SEYMOUR — As the giddy Greyhounds offense took the field, two kneel-downs from stunning the No. 4 Seymour Wildcats, 27-13, head coach Rob Plasky embraced Mike Kennedy—the captain whose senior season ended before it started—his left arm curled around Kennedy’s neck, lips whispering in Kennedy’s ear.
It was more than a single-game victory for the coach who was dismissed during the offseason, told the program was headed in the wrong direction and that players no longer wanted to play for him. He won back his job in an appeal before the Board of Education and last week at DeBarber Field may have won back the confidence of a fan base that expects these kinds of performances.
And it was more than a W on the ledger for the tight end/linebacker, who tore his ACL during a pre-season scrimmage against Wilby and won’t play another snap in his high school career. Wearing his No. 9 jersey and supporting himself on crutches, Kennedy addressed his teammates before the game, exhorting them to play every down as if it were their last.
“It was very emotional,” Plasky said Monday, recalling the scene. “He could barely talk, and to see one of their teammates hurting like that, wanting so bad to be out there with them, was very powerful. As a coach, I had a lump in my throat watching.”
The Hounds picked up Kennedy, first symbolically, by dedicating the game to him, then physically, when Dan Mariano and Anthony McKernan carried him to midfield for pregame and halftime captains’ meetings.
“It meant a lot. It meant a lot,” Kennedy said after the upset was complete. “Words can’t express how I’m feeling right now. I love all these guys.”
The players’ treatment of Plasky, who turned 39 that night, was far less gentle but no less affectionate: A water-cooler bath, after a brief chase.
Plasky and Kennedy are emblems of the Garnet and Grey, a group that’s endured hardship—a 3-8 record last fall, three straight shutout losses to rival Ansonia, and a volatile offseason—yet is determined to become stronger because of those experiences.
“I think it has to go along with resiliency,” Plasky explained. “Along with myself trying to be resilient in the offseason … I think the kids were resilient too. Without a head football coach they were resilient, and they got it done. They took it upon themselves to work hard in the offseason.
“One of the things we kept harping on was you don’t get many chances in life, and when you do, take advantage of them. You know, I had my chance, these guys got their chance [against Seymour].”
Detractors still have ammo: “Naugy started 1-0 last season too,” they’ll say, “and look how that turned out.”
“Seymour was overrated,” they’ll qualify. “Its best player from 2008, Mike Osiecki, is at UConn, and legendary coach Paul Sponheimer is in retirement.”
Or, best of all, “Talk to me when they beat the Chargers on Turkey Day.”
I could write a book about why those criticisms miss the point of interscholastic athletics entirely, but in football world, maybe they’re fair. The Hounds’ position in the final minute (i.e. leading by two touchdowns) last Thursday was so unfamiliar that Plasky had to call time out to diagram the victory formation. So, yes, these guys still have a thing or two to learn about winning on the field.
Off it, I’d say they’re pretty well-educated. Just listen to what Plasky told Kennedy during that postgame hug: “I said, ‘This one’s for what we stand for. For the trying times that I’ve been through and you’re going through.’ And I told him, ‘You are a part of this.’”