By Dan Guttenplan
---- — AMESBURY — Amesbury football coach Thom Connors had a difficult time taking Ben Cullen off the field last year, and that was before a large senior class of key contributors graduated last spring.
Now a senior, Cullen shouldn’t expect too many breathers this season. Amesbury will begin its pursuit of a repeat Cape Ann League title tomorrow when it hosts Triton (1-0) at Landry Stadium.
“Ben’s playing everything for us,” Connors said. “Right now, he’s who we’re focused on building the team around. He’s on both sides of the ball and special teams.”
Cullen saw his first varsity time as a sophomore playing as a defensive back. Last season, he seemed destined for a very limited role on offense as the Indians had talented seniors at the skill positions like quarterback Matt Talbot, halfback Tommy Connors and fullback Perry Mroz.
As the season progressed, Cullen carved out a role for himself at tailback, and finished with 370 rushing yards (5.4 yards per carry) and eight total touchdowns.
“It was a great experience,” Cullen said. “A lot of other guys around me were older, and I looked up to them a lot. I learned a lot about staying composed through hard times.”
This season, Connors has Cullen penciled in as the lead back on offense, a starting defensive back, and the kick and punt returner. When asked if he has any concerns that Cullen will suffer an injury due to such a heavy load, Connors cited former Cape Ann League standouts like Pentucket’s Cody Rothwell (Class of 2012) and Amesbury’s Kevin Johnston (Class of 2009) as examples of workhorses who held up for entire seasons.
“Ben works hard, he plays hard,” Connors said. “He loves to play the game. Even though he’s not particularly tall, he’s a rugged and strong kid. He runs hard, stays low to the ground. He has great balance. It makes him a special player.”
Perhaps sensing that he may be due for an increased role this season, Cullen said he stepped up his offseason conditioning. The three-sport athlete (track, baseball) is stronger and faster than last season.
“I did get stronger,” Cullen said. “I trained a lot more in the offseason to get ready for this season. I was smarter about running. I’m ready to go.”
Cullen’s 2012 campaign
Ben Cullen was one of three Amesbury players to rush for over 350 yards last fall, along with 2012 graduates Matt Talbot and Perry Mroz. Here are Cullen’s stats.
Rushing average 5.4