By Dan Guttenplan
---- — WEST NEWBURY — Steve Hayden gave his players a water break yesterday an hour into the second practice of a double session.
On a hot afternoon in which the sky offered no relief in the form of clouds, the Pentucket football players moved slowly from the field into the shade while removing their helmets.
Hayden, who is entering his 32nd season as head coach, remained on the field — in the sun — with longtime assistant Chris Perry, and the two took turns getting into a textbook stance for an offensive lineman.
After several attempts, the coaches settled on a stance to teach their players moving forward.
It’s the start of the Pentucket football season, and the status quo for a Steve Hayden preseason is teaching the fundamentals — blocking, tackling and playing penalty-free football. Hayden is five months removed from his induction to the Massachusetts High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame after logging a record of 183-146-2 in his 31 seasons.
Perry is quick to note that the induction doesn’t seem to have gone to Hayden’s head.
“The preseason has a way of humbling everyone,” Perry said. “It’s back to the drawing board, and it’s the same old Steve Hayden.”
In truth, if the success was going to go to Hayden’s head, it would have happened a long time ago. The coach has led teams to five Cape Ann League titles, three Super Bowl appearances and one state championship (1999).
This offseason, he lost defensive coordinator Vern Laws, who retired after stints at UNH, Lowell and Stoneybrook.
“Thank God Coach Perry is back,” Hayden said. “We’ll really miss Coach Laws. But Coach Perry and I have been together a long time, and we have a pretty good thing going. He’s the offensive coordinator, although we don’t really assign titles since we all work together.”
Perry and Hayden, who will also serve as the defensive coordinator this season, have been together since 1985, when Perry joined the staff as an assistant. The one staple of their collaboration together has been the Wing-T offense. Despite the recent trend in high school football to switch to the spread or pro-set offenses, Hayden and Perry continue to implement the spread.
Last year, Cody Rothwell received the bulk of the carries for Pentucket, churning out almost 1,500 yards and 20 touchdowns. As of last night, Hayden was unsure of who would take over the bulk of the rushing load.
“That’s something that will have to be decided as we go,” Hayden said. “Cody had a remarkable season last year. He did a lot of the rushing for us, so we’ll have to see if one of our younger players is ready to take on a bigger load.”
Quarterback Ryan Kuchar returns at quarterback after a season in which his primary role was to hand the ball to Rothwell. Hayden sees his senior captain taking on a bigger role this season.
“Ryan’s a leader by title,” Hayden said. “He’s a leader by position. He’s a three-sport captain, so he’s well respected by the other kids. We’ll see how everything comes together in a couple of weeks.”
Pentucket Football Schedule
Date Time Opponent
Saturday. Sept. 14 1 p.m. WHITTIER TECH
Friday, Sept. 20 7 p.m. Amesbury
Saturday, Sept. 28 1 p.m. TRITON
Friday, Oct. 4 7 p.m. Newburyport
Friday, Oct. 11 7 p.m. Masconomet
Saturday, Oct. 19 2 p.m. SAUGUS
Friday, Oct. 25 7 p.m. North Reading
Thursday, Nov. 28 10 a.m. Triton
* Home games in caps
** MIAA playoffs from Nov. 1 to 15