DRACUT, Mass. -- Matt Silva was diving forward for a first down in his Dracut Middies' Thanksgiving day game with archrival Methuen when he felt something pop.
With the game and Division 2 playoff berth in hand, he shut it down for the rest of the game. His shoulder diagnosed as being sublexed (routinely popping in and out) and thus in a sling, he was touch and go for the Middies' playoff game the ensuing Tuesday against eventual Division 2 champ Reading -- and it showed. Then head coach Jeff Moore altered the game plan, taking the ball out of Silva's hands to ease the pressure; but with it the Middies' high-powered offense, which had averaged 34 points a game to that point, was held to a mere six.
Since the 2005 season, Dracut has gone 43-15 and won the 2008 Division 2 Super Bowl, with plenty of speedy receivers and backs making dazzling runs after the catch in a spread option scheme. But it's always been catalyzed by hard-nosed, gutsy decisions from the quarterback.
And in the will power department, Silva's got alot of fans.
"He's tough as nails," said first year head coach Jason Houston, himself a former quarterback at Lowell High and the University of Richmond. "I was very surprised last year to see how gritty and tough he was (last season). He's not afraid to get in there and run between the tackles and mix it up. Where he's not as big, he can't take the wear and tear as much, but he's a tough kid."
And with so many new faces -- gone are skill guys like Jared Gauthier, Rakeem Shepherd and Tom Szymanski, as well as nearly the whole offensive line -- expect nothing new from the leadership role. "I've got to boss the kids around, though I don't want to be the bad guy," Silva said. "But it's time to be a leader."
Just as he did last year -- when he totaled 36 touchdowns, nearly 2,500 yards of offense and just six interceptions -- Silva will provide the ebb and flow. But while he completed passes at a 67 percent clip in 2009, he often tried to force a throw in; so far this preseason, he's shown an improved acumen for reading the defense and checking down.
"Matt's definitely our team leader on this team," Houston said. "His work ethic is hard to come by. You don't find kids with his type of work ethic when you're out on the football field."
But this is nothing new in Dracut. Since Pat Murphy took the program over in 2004 and resurrected the Middies from years of dormancy, Dracut teams this this last half-decade have always rallied around a tough guy quarterback. from Bobby Russo to Matt Grimard to this year's gritty leader. But in Silva's mind, it's not just the toughness that counts at this specially-tailored position.
"It's footwork, basically. You've got to know your rules -- inside zone you've got to give it less, outside zone keep it less. You just follow what they teach you, and take everything in. Study, study, study. It makes it that much easier for us. It's a tough offense to learn."
As for Houston, the transition from defensive coordinator to head coach has been easier than he though, since he took the reigns last June from new Lowell coach Jeff Moore. Houston has been here at Dracut ever since his playing days at Richmond ended in 2004, and the staff turnover from Murphy to Moore to Houston has been minimal. Players seem to be at ease with him, but at the same time Houston isn't afraid to drop the hammer to keep his kids in line.
"It seems like one of our guys just got promoted to a better job," Silva said. "It's been very smooth."
DRACUT AT A GLANCE
2009: 9-3 (7-2 MVC), lost to Reading in Division 2 Playoffs
Coach: Jason Houston (first year, 0-0)
Players to watch: Matt Silva, Sr., QB, 5-10, 170 lbs (1,589 passing yards, 67.6 completion percentage, 23 passing touchdowns; 113 carries, 878 yards, 13 touchdowns); Chris Malonis, Sr., WR/FS, 5-11, 160; Seth Monbleau, Sr., TE/LB, 6-1, 200 lbs; Brian Lamontagne, Sr., LB, 5-11, 180 lbs; Paul Dufour, Sr., OL, 5-11, 240 lbs; Kevin Bishop, Sr., RB, 5-10, 170 lbs.
Strengths: Speed at skill positions, quarterback.
Weaknesses: Inexperience at offensive line, defensive line and secondary; overall depth.
Outlook: With the graduation of Jared Gauthier (95 catches, 1,118 yards, 15 touchdowns) and Rakeem Shepherd (1,016 all-purpose yards, 10 touchdowns), and plenty of new faces abound, the Middies will be going back to a power-running spread game reminiscent of their 2008 Super Bowl championship run. Silva will once again serve as the offensive catalyst, with Malonis as his likely primary target, while Keith Hamel and shifty Bishop will split duties at tailback -- sometimes staying on the field at once in two-back packages. "It's kinda hard to keep one on the field and not the other," Houston said. "They're both workhorses, so we're going to do what we can to keep both satisfied." With just two defensive players over 200 pounds, the Middies will rely on their deception and speed in Houston's 3-5-3 stack scheme. That means this year's nose guards will be shooting, not plugging, the gaps.