ATTLEBORO, Mass. – The motto flying around No. 24 Bishop Feehan’s preseason camp is “Get Reps.”
The Shamrocks are the defending Eastern Mass. Division 3A Super Bowl champions. But with “two-a-half” returning starters – in the words of head coach Curt Smith—the emphasis in the early going has been bringing a talented but inexperienced group up to speed.
A majority of Feehan’s seniors and juniors saw extensive time at the junior varsity level last year. That might seem a dicey proposition for success in 2013, but consider this. The Shamrocks’ J.V. team was very good last year – downright dominant. While going undefeated, Feehan surrendered just one offensive touchdown.
The program’s ninth Super Bowl championship didn’t come by accident; it’s built from a habit of winning.
“We want to keep building a legacy,” senior captain Pat Hodge said after Tuesday’s practice.
Fellow captain Ben Kenney interjected, “We want everybody to be ready when their time comes. You always have to be ready, that’s what Coach Smith always says.”
While the Shamrocks go about filling their depth chart for the season, the sure thing entering 2013 is senior running back Isaiah Douglas. Yet, the returning Eastern Athletic Conference All-Star will also be asked to do more. As part of a tough backfield twosome with Matt Allen last year, Douglas provided a big-strike capability for the Shamrocks while Allen put up tough yards consistently.
“He was a good running back,” Douglas said of Allen. “He was agile, he knew how to get up-field. I think I learned that from him, just making sure you get up-field, and making cuts.
“I think fed off each other, every first down, every touchdown that we got. Even when things went bad, it was always constructive criticism. It was always positive.”
Undoubtedly, those positive vibes emanate from the head coach on out.
Smith, who works the graveyard shift at St. Anne’s Hospital in Fall River, is a fountain of reinforcement. Following Tuesday morning’s practice, he greeted his players one by one as they exited the gate at McGrath Stadium with handshakes. All along the way, he imparted messages to them: “Good work today;” “Keep up the hard work;” “Let’s get better tomorrow.”
His breakdown speech to the team following the second practice of the season was worthy of a half time motivational rant of a late-November game. He urged his players to work on becoming their potential. The idea that perfection can be attained, somewhere just beyond their grasp – moving ever closer.
That comes with reps. That how it’s built.
BISHOP FEEHAN AT A GLANCE
Coach: Curt Smith
Last season: 10-2, won Eastern Mass. Division 3A Super Bowl
Returning Starters: Two (one offense, one defense)
Key Returnees: Isaiah Douglas, Sr. RB/DB, 5-8, 160 lbs.; Eric Beissner, Sr. G, 6-2, 210 lbs.; Ben Kenney, Sr. TE, 6-2, 200 lbs.; Pat Hodge, Sr. OL/DL, 5-10, 185 lbs.
Strengths: Athleticism, depth.
Weaknesses: Lack of varsity game experience.
Overview: Aside from Douglas’ increased impending carries, the Shamrocks are also holding an open audition at quarterback with senior Hayden Miller and junior Matt Jesser among the group competing. However, despite the inexperience at the varsity level, Smith entrusts his group to execute the offense -- which begs and borrows from option schemes while operating out of spread and traditional I-formations, alike – crediting his squad’s ability to pick up concepts with ease. Still, there’s going to be an adjustment period. “I still think we’re learning, as a group, but we can do it,” Douglas said. “I still think we can get back to where we want to be and defend our championship.” The gauntlet will fall immediately, with cross-town rival Attleboro, followed by North Attleborough greeting the Shamrocks in their first two dates following at Week 1 bye. “The learning curve is going to be steep,” Smith said. “A couple years ago, we started oh-and-five, and then we finished strong. The year after that, we finished strong at seven and four. I’m hoping we can do the same.”