BEACON FALLS — Almost a decade ago, little Tyler Bulinski got to experience the thrill of his young life every Friday night for a couple of years.
“I was the waterboy,” Bulinski recalls of his first time on the Woodland gridiron. “I remember giving water to Deebs (Jack DeBiase) and Tanner (Kingsley). It was awesome. I looked up to them. I was in the locker room before games. It was cool. I honestly didn’t expect to be in the position I’m in now.”
That position is one which only three men in Woodland history have held — three-year starting varsity quarterback. Kingsley (2011-13) and Jared Katchmar (2002-04) are the only others, and to Hawks fans, that means football royalty.
“Even being in the same conversation with them is pretty cool,” Bulinski admits. “They were great quarterbacks.”
Bulinski’s career has been a bit different than either of his trifecta predecessors, though. While Kingsley threw his way into the state record book and Katchmar was an unquestioned leader of an historic state championship team, Bulinski has been a grinder for opportunity since earning this job two years ago.
“He’s been studying the game,” Woodland coach Chris Moffo says. “He knows what he’s doing. He’s confident in the game plans every week. He’s a student of the game. He studies the game plans that we give him. He knows what to expect offensively and defensively, and he executes those things.”
That desire to improve his quarterbacking abilities led him back, in some ways, to the point where he started.
“I worked with Tanner a couple of times,” Bulinski recalls. “Going into sophomore year, I would do some workouts with Tanner. We did a lot of footwork drills, some basic stuff. He taught me how to be a good quarterback.”
It’s been a slow climb for Bulinski, who was rarely asked to throw the ball during his first year as a starter as the Hawks tried to run the ball and recover from the worst season in program history. They did it, going 5-5 behind an improved offensive line and the running of Edit Krivca.
Last season was a similar offensive story with a better result — 9-2 and a berth in the Class S state quarterfinals.
But with Krivca and several offensive linemen having graduated from that squad, everybody knew who would fill in the gaps.
“We trusted him to manage the game, and going into this season we knew we would need him to do more,” Moffo says. “We’ve trusted him to study those game plans and do the right things, and he’s done them.”
Emerging as arguably the top dual-threat quarterback in the Naugatuck Valley League, Bulinski led the Hawks to an 8-1 record entering Thanksgiving eve against Seymour. His personal improvement has led to interest from regional colleges for him to continue his football career next fall.
“With all the skill we had coming back, that helped a lot,” senior lineman Alek Tolboe says. “Edit was a great runner, but he wasn’t really that receiving back. (Nick) Rousseau, (Jason) Palmieri, (Nate) Bodnar and those guys have really made it easy on Tyler. (Offensive coordinator Chris) Anderson coming back helped a lot as well. Having that guy who knows Tyler on a personal level, not just a football level, has paid off really well.”
If the Hawks beat the Wildcats for a second straight year, it would mean a second straight postseason berth for the Hawks.
“It’s probably the biggest rivalry in the NVL,” says Bulinski, whose team has the chance to tie the all-time series record at 9-9 with a victory.
However this season ends, Bulinski says that he and his seven-member senior class have accomplished the most important task — getting the Hawks back to their historic winning ways.
“We’re leaving behind dedication and hard work,” Bulinski says. “We stuck together for the last four years, and we turned around the program. They have to keep that up for many years to come.”
Editor’s note: This article appears in the Citizen’s News’ special Thanksgiving football section published Nov. 28, 2019.