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Peabody success getting attention

With Ian Riley (20) running for 163 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Weymouth, Needham sits atop the Bay State Carey standings. With Ian Riley (20) running for 163 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Weymouth, Needham sits atop the Bay State Carey standings. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)
By Bob Holmes
Globe Staff / October 3, 2011

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It’s been a long time since anyone paid much attention to the Peabody football team.

The Tanners last winning season came in 2004, when quarterback John Studley helped carry Peabody to an 8-2 record and second-place finish behind Everett in the Greater Boston League. That season was the last of 13 straight winning seasons and the end of the Ed Nizwantowski era. The next six Tanner seasons ended a combined 18-46.

But today Peabody is 3-0 after beating Gloucester Friday, 41-26. The result is a vast improvement on 2010 when Peabody started 1-2, lost to the Fishermen, 42-0, and finished 5-6 in the Northeastern Large.

The win over Gloucester was especially sweet. Gloucester had won the last three games over Peabody by a combined score of 117-12. Fourth-year coach Scott Wlasuk and his seniors had known nothing but frustration at the hands of the Fishermen. There were plenty of smiles as the clock ran down at Newell Stadium.

“Oh sure. It’s been a long time since we’ve been 3-0,’’ said athletic director Phil Sheridan. “This senior group has gone through a lot and they’re working together and they want to compete. They’re excited about the start.’’

For Wlasuk, the night was made even better because he shared it with his two football-playing sons. Sean is the Tanners senior captain and kicker, Cody is a sophomore safety and quarterback. And smiling was only half the story Friday.

“I’m a very emotional person, so it was a combination of smiling and crying for me,’’ said Wlasuk, a police officer in Peabody for 24 years and a 1979 Peabody graduate. “But I think they were all smiling.’’

Peabody’s success isn’t from any new schemes or a few good bounces.

“It’s the maturity of our kids,’’ said Wlasuk. “I saw it coming last year. The phrase I had when I was named coach was ‘character breeds success.’ We focus on doing things not only on the field but off the field.’’

Peabody players have participated as a team in the Relay for Life Cancer Walk and done leadership training exercises with the National Guard. The Tanners also help with the Pop Warner program.

“I think its really built the character of our players both on and off the field.’’

But character doesn’t make tackles or run for touchdowns and Peabody has plenty of talent as well. Leading the way is running back Nat Gaye. The senior had 237 yards and three touchdowns against Gloucester. At 5 feet 8 inches, 175 pounds, Gaye isn’t “that big of a kid,’’ according to Wlasuk, but pound for pound is one of the strongest.

Also in the backfield is fullback D.J. Henrick, whose father Dave is the Tanners’ line coach. At quarterback, Wlasuk says lefty Jason Hiou is “like having another coach on the field.’’ Hiou, a straight A student, goes both ways for Peabody and scored twice against Gloucester.

Wlasuk sees another benefit to the Tanners’ start.

“The community is really getting excited about the program again.’’

Peabody faces Beverly Thursday looking for its fourth win. We should all pay attention.

The Rocket 411 - Needham’s impressive win over Weymouth Saturday was a major hurdle on the way to the Rockets first potential playoff appearance since 2009. Needham has been to the MIAA playoffs three times but has never won a Super Bowl. In Central Mass, Auburn beat Millbury, 28-0, the Rockets 41st straight win. But in Reading the news is not so good. The three-time Middlesex League champion Rockets are off to a 1-3 start after falling to Melrose Friday.

Turnaround kids - Peabody isn’t the only school that’s off to an impressive start this fall. After winless seasons in 2010, Triton is 3-1, and Stoneham, Carver, Haverhill, Ashland, and Canton are all 2-2.

No stopping Pinkney - One week after running for a Western Mass record 421 yards, Putnam’s Melquawn Pinkney came back to earth . . . sort of. In a 34-6 win over Westfield, he ran for only 262 yards and four touchdowns. Putnam plays Chicopee Comp Friday.

Bus stop - The Globe’s undefeated bus, which debuted in 1934, returns next week. Heading into the weekend, there are 28 undefeated teams.