Barry Greener had just coached his Walpole Rebels to a last-second, playoff-clinching win over rival Natick in early November 2011, for the Bay State Herget title, and was asked bout simulating the Red Hawks’ hyperactive tempo. Never one to mince his words, Greener adorningly illuminated his own hectic practice tempo, saying, “It is absolutely massive friggin’ chaos out there.”
“They don’t have time to get down in their stances, we’re running plays at them so fast,” he told reporters that night.
Scouts from their would-be opponents, undersized but frenetic Dennis-Yarmouth, were in the bleachers that night. They served up chaos of their own two weeks later, in a Tuesday night Division 2A playoff, attacking them at a pace unseen even in that Natick win, for a 46-20 whooping that wasn’t as close as even that lopsided score would indicate.
Reflecting on that outcome nearly nine months later, Greener recalled a conversation at a gas station last month with former Red Sox manager Joe Morgan (himself a lifelong Walpole resident) going back to that night – “I’ve known Joe for a long time, Greener recalled. “He said, ‘I was up in the stands with a friend, I turned to him and said this game is over before it starts’.”
Greener continued, “It was a mismatch. They were so much more athletic, they should have been No. 1 in the state [in ESPNBoston.com’s poll]. I’ve been to every Walpole game since 1972, and that’s the best team we’ve played in 25 years. They were unbelievable.”
OK, now to the present day. Four of the Rebels’ best players were out of the lineup that fateful Tuesday night, and three of them – running backs Mike Rando and Cam Hanley, and wideout P.J. Hayes – are back, with weighty expectations.
The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Rando suffered a season-ending ACL tear in the second week of the season, but appears to have come back stronger than ever. Greener raves about Rando, with his blend of 4.5 speed and exceptional vision, evoking shades of one of the greatest ever to come through Walpole, 2010 graduate Ryan Izzo.
“I call them ‘Izzo Eyes’, he sees daylight where nobody else sees daylight,” Greener said. “Rando’s got great vision – are they Izzo’s vision? Probably not, but Rando’s is pretty good. Rando is the complete package, the perfect player, great teammate, great leader, great worker, just does everything right on and off the field. If you had all Rando’s, you’d feel guilty even signing your paycheck. It’d be too easy.
“If an Izzo comes around once every 25 years, Rando comes around every 10, and I’ll be retired before the next one. He’s just a pleasure to coach, and he doesn’t need a lot of coaching. You tell him once and he gets it.”
Hayes also suffered a season-ending ACL tear in week three of last season, but came back with a strong indoor and outdoor track campaign, with impressive personal bests in the 55 (6.45), 100 (10.73), 200 (20.04), and long jump (20-foot-1). However, he has been battling back issues this training camp, and will be out until week three of the season.
Still, with Hanley in the mix, and a solid returning nucleus in the trenches, the Rebels ought to be flexible. They found success with double-tight packages last season, and will utilize them again this season. Though with the number of athletes on the perimeter, Greener will quickly spread them out the gameplan stalls.
Defensively, the Rebels will be just as flexible out of a 3-4 front. One of the most impressive displays of this flexibility last year may have come in that very same Natick game, when they kept just five defenders in the box but for the most part didn’t allow for many leaks.
The 6-foot-4, 260-pound Collins should be a disruptive force yet again. A preseason ESPN Boston All-State selection at tight end, Collins is a Division 1-caliber talent who in all likelihood projects on the defensive side of the ball. Last season, he ranked third on the team in tackles. As instinctive and physical as he is, Greener suggests his best playing days “may come after he leaves Walpole.”
To this point, Collins has received interest from UMass, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, but to this point it is just due diligence. Prep school is also potentially an option for him.
“He does have unbelievable upside,” Greener said. “He’s strong, fast, and boy does he get to the ball. The thing he’s gotta understand if signs a D1 deal, they’re all gonna be like him, theyre all like you , so it boils down to technique and who plays the best, to get the most playing time.”
WALPOLE AT A GLANCE
2011: 9-3, lost in Division 2A Playoffs
Coach: Barry Greener (4th year, 29-6 overall)
Key Returnees: Chris Collins, Sr. TE/DE, 6-4, 260 lbs.; Mike Rando, Sr. RB/DB, 5-10, 180 lbs.; P.J. Hayes, Sr. ATH, 5-10, 170 lbs.; Cam Hanley, Sr. RB/LB, 5-10, 210 lbs.; Steve Thulin, Sr. RB/ILB/P, 5-9, 190 lbs.; Ricky Ordway, Sr. OT/NG, 6-0, 260 lbs.; Ryan Finn, Sr. OLB, 5-11, 180 lbs.; Dave Driscoll, Sr. OL/LB, 6-0, 190 lbs.
Strengths: Returning seniors, leadership.
Weaknesses: Experience at offensive/defensive lines, secondary.
Outlook: The Rebels return six starters on both sides of the ball, and Greener will be counting on that veteran leadership to carry them to third straight Bay State Herget title and playoff berth. Rando and track star Hayes went down with season-ending knee injuries in consecutive weeks last September, and while Hayes is on the mend again with back issues, Rando has looked “phenomenal” in the preseason according to Greener. Flexibility appears to be the operative theme so far in Walpole. Offensively, the Rebels will utilize double-tight packages out of the I formation, but can spread it out if the gameplan calls so. Defensively, Greener will once again utilize a 3-4 base, with Division 1 prospect Collins setting the edge. At times the front was unwavering, as evidenced in last year’s win over Natick, when they left five in the box and were able to contain one of the state’s most efficient spread schemes. That battle with the Red Hawks decided the Herget, and barring a surprise run from Norwood or Wellesley, it will once again determine the Rebels’ Post-Thanksgiving fate.