Mike Beliveau has coached some good players during the six seasons his Souhegan High School football team has operated out of a spread offense.
But never has he seen his offense run like this.
For a week now, Beliveau and his coaching staff have watched the best football players in New Hampshire practice for Saturday’s Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl against Vermont. It’s been like nothing any of them have ever seen as coaches.
“It’s been like a kid in the candy shops with all these different kinds of offensive weapons,” Beliveau said. “This o-line is giving me the confidence to play call almost anything. The skill players, once they sort out their roles, they’ll execute.”
Joe Battista, the head coach at Merrimack and Beliveau’s former assistant, felt like he’s been getting to coach at the next level.
“It’s like small college football,” he said. “Guys are bigger, quicker and more athletic than what we’re used to. And they ask less questions.”
The players are excited at the opportunity to play in such a wide-open offense, especially the ones who didn’t have the opportunity to during their high school careers.
“It’s a total flip,” Salem running back Jerickson Fedrick said. “I’m used to nine guys in the box, and now there are six or seven. I like working with it. I’ve got some great linemen in front of me and we’ve got the horses to run with.”
Souhegan’s Rob McCormick has been astonished at the quality of players on both sides of the ball.
“We’re doing passing skeleton and we say we’re going against the look squad, but it’s not at all,” he said. “We’re going against an all-state secondary. It really makes you focus a lot more and play better in practice.”
One question has been answered for New Hampshire.
When he met with members of the media on Monday, Beliveau knew who was going to be in his starting lineup, except for at the quarterback position.
“We started off with two getting most of the reps, and that was Rob McCormick and Evan Bidgood from Timberlane,” Beliveau said. “Then we started thinking, if one goes down, and we’re down to one, what if he goes down? We’re getting a third one ready.”
That third quarterback is Manchester Memorial’s Cody Dalton, who will start on the defensive side of the ball.
“The thing about Cody and Rob is that they come from spread offenses,” Beliveau said. “Evan comes from under center mostly, but Evan has a big arm and it’s starting to come out now. He started off on a little bit of a low, and then it’s coming together. As his confidence is coming together with the plays, he’s ripping the ball down field.”
Bidgood will get the start at quarterback at New Hampshire, but Beliveau plans to use both equally as long as the situation calls for it.
When Nashua South’s John Bieren was forced to back out of the game, New Hampshire was left without a center on its roster. Battista knew exactly who Beliveau should turn to – Sam Prive, who had started on the line at Merrimack the last two seasons.
“I told Mike that Prive was a center for us in his younger days and I moved him to tackle out of need,” Battista said. “He could play center or guard or tackle or even tight end.”
The move took Prive about a day’s worth of practice to nail down, with the hardest part being the snap from the shotgun.
“It was a little tough, a little shaky, the first few snaps, trying to get them on line,” Prive said.
“He’s looked pretty good,” Beliveau said. “You can’t run the spread if you’re reaching because you’ve got to read people. Not just coverage, but the people that are going to be on you in a second. You have to have it waist high so you can read the defense.”
A little nervous
For the first time, New Hampshire will go into the game without a run-first attack on offense. That has Beliveau a little on edge leading up to Saturday.
“The part that has me anxious is that I’m trying a different recipe,” he said. “We’re going to try to be victorious, maybe in a different way than New Hampshire has been victorious. I think there’s some angst about that.”
The Granite State has won the previous 11 games in a row, with its last loss coming in 2000 – the other time Beliveau was the New Hampshire head coach.
“For me, it’s playing a lot psychologically because I’m the one who lost the last time,” Beliveau said. “I don’t want them to say ‘why don’t we have the Shrine have the guy from Souhegan coach so Vermont can have the W.’ ”
Future Shrine coaches?
Beliveau compiled a coaching staff of current and former assistants for the Shrine game, including two current head coaches at other schools – Bedford’s Kurt Hines and Battista.
Both coaches agreed they would consider coaching in the game again, but not until some time down the road.
“Years down the road, yes,” Hines said. “When Mike asked me, I was very honored, but I hemmed and hawed about it. It’s 10 days away, the players, the staff, everything. My wife was the one who really pushed me, said it was a great opportunity. We miss each other, and I miss the kids, it’s tough.
“But when the kids are out of the house, I could see (doing it).”
Battista has a son who is going into the eighth grade, and wondered if things went in that direction, maybe he could coach him in that year’s Shrine game.
“In the back of my mind, if he turns out to be a good football player, maybe that’s the year I put in for it,” he said. “Based on my experience here, I think it would be awesome. Maybe then (Beliveau) would come back as my offensive coordinator.”
Kickoff for the 59th Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. on Saturday at Dartmouth College in Hanover. New Hampshire leads the series over Vermont 43-13-2.