SOUTHINGTON — The cohesiveness displayed on the field and the harmony so apparent around the periphery of the Southington football program has its roots in a coaching staff with corresponding group dynamics.
Head coach Mike Drury, trying to cap off his third season with a Class LL championship, assembled a staff that starts with an ultra-successful former coach and a steadying influence: his father, Chuck Drury.
From his college playing experience at Marist, Mike Drury brought in former Platt kicker Kevin Frederick as offensive coordinator and Lyman Hall grad Dan Plant to guide the linemen.
From his playing days as an All-State linebacker at Bristol Central, Drury tabbed his former head coach Rob Thomson as defensive coordinator and Jeff Tye as the man behind the camera.
And the Bristol-based Drurys paid particular attention to the program’s legacy within the community by bringing in an eclectic group of teachers, experienced varsity coaches and former players.
Brian Durbin, a Southington High history teacher and retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, is the strength and conditioning coach behind the scenes and a pillar of discipline and respect on the sidelines. From Southington football past come Garry Coles, Dan Bird and Denny Andreoni, not to mention to Thomson.
Andreoni played for the only Southington state championship team in 1998. He was also on the 1999 squad that lost to Greenwich in the Class LL final. Coles was prolific as a running back in 2005 and a receiver in 2006, years in which the Blue Knights fell in state championship games to Xavier and Greenwich, before playing at Sacred Heart and earning invitations to pro combines.
Southington’s freshman team, which finished the year unbeaten and has won 19 of its last 20 games, is a co-head coach collaborative headed by Brad Bard (defense) and girls basketball mentor Mike Forgione (offense). Wrestling coach Derek Dion is also on the freshman staff along with Andreoni and Glenn Messenger (SHS Class of 1985).
“We run the no-huddle shotgun spread just like the varsity,” Forgione said. “It’s continuity for the players, both offensively and defensively, so when they jump into spring practice there’s familiarity. Most freshman teams have two young coaches that are often inexperienced and we have five, two who coach other varsity teams at the school.”
In Steve Daniels, the program has as meticulous a statistician as any program could employ. Nate Pryzbek is the technology coordinator. Jim Earl helps out with the defensive line.
“It was like the perfect storm,” said Chuck Drury, who forged an illustrious coaching career at Pomperaug that spanned 35 years and included three South West Conference titles, two state finals appearances and a Class MM state championship in 2004.
“Mike has assembled a very good coaching staff. They all have the same values and the same way of dealing with kids. They’re all teachers, special-ed teachers (Plant, Frederick, Mike Drury). We have a couple of other guys who went to Southington High School. It was the right meeting of the right people. They’re solid young men.”
Chuck Drury also served as an assistant basketball coach at Bristol Central in Mike’s youth, in the late 1980s/early 1990s, while Malcolm Huckaby was laying the foundation for a Hall-of-Fame career at Boston College and a brief professional stint with the Miami Heat.
“He was assistant basketball coach at Bristol Central for 10 years,” Mike said. “When he was around, I was always around. I was a waterboy for [Huckaby’s] team.
“[Chuck] is a good sounding board. I can bounce things off him. He brings a side that I need. Sometimes as a coach you get a little too heated and you need to talk to someone who’s going to calm you down and say, ‘Look, let’s think about it this way.’”
While Chuck was trying to get acquainted with Southington High, he would walk through the building and exchange pleasantries with faculty and students.
“A teacher came up to me that I didn’t really know that well and said they really support the football team,” he said. “He said that 95 percent of the people like every kid on the team. That really helps. It means they’re being good citizens and good in the classroom. We always tell the boys, ‘If you want to be successful you’ve got to be a good son, a good student and a good friend, and you’ll be a good football player.”
Frederick explained why the duties of a special education teacher are conducive to coaching.
“[Coaching] plays a hand-in-hand role in the teaching aspect of it,” he said. “We’re constantly designing lesson plans geared toward our football team and how we can best teach them. We have a very unique offense. We’re doing a lot of different things — motion, formations and tempo — so we’re using a lot of different terminology.
“We have a great staff. I call the plays in the game, but we design them as a staff week by week. [Chuck] is like our mentor. I work close with the run-game coach [Plant] and Chuck is there to facilitate. He always comes up with good ideas and he’s a guy who gives us a lot of confidence. He’s the glue, no doubt about it. Without him, it would be a rough ride.”
A veteran consultant bound to the head coach by family ties, relationships formed in college, links to the proud program’s past mixed with doses of youthful exuberance, commitment and basic intelligence are all in play. The end products are heavy numbers in the win column and a chance to win a state championship, but the impact on teenage student-athletes must take precedent.
“They work together very nicely,” said Zach Maxwell, a two-way star, a state championship wrestler and a senior captain. “They’re very close.
“It helps that [Mike] Drury’s younger and he can relate to us more. He has just been through it. He just graduated from college a couple years ago. [Southington] had a problem finding a coach that was going to stick around and Coach Drury definitely brought that family atmosphere to the program. I think it’s one of the most important things.”