By Matt Jenkins
---- — PEABODY — For the moment — and probably for as long as new coach Mark Bettencourt is at the helm — the Peabody High football team is focusing on the little battles.
A lot of eyes were locked on Manning Field last Thursday for the Tanners’ opener against Lynn English, just hoping to catch a glimpse of what to expect from Peabody, which is now playing for its fourth new coaching staff since legendary head coach Ed Nizwantowski was let go after the 2004 season.
Peabody didn’t win and will be looking for its first victory since Thanksgiving of 2011 when it hosts Somerville tomorrow night at Coley Lee Field (7 p.m.). But a positive message was sent to the on-lookers in the Tanners’ 29-15 loss last week.
The Tanners were very much in the game against Lynn English and could have won, but Bettencourt, who has been Peabody’s baseball coach for the past nine years, puts his focus on all the small things that eventually add up to either a win or a loss.
“(Winning) is not even an issue. It’s the same thing I do in baseball; I don’t focus on winning. Winning is a byproduct of execution, bottom line,” Bettencourt said. “You can’t fumble the ball four times or have five or six turnovers. The scoreboard will not read in our favor if we do that. The focus is on what we’re doing. My God, we gave them some great opportunities. A number of times we made some mistakes offensively. If we make a first down we get four more downs. Instead, we had to punt and what happened after is a byproduct of not getting a first down. That’s what we’re trying to explain.”
This is still a learning process for Peabody, but the coaching staff isn’t looking at it like the young Tanners need to learn how to win.
All the blood and sweat poured into practice will eventually take care of the wins.
“We tell our guys all the time, don’t go out trying to win, try to go out and execute and do the things they’re coached to do,” Bettencourt said. “Stay with what you’re taught and just do your job. I think we made some headway with that and are opening their eyes a little. The focus this week has not been just showing them where they’re supposed to be, but why they’re there.”
The opening game was also eye-opening for many of the Peabody players who returned this season with experience under their belt.
Peabody didn’t hold a lead all season last year and its closest game was an 18-point loss to Revere.
Against Lynn English, the Tanners scored first and were within one touchdown late in the game. Turnovers ended up preventing Peabody from winning.
“The kids from last year, I think we were a little thrown back from how well we played, but at the same time I think we feel as if we should have won that game. I feel like we’re happy with our performance in terms of effort and improvement, but we’re still looking to strive forward,” senior captain Cody Wlasuk said.
“We weren’t happy and we weren’t mad, we were kind of neutral. We figured out it was good to see what we need to improve on and that’s something we’ll put toward next week.”
Peabody could have its hands full with Somerville. The Highlanders have solid size and don’t use too many players on both sides of the ball.
Somerville also comes into the game with an 0-1 record after dropping a 28-7 game to Arlington last week.
Peabody could be facing some injury issues, particularly with Wlasuk, who left the game against Lynn English with a foot injury. He’s day-to-day.
One thing the Tanners definitely showed in their opener was depth. Wlasuk is a starting linebacker and running back, but after his injury sophomore Doug Santos filled in admirably on offense, carrying the ball 17 times for 167 yards and two touchdowns.
“That was a shock to everybody. If you told me before the game he’d have 17-18 carries I would have said you were crazy. We thought we’d have balance between Billy Teehan, Wlasuk, Santos, Ryan Collins and Mike Raymond. We wanted to spread it out, but when we saw the way he was running the ball we had to lean on him a little bit,” Bettencourt said.
“It comes down to conditioning. We condition everybody the same. The focus is on everybody and that mentality of coaching and practicing everybody the same benefited us. We had a kid that’s only a sophomore that’s been there from Day 1 doing the same drills and he stepped in and filled the void.”
Somerville will not be a pushover, but the Tanners should at least be in position to win if they execute all they have learned so far.
“We have an idea what they do, but just like us they’re probably putting in new stuff. We have to be ready to understand the game if something happens, why it happened and how we stop it. There’s more teaching and coaching going on and we’ll start to play better the quicker they understand,” Bettencourt said.
“Physically, we matched up pretty well with Lynn English. We didn’t expect to, but we did. Now, the kids understand why we do the extra work. In the fourth quarter we were not as tired as they thought they’d be.”