By BOB YORK–
The Deerfield Academy football season could be summed up in a single word: “Ouch!”
“In 45 years of coaching, I’ve never been through a season like this one,” said Big Green mentor Mike Silippo. “I can never remember one team being hit by so many injuries … they began during preseason workouts and scrimmages and continued throughout the entire season. Football’s a physical sport and you expect injuries to occur, but what we went through this season was something else.”
These injuries weren’t the least bit prejudice as to what part of the body they’d leave a tale of the tape on, either. They ran the gamut … from head to toe … from concussions to a broken foot. And from the concussion end, “I know we reached double digits there,” said Chip Davis, the team’s defensive coordinator, “and that’s a minimum of one to two weeks of recovery time for those.”
While the concussions were numerous, the broken foot proved to be the one injury that probably caused the biggest impact on the Big Green this fall. That’s because the foot in question belonged to quarterback Damien Vega. It sidelined him for the season and sent the coaching staff scurrying to find a replacement … then another … and then another.
“Damien broke his foot during our second game of the season … against Taft,” said Silippo of his highly touted post grad QB who had taken Norwalk (Conn.) High School through a season that earned him All-State honors and to its first playoff victory in 13 years the previous fall. “The weird thing about the injury was that he hurt his foot while running into the end zone for a touchdown. In fact,” added Silippo, who would watch four different quarterbacks take control of his offense this season, “he wasn’t even touched on the play, he just hurdled an opposing player and landed on his foot wrong and when he did, he broke a small bone in it.”
Minus its No. 1 field general, the Big Green fell to Taft that day, 27-26. It would mark the beginning of a four-game losing streak, send Deerfield reeling to a 3-5 season, and stick a pin in what Silippo had described as “some high hopes we had to begin with.”
Because, to begin with, a healthy Big Green squad had squared off against Salisbury School in preseason play, “and,” as Silippo admitted, “although it was only a scrimmage, I was still very happy with the way we moved our offense against Salisbury and I was equally pleased with the way our defense performed that day as well.”
And, the deeper his team made its way through the season, the more the Deerfield skipper found himself reflecting on that scrimmage. That team Silippo’s Big Green would more than hold its own against that day, would go on to ring up an undefeated regular season at 8-0, then earn the title of “Best of the Best” after knocking off Exeter, 29-26, in overtime to capture the New England Prep School Athletic Conference Class A Super Bowl. Following that feat, Silippo the was left to ponder that question every coach in every sport is forced to deal with at one time or another: “what if … ?”
What if the Big Green hadn’t turned into the Red Cross?
What if Silippo hadn’t had to use as many quarterbacks this fall as he had during the last four seasons, combined?
What if one of those quarterbacks, Billy Smith (’13), who still managed to lead the team in receptions, could have played the entire season at his primary position – wide receiver?
What if the Deerfield coaching staff hadn’t had to name honorary captains for the Exeter game because Big Green co-captains Ray Hogan (’13) and JR Mastro (’13) were both unable play due to injuries?
What if Silippo hadn’t given Emerson Logie (’16) a shot at DA QB No. 4, due to his youth and inexperience? The Big Green mentor did though, summoning the starting JV signal caller up to the varsity and watched the freshman enjoy more success than any of his predecessors had this season by winning two of the three games he started. Thus, from the ashes, some timber to possibly build a future team, or two around.
Following a convincing 33-7 season-opening victory over Northfield-Mount Hermon School, Deerfield owned a 26-14 second-half lead over defending New England Class A champion Taft, which went 6-2 this season, but that’s about as good as it would get for this year’s Deerfield squad. Before the final whistle had sounded, the Big Green had lost its numbers one and two quarterbacks. Following Vega’s injury, his replacement, Harrison Lane (’15), soon joined him on the bench with a concussion and a separated shoulder.
QB No. 3 was Smith, a post grad out of Westfield, Mass., who had quarterbacked Westfield High School to the Western Mass. Division I Super Bowl the previous year. While leading the Bombers program, however, Smith served primarily as a running quarterback, but started – and finished – his season at Deerfield as the team’s primary wide receiver. Smith, who was also a mainstay in the secondary, where he posted three interceptions and earned a share of this year’s Thomas Ashley Memorial Award for his efforts, hauled in 24 passes for three touchdowns and 254 yards. Smith split the Ashley Award with tailback John Jackson (’13), who was the Big Green’s leading rusher this fall, as he covered 852 yards on 138 carries for a hefty 6.1 yards-per-carry average and 10 touchdowns.