Boston High School: Jake Cassidy

Sanctions almost behind, LA turning the corner

September, 19, 2013
GROTON, Mass. -- Paul Zukauskas, the third year coach at Lawrence Academy, prefers to weigh in on the positives within his football program instead of dark cloud that still lingers from a checkered past.

The Spartans begin ISL play on Saturday at 1 p.m., traveling to defending two-time league champion Governor’s Academy. This game is one in a many steps taken by the Spartans in their efforts to distance themselves from the negativity that has embedded them from a couple of years back.

But the attitude throughout the team has remained the same. The outlook is to build off of last year’s 6-2 campaign and continue to move forward in a positive manner.

“You constantly want to improve but ultimately it’s up to the kids,” said Zukauskas. “It’s not about me and my program. It’s about the kids and in particular our seniors and their leadership. I'm not a big believer of going 8-0 as a goal. I'm more of a believer of us being as good as we can be. That's the goal everytime we go out to practice. There is an urgency here to get better and that's what we preach.”

Because of the sanctions levied against them in 2011 by the ISL after finding significant evidence of violations committed within the program which included wrongful funding to student-athletes and improper off-season practices, LA begins its third and final year under these sanctions. Among the penalties handed down includes a banishment to partake in any postseason NEPSAC Bowls this season, even if the Spartans should qualify.

In 2011 it was revealed that the football program, under the direction of then head coach Mike Taylor, committed infractions during the 2009 and 2010 seasons, the same two years LA won ISL titles. At the time, the ISL kept the violations quiet but it was later revealed by former school headmaster Scott Wiggins that funding was provided to student-athletes that went beyond their demonstrated need. He also said the team performed off-season summer training sessions -- a violation according to ISL rules. In addition to the three-year bowl ban, the Spartans were also stripped of their two ISL championships. The conflict eventually would lead to the resignations of Taylor, Wiggins and former athletic director Kathy Noble.

The memories of these transgressions are nothing more than a forgone conclusion by the present day Spartans. They are well-aware of what transpired and the penalties which accompanied them yet they say it means nothing. Right now the only thing that matters is playing football and making the most out of the 2013 season.

“We really have no control over what happened in the past but we can control this season,” said senior lineman and co-captain Andrew Crane. “That is all we are focusing on. We just want to go out and be the best we can be.”

Zukauskas -- a former BC High and Boston College standout, who spent five seasons in the NFL playing for the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers -- walked into a program at the height of turmoil. Nevertheless, Zukauskas has kept a positive attitude throughout and continues to maintain a strong belief that things will turn around. In his first season, Zukauskas finished 3-5 before the success of last year.

“There is so much opportunity here to do something special and that's the way we are looking at it,” he said. “If we can compete and be as good as we can then what a great message we are sending to everybody that despite the adversity we're still as good as we can be. Yes we want to play in a NEPSAC Bowl again soon but what is even better is to have this adversity we are currently under and be able to overcome it.”

LA remains primed to improve upon last season’s success. The Spartans return a number of veteran players, most-notably at the skill positions. They are led by senior quarterback Kyle Howes, junior receivers Chris Garrison, Austin Luckey and tight end Kyle Gillem-Hughes. Junior Nick Schutz and freshman AJ Dillon are expected to carry much of the load at running back. The Spartans are also well-stacked up front. Along with Crane, others anchoring the line include seniors Rocco Daigneault , Cornelius Griffith, Will Blundo, along with juniors Islambek Mussayev, Craig Waldie and David Pyne.

“We return a lot of starters and have some talented new kids who have come in,” Crane said. “Coming into this year we seem much-more focused and there is a lot of enthusiasm. We are all conditioned and ready to go.”

Adds Daigneault, also a co-captain, “We’ve bonded as a family here. At the start of pre-season we spent a lot of time together and grew together. We are a real tight-knit group ready to play some football.”

While depth in some areas remains a concern, it may ring no louder than on defense. LA graduated two of its top defensive backs -- Jalen Myrie and Darrien Myers a year ago. However a defense, ranked second in the ISL last year, is far from being gutted. Luckey, who also plays linebacker, was the Spartans leading tackler a year ago. Sophomore linebacker Jake Cassidy is also expected to make an impact. Howes, another co-captain playing safety along with Schutz at defensive back, will lead the secondary.

Perhaps the biggest intangible so far has been attitude. The Spartans contend they are thoroughly focused and determined to bring the program back to the elite status.

“Everyone comes to practice more concentrated than any other team I’ve ever been around,” said Howes. “Everyone is totally focused. We have film and white board sessions and everyone comes with notebook in hand ready to learn.”

Head Coach: Paul Zukauskas (3rd year, 9-7)
Last Year: 6-2
Key Returners: Sr. OL/DL Andrew Crane (6-1, 270), Sr. OL/DL Rocco Daigneault (6-1, 230), Sr. QB/S Kyle Howes (6-3, 200), Sr. OL/DL Cornelius Griffith (6-1, 220), Sr. OL/LB Will Blundo (5-10, 205), Jr. WR/LB Chris Garrison (6-3, 217), Jr. FB/WR/LB Austin Luckey (6-1, 210), Jr. RB/DB Nick Schutz (6-0, 185), Jr. TE/DL Kyle Gillen-Hughes (6-2, 210), Jr. OL/DL Craig Waldie (6-2, 210), Jr. OL/DL Islambek Mussayev (6-4, 240).
Top Newcomers: Jr. OL/DL David Pyne (6-3, 285), Soph. LB Jake Cassidy (5-10, 170), Fr. RB A.J. Dillon (6-0, 205)
Outlook: The Spartans have enough talent to remain in the upper-echelon of the ISL standings throughout the season. LA primary strength will be its offensive and defensive line, both rock solid and spearheaded by by Crane, Daigneault and Milford High transfer Pyne. This wall should open up large spaces for RBs Schutz and newcomer Dillon, and give Howes enough time to stand in the pocket, find his receivers and pick apart opposing defenses. Defense will be the big question early on with the departures of DBs Myrie and Myers. Howes and Schutz are expected to take control of the secondary but will get much-needed help from LBs Luckey, Blundo, Garrison and Cassidy. Despite not being eligible for postseason play because of the sanctions handed down in 2011, LA remains highly-optimistic that the program has moved beyond the issues which occurred in 2009 and 2010 under former coach Mike Taylor.

Recap: Abington 14, St. Mary's 8

December, 1, 2012
MILTON, Mass. -- In his more than 40 years of coaching at Abington High, it would be reasonable to think Jim Kelliher has seen it all on the football.

In winning the EMass. Div. 4 Super Bowl, 14-8, over St. Mary’s of Lynn on Saturday, Kelliher was witness to two things he’d never before seen: An undefeated Green Wave season and a playoff performance like that of Matt Kilmain.

Even Kelliher’s Super Bowl teams in 2002 couldn’t boast an unbeaten season from beginning to end.

“We did something no team in school history has ever done – we went 13-0,” said captain Jack Malafronte. “At Abington, with the history of football we have, to be able say we did something no one has ever done is a good feeling.”

Kilmain helped guarantee the Green Wave would finish undefeated with a pair of all-time performances in the playoffs this week.

After rushing for 272 yards on 12 carries and scoring three times in the opening round win over Millis/Hopedale on Tuesday night, Kilmain delivered a 15-carry, 166 yard performance that included what proved to be the game-winning touchdown against St. Mary’s.

“He’s really done a yeoman’s job for us,” said coach Jim Kelliher, who coached his third Super Bowl champion this year. “He truly, truly has – especially in the second half of the season. People didn’t know too much about him.

As coaches, we knew what kind of potential he had and he just worked at it. With the help of his teammates, he started to show his skills, and he has some really great running back skills.”

Even his teammates and fellow Super Bowl champions were impressed by his showing this week.

“It didn’t surprise me,” said senior captain Jack Malafronte, who shares running back duties with Kilmain and has scored in six straight games. “I knew he was capable of that all season. We’ve talked about it all year – it’s only a matter of time before someone breaks one or does something special. He was special this playoffs.”

Added QB Brandon Cawley: ““He was the whole offense for us this playoffs,” said senior . “He just took over during the playoffs. He’s going to have a great year next and I can’t wait to watch him.”

Before he was able to take over in the Super Bowl, St. Mary’s received the game’s opening kick. John Gaeta set up a short field with a 52-yard run, which Jordan Collier followed with a 1-yard dive into the end zone. A two-point conversion made it 8-0.
Abington’s defense didn’t allow another point.

“We haven’t really ever been all year a team who is going to get a whole bunch of one, two three and outs,” said Kelliher.
“People have driven on us but we always professed the fact that if we give them the ball in tough position, that they’ll have to go a long way and not make any mistakes to get back in our endzone.

We just try to make sure we do everything we can to make sure they don’t get in the end zone, and wherever we get it back, we don’t care.”

After Collier gave the Spartans a lead, Malafronte made sure it was brief and punched in a score on the next drive. He finished off a lengthy drive with a 14-yard score in which he shook off a pair of tacklers and dragged a third into the end zone.

After forcing a turnover on downs, Abington extended their lead in the second quarter when Kilmain took a sweep left around the edge. His lead blockers made sure the gain would go for at least a first a down, but Kilmain breaking a pair of tackles made he’d go 80-yards all the way for a score. A failed two-point conversion left the score at 14-8.

From there the team’s traded defensive blows, finishing the half with that same score.

On their first drive of the second half, St. Mary’s threatened to score again, putting together an impressive 17-play drive that spanned more than seven minutes but stalled out at the Abington 29 when junior Steve Manning sacked quarterback Jake Cassidy.

After forcing a punt, the Spartans start marching toward the end zone again, moving the ball all the way down to Abington’s 15.
Joe Brady ended their chance to score with an interception in the end zone with 4:22 remaining in the contest.

Babila Fonkem, Kilmain and Malafronte – who combined for 303 rushing yard in the win – all picked up rushing first downs on the final drive, allowing Abington to take knees and win their third Super Bowl title since 2002.

It was rumored prior to the season that this year would be the last for Kelliher, a head coach of 39 years whose been on the Green Wave staff for more than 40.

He put that notion to bed following the win yesterday.

“I still enjoy myself, and the other coaches and the players,” Kelliher said. “Maybe, hopefully, the players would say the same thing about me. I still enjoy the game and I still think I can add a little something to it.

I do think about it possibly being my last year – at my age you have to. I have to think about, I’m not going to lie about that but I still enjoy coaching football.”

Even the graduating players are happy Kelliher decided to return.

“He is Abington football,” said Malafronte. “For him to be back, means everything to this program. I knew once we started going on a roll that he would be back. He can’t get away from it. Coming off a 13-0 season, how can you get away from that?”

Recap: St. Mary's 36, Shawsheen 8

November, 27, 2012
LYNN, Mass. -- Behind 262 yards rushing by junior Jordan Collier, St. Mary’s knocked off Shawsheen with relative ease on Tuesday night, shutting out the Rams before Shawsheen scored a touchdown with less than a minute left in the game. The Spartans rolled 36-8.

Shawsheen made a run early in the first quarter, getting within field goal range in their first drive. However, their drive was to no avail following a missed field goal.

St. Mary’s turned the ball over on downs late in the first quarter, but after getting the ball again early in the second quarter, Collier struck quickly with a 66-yard touchdown run.

Later on in the second quarter, sophomore quarterback Jake Cassidy extended the lead on a twelve-yard sneak, putting St. Mary’s up 16-0 following their second successful two-point conversion.

Staring at that two touchdown lead going into the half, Shawsheen was never able to get anything going offensively early in the second half, a time where they desperately needed to get something going offensively.

“They didn’t give us the short stuff undernearth…it forced us to try to get further down the field, and their pass rush put a lot of pressure on us. They played a complete game,” Shawsheen head coach Al Costabile said.

With dominant defense holding Shawsheen down, Collier did the rest, running for two long touchdowns of 64 and 85 yards respectively early in the fourth quarter.

“[Collier] was just unbelievable, great effort,” St. Mary’s coach Matt Durgin said, “his teammates blocked well for him; he hit the hole, got the runs, and got in the endzone for us.”

Rams sophomore running back Connor Sakowich got in on the act late in the fourth quarter, scoring a 55 yard touchdown of his own to put St. Mary’s up 36-0. Sakowich relieved the lightning-quick Collier, who finished with 262 yards and three touchdowns on just 13 carries.

“It was a great team effort, just outstanding. Shawsheen started out moving the ball down the field early on, but as the game went on I think we wore them down,” Durgin said.

Most of that wearing down came thanks to Collins, who couldn’t be more excited to play for a shot at the super bowl title.

“[Winning] was the best feeling I could have, words can’t explain how I feel right now,” he said, “it’s gonna’ be awesome, I can’t wait. I’m just gonna’ play my heart out, just put it all out on the field.”

St. Mary’s (11-1) will move on to play Abington in the eastern Mass. division 4A Super Bowl on Saturday at Curry College. Exact time is expected to be announced by the MIAA on Wednesday.