What a difference a year makes for the Brunswick School football team

Brunswick School head coach Jarrett Shine has his football team firing on all cylinders, as the team that won only one game last year and won four out of its first five this year. — Dan Burns photo

Brunswick School head coach Jarrett Shine has his football team firing on all cylinders, as the team that won only one game last year and won four out of its first five this year. — Dan Burns photo

The Brunswick School football team is proving that hard work really does pay off.

And it’s not coming a moment too soon, as undefeated Avon Old Farms will be stepping onto Cosby Field Saturday afternoon.

Last year, the Bruins had a season they would surely love to forget. Brunswick’s offense wasn’t clicking, the defense wasn’t able to make the stops and the team only had one win to show for itself.

A new season and a new attitude for Brunswick have Bruin fans dreaming big this season.

Following their one-win season last year, Brunswick currently is sitting with a highly-impressive 4-1 record.

“It’s been an unbelievable transformation for this team,” junior quarterback Billy O’Malley said. “The coaches have been stressing that we could do this and we do belong in this prep school league. We all have been working hard all year. We started to come together and bond in the preseason and feel like a family.”

Throughout the season, it’s quite obvious how the team has been gaining confidence and improving its game.

“This great season really comes down to the players,” Brunswick head coach Jarrett Shine said. “I think we have a couple more key players helping us out this year, but the coaches aren’t really doing anything differently from last year to this year. The kids are buying into what we are telling them. They are playing with confidence and that’s important to our success.”

It showed in their opening game of the season against Kent School. Instead of getting blown out, just like what many people were thinking, the Bruins went toe-to-toe with Kent before falling 40-39.

“That was a heartbreaker, but in the long run it big for us,” O’Malley said. “Even in a loss, we learned what it takes to win. We used that the following week and beat Taft in the final seconds. It was a learning experience and shows that we belong as one of the top teams in the league.”

Proving that they can hang with anybody, Brunswick took the show on the road and stunned a talented Taft School team, 55-48.

From there, it hasn’t been pretty for the opposition, as Brunswick blitzed Hotchkiss School 36-7, hammered Trinity-Pawling, 44-14 for the first time in program history and had another first when they upended Salisbury School, 50-17.

“It’s remarkable really,” wideout Henry Taylor said. “For the past two or three seasons, we haven’t been too good. However now the whole atmosphere has changed and we are practicing harder than ever. It’s a lot of fun now. Our confidence started in the first game because we only lost by one and should have won. We played great. Since then we’ve been crushing teams that we’ve been getting crushed by in the past. Each game we just get more and more confidence.”

Helping with the team’s offense is the stellar play of O’Malley at quarterback.

What has made the junior so effective this season is his ability to surprise the opposition. He has the ability to make a break for the end zone or step back and fire a missile to his receivers.

“We knew we had that ability to run or pass the ball,” Shine said. “Added those guys around him makes him that much more comfortable. He’s making plays and getting the ball to receivers, where Henry Taylor, Dylan Wadsworth, Charlie Cobb or Malik Wilder can grab the ball and make plays, even after the catch.”

The team’s passing game has been so effective because of how O’Malley’s backfield has been gaining a plethora of yardage this season. At the beginning of the preseason, Shine was looking for one running back to step up, whether it was Brendon Johnston, JD Donahey, Jason Kennedy or Lazare Zoungrana.

“It’s very important for us to have that successful running game,” Shine said. “When the running game is working, the other team’s defense doesn’t know if our quarterback will throw, run the ball or now hand off to a workhorse in the backfield.”

One of Brunswick’s key strengths is in its conditioning. To say that the Bruins like to keep its drives moving quickly is an understatement. If Brunswick has the ball for 30 seconds without a snap, it’s stunning. However, that’s exactly how Shine wants to see his offense run.

“We just need to play fast,” Taylor said. “That’s our motto. We’ve been playing fast all year. Our offense needs to get between 10 to 30 seconds between plays. When we play fast, I don’t think any team can hang with us.”

“We put a lot of points on the board and that’s something we weren’t able to do consistently last year,” Shine said. “Having the key players and running our fast-paced offense has helped us out a lot. We knew that once we could put points on the board, we just have to focus defensively on stopping the opposing teams.”

While the offense has been firing on all cylinders, it’s the team’s defense that has really settled down. After giving up 40 points against Kent and 48 points against Taft, the Bruins have dominated their opponents. Hotchkiss only mustered seven points, Trinity-Pawling’s offense only netted 14 points and Salisbury picked up 17 points.

“The defense has been really playing with a lot of confidence,” Shine said. “After those first two games, the improved games carried over to the next game. Defensively we know that we can play with anybody and stop certain offenses. They also have been able to stop really good running backs.”

A key to the recent success with the defense is its ability to go back to basics and master the art of the tackling.

“We are playing much more aggressively and are able to tackle a lot better than we did in the first game,” Shine said. “After the Kent game, we talked about how we need to be able to tackle better if we are going to be a winning program. We’ve been working really hard on that the past few weeks and it’s really showing. These guys can get the job done.”

Leading the defense has been Kevin Downs. In addition, Taylor, John Fox, Reilly Walsh, Jimmy Knight and a solid defensive front four have really helped the Bruins play at a top level.

“Right now this feels great,” Downs said. “After last season winning only one game, what we are doing here is something really special. Defensively last year we weren’t the best, but this year we have really stepped it up, especially in the last three games. We are not allowing a lot of points. For the defense, it helps to have a high-scoring offense because it really tires out the opposing teams. When it comes to offense, their line is gassed and it’s easier for our defense.”

On Saturday, Brunswick School will be put to the test in front of a passionate Homecoming crowd, as Avon Old Farms comes to Cosby Field. Avon is leading the New England Prep School “A” Conference with a 5-0 record and will be coming into Brunswick looking to gain ground in the Housatonic Division.

With a victory against Avon, the Bruins could position themselves in a good spot when it comes to playing in the New England championship, something that wasn’t even mentioned at the start of the season.

“This is going to be one of the biggest football games in Brunswick football history on Saturday,” Taylor said. “We are winning our games and now have a chance to earn a spot in the championship game. This game is huge and so much rides on it.”

In order to be successful against Avon, Shine said that going back to basics is a necessity.

“We need to play good, solid, fundamental football,” Shine said. “Avon is a good football team and will be our toughest competition so far. Defensively we are playing a much more physical type of game, which is important because Avon is going to put points on the board, no doubt about it. They are averaging 46 points per game. We need to stop their key players on offense.”

While it seems that all the pressure in the world appears to be on the Bruins, O’Malley doesn’t see that.

“This game is huge,” O’Malley said. “Everybody’s really excited for the game. You would think that we would all be nervous about playing in such a big game, but we are very relaxed. We are confidence in the way that we’ve played the past three weeks. We are excited. There will be a big crowd, it’s Homecoming and it’s going to be a lot of fun. Games like this is why you play the game.”

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