Wahconah Seniors Savor Return Trip to Foxborough
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Playing a high school football game in an NFL stadium is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity … even if it happens twice in your lifetime.
On Tuesday, Wahconah senior Kyle Noyes stepped onto the artificial turf at Gillette Stadium for the second time in his young life.
The first time was two years ago as a sophomore in Wahconah’s state championship game appearance against Holliston. He was back Tuesday morning as a captain to represent the team that takes on Mashpee on Saturday afternoon for a Division 4 title.
“I was just thinking how great of a moment this will be to look back on when you’re a 40-year-old man sitting at home,” Noyes said as he, Will Genaway and dozens of other captains chatted and posed for pictures on the New England Patriots’ home field.
“It’s just awesome to step out on this turf where some of the best athletes who ever played the game have played. It’s a great moment, awesome. Something to tell your kids about.”
Genaway, who will start at quarterback on Saturday, shared many of the same sentiments, along with his memories of the team’s last trip to Foxborough.
“I remember it was a really rainy day, and the scoreboard wasn’t really in our favor,” Genaway said. “I got to go out there. The second teamers got to play a lot, so that was definitely an awesome experience. I’m wicked excited to come out here and be a big a part of it.”
Wahconah (10-1) is hoping for better weather and a better scoreboard when it takes on the Falcons (10-1).
The last time around, South Sectional champion Holliston, playing just down the road from its campus, rolled up a 43-0 win over the Western Mass champs.
Noyes said that was a learning experience.
“We came in pretty confident, but then we met a different beast,” he said. “Holiston was a very good team that maybe we underestimated. We’ll see. Hopefully, we’ll come out this time with a ‘W.’
“We learned that we just have to come out, play confident and play our kind of football. I think a lesson we learned last time was we were overconfident after beating a very good Shepherd Hill football team [in the state semi-finals]. This time, we just have to play our brand of football.”
Wahconah coach Gary Campbell also has picked up some lessons from his previous trips to Gillette — for a Western Mass Super Bowl in 2012 and the state title game two years later.
“I think the biggest thing I’ve learned as a head coach is logistics, keeping the kids in a normal routine and doing what we do week by week,” Campbell said. “Each team is different, so I separate Wahconah 2014 versus Holliston or South Hadley versus Wahconah when we were here previous times. That’s separate.
“But as far as routine — when to get here, what to do, how much time do you take in the bubble, what do you do in the bubble to prepare and get your kids in as normal a routine as possible so that they’re feeling comfortable? Because their eyes are going to be big. And I want their eyes to be big coming out of the tunnel. I want them to feel that and embrace that.”
It is not just another road trip, and there is a lot outside the teams’ control. Everything, right down to the time they have to be in that tunnel, is tightly scripted to keep the six-game program on schedule and on live television via Comcast SportsNet.
But as different as the experience may be, Campbell said there are ways to keep the football part familiar.
“If you’re in a routine, that helps settle them down,” he said. “If you go out of your routine, then that stuff you can’t control becomes even bigger. If you can keep focus, then they feel comfortable. They say, ‘Oh, yeah, we’ve been doing this all year.’ Bring them under control and bring them back to reality. So you get a combination of, ‘Cool, we’re here,’ but the routine tells them, ‘I have a football game to play.’ “
So does Mashpee (10-1), which won a Division 6 state title at Gillette in 2015.
Noyes said there is no chance that Wahconah is going to underestimate the Falcons this time around.
“They’re a very good football team,” he said. “We’re like apples to apples with them. They have a big line. We have a pretty big line. They have good team speed. We have decent team speed. We’re like apples to apples. It’s going to be an evenly matched game.”
Campbell knows his team will have its work cut out in Saturday’s 1:30 clash.
“The number one thing I’ve learned about them is they’re a big, talented team,” he said. “Good size, run the ball well, a good, physical team. They’re coached fundamentally sound. They’re a very good football team, and we have to play our best game to win.
“That’s what I’ve told them, and they’ve seen that on film. They see the talent, they see the kids, and they know what they’re up against. Hopefully, we can go and play our best game.”