MALDEN, Mass. -- Joe Pappagallo's day is far from over once the final whistle blows at practice.
During the football season, the Malden head coach says his hours of sleep are "a couple here, a couple there". That's because once 10:30 p.m. rolls around, he's off to the U.S. Postal Service regional plant in Waltham, where he supervises as the overnight manager. Couple that with hours of chalk talk, keeping his players in line, and endless paperwork, and we're talking four, maybe five hours a night during the fall -- "But that's the hours we choose," he notes.
So what keeps him sane?
"My wife, obviously. Behind every coach, there's a good wife, trust me," he laughs. "She's the salt of the earth. Her brother (Pat Donoghue) is my defensive coordinator. She has four brothers that have played sports their whole lives, their sons all do nothing but sports, so she's very supportive.
"If I didn't have her support, I'd be dead in the water. You ain't nothing without the wife, man, that's for sure."
The other point of sanity? His personnel.
Across the offensive line, the Golden Tornadoes are going to average roughly 260 pounds, led by two senior Division 1 prospects -- the 6-foot-5, 290-pound Vernon Sainvil, and 305-pound Aaron Samano. And that average takes into account the recent loss of would-be fourth-year starter Chris Avery to a sudden move to Pennsylvania right before the start of preseason (Samano is moving from guard to center to compensate for the loss). With Alfonse Femino and Derek Solis also in the fold, along with promising 6-foot-5 junior Chris Miller, this team figures to move the ball extensively.
"It's a good view back there," laughed senior Franky Dunn, who has an offer from Bryant as a cornerback. "I feel safe running around and through those holes, because I know they'll protect me."
Pappagallo is especially excited by the defense, which returns six starters and is top-heavy on speed. Donoghue won't be afraid to mix and match coverages and blitz packages if the situation calls for it, especially with a specimen as gifted as the 6-foot-2 215-pound junior Witchie Exilhomme.
"Witchie Exilhomme is a monster and a half at that inside linebacker position," Pappagallo said. "He's really lifted like crazy, squatting something like 580 pounds, he really worked hard in the offseason. Just solid muscle and physicality. Defensively, coach is going to try to play base (3-4), but do whatever we need to do."
No need to remind Malden, or any Greater Boston League team, what needs to be done -- knock off Everett, winner of 15 straight GBL titles. And Pappagallo, who was Rich Cullen's defensive coordinator at Malden through 2005 before a three-year stint coaching at Mount Ida then Framingham State, has seen many a talented GBL team swing and miss -- Peabody, Waltham, Somerville, and more recently Cambridge, all empty-handed. What makes these guys different?
"I'll tell you the difference, I think," Pappagallo said. "They really had a couple guys that stood out, and the rest were pretty good, know what I mean? Everett's always had a good, solid, pure team, and I think that's what makes us a little bit different. We're just an overall good team, we don't have one special player that sticks out."
Last season, the Tornadoes' JV's knocked off Everett. In the varsity, they threw 18 different blitz packages at the Crimson Tide, held them to three first downs, and almost came away with the win, faltering 13-7 in overtime. The loss has stuck with many of those key players throughout the offseason -- "I haven't even watched the tape," Dunn said. "I just don't want to look at it, I guess."
"We use that with everything we do," explains Samano. "You're in the weight room, you've got one last set to go, you think 'Beat Everett' and pound it out. You're doing plays -- 'Beat Everett'. We've always got it in the back of our head, that we lost to them in overtime."
And so, perhaps, there lies the third source of sanity -- the prize that awaits over the hump.
"They're hungry," Pappagallo. "They want it bad, and they've worked hard in the offseason to get there."
MALDEN AT A GLANCE
2009: 5-5 (3-1 Greater Boston)
Coach: Joe Pappagallo (second year, 5-5)
Players to watch: Vernon Sainvil, Sr., OL/DL, 6-5, 290 lbs; Franky Dunn, Sr., WR/DB, 5-10, 185 lbs; Aaron Samano, Sr., C/NT, 6-1, 305 lbs; Witchie Exilhomme, Jr., RB/LB, 6-2, 215 lbs; Kevin Valley, Sr., QB, 5-10, 169 lbs; Chris Miller, Jr., OL/DL, 6-5, 275 lbs; Jamie McInerney, Jr., TE/OLB, 6-3, 220 lbs; Jo Jo Randolph, Soph., RB/S, 5-9, 180 lbs; Austin Teal, Jr., WR/OLB, 5-10, 180 lbs; Wildens Sertyl, Jr., OLB, 5-11, 187 lbs; Derek Solis, Sr., OG/NT, 6-3, 292 lbs.
Strengths: Offensive line, defensive team speed, experience.
Weaknesses: Quarterback depth.
Outlook: With such a physically imposing line led by Samano, Sainvil and Miller, look for the Golden Tornadoes to go with a power-based spread attack, with plenty of traps, counters and power plays to get athletes like Dunn, McInerney and Exilhomme into the teeth of opposing defenses. "You've got to pound the ball in our league," Pappagallo said. Defensively, the Tornadoes return six starters and will stick with a 3-4 base and a Cover 2 shell, but Pappagallo noted the scheme will be constantly changing. Heck, you might even see the 305-pound Samano drop back into coverage every now and then. "I think we're going to be extremely quick on defense," Pappagallo said. "Once the ball's in open space, we should look like a pile of dead ants on a dead cockroach."