By Dan Guttenplan
---- — BYFIELD — Governor’s Academy football coach Jim O’Leary could only shake his head as his team lit up the scoreboard Saturday in its third victory in a bowl game in as many seasons.
“We couldn’t believe it when it was happening,” O’Leary said.
To put it mildly, O’Leary was pleasantly surprised by his team’s performance in a 67-19 victory over Hamden Hall Country Day School in a New England Prep School Athletic Conference bowl game at Tabor Academy. It’s a feeling O’Leary, an Amesbury resident and former Triton football coach, has experienced often in his three seasons as head coach at Governor’s Academy.
In that time, the Govs have compiled a cumulative record of 26-1, earned at least a share of the Independent School League title in all three seasons, and most importantly, created a culture of near perfection on the gridiron on the Byfield campus.
“This was one of the best seasons,” O’Leary said. “Not many people had us picked at the top of the league. We didn’t have a lot of superstars, that’s for sure. The kids bought into the system, and everybody played a role. The unity on the team was greater than any other team.”
Since O’Leary’s arrival, participation numbers have increased. This season, 58 of the school’s 200 male students played football. The Govs will graduate 10 of those players, six of whom received significant playing time this season, according to O’Leary.
One of those seniors is senior running back Jesse Gwozdz, who rushed for 209 yards and six touchdowns in the first half against Hamden Hill. Fellow senior Bug Carper may also have Division 1 football in his future, but besides that, the team was a collection of role players who specialize in other sports.
Amesbury resident Brandon Lopez complemented Gwozdz in the backfield this season. The standout baseball player was named a captain of next year’s football team following the team’s season-finale on Saturday.
“I’m definitely excited to take on that role,” Lopez said. “It makes me more excited thinking about next year.”
Lopez will share the captain title with another local, Merrimac native Danny Healey, a tight end, as well as two other Massachusetts residents — Teddy Bettencourt (Duxbury) and Tyler Harrington (Haverhill). Healey, who boards at The Governor’s Academy, believes next year’s team, like the one this year, will be underestimated coming into the season.
“We’re not going to be as big as other teams,” Healey said. “We just have to work as a team up front. This year was a great season. The one loss did (hurt), but it kind of took the pressure off. We relaxed and finished the season strong.”
The Govs suffered their lone loss against Milton Academy on Oct. 26, ending a 23-game winning streak dating back to 2010. Lopez feels as if the loss may be a blessing in disguise heading into next season.
“If we went undefeated again, the pressure for next year would have doubled,” Lopez said. “Now that it’s all over, it’s not such a bad thing to say the streak ended.”
The O’Leary Era
The Governor’s Academy has gone 26-1 in three seasons under head coach Jim O’Leary, an Amesbury resident.