Editor’s Choice: A selection from The Circle Voice

Matt Clarida ’12, Editor in Chief of the 2011-2012 The Circle Voice selected this article from the Parents Weekend edition. The article was written by the CV Staff.

It has been a long time since Groton had a football team it could rally around, but this year, with the Zebras 4-1, the student body has a football team it can really get excited about. Game by game, this team dispels the notion that Groton football is a doormat for other ISL teams.

Despite injuries to a number of key players, including Co-captain Zach Baharozian ’12, Peter Laboy ’12, and breakout running back David Caldwell ’13, the Zebras have found a way to win this season. “All good teams have to deal with injuries,” Head Coach John Lyons explained, “and we’ve had to deal with some big ones. David Caldwell was a big loss, and losing Zach Baharozian to concussions was huge, as was losing Peter Laboy for the year. But our guys have stepped up. They’re united as a group and they have a lot of experience playing together.”

Indeed, the team has not let the injury bug hold it back. After winning no more than three games in each of the past five seasons, the Zebras won their first three contests of the new campaign, dropped a close one in week four to Middlesex, and rebounded last week in Waltham, defeating a strong BB&N team 14-7. This game was especially sweet for those who played in the game two years ago against BB&N, a blowout Groton loss 42-0. After giving up an early touchdown, the defense stiffened and shut down BB&N’s attack. A couple of turnovers turned into easy touchdowns, and Groton controlled the ball for much of the second half. The victory proved without doubt that this year’s team can beat all comers.

At the core of the team’s success is a unit of Sixth Formers who are playing together for a fourth, and in some cases fifth, straight season. “That’s our greatest strength,” Co-captain Joe MacDonald explained. “Our unity has really helped us battle and succeed against bigger and stronger teams.”

Another critical part of the team’s resurgence has been Head Coach John Lyons, who returned to the sideline after a four-year hiatus, during which he coached many of the current seniors when they were freshmen on Thirds Football. “I stepped away because I couldn’t be a department head and fulfill all those responsibilities, and put the required effort into football at the same time,” Coach Lyons said. “I came back because I looked at this group, looked what I would have to do in terms of preparation, and decided that I would find a great amount of satisfaction in working with this team.”

Many players credit Lyons with fostering a team mentality that emphasizes group accomplishments rather than individual accolades. “Look,” Mr. Lyons said, “I don’t care much for MVP awards, Most Improved Player awards, or things like that. I told the team – and the kids have completely bought in to this– that it really isn’t about the individual. It might sound corny, but I think of the 2001 Super Bowl, when the Patriots were introduced as a team, not individually.”

Coach Lyons has brought more than just philosophical changes. He has implemented key schematic adjustments that better suit the physical makeup of the team. In the past, the team ran a zone-blocking scheme. “That might work in the NFL,” Mr. Lyons explained, “but in high school, offensive linemen have trouble shedding the initial block and hitting the linebackers.” The team now runs a Wing-T formation, which features two backs behind the quarterback in its basic look, but can be run in a number of ways. “We switched from a complete spread offense to a Wing-T/spread formation that helps us utilize our speed all over the field,” explained Joe MacDonald. This new format has found previous skill players, such as Sherwood Callaway ‘12, who, with a 4.7 40-yard dash is among the fastest players on the team, playing offensive line. “Sherwood is one of the fastest kids on our team,” Mr. Lyons explained, “but he’s exactly where we need him at offensive line, because we have him pulling and moving all over the place.”

This past Monday, the team took a field trip, traveling to Mt. Watatic for a hike. “The hike was really cool,” senior defensive end Bo Harwood said, “because it was the same exact hike that we took when we were all on Thirds football with Coach Lyons.” At the top, the team posed for a picture. “Look at this,” Mr. Lyons said to me the next day, gesturing to the picture taken the day before, “and then look at this.” He clicked his mouse and up came another photo, bearing striking similarities to the previous picture. “That’s us four years ago at the top [of Mt. Watatic],” Mr. Lyons explained. “Isn’t that just so cool?”

The Groton Zebras (4-1) face St. Paul’s (2-3) this Saturday at 3 p.m. Last year, Groton lost a close one to the Pelicans in Concord, and St. Paul’s has been a strong team so far this season. Despite their poor record, last week they shellacked St. George’s 47-2. “They are very well coached,” Mr. Lyons said. “The Head Coach used to coach at Bates, and he really knows what he is doing. They are a talented team, and we’ll have our hands full.” In front of a Parents Weekend crowd, however, it is hard to call Groton an underdog this week.

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Since this article appeared in The Circle Voice, the Varsity Football team defeated St. Paul’s 13-6 and, after suffering a loss to St. Sebastian’s, defeated St. Mark’s in the last game of the season to finish 6-2.

The Circle Voice is available online.

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