Taking a knee –– it's the most boring play in football. You never see it in the highlight packages. It never ends in a touchdown, a turnover, or a bone-crushing tackle. In comparison to pretty much every play that takes place in every game at every level, the act of kneeing the ball at the end of a game is utterly meaningless.
Last Friday night, Ipswich’s John Eldredge stood at the line of scrimmage and watched his quarterback, Brendan Gallagher, step under center, call for the hike and squad down to one knee. To Eldredge, the knee was anything but meaningless.
"I’ve never really been able to take a knee at the end of the game," the senior and three-year starter said. "Friday was my first varsity game I played in and won."
You heard it right. Three years of varsity football and a fourth -- his freshman year -- on the bench, and John Eldredge had never been part of a winning ballgame.
Eldredge entered into the Ipswich program in 2007 –- the year after the Tigers took home the Division 3A Super Bowl title. His freshman year, the team went 0-11 as Eldredge watched from the sidelines.
As a sophomore, Eldredge started at kick returner and saw time in the backfield –– Ipswich went 0-10.
Those 21 straight losses were tough to swallow, but 2009 offered up hope, especially with Eldredge poised for a breakout season as the team’s primary tailback.
That hope for 2009 deteriorated quickly –– in a preseason scrimmage, Eldredge tore the meniscus in his knee. The injury knocked him out until late October, and the Tigers went winless without him.
Eldredge’s return to the field was short-lived –– in his second game back from injury, the then-junior dislocated the kneecap on his already injured knee.
Eldredge missed the rest of the season, but more importantly, he missed Thanksgiving Day, when the Tigers finally snapped the losing streak at 31 games with a 14-13 win over North Reading. Eldredge watched the whole game from the sideline.
“A bunch of my teammates were crying," Eldredge said. "But I just didn’t feel the same way because I didn’t get to play. I wasn’t on the field.”
Snap back to last Friday, when Eldredge, after an offseason’s worth of physical therapy on his twice-injured knee, stood on the field in his dirty uniform and watched his quarterback take that knee. The win was a sweet one for Eldredge, who played a critical role in his triumphant return to the lineup, hauling in seven catches for 181 yards, including two touchdowns plus a two-point conversion.
After spending three years developing at running back, Eldredge is now the team’s starting receiver, and if week one is any indication, he may already be one of the best in the Small side of the Cape Ann League.
“Losing him when he was going to be our featured tailback, that hurt,” Flaherty said. “For him to have the courage to come back from injuries and play receiver to take a bit of the pounding off his body, it’s paid unbelievable dividends so far.”
Eldredge, who won the team’s Iron Man conditioning competition this summer, is using his athleticism to add a major dimension to a Tiger offense that averaged just 8.6 points per game last year. Paired with Gallagher at quarterback, Eldredge gives Ipswich a solid aerial attack to go with its Wing T offense that’s built to run the ball.
“We’re hoping the threat of this one guy will pull two guys out of box to cover and then our running game will be 10-on-9,” Flaherty said. “We’re certainly not a spread offense. We’re really looking to throw to him if they 1-on-1 him. If they do something different, we’ll find the weakness and attack that.”
So far so good, and hopefully for Eldredge, his good health can help him fulfill his desire to play ball at the collegiate level. The senior spent the entire summer explaining to college recruiters that, no, he didn’t have any game film from his junior year because, well, he didn't play. Their response was predictable: call us back when you actually hit the field.
“It’s a relief to get the first game out of the way,” Eldredge said. “I played fairly well and hopefully that’ll get me recognized a bit.”
The senior hopes to sneak onto a roster at a Division 3 school, possibly in the New England Small College Athletic Conference, but that may require a few more multi-touchdown, 100-plus yard games.
That, of course, would be just fine with coach Flaherty, who thinks potential injuries are the only thing standing between his Tigers and a run at a league championship.
“I think if we stay healthy, we can compete for the Cape Ann Small title,” the coach said. “We have a lot of athletes and a lot of juniors playing their first varsity game other night. They’re very athletic, and we’re only going to improve if we stay healthy. Mix in our quarterback and runningbacks and the seniors, we have pretty good team.”
Division 3 Top 10:
1. Apponequet (1-0)
2. Feehan (0-1)
3. Scituate (0-1)
4. Swampscott (0-1)
5. Somerset (1-0)
6. Martha's Vineyard (1-0)
7. Saugus (1-0)
8. Dighton-Rehobeth (0-1)
9. Beverly (0-1)
10. Seekonk (0-0)
Division 3A Top 10:
1. Holliston (1-0)
2. Rockland (1-0)
3. Westwood (1-0)
4. Cohasset (1-0)
5. Abington (1-0)
6. Austin Prep (1-0)
7. Mashpee (1-0)
8. Lynnfield (1-0)
9. St. Mary's (1-0)
10. Spellman (1-0)
Games to Watch:
Hopkinton at Westwood, Thursday 7 p.m. –– Wolverine running back Sean Amaru helps Westwood welcome Tri-Valley rival Hopkinton in a battle of 1-0 squads.
North Attleboro at Bishop Feehan, Friday 7 p.m. –– The Shamrocks were embarrassed in their season opener against Attleboro. North Attelboro should be a tougher test –– time to see what the defending Division 3 champs are made of.
Saugus at Salem, Friday 7 p.m. –– Sachem running back Shamir Guillaume lit up Bishop Fenwick for 222 yards and four touchdowns in week one. Division-1A Salem offers up a much tougher test for Saugus, and could be a decent measuring stick to see if the Sachems are legitimate enough to compete at the upper echelons of D-3.
Several reporters and editors contribute updates, news and analysis to the High School Sports Blog.
- Bob Holmes: A Reading resident (Go Rockets!) and Boston College graduate, Holmes is the Boston Globe High School Sports Editor. We remind you now that his weekly picks are often made in jest so everyone just calm down when he picks against Everett for 11 straight weeks. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeHolmes.
- Craig Larson: A native of West Springfield (Leo Durocher anyone? Tim Daggett?) and Curry College graduate (a proud Colonel!), Larson is the sports editor for the Globe's regional sections: South, West and North, as well as a frequent contributor on the college beat. Abington to Xaverian: it all starts with the schools. Have a compelling story idea? Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeLars.
- Zuri Berry: Berry attended the same high school as sports legends O.J. Simpson and Joe DiMaggio. (Guess which one is his hero.) He's a South Boston resident (formerly of Eastie) and the editor of the High School Sports blog as well as the go-to-guy for everything high school sports on Boston.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @GlobeSchools for all of the latest updates.
Then there are our fall correspondents:
- Anthony Gulizia | @gulizia_a | Div. 1 football
- Eric Russo | @erusso22 | Div. 2 football
- Stephen Sellner | @stephen_sellner | Div. 3 football
- Andrew MacDougall | @Andy_MacDougall | Div. 4 football
- Greg Joyce | @GJoyce9 | Div. 5 football
- Lorenzo Recupero | @LorenzoRecupero | Div. 6 football
- Liz Torres | @etorres446 | Girls volleyball
To reach the high school sports department, e-mail email@example.com.