HAMDEN >> A local television news camera fixed its lens on a scale in the Hamden Hall trainer’s room. As senior Matt Murchison stepped on to have his weight documented for an upcoming feature story, his football coach, Joe Linta, discreetly slipped his own foot on the scale.
Murchison, thanks to a virus that sidelined him most of last week, has shed five or six pounds from his 6-foot-3, 310-pound frame. Linta took a bit of dramatic license in regaining those pounds for the camera.
There was no such need to enhance the scale for 6-4 junior Melvin Wells, who did indeed live up to his billed weight of 355 pounds, which is 25 pounds lighter since his arrival on campus at the start of the summer — and 25 pounds from his target weight of 330.
A moment later, with the camera still rolling, Wells disappears into a full split, and then bends his back forward far enough to press his forehead flush against the floor. Murchison has seen this stunt before. Yet the remarkable display of flexibility for someone that size never fails to impress.
“That’s just crazy,” Murchison says.
Here’s another selling point that doesn’t require embellishment: Hamden Hall’s game film. Linta insists Wells and Murchison represent not only the biggest guard-tackle combination in the state, but the most dominant.
Proof is in the video.
The pair spent most of last week’s season opener obliterating linemen from Longmeadow (Mass.). At times you almost feel bad for the opposition tasked with cracking Hamden Hall’s line. Like the defensive end who gets pushed 25 yards off the line of scrimmage, like a fly caught on the windshield of a Mack truck. On at least two occasions, the referee furiously waves out a trainer while a Longmeadow player writhes on the turf in pain after being blasted off his Nikes.
And this was hardly Boston College outclassing Howard University. Longmeadow was ranked as the third-best team in Western Massachusetts.
Linta is a firm believer in offensive diversity. But when Longmeadow, far more effective on offense than defense, took a 28-18 lead, he focused exclusively on working behind Wells and Murchison to get back in the game.
Hamden Hall roared back to win 40-28.
“You put them together figuring they will work well with things we’re doing,” Linta said. “Matt has developed into a Division I player, and we’re proud of everything he’s doing and how he’s gotten there. There’s a toughness and resiliency to how he’s played. Melvin’s learned a lot by being around him and seeing his successes. He should be in that (recruiting) boat next year.”
It’s the realization of long hours of work for two guys with the biological gift of size; kids who not all that long ago lacked the stamina and endurance to make it through an entire practice without doubling over in agony.
Wells, son of East Haven coach Melvin Wells, grew up around football. But he was deemed too large for Pop Warner and, as a 385-pound freshman at Hyde, was too heavy to get much more than a few practice reps without becoming winded.
“I switched up my nutrition, and started losing weight,” Wells said. “But coming here, I’ve seen the results and had my biggest drop in weight.”
At the start of summer practice, Wells couldn’t keep up with the rest of the team during wind sprints. He’d run 100 yards down field, and be unable to make it back. At Tuesday’s practice, he had little trouble keeping pace during 100-yard shuttle runs.
“I’ve seen the progress,” Murchison says of Wells. “The transition he’s made is outstanding.”
Murchison, a Guilford resident, understands his teammate’s conditioning plight. Weight was an issue during his elementary years, too, and his lone season of eighth-grade football was enough for him to know he didn’t want to play another year. Linta saw him at a Hamden Hall open house for prospective students and suggested he come out for the team.
“I needed to think about it. But when I started, I was a lot like (Wells),” Murchison said. “I couldn’t even run back and forth down the field. Now, here I am thinking about playing Division I college football. It’s mind blowing.”
ESPN lists Murchison as a three-star recruit, ranked 88th in the country at his position. Several FCS schools have offered scholarships already, with a handful of FBS programs keeping tabs this fall. UConn coach Bob Diaco has visited Hamden Hall and, Linta says, rates Murchison highly, but has yet to make an offer.
That could change, soon. Saturday’s home game with Pingree (Mass.) is a chance for Murchison to go nose-to-nose with 335-pound Nino Leone, a two-way lineman who accepted UConn’s scholarship offer two weeks ago.
“If he keeps killing people, more Division I coaches are going to notice,” Linta said.
Offensive weapons aren’t exactly in short supply for Hamden Hall, looking to rebound after a 5-5 season.
Quarterback Kyle Smith, formerly of Lyman Hall, has speedy options in receivers Sal Rosa, Kyle Williams, Andrew Natale and Corey Millhouse, all complementing running back Justise Antrum.
The offensive line is the engine. The right side, behind Wells and Murchison at tackle and guard, respectively, provide 665 pounds of horsepower. It’s no secret that when the going gets rough, Hamden Hall will work that side of the field, like it did in the opener.
It’s a team game, of course, and the Hornets are in this thing together, something they learned early in camp.
“The young guys and older guys really came together strong,” Murchison says. “We’ve created a bond that can’t be broken.”