NORTHBOROUGH, Mass. — There's no question that Justin McKay, the new head coach of Algonquin's varsity football team, wants to lead his players to a winning season. The last time the Tomahawks enjoyed such a run was in 1997, back when many current players were still mastering the basics of walking and talking, rather than passing and blocking.
But for McKay, who spent eight years coaching football at Wachusett Regional High School and six years teaching social studies and criminal justice, the importance of the game extends beyond the field.
"I'm a teacher, first and foremost," McKay said during a recent team practice. He added that he was attracted to Algonquin because the community supports its athletes both on the field and in the classroom. "We want to instill values of being a better person."
This year, he said, the team has a new motto: "Compete Each Day."
It's a slogan that means more than simply practicing hard. Competition, McKay said, begins for players each day at home. It continues at school, in class and when players sit down to do their homework. And, of course, it continues on the field.
"They have bought into working extremely hard," McKay said of his players. "You can't win Thanksgiving that day. You have to win each day."
To emphasize that point, the team keeps a clock in the locker room that is counting down to their first game on Sept. 7 against Burncoat High School at Foley Stadium in Worcester. "Every game is a challenge, "McKay said. "Every game matters."
Despite the team's past difficulties, McKay insists that Algonquin has a "phenomenal program."
"We're just trying to build our own identity as a program," he added.
As the season progresses, McKay said that the team will be looking to the seniors— especially team captains Brendan Dagle and Michael Halloran, who McKay called "tremendous leaders for this program." Halloran is the starting quarterback, while Dagle plays "pretty much every" offensive position.
"We look to the senior class as a whole to lead," McKay said. "This is their team. It's not about us."