It’s been a long time since David Ball has heard the roar of the crowd at Spaulding High School’s Pendo Field, but he’s hoping the home fans will have plenty to cheer about Saturday.
Ball, a three-sport athlete at Spaulding who went on to a record-setting football career as a wide receiver at the University of New Hampshire, was hired as Spaulding’s varsity football coach in July.
Spaulding was winless in 2011, but Ball guided the Crimson Tide to a 28-16 season-opening victory over North Country last Friday. Up next: Saturday’s home opener against Colchester in Barre.
“I knew I would coach, but I didn’t know when,” Ball said. “And I didn’t know I would start as a head coach. Some top candidates fell through, and some other candidates were in the picture, but [the school] wanted more. They knew I was there – I was in town.
“I haven’t coached anywhere but camps. My experience has been my coaching 101.”
His experience includes a four-year career at UNH, where he broke Jerry Rice’s FCS (I-AA) record for career touchdown receptions. Ball, 28, left UNH with 304 career receptions, 4,655 receiving yards and 58 touchdown catches (Rice’s record was 50).
UNH wasn’t on Ball’s radar when he graduated from high school in 2002. In addition to playing football at Spaulding, Ball was a 1,000-point scorer in basketball and a record-setting high jumper on the track and field team. He planned to participate in those three sports at Division III Worcester State College until a few of his friends persuaded him to join them for a year of prep school at Worcester Academy.
His time at Worcester Academy – former Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan was his QB there -- led him to UNH, where he earned a scholarship from head coach Sean McDonnell after his second practice.
Ball spent time with the Chicago Bears, New York Jets and three Canadian Football League teams before he turned his attention to teaching, and landed a physical education position at Spaulding. A short time later he added “varsity football coach” to his resume.
Spaulding is running a spread, no-huddle offense similar to the one Ball played in at UNH. Quarterback Jon Kilian scored four touchdowns – three rushing and one on an interception return – in Spaulding’s victory over North Country.
“The heart my boys went out there with was impressive,” Ball said. “It was one of the top highlights of my career.”
Ball, who has two assistant coaches, said among his biggest challenges is convincing more students to join the football team. Spaulding, a Division I school, currently has 46 players on its roster (JV and varsity). Of course it helps when the head coach played in the same program and is one of the most famous athletes the state has produced.
“I have players come up to me and say, ‘Do you remember signing an autograph for me when I was 11?” Ball said. “There’s no doubt it helps when you’ve had a lot of success inside those walls.
“It’s our job to put a team on the field that can compete.”
Week 2 of the high school football season could provide two of the best matchups of the year. Hartford, which has won the last two Division I championships, will face BFA-St. Albans, and Middlebury will meet Essex. Both games will be played Friday night.
These are the top four teams in the state, as ranked by the Burlington Free Press.
Hartford had a scare in its opener, but posted a 13-7 victory over Colchester. The Hurricanes will be facing a BFA-St. Albans team that received two rushing touchdowns from Doug Saffo in a 26-6 triumph over St. Johnsbury Academy last weekend. These programs met in the 2010 Division I state championship game.
Quarterback Tyler Provencher passed for two touchdowns to lead Middlebury to a 28-6 victory over Mount Mansfield last Friday. The Tigers will be up against an Essex team that performed well in the Northeast 7-on-7 tournament in New Hampshire and Massachusetts in June. Essex opened its season by beating Brattleboro, 48-7.
CHAMPIONSHIP SITE MOVED
Vermont's three state championship football games will be played at South Burlington High School this year.
The championship games have been held at Castleton State College in each of the last two years, but the Castleton State football team has a home game scheduled for Nov. 10, which is when the football tripleheader is also scheduled to be played.
Roger Brown is a staff writer for the New Hampshire Union Leader and has been covering high school sports throughout New England since 1992.