Dempsey Quinn has seen his Berkshire School football team transform from a winless squad three years ago to a 6-2 team in 2015 — and now he's ready to take his side one step further.
Quinn will lead his Bears into the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council's Mike Atkins Bowl today against Kingswood Oxford at KO, and the Pittsfield native couldn't be more excited for his players.
"This is my fourth year [coaching], so I've kind of seen the good, the bad and the ugly," said Quinn, who spent his first two years as an assistant to Brian Sullivan before taking over as head coach last year. "It's exciting, we talked about all week how we haven't played meaningful games in November in a really long time, and just how much fun it is to get out and practice for another week, practice under the lights and get ready for another bowl game."
The Bears have found a new lease on football life under Quinn, who went to St. Joseph and later played football at Cornell. Quinn brought in his father Jack — who coached Dempsey as an assistant under Gary Bianchi — and Jay Cronze, a Taconic graduate who did a post grad year at Berkshire, to help on his staff. Quinn said that experience he and his staff have in Berkshire County is manifesting itself in NEPSAC football.
"We kind of tried to take some of our experiences and that blue collar mentality that a lot of those Berkshire County teams have and try to instill it at a boarding school, which has been tough, but the kids have definitely bought in."
The Bears enter their first bowl game since the early 2000s on a two-game winning streak that the Bears needed to qualify for the postseason. Quinn has installed a triple option offense for his team to run, and credits the new approach for the turnaround in the win column over the last two years.
"I think we started running a system that kind of fits the makeup of our team," Quinn said. "We don't have the imposing 6-3, 260-270 pound lineman. We are a smaller group, we are scrappy, but we are very athletic and we are tough."
Drew Pitcher, a junior, is the quarterback for Quinn. Quinn said that Pitcher is a "composed kid, he never lets things get to him" and that the gunslinger keeps the offense flowing.
Behind him, senior Charlie Erdmann is the team's fullback, a position that Quinn said is vital to the offense.
"In order to run the offense, you have to have a good fullback," Quinn said. "He's one of the toughest kids I've ever been around, and we kind of go as he goes."
The team will also hand the ball off to TJ Simpson, a post graduate, another back that Quinn trusts to get the hard yards his team needs.
"It's a 3 yard, 4 yard, 3 yard, 4 yard offense," Quinn said. "We get these little gains and sooner or later we know we're going to break one. You just have to be consistent and stick to it."
Defensively, the Bears run a 4-3 defense anchored by Simpson on the defensive line and senior Connor Waldron, the middle linebacker.
"[Waldron is] the stalwart on the defensive side of the ball," Quinn said. "He quarterbacks the defense out there, makes sure we are aligned correctly — he makes the calls. He is a student of the game, he is able to identify things and relay that information, he's always one step ahead of everyone else."
Waldron will have his football IQ put to the test by the Wyverns, who enter with a 6-1 record and are winners of six straight. KO runs an uptempo offense that likes to put up points — the Wyverns have scored 40 or more in five games this season — and uses two quarterbacks in Ben Tauber and Jacob Hallenbeck to mix things up.
"The name of their game is getting their athletes the ball, so we'll know where they are lined up on every single play. It comes down to want to and swarming the ball and tackle. I think if we tackle well we'll be fine."
Wide receiver Isaiah Wright, a Rutgers commit, will also take snaps out of the wildcat formation, and is one of KO's key playmakers as well. Koby Quansah will also share the load running the ball.
Today's game will kick off at 1 p.m. at Hoffman Field in West Hartford, Conn. Quinn is relishing the challenge of going south for the game, and thinks his team is, as well.
"I'm looking forward to the environment, it gives us a little added motivation knowing we have to go into their place and play them," Quinn said. "But at the end of the day, it's a championship game. We are happy to be playing for a championship. I think the kids are looking forward to it, it should be a good environment."