Phil Stacey: Moving The Chains: In a pinch, it's Lynch for Essex Tech

·10 min read

Sep. 23—Last Friday, Harry Lynch awoke before dawn. The Essex Tech senior got himself ready, reached the job site he's currently working on a little before 5:30 a.m. and put in an eight-hour shift as an electrician.

Later that night he went to his school's campus, donned his football uniform and, as the Hawks' new starting quarterback, threw three touchdown passes and ran for three more in their 40-14 rout of Blue Hills.

Having had a hand in nine of his team's 10 touchdowns thus far — five rushing scores, three passing TDs and another one he was on the receiving end of — you could say that Lynch has been ... well, electric.

As someone who was slated to see time first as a wideout, then the backfield this fall, Lynch will now be taking snaps from center Chris Bonfanti for the rest of the year after Essex Tech's three-year starting QB, Devin Lebron, suffered a season ending injury in a Week 1 win over Lynn Tech.

It's the second year in a row he's done so, having learned the quarterback position on the fly when Lebron was forced to miss three-plus games in 2021 with an ailment.

"It's cool. I like playing quarterback in our (spread) offense," said the 6-foot, 175-pound team captain from West Peabody. "My coaches and teammates have had a huge role in coaching me up, teaching me techniques, scheming during games, and watching film. (Offensive coordinator) Jody Norton really took me under his wing and has had a huge impact on me."

Lynch, the North Shore's scoring leader with 36 points in two games, will be at the helm offensively Friday night when the 2-0 Hawks welcome Shawsheen in for a big Commonwealth Athletic Conference clash.

Head coach Dan Connors refers to Lynch as a "homegrown player" who didn't have prior experience on the gridiron before entering high school (he did play two years of flag football, but never tackle).

The same can be said of wideout Colin Holden, who only began playing a year ago but is now a major cog in the passing game; Lebron, a tight end/linebacker in Pop Warner; and a handful of others on the squad.

"Credit to our staff and our program for the development of players like him. But the rest is to Harry's credit," said Connors. "His temperament and personality helps with the position, and he's eerily calm no matter the situation. Whether we're blowing a team out by 40 or if he had to lead the last drive to win us a game, his demeanor is pretty much the same.

"Harry's sneaky sense of humor and smile make him one of most well liked players by his peers and the staff, too," he added. "This is probably his best quality as a captain."

Lynch made the decision to attend Essex Tech because he wanted to learn a trade. He's worked in the field as an electrician for two years, having signed with Rivers Electrical out of Woburn last summer.

The on-the-job experience he's getting is invaluable, he said, and between that and his time in the classroom, Lynch should be able to get his license that much sooner.

"I've learned so much from the guys I work with," he said. "They love that I'm a young guy and say to me, 'I wish I did what you're doing when I was your age.'"

Another plus of attending Essex Tech has been the new friendships he's made. Football teammates Aidan Connelly, Josh Heath, P.J. Norton and Holden are among his best buddies. He stays after practice to practice pass routes with Holden and Connell.

"He offers almost the same threat as Devin being a dual threat QB," said Connors. "Harry works really hard on his throwing mechanics and accuracy. He's now fully emerged in the position and almost obsessed with getting better. He'll send the staff texts after hours about something he saw on film and spend lunch Jody Norton (P.J.'s dad) going over concepts for the week."

With a few players transferring (WR Jayce Dooley to Peabody High, RB Shane Field to Salem HS), the Hawks' focus is now getting the ball into the hands of playmakers such as Norton and Holden while leaning on their healthy, experienced offensive line: Bonfanti at center, Heath and Jag Jordan as the guards, Andrew Porter and Trevor O'Neill as the tackles, and Salve Costanzo, Matt Cormier and Christian Gauthier also in the mix.

Essex Tech has been intent on creating norms around practice and its preparation on the little details of its craft, said Connors, and the players have started to buy in. Among others, he lists Alex Minaya as someone who has benefited most from this changed mindset and has become a factor on special teams.

Friday night's battle with Shawsheen — a tough, resilient program whom the Hawks knocked off last fall, 25-13 — will be their toughest matchup of this season to date.

"Our skill vs. their skill is the matchup and story of the game," said Connors, "but obviously winning the battle up front is of utmost importance. Execution in key sports and limiting mistakes against is (a must)."

"They're one of our biggest rivals and we know they'll come in angry and aggressive after what happened last year," added Lynch, who also pitches and plays shortstop for the Hawks' baseball team. "But I have confidence in our team.

"Being out there with my teammates, that's the best part of playing football," Lynch added. "I'll be talking about playing high school football on the job site for the next 30 years. All of us on the team want a taste of the playoffs very, very badly, and we'll do whatever it takes to get there." — We hear a lot about Marblehead's state-best 22 game winning streak, and deservedly so.

But I'm guessing most folks aren't aware that the school with the third-longest current win streak (16 games) also resides on the North Shore.

That'd be the Pingree Highlanders, who like the Magicians are coming off of an unbeaten championship season of their own. They open their 2022 season Saturday at home against Portsmouth Abbey (2:30 p.m.) before welcoming in Proctor the following Saturday (5 p.m.) in what should be an excellent contest.

The program that's currently sandwiched in between Marblehead and Pingree in terms of consecutive wins? That'd be Catholic Memorial (18). — A 1-1 record is not where St. John's Prep wanted to be two games into the season.

Even with injuries' to some key starters, the Eagles started out like gangbusters by blasting Marshfield, 49-14. But they followed that up with a lackluster showing at Central Catholic, resulting in a 17-7 loss. Now they'll try to right the ship when they face Haverhill (1-1) on the road Friday night.

"We have to approach it as if we get to play another game and rinse the bad taste of last week from our mouths," head coach Brian St. Pierre said. "Not to take anything away from Central — they're a terrific team — but we were our own worst enemy. That has to change."

St. Pierre and his staff focused on his players developing more consistency in practice this week, and the end results were positive. They'll get a chance to see if that work bears fruit when they face what he termed a "much improved" Hillies team.

Mason McSweeney is someone who has taken his game to the next level in the early going. Starting as a sophomore last season, the 6-foot-1, 215-pound Tri-Town native has taken the next step at defensive end; St. Pierre said he was very good against Marshfield but "unbelievable" against Central in applying pressure off the edge and bringing own ballcarriers by reading the plays correctly almost every time. — Sorry to hear of the recent passing of Nate Cunningham, who coached the Beverly High football team from 1975-77.

Cunningham, who was 75 years old, taught and coached for 32 years with stops in Texas, California, Georgia, Illinois and Michigan, according to his obituary. Being named to replace Roy Norden at Beverly in 1975 was his first heading coaching job; his teams went a combined 7-22-1.

Cunningham was — and remains, 45 years after coaching his last game in the Garden City — the only African-American head football coach among teams covered by The Salem News (Beverly, Salem, Danvers, Peabody, Marblehead, Masconomet, Swampscott, St. John's Prep, Ipswich, Hamilton-Wenham, Bishop Fenwick, Essex Tech and Pingree).

"For me, Coach Cunningham came to a predominantly white city and was following in the footsteps of a legend," said one of his former players, Michael Williams. "If that wasn't hard enough, he got the job over Bill Hamor (a Beverly native and BHS Hall of Famer who followed Cunningham as head coach, having great success from 1978-89). Bill was already established at BHS as a teacher and a coach on Roy Norden's staff. As a result, Nate was not immediately accepted in the community — and winning two games in his first year didn't help matters.

"In year two we were only able to win three games; tough to explain given the athletes on that team," added Williams, noting that Andrew Landers went on to play football for Jack Bicknell at the University of Maine, Bruce Doig continued his career as a lineman at Villanova, Jay Rice was a hockey star for Marblehead's Toot Cahoon up at Norwich, and Ken Boretti played baseball at the United States Military Academy.

"Coach Cunningham was always a gentleman and he contacted many schools for me and Andrew Landers. He worked very hard for his players," said Doig.

"I remember one story he told where he was called at his house on Thanksgiving by an irate fan because he forgot to take off his hat. With losing, there just wasn't enough support."

"He was a fine man, a real gentleman," Boretti, like Doig a captain on the '77 BHS team, said of Cunningham. "He was in a tough spot, and not winning didn't help. He coached to the best of his ability and stood by us even when we let him or each other down. There was never any finger pointing. We played tough and never quit."

Rice, one of Beverly's best-ever hockey players, acknowledged Cunningham's hiring was a big change for the program, and he didn't really know what to expect.

"But I learned quickly that he was a young coach dedicated to football and really wanted to win," said Rice. "I liked that he played at a high level (on Indiana University's only Rose Bowl team, in 1968 vs. USC, as well as that year's East-West Shrine Game), but honestly I didn't know much about big time college football like most kids in New England.

"Coach Cunningham was very fair with me and all who played for him," added Rice. "He was nothing short of a gentleman to us players and referees. He did a good job; I just don't understand why we didn't win more games."

Cunningham, who painted the Hurd Stadium clubhouse from green to orange (which it remains to this day), got his team new lightweight uniforms. His Panthers wore orange pants; Williams recalls a few contests in which they wore both orange tops and pants.

After another two-win season in 1977, Cunningham was let go.

"I remember going to his house with the team the Friday night before our Saturday afternoon game for a card party and seeing game balls and pictures from various games (Cunningham had played in)," added Williams. "It made me really appreciate him as a head coach and what he was trying to accomplish. Unfortunately in life, some things just do not work out as planned."

Contact Phil Stacey


Contact Phil Stacey