CONCORD, Mass. -- They may not be the most appealing bunch of football players in Massachusetts, but these three seniors know how to get the job done with the game on the line.
While star running back George Craan may get most of the publicity on No. 6 Concord-Carlisle Patriots, along with backfield sidekicks Tyquan Culbreath and Tim Badgley, it's the guys in the trenches that have kept this dynamic rushing attack well-oiled. Senior captains Andrew VanderWilden, Henry Bumpus, and Thomas Kleyn have been critical in helping the team gut out wins, both on defense and on the offensive line.
VanderWilden, the back-to-back Dual County League lineman of the year and a 220-pound behemoth at center, has anchored one of the best offensive lines in the state and cleared the way for C-C’s talented backs all season long. He serves as the unquestioned leader of a line that includes five seniors and four returning starters, and has been crucial in helping execute the Patriots’ Wing-T offense to the tune of 35.2 points per game this fall.
“Andrew has been a really solid performer for us for three years now,” Patriots head coach Mike Robichaud said. “He’s a really fundamentally sound player, and very, very smart. He knows his assignment, and he’s worked very hard to become a lot bigger, faster, and stronger”
Meanwhile Bumpus -- a towering presence at 6-foot-6, and the 2011 DCL MVP -- has made significant contributions on both sides of the ball, starring at both end spots. The three-sport standout remains one of C-C’s most lethal weapons on defense, sealing a big September game against Lexington with a decisive sack and interception, and also serves as the Patriots’ most reliable receiver at tight end.
“Henry has a lot of physical tools. He’s very tall and long, and at the positions he plays, he really uses that length and strength to his advantage. He’s very skilled for his size,” Robichaud said. “He’s deceptively fast and has great reflexes, which comes across both offensively and defensively.”
While Kleyn may lack the size and speed of his teammates, the 2010 DCL All-Star and team's defensive player of the year supplants any physical shortcomings with firm leadership and an immense knowledge of the game. The 5-foot-11 middle linebacker directs a defense that is currently giving up just 8.9 points per game, and shut out the league's long-time powerhouse, No. 16 Lincoln-Sudbury (9-1) on November 11.
Robichaud pointed out that while Kleyn may not be “the biggest guy going [or] the fastest guy going, he has tremendous heart and is really smart and fundamentally sound."
"He’s really been a key to holding our defense together,” Robichaud said. “He’s a kid who out on the field knows what’s going on and is able to make a lot of our calls on the fly; he literally is like having another coach out there.”
Although C-C’s gifted rushing attack of Craan, Culbreath, Badgley and Evan Boynton have gained most of the yards and scores in the Patriots’ offense, Robichaud maintained that above all else, senior leadership and control of the line of scrimmage have been key to the team’s success this season. And no three players have exemplified the coach’s words more than VanderWilden, Bumpus, and Kleyn.
“In the game of football, experience really does count for consistency,” Robichaud said. “[VanderWilden, Bumpus, and Kleyn] took their lumps, and weren’t great players as sophomores, but they got better and better. Their work ethic- how they approach the game and how they prepare- has really helped not just their senior peers, but the underclassmen as well.”
The coach also underlined his captains’ humbleness, and stressed their sole dedication to victory over any form of credit or acknowledgment. While Craan has been featured in numerous articles in the Boston media, and has been a mainstay on ESPN Boston's Mr. Football Watch List for much of the season, his blockers have continued to linger in the relative anonymity of small-town Concord.
Nevertheless, VanderWilden insisted that he would rather have it that way.
"The offensive line has played really well, but we don’t need all the recognition,” he said. “George and Tyquan are having great years, and we know when the running backs are playing well, it means that we are doing our jobs too.”
“These guys don’t care about who gets the recognition as long as the end result is a win,” Robichaud added.
When asked to explicate the team’s 10-0 start, VanderWilden emphasized familiarity with the game and team chemistry.
“We’ve all been playing together since Pop Warner and we really count on each other to execute everyone’s blocks,” he said. “We are all very confident in each other to get the job done.”
Bumpus, however, highlighted the Patriots’ success in the trenches, explaining, “Our blocking has really helped us seal the edge so we can run in the middle, outside, whatever; so we can have really good success on offense.”
Kleyn, undoubtedly the most intense and cerebral of the three, simply pointed to the team’s aggressive approach to games.
“Our mindset is to be relentless in all our basic plays and execute them to perfection,” the linebacker said.
Although any fan happening upon Walden Street on a Friday night could plainly see the enormous passion that VanderWilden, Bumpus, and Kleyn exhibit on the field, football is not the only arena in which the three captains excel.
“Going to Concord-Carlisle, the importance of academics has always been drilled into us,” said Kleyn, who will be suiting up for Amherst College next fall.
VanderWilden and Bumpus also value their education and classroom achievements highly, and both will be playing for Brown University next September.
Bumpus explained that his decision was slightly more difficult, choosing between Brown, Dartmouth, and University of Pennsylvania, institutions known more for producing Rhodes Scholars and Nobel Laureates than NFL prospects. Nevertheless, Bumpus pointed out how Brown’s experienced coaching staff, coupled with advice from his brother John, who plays defensive end for the Bears, made the choice easier.
“Ultimately, I really liked the players and the team,” he said. “Coach [Phil] Estes has a great staff who have been together for a long time, and I really like the way they coach. Going into high school, I knew I wanted to excel in academics and worked really hard to keep my grades up so I would have opportunities like this in the future.”
This week, though, the focus is all on Thursday afternoon. With a mammoth game coming up against league-rival Bedford, a Thanksgiving win is all that separates the Patriots from a playoff spot and a likely return to the D2 Super Bowl. While Concord residents are buzzing with excitement, anticipating an easy win over the 6-4 Buccaneers and salivating over the team’s championship possibilities, the players remain committed to the task at hand.
Offering a Belichickian response when queried on C-C’s postseason chances, VanderWilden declared, “All we’re worried about is Thanksgiving. We know what’s at stake, and we’re going to put a great effort out there on Thursday.”
And as if on queue, Kleyn added, “this is just another week for us, and we’ve been preparing just like we do for every team.”
The captains’ refusal to divulge any information or speculate on their team’s future hints at their supreme maturity and intellect, and their beaming coach was clearly telling the truth when he pronounced them “great leaders [and] great kids to coach.”