The high school football program in Tewksbury can easily be characterized as different from many others in the region.
The Redmen play their games less than a mile down the road from their school at Doucette Field, which features a grass surface that even with the smallest amount of rain becomes a mud hole.
Tewksbury takes pride in its hard-nosed style of play — punishing opposing teams with a physicality from players you wouldn’t exactly expect to have those attributes.
And no players embody that toughness more than the three senior captains who start at linebacker.
“We ask so much of [the linebackers] each and every week,” said Tewksbury coach Brian Aylward.
“Our defense is designed to put them in position to make plays, and they are going to be critical to whatever happens out here on Saturday.”
Trace Trant, Zachary Weitz, and Jack Kelly have anchored a defense that has kept some of the state’s most prolific offensive attacks in check.
The 6-foot, 195-pound Trant, who made the transition to linebacker from defensive end at the beginning of last season, has only grown into more of a physical presence, plugging up holes and tallying sacks in 2018.
In the first round of the Division 3 North playoffs, Trant dialed it up a notch — collecting four sacks and anchoring the defense in a 35-6 win over Merrimack Valley Conference rival Billerica.
Later, in a 29-21 state semifinal win against Duxbury, Trant added two more sacks as Tewksbury punched a ticket to its first Super Bowl appearance since 2013, a 42-14 win over Plymouth South.
“We play great team defense all the time,” said Trant. “We always have 11 guys swarming to the ball [and] making plays.”
Kelly and Weitz have carved out prominent roles, too.
At 5-8, 180 pounds, Weitz has started at center for two seasons. He has played various positions on defense before finding a spot next to his two classmates. That versatility allows Weitz to make an impact anywhere on the field. He came up with the game-ending interception in Tewksbury’s 28-21 North final win over Danvers.
Kelly, like Weitz, doesn’t appear to be a physically intimidating force for Tewksbury. But the 5-9, 175-pound Kelly has made a home at linebacker the past two years. His stats don’t jump off the page but his leadership has become vital for a unit yielding 12.7 points per game.
“I think with three captains as linebackers it helps the rest of the defense come together not because they revolve around us, but they look upon us to make some plays, and I think that really helps,” said Kelly.
Tewksbury (11-1) has its biggest test of the season Saturday at Gillette Stadium at 6 p.m., facing a high-octane Springfield Central (10-1) squad, but once the ball is snapped and the war in the trenches begins, the trio is expected to rise to the occasion.
Trant, Weitz, and Kelly epitomize precisely what Tewksbury football prides itself in: It’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.
“There is nothing really different, just us needing to play good team defense [on Saturday],” said Weitz. “It is just another football team. That is how we are looking at it.”Karl Capen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.