generation of coaches pass down key lessons to their players, who might in turn become coaching vets.
“Football is a great fraternity and Thanksgiving is rich in tradition. It’s a great day for closure, and for senior players, a nice way to end your season,” said Perkins.
“But with football, it’s not all about the wins and losses, it’s the relationships you develop. The game teaches lessons and I hope the kids carry some value from what we teach into the game of life after football.”