Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Streak in focus, No. 13 Auburn weathers hype
By Brendan Hall
AUBURN, Mass. -- In Jeff Cormier's decade-long tenure at the helm of Auburn High football, he's seen the program take on a life of its own, becoming a galvanizing charm in this town rich with history, as they've racked up back-to-back-to-back Central Mass Super Bowl titles.
In this Worcester suburb -- the birthplace of Robert Goddard, creator of the first liquid-fueled rocket -- its baseball program has Mike Paradis, and it has recent first-round draft pick Tyler Beede. Basketball has the electric Javier Mojica. Hockey? Where do you want to start?
But since the Rockets lost their last football contest on September 19, 2008, the popularity and notoriety has only grown. It started with guys like Doug Flink, a defensive line mauler who is now a sophomore at Bryant, and now it's ballooned to a 37-game win streak. That's currently the third-longest in the nation, behind Phoebus High of Hampton, Va. (45), and Hamilton High of Chandler, Az. (41). The last team to threaten Acton-Boxborough's state record 52-game streak was Western Mass. juggernaut Longmeadow, which saw its streak end at 47 in 2008.
An opening stretch that is notably tougher -- the Rockets face Shrewsbury, Holliston and St. Peter-Marian in succession to start the season -- coupled with a new Central Mass realignment that has them paired in Division 3 with No. 25 Hudson, and a group that graduated seven starters on offense and six on defense, is all the more reason for the anticipation each week on Auburn Street.
As head coach, Cormier plays the role of grounder. But he notes he hasn't gotten much resistance from the groundees.
What the Auburn offensive line lacks in experience, it makes up for in size.
"Credit to our kids, but it hasn't now, and never been, the primary focus," Cormier said. "I mean, we have three goals every year: win the opener, win the league, and beat Oxford on Thanksgiving. Those have been our continuous goals, and they seem to be good to us, so they'll maintain those goals.
"It was never our goal to win 30-something games in a row. Our goal is to win one, and right now our focus is on Shrewsbury, and they're very, very good. We'll have more than our handful on September 10. We've got to get a lot better if we're going to win."
Taking a snapshot of Tuesday afternoon's scrimmage with Oakmont Regional -- another team they could see in November's D3 Playoffs -- the Rockets should stand a chance.
Start at the line of scrimmage, where it's an admittedly green front along the offensive line. Four juniors and a sophomore comprise the current starting lineup, but they should come out of camp averaging 250 pounds across, led by the right side of the line in junior guard Aaron Dyke (6-3, 270 lbs) and sophomore tackle Will Greelish (6-4, 300 lbs). They had their way with Spartan defenders at times, especially in the running game, extending their arms at the point of attack and plowing over -- sometimes pinning -- their man.
Of the steely Greelish, still a raw prospect, Cormier said, "Those defenders aren't going to come to him. He's got to go get them, so hopefully his feet get good, he settles down, and he can get to people. He brings a lot to the table, but we've got to see if he can get his hands on people and move people."
As for the trench guys overall?
"I agree they look good," Cormier chuckled. "If we could gain yardage just by the way they looked, we'd be in pretty good shape, you know? Unfortunately, they're going to have the play the anthem that we play. Or fortunately. We'll see where they get. But I think we have some kids that have some talent on that offensive line, it's just a matter of getting them to work together."
In the backfield, the stocky Dan Flink is expected to shoulder a heavy load with the graduation of Jeremy Lavallee. Meanwhile, Fred Taylor (seven receiving TDs) will be the Rockets' top deep-ball threat, with speed that touches in the 4.5 range; in Tuesday's scrimmage, Taylor beat his man one-on-one deep to haul in a nice 40-yard fade from Drew Goodrich and score easily.
Defensively, this was one of the stingiest units in 2010 (8.2 points per game), and they must find a way to replace stars in the trenches like Marcus Pettigrew. They'll get their leadership from its linebackers and secondary, from captains Taylor, Flink and Connor Fuller. The Rockets will remain a four-man front, but given the girth, look for this to be one of the most stalwart run defenses in the region.
It's a gang of fresh faces, but the early returns are OK.
AUBURN AT A GLANCE
Coach: Jeff Cormier (13th season, 103-39)
Last year: 13-0, Division 2 CMass Super Bowl Champions
Key Returnees: Dan Flink, Sr. RB/LB; Connor Fuller, Sr. WR/DB; Fred Taylor, Sr. WR/DB; Eric Chionchio, Sr. TE; Mike Diaz, Sr. WR; Drew Goodrich, Jr. QB/DB; Aaron Dyke, Jr. OL/DL.
Strengths: Running game, offensive line.
Weaknesses: Youth, inexperience.
Outlook: Don't mistake the Rockets' youthfulness for a lack of talent, because there is plenty around. Granted, it may be green, but outside of some of the traditional Division 1 powers you'll be hard-pressed to find many offensive lines as beefy as the Rockets' within the Central Mass district. Led by juniors across the board and a 6-foot-4, 300-pounder sophomore at right tackle, the Rockets have the size to bang with anybody. "They look good, and I think the challenge is, a week from Saturday will they be playing good," Cormier said. Dan Flink, brother of current Bryant defensive end Doug Flink, will lead out of the backfield, and like his brother ought to be one of the toughest runners in short-yardage situations. Fred Taylor should build on what was a promising junior campaign (462 receiving yards, seven touchdowns), and figures to be a leader in the secondary as well. Overall, this is a unit that graduated a ton of talent -- seven offensive starters, six defensive starters -- and their state-best 37-game win streak is in jeopardy with a first month that includes Shrewsbury, Holliston and St. Peter-Marian. But the cupboard is hardly bare, and though it's green, it is showing its capability so far in the preseason.