Haddad Stressing Focus as Key to BHS Grid Success
Aug 30, 2018 06:00AM
● By Kenneth Hamwey
written by KEN HAMWEY, Bulletin Sports Editor
The Bellingham High football team, which will open its season on Sept. 8 at Blackstone-Millville, will be experienced and athletic, but coach Dan Haddad (left) firmly believes that focus is the prime ingredient for success.
Haddad, who is starting his fourth year as head coach, directed the Blackhawks into the playoffs in his second season on the job and is hoping for a return trip this season. The 55-year-old coach views a tournament berth as “realistic.”
“Our goals for 2018 are to be a consistent team and to be in the playoffs,” Haddad said. “It’s vitally important that our kids understand that total focus is a must. We have enough experience to compete in the Tri-Valley League and, if we stay focused as a group, we should be able to compete with anyone on our schedule. The kids need to understand the process.”
After a 5-6 season in 2016, which produced a playoff berth, the Blackhawks slipped to 4-7 last year. The current squad, which has nine returnees on offense and eight on defense, has some admirable strengths and Haddad hopes they’ll be assets that shine brightly.
“Besides being athletic and experienced, we’ve got players who’ve got a high football IQ, they’re coachable and they’ve got speed,” he emphasized. “My concerns are lack of size in the lines and a lack of depth. Our reserves don’t have enough varsity experience.”
On offense at the skilled positions, Bellingham is senior-laden. Senior captain Jim Kilduff (5-11, 180) returns as the starting quarterback, and his backfield will feature a senior trio of Dan Unegbu, Evan Laroche and James Palermo. Three receivers—Cam Picard, Christian Kelley and Kenny Morrissey—are seniors, and Brandon Murphy is a junior.
“Jim has good field awareness, he’s tough and he’s improved his passing accuracy,” Haddad noted. “He’s also a capable runner. Unegbu is an outside threat, Laroche (5-8, 200) is our power runner and Palermo is strong running or catching the ball. Dan has speed and good hands, Evan is shifty and tough and James provides us with a double threat.”
The BHS receiving corps has a variety of assets, and Haddad likes what each brings to the table.
“Cam is a speed-burner,” he said. “He’s got good hands and runs effective routes. Brandon is a solid route-runner who relies on good hands, and Christian can be used wide or in the slot. He’s a smart kid who’s very dependable and knows his role. Kenny started last year at tight end. He’s a good blocker who fights for the ball. He’s got strong hands and is solid running his routes.”
The offensive line will feature Bellingham’s other senior captains—Dan Gavin at right guard, Zach Gabriel at center and Jacob Bassett at tackle. Senior John Keeler will start opposite Bassett at tackle, and the left guard starter is still undecided.
The likely candidates are juniors Jayden Caron and Vinnie Decaria and senior Dylan Labonte. Junior Chuck O’Brien will be utilized as a reserve at guard and tackle.
“Dan is a solid blocker who’s physical, hard-working and one of our fastest kids,” Haddad noted.
“Zach is a good pass and run blocker who’s smart and knows the position. John is athletic and strong and Jake is an effective blocker who’s smart, athletic and strong. Jayden, Dylan and Vinnie all have a good work ethic, and they’re versatile and strong.”
Most of the Blackhawks’ defense comprises the offensive players. The line includes Morrissey at end, either Keeler or Caron opposite Morrissey, Gabriel at one tackle slot and either Decaria, Labonte or sophomore Nate Ireland at the other tackle. “Morrissey is a strong read-and-react defender who has good pursuit,” Haddad said. “Keeler and Caron are strong competitors and Gabriel is solid at taking on blocks. Decaria, Labonte and Ireland are battling for the job at tackle. Ireland is a hard worker who deserves an opportunity.”
Bassett, Gavin, Unegbu and Caron are Haddad’s choices at linebacker. He likes their physical style and ability to react quickly. “They’re also strong, athletic and quick,” he emphasized. “Bassett is a leader on defense, Gavin is fast, Unegbu is a good tackler and Caron is quick.”
Kilduff and Palermo will handle the cornerback chores while Murphy and sophomore Anthony Galindo will start at safety. “Kilduff is polished,” Haddad said. “He’s a hard hitter and an excellent cover corner. Palermo is athletic and a consistent hitter. Murphy is smart and a solid leader while Galindo is tough and also smart.”
Keeler and Labonte were competing for the punting and kicking jobs at Bulletin deadline. “They’re both accurate,” Haddad said. “Keeler was utilized last year because of injuries.”
Haddad, who is no longer involved in youth football, after 27 years at that level, views the battle for the TVL Small Division title as a wide-open race. “Dedham will be a strong contender, Norton is traditionally solid, Medway is improved and Dover-Sherborn always is tough,” he noted. “We’ll open with BMR; then our second opponent will be Canton (Sept. 15 at home at 6 pm). Those two non-league games will tell us what kind of team we have. We know we have to respect every squad.”
Haddad noted that his seven assistants are all returning, and he admired the way they handled the strength and conditioning program in the off-season. Relying on an athletic philosophy that stresses reaching one’s potential and developing passion for the game, Haddad firmly believes that those elements lead to success; and he likes all the life lessons that can be learned in sports.
“By being competitive, sports teach kids to be independent, disciplined and prepared,” Haddad said.
It’s those attributes that could lead BHS to gridiron success in 2018.