By Matt Williams
Bishop Fenwick football coach Dave Woods looks like a grizzled veteran these days.
It’s not because 16 years as head coach and another four as the school’s athletic director are taking their toll on Woods, who sounds as spry and enthusiastic as ever calling out defensive formations at practice.
The 48-year-old Woods is sporting a Ray Bourque-ian playoff beard as Fenwick (12-0) prepares for tomorrow night’s Division 5 Super Bowl against Northbridge (Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, 8 p.m.). His unbeaten Crusaders haven’t lost, so he hasn’t shaved.
The beard makes Woods look a little older, but there’s never been any question as to just how wise he is when it comes to coaching football.
He took over as Fenwick’s head coach in 1998 and immediately led the Crusaders to the Super Bowl, falling to to Dighton-Rehobeth in Division 4B.
Woods’ first several seasons were wildly successful: Fenwick went to the playoffs five times in his first six seasons, winning Super Bowls with an undefeated team in 1999 (over Norwell in Div. 4B) and again in 2000 (over Pentucket in Div. 4).
Now, 13 years after their last Super Bowl title, Woods is closing in on yet another championship. A lot of things can chance over that time, but one that certainly hasn’t is Woods’ acumen and his passion for the game.
“He knows everything. Every formation, every scheme, everything that’s going on at every position,” said lineman Charlie St. Pierre, one of Fenwick’s five senior captains. “Personally, he’s been pushing me to work harder and become a better football player for all four years.”
Woods enters the Super Bowl with 117 career wins, which tops Fenwick football’s all-time list. His teams have won at least seven games in a season 10 times. The Crusaders did go four years without a winning record from 2008-11, something that weighed on Woods at the time but that might have made the program better in the long run.
“You do question yourself. You start to wonder if you’re doing the right things, putting in enough work,” said Woods, who added athletic director to his responsibilities at Fenwick in 1999 and has overseen the addition of lacrosse and girls hockey as well as the boys hockey team’s move to Division 1.
It’s a credit to this year’s senior class, which helped Woods earn his 100th career win while going 8-3 a year ago, that Fenwick football is back on the map.
“Those guys bought in completely,” said Woods. “When they were sophomores we went 3-8, but it was a good 3-8. We were competitive but we were so young. We could see that we were building towards something.”
Hours of strength training, both at Fenwick and at ex-Crusader Pat Downey’s Gridiron Training, made Fenwick a force to be reckoned with physically. It’s all paid off in the way of the Crusaders’ sixth outright CCL title under Woods.
“After the Cardinal Spellman game one of their coaches said, ‘Man, you guys have been hitting the weights.’ These kids got after it, all offseason. They deserve the credit,” said Woods.
The Crusaders under Woods have never been afraid to try something new on offense. They’ve been a power running team with the likes of Bobby Tarr, and a pass-happy club that set records with the Bret Kidik-Ryan Lipka connection.
This season, Fenwick has done a little bit of both. Rufus Rushins is a classic power runner who can break tackles as well as cut to the outside. Nick Bona has a solid vertical and short passing game, and more than that the Crusaders are doing damage from a variety of formations.
“Some of it was desperation,” quipped Woods. “It’s paid off in a way now because we can do all these different things. The number of different looks we can give a defense really makes us a handful to prepare for.”
Woods has certainly earned the respect of his peers in the coaching community over the years, having been voted first vice president of the Mass. High School Football Coaches Association for 2013.
If he wins a third Super Bowl tomorrow, Woods would join an elite group of coaches from North Shore schools. Only Jack Welch of Ipswich has won three Super Bowls among coaches in the immediate area, while Gloucester’s Paul Ingram and Terry Silva also have three each.
“Coach Woods is one of the best,” said Bona, the 2013 Catholic Central League football MVP. “He’s always believed in us and taught us so much about the game. I love playing for him.”