By Dan Guttenplan
---- — Jim O’Leary seems to be doing just fine three years removed from leaving the Triton Regional High football team due to concerns about the school’s administration.
O’Leary is starting his third season as head coach of The Governor’s Academy football team riding an 18-game winning streak after back-to-back undefeated seasons. Last year, the Govs clinched a 9-0 season with a victory over Cheshire Academy in the Tom Flahery Bowl. The year before, the Govs also went 9-0 en route to a New England championship.
O’Leary, a former Salem High and Northeastern University quarterback, left Triton in April of 2010. He accepted a position as an assistant under former Govs coach Mark Geary that fall. After Geary retired after 18 seasons following that season, O’Leary was hired as the head coach of a proud program that won Independent School League titles in 2001, 2003 and 2004.
“I never anticipated anything like this,” O’Leary said. “I knew we had some really good athletes on campus. I knew the football program had always been strong. I made a few different changes, inputting a few different offenses. But I had some really talented kids the last few years, and things have gone the right way.”
Some of those “really talented kids” over the last few years included three-year starting quarterback Tate Jozokos, who is entering his freshman year as a top recruit on the University of North Carolina lacrosse team. He will be replaced by the winner of the competition between senior Tommy Vailas, whose brother Andy Vailas is the starting quarterback at UNH; and sophomore Seth Harrell, who was the MVP quarterback for the Mass. State All-Star team at Football University as an eighth-grader.
Local talent Eli Morrissey, a tailback in the Govs’ triple-stack offense, carried much of the rushing load before graduating last spring. He will be replaced by another local talent, Brandon Lopez of Amsbury.
“He’s going to be a special one, I think,” O’Leary said of Lopez. “He has some big shoes to fill.”
Haverhill resident Tyler Harrington, a junior who came up through Pentucket’s youth football league, is slotted to start at offensive tackle and defensive end. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound lineman is “a Division 1 kid,” according to O’Leary. Tight end Dan Healey (Newbury), Central Catholic transfer Zach Coffey (Newbury) and two-way starter Larson Bidstrup (Byfield) round out the list of local contributors.
The Govs have six alumni who are currently on college rosters: Tucker Oniskey at Bates College; Kirk Ryder and Todd Moores at St. Lawrence University; Pearson Dresser at Lake Forest; Frank Barba at Tufts; and Colin Smith at Stonehill.
“A lot of our top players are three-sport athletes who decide to play lacrosse in college,” O’Leary said.
The Govs will open at home Sept. 21 with perhaps their stiffest competition in Lawrence Academy, coached by former BC High and Boston College star Paul Zukauskas.
“That may be one of the biggest ones of the year,” O’Leary said. “That’s a huge, huge game.”
The Governor’s Academy football schedule
Date Time Opponent
Saturday, Sept. 21 1 p.m. LAWRENCE ACADEMY
Saturday, Sept. 28 1:30 p.m. The Rivers School
Saturday, Oct. 5 7 p.m. St. Sebastian’s
Saturday, Oct. 12 2:30 p.m. St. Paul’s
Saturday, Oct. 19 2 p.m. BROOKS SCHOOL
Saturday, Oct. 26 2 p.m. Milton Academy
Friday. Nov. 1 3 p.m. BUCKINGHAM BROWNE & NICHOLS
Saturdy, Nov. 9 1 p.m. BELMONT HILL
* Home games in caps