If it were up to his dad, Jack DeBiase never would have played football at Woodland. Mark DeBiase attended Holy Cross and wanted Jack to play for the Crusaders. But, ultimately, it was Woodland that sold itself.
As a middle school student, DeBiase and his dad watched Woodland win state championship games. Those victories inspired DeBiase to play for the Black and Gold.
“I knew then I wanted to go to Woodland,” he explained.
Now, DeBiase is working to bring the Hawks back to championship glory. And he’s got them on the right track. The team finished 4-7 last year, struggled throughout the season and fell short of Woodland’s typical lofty expectations. This season, DeBiase has helped ensure history didn’t repeat itself.
The junior has rushed for 1,124 yards, scored 17 touchdowns and made 73 tackles in nine games. The Hawks are 6-3 and playing like a different team.
The turning point was the offseason.
“My teammates and I came together in the offseason and wanted to improve,” DeBiase said. “We’re getting back to where the Woodland football team used to be and showing that last season was a fluke.”
A starter since his freshman season, DeBiase plays with major responsibilities. On offense, he’s the primary fullback.
“In our offense, the ball goes through the fullback 90 percent of the time,” head coach Tim Shea said.
In his most recent games, DeBiase has made the most of his carries. Against Sacred Heart last weekend, DeBiase ran for 105 yards on 15 carries with a 39-yard touchdown run. The week before, DeBiase rushed for 143 yards on 16 touches with a 60-yard TD run in a win over Naugatuck.
“That was a huge win for us,” DeBiase said in an intense voice. “They’re a huge rival for us.”
On Oct. 24, DeBiase scored four touchdowns in a victory over Torrington.
On defense, DeBiase has performed at strong safety and, when called upon, also linebacker.
“Strong safety has traditionally been one of our most important tackling positions,” Shea said. “Jack is a tough kid.”
Shea said DeBiase’s qualities extend beyond the stat sheet. His football intelligence, winning-comes-first attitude and passion for the game serve the team well.
“He’s more than an X’s and O’s guy,” Shea said. “He has a great football IQ.”
That might be because DeBiase loves to learn about the game and makes adjustments week to week.
Shea said DeBiase’s protection of the football has improved, in part, because of his work in practice. DeBiase does just about anything to help the team win.
“Jack moved to linebacker for us three days before a game,” said Shea, who added that DeBiase was hard on himself for not playing better at a position he normally doesn’t play.
The team comes first. Even if it means he doesn’t get the ball on a particular play or playing out of position.
“I really don’t care, as long as the team wins,” added DeBiase, who is very aware of Woodland’s winning tradition.
Wednesday night, DeBiase and the Hawks have a chance to write the next chapter in a long list of memorable victories in the school’s brief, but successful history. It’s a chance for DeBiase to get his first win over Seymour.
“It’s a huge game for us,” he said.