When the subject is Dual County League football, the first team that comes to mind for most people is Acton-Boxboro. Others might think back to the Lincoln-Sudbury teams of the 1980s and 1990s, or even Westford, which ended A-B’s 59-game unbeaten streak in the DCL last year.
It might take a while before the typical fan even mentions Wayland, but that is rapidly changing. Following an impressive 9-2 campaign in 2005, the Warriors are off to a 4-0 start this season as they head into Friday night’s showdown with L-S, which also enters the contest at 4-0.
Head coach Scott Parseghian can attest that it hasn’t always been this way for Wayland. This is Parseghian’s sixth year as head coach, and 11th overall with the program.
"I was an assistant coach for five years, and we had four different head coaches in those five years," said Parseghian. "I think our best season was 5-5. We went 1-10, 3-8. There was even an 0-for. We were the dumping ground of the DCL. Other teams would have their starters out by halftime."
Yup, that’s right. The Warriors went an entire season without winning a game. It doesn’t get much worse than that. After his fifth season as an assistant, when another coaching change was imminent, Parseghian threw his hat into the ring. Parseghian grew up in Wayland, where he attended high school in the late 1980s and early 1990s and lettered in both football and wrestling. He successfully lobbied for the head coaching job, but change was not about to happen overnight.
"We only had about 28-30 players in the program, at least from grades 10 through 12," said Parseghian. "We went 1-10 my first year. Even I was second-guessing myself."
But things started to turn around. The program put together seasons of 8-3, 7-4, 7-4, and 9-2, with losses to Acton-Boxboro in each of those seasons.
"We were hanging with everybody else," said Parseghian. "We really turned the corner. The kids want to play, and I’ve got a great coaching staff."
The groundwork for the revival in Wayland actually began in 1999, when Steve Henley helped start the Wayland/Weston Pop Warner program. Up to that point, Wayland had participated in Sudbury’s Pop Warner system. Henley saw the opportunity to bring it back, and now some of this year’s juniors and seniors have been participating since its inception.
Henley would also serve as Parseghian’s offensive coordinator, before he died from complications of a stroke during the 2003 season. He was just 46.
Henley’s contributions to the program also extended to the construction of a weight room, where in addition to fund raising he also quietly donated $40,000 to make sure it was completed in time.
"We wanted to build a weight room," said Parseghian. "We received permission, but we had to come up with the building space, and furnish it with the equipment. Steve and I went around, talking to some of the big wigs in the town. People understood what we were trying to do and believed in what we were preaching. We were able to build a wing off the field house."
Parseghian also credits for the turnaround Wayland’s wrestling program, for which he has been an assistant coach.
"We have one of the best wrestling programs in the state," said Parseghian. "I got to know the kids, and I learned so much from (former) coach Rick Moyer."
The winning attitude and enthusiasm started to make its way over to the football program. Wayland is very much in contention for a DCL crown that at this point in the season appears up for grabs.
Lincoln-Sudbury will have a say in that. There is a rich history for L-S, as evidenced by coach Tom Lopez recording his 200th win last week. L-S was the dominant program in the 1980s and early 1990s, appearing in five Super Bowls from 1985-1992, capturing three of them. Both Mike Croel and Joe Sims would go on to Nebraska and play in the NFL. Croel was a defensive lineman for the Denver Broncos, while Sims played for the Atlanta Falcons, where he was teammates with a young quarterback named Brett Favre and a cornerback named Deion Sanders.
While the Super Bowl trips have not been as frequent, L-S continues to be a successful program.
"I just think the rest of the league got better," said Lopez. "We’ve still managed to win 70 percent of our games over the years."
While there will be some hype surrounding this weekend’s game, Lopez is not putting an extra emphasis on it.
"Every DCL game is just as important as the next one," said Lopez. "We can’t afford to have a letdown."
The series had been pretty one-sided in recent years in favor of L-S, but Wayland had been knocking on the door in both 2003 and 2004.
"We were up by 22 with 7:32 remaining when they came back to win," said Parseghian. "Two years ago we went ahead by three with about five and a half minutes left, but they scored with no time remaining to win."
It looked like that trend might continue last year when Wayland’s starting quarterback, Alex Jenny, broke a bone in his foot. But Ben Sherry filled in the hole as Wayland captured a 29-20 win, just its second victory over L-S since 1988. The game also served to let Parseghian know what he would be in for when Jenny graduated last year.
"It actually all started with last year's game against L-S," said Parseghian. "Ben Sherry came in and got the win for us. That was his first test."
The change in quarterbacks also brought about a change in philosophy for Wayland this year.
"We threw the ball about 30-35 times a game last year," said Parseghian. "We changed things around a little bit. Last year, we spread the offense out, like Urban Meyer's [Utah] team did when they had Alex Smith. We spent a lot of time in the offseason looking at what other teams do. We took a look at what UNH does with [quarterback] Ricky Santos. We still believe in the spread, but we use the option now too."
Parseghian is just trying to best utilize the talent of his players.
"Our running back, Tony Torres rushed for 1,100 yards for us last year," said Parseghian. "Ben is a tough, physical quarterback. He's got great size. He's almost like a running back. He's leading the team in rushing. We've rushed for over 700 yards as a team."
It has also had a positive effect on the other side of the ball
"We spread the field vertically now," said Parseghian. "We have much longer drives this year, which has been helping the defense tremendously."
That could come in handy this weekend, as L-S also boasts a potent rushing attack. In last week's victory over visiting St. Bernard's of Fitchburg, junior tailback Mark Hogan rushed for a career-high 313 yards and four touchdowns. If both teams can keep the ball on the ground, it could make for a quick game. Either way, it figures to be a great matchup that could go a long way in clearing up the DCL picture.
"Obviously, we have our Thanksgiving game against Weston," said Parseghian. "But with the proximity of the two schools, this is a true high school football rivalry."