December 28, 2012
Homer grad Whidden has magical coaching campaign
Former Homer Central quarterback Chris Whidden talks to his players at Barnstable High School, where he coached the Massachusetts school to an 11-1 season and a spot in the state championship game this past fall.
It’s been quite a football journey for Chris Whidden, one that carried him to the Massachusetts state championship game last month in just his second year as a high school head coach.
A 2000 Homer Central graduate, Whidden played for the Trojans — where his dad Jim has served as an assistant coach for several seasons — as a quarterback and defensive back.
Upon leaving Homer, Whidden headed to Springfield College where he was a defensive back who graduated in 2004. With his playing days over, he wanted to stayed involved and decided to pursue his dream of coaching.
Whidden spent the 2004 and 2005 seasons as a graduate assistant at Springfield and then his opportunity came around in the fall of 2006.
“I always knew I wanted to stay in football, and coaching was going to be the way to do that,” Whidden said. “I was wrapping up a grad assistant stint and an opening became available at Barnstable High School for a physical education position and I could also be the head coach for the freshman football team.”
Whidden found success with the freshmen at that Massachusetts school and moved up to head junior varsity coach, as well as quarterback/defensive back coach for the varsity in 2007. He moved to the varsity defensive coordinator position for the 2008-10 seasons and, in 2011, Whidden became the varsity head coach of the Red Raiders.
That 2011 season saw Whidden’s team post a 7-5 overall record, as Barnstable won its Old Colony League Championship for the first time since 2002 and came within one game of reaching the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association Division IA Super Bowl championship game, falling to Lincoln-Subdury by one point in the semifinals.
That brings us to the recently completed 2012 season, which was a magical one for Whidden and his team that came a win away from undefeated glory.
“As much fun as this season was for me, it was really the kids and a great senior class that made it all happen,” Whidden said. “This was team that was full of hard workers and great attitudes. The community really got behind us and all the support really helped these kids all season long.”
Highlights included defeating arch-rival Falmouth on Thanksgiving Day. Whidden says this game is like the Homer-Cortland rivalry, only a lot, lot older. It fact, Barnstable holds the edge in the series 60-59-8 in 127 meetings dating back to 1895.
“I had guys on the team this year that had their father, grandfather and great-grandfather play in the rivalry,” Whidden explained. “That’s four generations be part of a rivalry. That is truly amazing. This game is a Thanksgiving Day tradition.”
The Red Raiders also locked up a second straight league championship with a win over Bridgewater-Raynham, 27-25, in late October. It was the first time that the Red Raiders won two straight Old Colony League championships since back-to-back titles in 1961 and 1962. It was just the fourth time since the program began in 1893 that the Red Raiders took back-to-back league championships.
Barnstable became the No. 1 team in Massachusetts in September, the first top ranking since the 11-0 team in 1995. The Red Raiders return to the Eastern Massachusetts Division 1A semifinals and avenged the 2011 loss to Lincoln-Subdury with a 28-7 triumph. That sent Barnstable to Foxboro and Gillette Stadium for the championship game.
Barnstable had defeated title game foe Everett Crimson Tide earlier in the season, but came up on the losing end of a 20-19 decision in the rematch and settled for an 11-1 season and No. 3 state ranking.
“Walking into Gillette Stadium was unbelievable,” Whidden said. “For the 70 kids on my team who have grown up with the New England Patriots and watching Tom Brady, it is truly very special. I’m not sure if the kids have fully realized the impact of playing there. It’s really a lifetime dream for many of them.
“To know that much of the community was there was amazing,” he added. “There were guys there who played as far back as the 1950s. It truly was a community-bonding experience as well.”
The team even met Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft at the Breakfast of Champions event where all 12 schools that participated in the six games on Dec. 1 were in attendance.
“Mr. Kraft addressed on the guys at the event,” Whidden said. “He talked about this is what football is really meant to be about for the beginning,”
Of course, overseeing the Barnstable football program is a lot different from the 30-35 players on the Homer varsity team.
“We do have close to 70 guys and there are not many guys who play both sides of the ball,” Whidden explained. “ We are able to be two-deep at most every position. Most guys played offensive and special teams, defensive and special teams. We also practice with the JV team, which helped prepare those guys for varsity down the road.”
Whidden also has a full compliment of coaches. He handles the head coaching and defensive coordinator positions. He also as an offensive coordinator, running back coach, wide receiver coach, offensive line coach, defensive line coach, linebackers coach and defensive backs coach. It’s Whidden’s job to coordinate all of this into a single functioning unit and to his style of coaching.
Whidden has drawn for his days at Homer with head coach Gary Podsiedlik and offensive coordinator Tom Cottrell to help develop his own coaching style, along with his days interacting with the Springfield College coaching staff.
“With Coach Podsiedlik, it was all about his calm demeanor during the game,” Whidden explained. “There can be chaos all around, but he always stayed calm and formulated a plan. He could get everyone to follow his lead. He also has so much excitement for the game of football and could really plan out practices.
“Coach Cottrell is a little tougher,” he chuckled. “It’s hard to explain, but he always has a knack for developing relationships and trust with the players. I always thought that was important.”
As for the Springfield influence?
“I really learned how much time goes into planning a strategy for a game from the Springfield coaches,” Whidden said. “There was a lot of work going into doing the things to take away the best plays of your opponent. The preparation was really a lot each week.”
There is also another guy that Whidden turns to after every Friday night game.
“I take part of all that I have experienced up to this point and then try to put it all together so I can teach my guys to be their best,” he explained. “I also took a lot of what I learned from my dad. We still talk after every game. We bounce things off each other from happened in our games that night. He still understands me the best of anyone and it’s great we can share what we are each doing.”
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