By Phil Stacey
---- — In Beverly High’s offensive scheme, formation shifts are a big part of the equation. At any time before the football is snapped both guards, tackles, a tight end and even a wideout could be changing where and how they line up before they set themselves, all in an attempt to cross up their opponents.
The only guy in the trenches who never has to worry about where to go in this gridiron version of music chairs is Nate Higgins -- and that’s just fine with him.
“The coaches like to joke with me that all I have to do is wait for the play to start and snap the football without a mistake,” chuckled Higgins, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound center for the Panthers. He’s one of 17 seniors who will play their final game for Beverly Thanksgiving morning at Bertram Field when they meet host Salem High in the two schools’ 115th meeting.
“I really like playing center; you just do your job without much scrutiny and you get to hit someone on every play.”
Along with fellow trenchmen Zach Duguid, Jimmy Kastrinakis, Jared Paris, Sean Winston, Chris Faust, Sam Mulumba and James Aaron, Higgins has been part of a unit that has allowed the Panthers to run for 3,282 yards in 10 games this fall, an average of better than seven-and-a-half yards per carry.
Leading that group is fellow senior Isaiah White, who takes 1,619 rushing yards into Thursday’s game. With 30 more yards, he’ll become Beverly High’s all-time single-season rushing leader.
“I really want to beat Salem on their home field and end (my career) with a win. That, plus Isaiah breaking the record,” said the 18-year-old Higgins. “And if I could help open up the hole where he got the record-breaking run, that’d be really satisfying.”
Head coach Dan Bauer and his assistants certainly saw Higgins’ potential. A backup tackle on Beverly’s unbeaten 2012 Super Bowl champions, he was approached by Bauer last winter and told they were thinking of sliding him two slots over to the middle of the offensive line. The coaches liked Higgins’ athleticism and speed for the position and felt that another senior, Jared Paris, could play tackle.
The move paid of handsomely for the Panthers, who have had nary a problem with the center-quarterback exchange and steady performances week in and week out from Higgins.
“We figured it would better Nate’s skill set ... and it’s worked out pretty well,” said Bauer.
“To be a good center, the biggest thing is getting that exchange going with your quarterback. You also have to be able to block your area, keep your composure and be steady. You can’t get too high or too low, because everything revolves around that snap. And if there’s a nose guard over you, you’ve got to snap the ball, take a step back and be where you need to be before contact.
“You need someone at center who’s tough, smart, thinks quickly and gets the assignment,” added Bauer. “Nate is all of those things.”
Higgins wasn’t nervous as a first-year senior starter, but wanted to make sure he had the snaps down pat. One day of working with senior signal caller Nick Manthrone, and that became a non-issue.
Crediting his position coach, Jeff Hutton, for teaching him proper positioning and the angles to take on an opponent, in addition to defensive line coach Jack Jones and offensive coordinator Roger Day, Higgins and his fellow blockers have, over the course of the season, gotten better and better in the team’s down blocking schemes.
When the Orange-and-Black run their hurry-up offense, it requires the center to react quickly to the play being signalled in from the sidelines, executing the snap without a miscue and remain a steadying force in the middle. “That’s probably the biggest contribution that Nate’s made, being so steady up front,” said Bauer. “Like the position itself, he takes a no-nonsense approach to his job.”
A fine student with a 3.45 grade point average, Higgins would like to study criminal justice in college but does not plan on playing varsity sports. He’s already been accepted into the University of Alabama and is either waiting on, or plans on applying to, UMass Lowell, the University of Tampa, Salem State, Westfield State and Springfield.
He enjoys the camaraderie he’s had with his linemates this season, and says good things like ahead for the team’s younger linemen in the future. “My backup, (sophomore) Sean Perry, he’s going to be really, really good,” said Higgins.
“We’re definitely proud of our season,” said Higgins. “We’re going to finish over .500, we beat Marblehead when they were unbeaten -- and the only other team to beat them, Tewksbury, is probably going to win the (Division 3) Super Bowl (next Saturday) -- and we shared the Northeastern Conference (North) title.
“Now, if we can beat Salem (Thursday), our checklist will be complete.”
BEVERLY STARTING LINEUPS OFFENSE No. Name Year Pos. 28 Matt Madden Soph. WB 11 Jack Morency Sr. WR 5 Sam Mulumba Sr. TE 53 Sean Winston Sr. QT 50 Zach Duguid Sr. QG 71 Nate Higgins Sr. C 56 Jimmy Kastrinakis Jr. SG 59 Jared Paris Sr. ST 2 Nick Manthorne Sr. QB 22 Isaiah White Sr. RB 7 Peter Mulumba Soph. RB DEFENSE No. Name Year Pos. 50 Zach Duguid Sr. DE 59 Jared Paris Sr. NG 28 Matt Madden Soph. DE 7 Peter Mulumba Soph. PLB 22 Isaiah White Sr. SLB 53 Sean Winston Sr. MLB 56 Jimmy Kastrinakis Jr. WLB 21 Nick Donovan Sr. CB 10 Jordan Rawding Soph. CB 25 Joey Kozlowski SS 5 Sam Mulumba Sr. FS