By Jim Sullivan
---- — Newburyport quarterback Connor Wile had no idea how much his athletic career was about to change when he made a dive back to first base during a baseball scrimmage against The Governor’s Academy last spring.
“I was sliding back to first, and it just popped out,” says Wile.
The right-hander had suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder. After having set the Clippers’ touchdown and passing yards records on the gridiron last year, Wile scrapped his baseball season, had surgery at the end of the spring, and suffered through physical therapy during the summer to see if he could make it back to defend the Cape Ann League Division 3 title.
“It was a long process,” Wile says of his recovery. “It was really stiff and really sore. There was a lot of scar tissue to fight through.”
Newburyport’s 6-4 season had to begin before Wile could fully recover and the Clippers saw junior Drew Bourdeau in the pocket, going 3-3 in their first six non-league games.
“Drew held his own,” says Clippers senior co-captain Sam Francis. “We couldn’t have asked for more from the kid. He beat Lynnfield and North Reading, which are great teams that could possibly go to the playoffs.”
Although Bourdeau played well, the Clippers were missing their star, and Wile made his senior year debut in Game 7 against Saugus.
“Throwing wise, I didn’t do too good, but I was just happy to be out there, to be on the field,” Wile says of his return in Saugus. “Physical-wise, contact, it was fine. I just wanted to take that first hit. After that, it felt just like last year.”
And the results were almost the same as last year as the Clippers defeated the Sachems for their first league win, 20-14, then spanked Triton at home, 35-15. The Clippers blanked Pentucket, 14-0, but came up short against Winthrop last Sunday, 18-16, for a 3-1 league record.
A nice return to be sure, but after missing six games, Wile has been unable to add much to his records from last year.
“The records weren’t important at all,” says Wile. “It was just getting to win the CAL and being able to go to the playoffs is really what matters. I think most of the team will agree with that. That’s all that matters for us.”
Standing directly in the way of that goal this year are the 8-2 Amesbury Indians, who sport an undefeated league record, making this year’s Thanksgiving showdown with Newburyport the most important since 2008 when Amesbury advanced to and won the Super Bowl.
“It should be a really good game,” Wile says of the tilt which will decide the CAL Division 3 title. “That stadium will hopefully be packed with people. This should be a fun one. The title is on the line, so ... .”
Having been a rushing team last year, the Indians have been able to ride quarterback Matt Talbot’s arm this season as well.
“The biggest threat is still his legs,” Francis says of Talbot. “He can throw the ball, but when he drops back to pass, he can scramble. You’ve got to watch out for that because he can break 90-yard runs like that. We’re just going to stick to what we do offensively. Do our normal stuff and try to run it down their throat.”
A fullback and linebacker, Francis describes the Clippers’ game this year as balanced.
“Last year, we mostly passed,” says Francis.
“Someone called me that type,” injects Wile.
“This year we can run the ball too, and we can catch them on play action over the top,” continues Francis.
“We’re just going to do our basic offense,” elaborates Wile. “Run the ball down their throat. If we have to pass, we will. But we have Sam who is a fullback this year and is doing really good. And we have (running back Tyler Cusack) who is also doing really well. We have two featured backs who are really good, so why not use them?”
Wile praises his offensive line going into Thanksgiving and says that he and his 12 fellow seniors are going to be playing for the chance to play some more.
“It’s all us seniors,” says Wile. “We’ve played together for about eight years, almost all of us. We’re a close group of kids and we don’t want this one to be the last one. So, we’re going to go out and play hard. Hopefully we can have another one the following Tuesday.”