B ob Souza has coached football at St. Sebastian’s School in Needham for 35 years, and he’s had a number of great teams. Championship teams. Undefeated teams. But even among those exceptional groups, he says, this year’s squad has stood out.
When the Arrows defeated Thayer Academy last week, 14-13, to secure an undefeated regular season (8-0) and clinch a share of the Independent School League title (with Governor’s Academy), the coach’s emotions flowed freely.
His eyes welled up, and his voice began to crack as he addressed the players circled around him. “You did what you set out to do,” Souza told them. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of the whole team. The seniors . . . this is the way you wanted to end it.”
This year’s squad, he says, represents high school football’s perfect storm of rare athletic ability and steadfast dedication to the sport, and yielded the prep school its first league championship since its perfect regular season in 2001.
For Souza, his players are a once-in-a-generation mix.
“I told the kids the other day, next to the years that my own sons played for me, which were special for me, I said this is the most special group of kids that we’ve ever had,” Souza said. “I can’t say enough.”
The team offers the complete package, according to Souza. The Arrows do their work in the classroom and stay out of trouble on the weekends (the importance of which Souza reminds them about after every game). But their talent is truly distinctive.
Senior quarterback Pat Healy, a Southborough resident, is effective with both his arms and his legs. Four times on Saturday, the captain helped St. Sebastian’s convert third downs, in addition to a fourth down bid in the second half.
On a fourth-and-12 in the third quarter, he found receiver Brian O’Malley for a 36-yard score, their second touchdown connection of the day, that gained St. Sebastian’s the lead.
“We weren’t going to let the season go to waste,” said Healy, who is lined up to play lacrosse at Notre Dame next year. “We put too much work in. We were going to finish it.”
Then there’s O’Malley, a Medfield resident who almost never leaves the field. At 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, he is Healy’s top target in the passing game, but he’s also the starting safety and kicker for the Arrows. Against Thayer, he accounted for all of St. Sebastian’s 14 points. Also a standout wrestler and lacrosse player, O’Malley has received interest from Ivy League and New England Small College Athletic Conference schools for football.
The defense is spearheaded by junior linebacker Connor Strachan of Wellesley, who at 6 feet and 230 pounds runs the 40-yard dash in roughly 4.4 seconds, and is the product of a football family tree.
His father, Brian , played at the University of New Hampshire. His uncle, Steve , played at Boston College and then went on to the NFL to play for the Los Angeles Raiders. His brother, Brian Jr. , is a receiver at Brown University.
A starter at St. Sebastian’s since his freshman year, Strachan makes all the defensive calls, and he has instincts that Souza says can’t be taught. Boston College, University of Connecticut, University of Virginia, and Wake Forest have already offered him scholarships, and, though only a junior, he’s one of the team’s emotional leaders.
“He’s a big dog,” Healy said. “He’s a linebacker. He likes to get rowdy and he gets kids pumped up, which is awesome. The whole senior class did a great job of that, too. We all have the same goals. We just want to win. And everyone’s on the same page. It’s great.”
Senior running back Brendan Daly, from Norton, has rushed for more than 1,000 yards with the help of holes opened by senior captain Brian Mullin on the offensive line. Though Daly missed the Thayer game with a slight hamstring tear, he hopes to play Saturday against King School (6-1) in a New England Preparatory School Athletic Council championship game, the Arthur Valicenti Bowl, at Avon Old Farms in Connecticut. Daly will play at Franklin and Marshall College, while Mullin will play at Bowdoin.
The team’s collective success has felt like a long time coming. Two seasons ago, Souza started nine sophomores and Strachan, a freshman. They took their lumps, going 3-5, but they had a feeling their experience would pay off this fall.
“The past three years, it’s been the same group starting,” Strachan said. “It really goes to show how hard we’ve worked. Every summer we work together.”
In 1994, Souza coached his son Mike and the Arrows to an undefeated season. That was one year after his older son, Matt , graduated. He has fond memories of those teams, and he knows this year’s will similarly leave its mark on him no matter the outcome Saturday.Continued...