NEW BEDFORD, Mass. – When New Bedford High football head coach Dennis Golden talks about his team’s accomplishments last year, he is both philosophical and emotional. He is earnest when he talks and could convince any player to suit up for his team.
So it wasn’t lost on the Whalers’ sixth-year coach what his team really did in finishing 6-4-1 — the best record of Golden’s tenure — in 2009.
“They believe they can do well now,” Golden said. “The expectations have been pushed higher. We’re looking at it from a different view. Doing well is a habit and you always want it to be a habit. The belief in oneself and the belief in one’s team is huge.”
He also realizes there is no guarantee the strides his team made last year will be carried through to a new year. With only four returning starters on either side of the ball, Golden knows the Whalers have their work cut out for them.
But, with a newfound positive mentality, his players are setting their sights on the next step.
“It definitely gives us a lot more confidence the way we turned things around last year,” senior quarterback Nate Lewis said. “But last year’s in the past. We’re going to work as a team to move forward. We’re taking it one step at time and going at it day by day.”
For what New Bedford may lack in experience this year, it does have the luxury of pulling from a deep pool of athletes. Nearly every position is manned by a member of the Whalers track and field team. Their athleticism is apparent while watching the players operate in New Bedford’s spread offense.
The flashes of speed are not only limited to the skill positions. While running wind sprints that culminated Friday’s practice at the high school, it was 6-foot-5, 250-pound tackle Lance Burlingame that was pacing his teammates. He’s attracted the attention of Division I schools, such as BC and UMass Amherst, because of his athleticism.
That doesn’t mean that Burlingame rested on his laurels this summer.
“I worked on my conditioning and I ran a lot more. I tried to improve on my footwork, getting out of my stance quicker.”
That work ethic permeates the Whalers roster. Lewis devoted much of his offseason to working on his footwork with New Bedford’s coaching staff. Last year’s success has been the impetus to continue to improve and keep a good thing going.
“Winning is good,” Burlingame said, cracking a little smile. “Now, we just want to continue on that path and keep up the good work. Hopefully, we’ll continue to do that and have another successful season.”
So will things finally get a little bit tighter in the Big Three?
“We’re focused on the first game right now and nothing beyond that, we’ll take it from there,” Golden said. “The larger picture is that we’d like to learn how to win in the Big Three, consistently. We want to do that and that’s certainly a goal. But we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.”
NEW BEDFORD AT A GLANCE
2009 record: 6-4-1 (1-1 Big Three)
Coach: Dennis Golden (sixth year, 43-58-1)
Players to watch: Lance Burlingame, Sr., LT/DE, 6-5, 250 lbs.; Nate Lewis, Sr., QB, 5-10, 165 lbs.; Phito Gondre, Sr., RB/S, 5-10, 165 lbs.; Izaiah Barretto, Sr., RB/DB, 5-8, 150 lbs.; Jaraud Wood, Jr., WR/LB, 5-101, 165 lbs.; Janny Dosreis, Sr., RT/DL, 6-2, 255 lbs.
Strengths: Team speed, athleticism at skill positions, team chemistry.
Weaknesses: Lack of experience.
Outlook: Golden’s offensive philosophy is simple: Get the ball in the hands of the playmakers and watch them go. And the Whalers have the horses in their spread offense to do it. Running back Phito Gondre is one of the elite sprinters in the state and has placed at New England Regionals in each of the last two years. One thing to watch is how sophomore Miles Medeiros could push Lewis at quarterback as the season progresses. On defense, it will all come down to how fast the young Whalers can learn the playbook in their 4-3 scheme. “We want to be able to be confident in our reads and then just play with the speed that we have,” Golden said.