WOONSOCKET â€” Athletic director George Nasuti is proud of every Woonsocket High varsity team, not just the ones that win state championships. But he does take special pride in the football programâ€™s two consecutive Division II state championships.
â€śWoonsocket has been a basketball community recently,â€ť Nasuti was saying on Monday afternoon. â€śOur girls team won two straight state titles. The boys went to the state finals in 2008. Those teams really had the community behind them. I think the football team is getting a lot of support from the community, too.â€ť
With success comes scrutiny, and perhaps a little jealousy, from inside the very same community. A rumor has floated around town that as many as 15 football players were ineligible after report cards came out late last month.
â€śI heard the rumor,â€ť Nasuti said. â€śOur administration did a full investigation. We had around eight football players who were ineligible and did not suit up for the Super Bowl. Mostly they were younger kids, freshmen and sophomores. We lost a couple of upper classmen. It is a complete exaggeration and an outright lie to say we had 15 kids who were ineligible. Someone was stretching the truth.â€ť
Nasuti naturally prefers to speak of the positive side of winning two straight Super Bowls.
â€śSuccess breeds success,â€ť he said. â€ś(Head coach) Carnell (Henderson) and his staff really connect to the kids. In our practice sessions at Dunn Park, you could look around and see how much the kids are loving it, playing for a team that is doing so well.
â€śCarnell takes it all very personally. He is all about work ethic,â€ť Nasuti added, speaking of his third-year head coach, the former Woonsocket High all-stater who went on to set pass-catching records at Boston University before eventually returning to his alma mater five years ago as a vice principal.
â€śHis coaching staff puts a lot of time into football. One of the advantages we have is that our coaches all have college backgrounds. Our defensive coordinator, Derek Grinkin, played college ball at Curry College. Carnell played college ball. Tadji Chattman, who came out of Woonsocket and played at Lafayette College, is great with the kids.â€ť
Nasuti, a former WHS head football coach who helps out with the linemen, added two former Woonsocket stars â€“ Peter and Patrick Gauthier â€“ to the staff this year.
â€śI made a phone call to the twins,â€ť he said, speaking of the 2006 WHS alums who earned starting jobs at Bryant University during their college careers. â€śI told them I only had one paid position available and they said they would both come anyway. They taught things to our linemen that helped those kids get better this season.â€ť
The Gauthiers may even pursue coaching careers, perhaps as graduate assistants in college, Nasuti said.
â€śWeâ€™ve got guys like Tadji Chattman helping out with the program,â€ť Nasuti said. â€śTadjiâ€™s father Danny was a coach here. It makes me proud to see people like Tadji and the Gauthier twins come back and help out at their old school.â€ť
Woonsocketâ€™s most recent football success actually began with the 2004 team that won the Division III championship under Mike Kane. The Villa Novans returned to the Super Bowl a year later and lost. Kane retired after the 2007 season, turning the reins over to Henderson and his staff. Woonsocket moved up to Division II and just missed the playoffs in 2008 before winning the next two Super Bowls.
â€śI donâ€™t know if weâ€™re a football city yet,â€ť Henderson said with a laugh after hearing the suggestion made over the phone. â€śWe had 70 kids come out for basketball this year. We had 50 come out for football and we ended up with 33 kids at the end of the season. When we start to get the numbers that basketball gets, Iâ€™ll begin to think about Woonsocket becoming a football town.â€ť
Woonsocket High is experiencing its current run of sports success while operating with a minimum sports budget, relying on various fundraising efforts to keep each sport afloat.
â€śWe have no budget,â€ť Nasuti said. â€śWe canâ€™t buy equipment. I think we can maintain this success because we are getting contributions from youth programs in the city and from youth coaches. We still have a lot of obstacles to overcome. Weâ€™re a city school with kids who come and go. Right now, the success we are having is really creating interest in sports around the city.â€ť
Here are a couple of corrections from Mondayâ€™s Super Bowl coverage: In a photo caption on page B6, Woonsocket linebacker Kyle McKellick, who had a terrific game, was misidentified. And in the game story, this reporter incorrectly had Jalen Evans catching a 31-yard pass in the second quarter when it was really Jarome Robinson who caught the ball.
â€śKyle had a phenomenal game at inside linebacker,â€ť Henderson said. â€śJarome was outstanding on offense and defense. I can see where it must have been very difficult to vote for a Most Valuable Player in this game because just on defense, we had Pepe Torres, Jarome, Kyle, Joe Rodriguez and Geo Heredia who all played great games.â€ť
Heredia, who intercepted two passes and caught a touchdown pass, won MVP honors. The truth is, singling one player out over 15 deserving candidates in a team sport like football is flat out stupid. Woonsocket deserved a team MVP trophy.
Quarterback Kevin Reyes completed 6 of 14 passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns. He stretched Tolmanâ€™s defense at the start of the game by throwing on seven of Woonsocketâ€™s first 10 plays from scrimmage.
â€śI think we had an advantage over Tolman,â€ť Henderson admitted. â€śThey were undefeated and had beaten us. What did they have to change? We were the ones who had to adjust to them.â€ť
Woonsocketâ€™s coaching staff made the decision to throw the ball early, not knowing if the early December weather would even allow Reyes to throw the ball effectively. But thatâ€™s what the senior quarterback did. He completed two passes apiece to Charette, Robinson and Geo Heredia and just missed on three more passes.
â€śKevin did a great job,â€ť said Henderson, who now must begin the task of replacing 12 senior starters, the exact same number he had to replace at the beginning of this season.