CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- All eyes will be on the Buckingham, Browne & Nichols football team when it opens its season Friday against Belmont Hill. At its afternoon practice Tuesday, even the hawk perched atop the Nicholas Athletic Center swooped down to get a closer look.
Such is the case when you’ve won three of the last five NEPSAC Super Bowls like the Knights have.
“Our success is great for our program, but our kids know everyone circles us on their schedule and everyone wants a piece of us, but that comes with success,” said head coach John Papas.
A potential pitfall of success is not only sustaining it, but a team allowing the success to go to its head and lose the desire to keep working towards a repeat. Papas was quick to jump on his team in the preseason to make sure that didn’t happen.
“They needed a little bit of a tongue lashing at the beginning of the year,” he said. “We have a lot of kids that have got a lot of press. They had to be talked about that press clippings don’t win championships. But they’ve responded. Since that first week, we really have progressed every day.”
One of those players is 6-6, 270-pound offensive tackle Eric Olson, who fielded multiple Division 1 scholarship offers before verbally committing to Northwestern over the summer. Another is Dan Connaugton, Olson’s 6-3, 275-pound linemate, who is mulling over some Division 1 college football options.
Those two are part of a returning offensive line unit that will be in charge of protecting Chris Coady, who is making the transition from running back to quarterback. The senior played quarterback for two years at St. John’s Prep, after which he transferred to BB&N and switched to running back a season ago. He went on to break the single-season school rushing record, when he notched over 1,800 yards on the ground.
He will replace Eric Bertino, who graduated last year. Bertino lead the ISL with 24 touchdown passes in 2009. Papas said switching Coady back to quarterback was an easy decision.
“It was a no-brainer," Papas said. "He’s an outstanding athlete at 6-3, 225 pounds. He’s a 365-pound bench press kid, plus he’s tough, smart, and he can throw and run. The decision (to put him there) was purely because he’s so athletic and bright."
Coady wasn’t initially excited about the position switch, but has changed his mind over time.
“I just grew to love running back so much,” he said. “I had a blast playing running back last year, so I didn’t really want to leave that, but I’m happy I did now. It’s getting easier and easier every time we scrimmage and practice, with making the reads and throwing the ball.”
It was an adjustment for Coady to get his timing and throwing mechanics back, but he feels he worked enough in the offseason to make sure he didn’t come into practices behind the 8-ball.
“I threw a lot with two of my buddies from Winchester over the summer,” he said. “We went down to a field in Winchester and I was throwing at least three times a week with them, just going through routes and trying to get my motion back, and trying to shorten my motion.”
The hardest parts of handling the position change for Coady have been learning how to read defenses again and knowing where everyone in the offense needs to be, not just himself. When he played running back, he felt he only had to know his responsibility on a particular play, whether it was running a route or finding a running lane. Now, he has to be aware of what everyone is doing on a particular play.
With Coady under center, who will step up to replace his 1,800 rushing yards? It won’t be one particular person.
“We’re really strong at running back,” said Papas. “Nick DiChiara, Willie Peoples, and A.J. Grassa will be a running back by committee. We’ve lost no one on the offensive line so that will help. Hopefully, with Chris being the quarterback, it will add another dimension.”
Because Coady is such a gifted runner, the BB&N offense will feature more option-type plays, allowing him to get out of the pocket and keep the defense guessing. However, its offensive principles will stay the same.
“We’ll run multiple formations,” said Papas. “We’ll run and pass. We’ve always used multiple formations and been multi-dimensional. Our style of football is, we’re going to try to run the ball until they put guys in the box to stop it, and then when they do that we’ll throw it.”
Even though it has not lost as many players to graduation as it has in the past, BB&N is still unsure of how the changes they’ve made will play out for them. One thing is certain: everyone in the ISL will be watching them like hawks.
BB&N AT A GLANCE
Coach: John Papas (55-14)
Last Year: 8-1, won NEPSAC Bowl
Key Returnees: Chris Coady, Sr. QB, 6-3, 220 lbs; Junior Arroyo, Sr. WR/DB, 5-11, 173 lbs; Adam Bakopolus, Sr. WR/DB, 5-11, 171 lbs; Dan Connaugton, Sr. OL/DT, 6-3, 265 lbs; Julian Correa, Sr. OL/DT, 5-9, 185 lbs; Nick DiChiara, Sr. WR/FB/LB, 6-1, 203 lbs; Liam Flahive, Sr. RB/DB, RB/DB, 5-8, 171 lbs; Mike Henske, Sr. OL/DE, 6-5, 223 lbs; Cal Halloway, Sr. WR/TE/LB, 6-2, 187 lbs; Ben Kimball, Sr. RB/LB, 5-10, 170 lbs; Chad Kohler, Sr. WR/LB, 6-2, 171 lbs; Chris Mackey, Sr. OL/DT, 6-4, 222 lbs; Ralph Malin, Sr. PK/DT, 5-9, 230 lbs; Eric Olson, Sr. OL/DE, 6-6, 270 lbs; Rhett Wiseman, Sr. WR/DB, 6-1, 180 lbs; Danny Zhang, Sr. WR/DB, 5-8, 134 lbs; Brendan O’Neil, Jr. TE/DE, 6-5, 212 lbs; Willie Peoples, Jr. WR/DB, 6-0, 178 lbs; A.J. Grassa, Jr. RB/DB, 5-10, 176 lbs; Connor Coady, So. OL/DT, 6-0, 215 lbs; Mike McCaffrey, So. WR/DB, 5-7, 148 lbs
Strengths: Experience, Offensive and Defensive Line, Running Game
Weaknesses: How will Coady adjust to playing QB in the ISL after switching to running back for a year? How do they replace his 1,800 rushing yards?
Outlook: This team is coming off its third NEPSAC Bowl victory in the past five years, so success is expected. With that comes the metaphorical bullseye on its back because every team will be trying its hardest to knock off the defending league champion. The biggest question going into the season is how Chris Coady will make the adjustment from running back to quarterback at the ISL level. However, he played the position his first two years at St. John’s Prep, so it will only be a matter of time before he gets readjusted to the intricacies of the position. It also doesn’t hurt that all five members of the offensive line that helped him achieve 1,800 yards on the ground are returning. The talent is certainly there, so if BB&N can survive teams’ best games each week, they could be adding another trophy at the end of the season.