HOLDEN, Mass. -- The heat and humidity finally got to Mike Dubzinski at some point this summer. And so one July night, he found himself tossing and turning as he tried to sleep in his Rutland home, walked downstairs to his living room around midnight, and flicked on the television. The town's community access channel just happened to be playing the Division 1 Super Bowl win over Holy Name from last December, the one that capped his Wachusett Regional Mountaineers' flawless 13-0 season.
Some teams can't bear to watch the film after coming out on the short end of an overtime loss or regulation beatdown. But that chance happening last July, Dubzinski says, is the only time he's even thought about 2009, one of the most remarkable campaigns in program history.
"We haven't spent one sentence or one moment talking about last season," Dubzinski said. "That's not to diminish anything that's happened, but once it's over, we've moved on. You have to.
"I have a whole new group of kids, and we owe it to them as a coaching staff to put forth that same effort. They deserve that full attention to detail."
Coachspeak? At first glance, decidedly so. But then out comes his diminutive senior kicker unloading prodigious blasts from his right foot that land in touchback territory nearly every time. When the time comes for point-after and field goal attempts, the JV players don't just huddle behind the goalposts. Dubzinski sends them out to the parking lot down the hill, and then watches as the little guy's kicks sail two, maybe three stories high into the air.
You get the idea. The Mountaineers may only return eight starters (three offensively), but the talent is still there in the most unconventional ways. And perhaps nobody embodies that defiance of convention better than senior Connor McDavitt.
At just 5-foot-6, 145 pounds, the baby-faced senior looks more suited to be carrying water for the freshman team than he does launching footballs a considerable distance. Yet there he is, connecting on field goals in practice from as far out as 60 yards; taking Central Mass. indoor track titles in the 55-meter dash (6.77 seconds) and hurdles (7.98); covering a vast plain of ground as a centerfielder and beating out the throw to first base out of the leadoff spot (some believe that's his best sport); and, at the end of the day, turning out as the nation's 50th best kicker and the state's 12th-best prospect by ESPNU's scouting service, ahead of big-time BCS commits like Lawrence Academy's Anthony Knight (NC State) and Mike Orloff (Iowa).
"He's a complete athlete. The kid's a total package," says senior quarterback and co-captain Matt LeBlanc. "I know he doesn't look it, but he's an athlete...he comes out here before practice and drop-kicks it from about 60 yards."
Not often does a kicker set the tone. But in Holden?
"It's huge," LeBlanc said. "Almost every kickoff is a touchback. If we're in a hole at our own 10, we can count on him to kick it back to their 30. I mean, he's got a great leg, such a small kid, I mean...I grew up with him, and he's just an athlete. You should see him play baseball. Just a stud."
There's pedigree in the McDavitt clan -- his father, Tom, punted at Amherst College in the early 80's; his brother, Tom, punted for Tufts earlier this decade -- and since he was about eight years old, he's been practicing under their tutelage. Some kids hone their skills through soccer, but McDavitt only took two years of it before deciding on Pop Warner. Rather, he got his kicks in just hanging around the open fields on the campus of Anna Maria College, not too far from his Paxton home, and booting the ball around -- "Beats here, running through the parking lots or into the swamp," McDavitt laughs.
McDavitt and his deceptive speed will also play a role in the Mountaineers' offense, where he will look for open space as a slot receiver; and in the return game, where he is fielding kickoffs for the first time.
He admits size is somewhat of a motivating factor -- "a little bit," he smiles sheepishly -- but Dubzinski's prose speaks to deeper intangibles.
"Let me say this. I don't care how big you are," he starts matter-of-factly, with a pause. "OK? I don't care how big you are, but I do care how tough you are...McDavitt? He's going to leave Wachusett with 12 letters. He's a versatile athlete. Mentally, he's tough."
For the soft-spoken LeBlanc, there is considerable bite to his relatively muted bark. Defensively, he is calling the shots at inside linebacker, and relishes in being right in the middle of the collisions. That same mentality carries over to an offense that will be more of a run-oriented attack in 2010. LeBlanc embraces the contact he takes on carries around the edge.
"There's nothing more that I like to do," he smiles. "Just that feeling, you know. I like to hit. Whether it's blocking, or making the tackle, carrying out a block on offense, as long as I'm hitting I'm happy...I'm lowering my shoulder, I'm not trying to sidestep them.
"I love it, that's the kind of football I play. I grew in a tough football family, and that's the way I've always played since Pop Warner."
WACHUSETT AT A GLANCE
2009: 13-0 (5-0 Division 1A), won Central Mass. Division 1A Super Bowl
Coach: Mike Dubzinski (11th year at Wachusett, 74-49; 16th year overall, 99-77)
Players to watch: Matt LeBlanc, Sr., QB/LB; Shane Murray, Sr., OL; Connor McDavitt, Sr., WR/K; Alex Goodhile, Sr., OL/DL; B.J. Foley, Sr., RB/LB; Eric Darko, Sr., RB/LB; Nick Champlin, Sr., RB/LB; Matt McMillen, Sr., RB/LB; Tyler Catalina, Sr., DL/OL; Steve Trychon, Sr., QB/DB; Rocco DiVerdi, Sr., DB; Sean Goehle, Sr., DB; Alex Turgeon, Jr., TE/LB; Zack Mazyck, Sr., OL/DL; Josh Anderson, Sr., OL.
Strengths: Speed, linebackers, kicking game.
Weaknesses: Inexperience on offensive and defensive lines.
Outlook: The Mountaineers return just eight starters from last season's Super Bowl winning squad, but the perception around Central Mass is that Dubzinski's boys still have plenty left in the tank to defend their title. LeBlanc is an inside linebacker who happens to play quarterback, and he leads the offense as such, with a bullish running style around the edges. Also look for the diminutive McDavitt -- who happens to be the defending Central Mass. indoor track champ in the 55-meter dash and hurdles -- to be active with the ball, returning kicks and creating space for himself off underneath routes (a.k.a. the Welker). McDavitt is considered one of the state's best placekickers, too. Defensively, the line is young but Catalina has been a stalwart in the middle thus far. The Mountaineers are long in the tooth at the linebacker spots, and will switch off between 4-4, 5-2 and 3-5 looks accordingly based on personnel.