According to the record books, the most successful streak in the brief and unspectacular history of the O’Brien Tech football program began Sept. 9 with a 34-12 upset of Abbott Tech/Immaculate. However, an argument can be made that it actually started in May 2016 when Condors coach Nick Aprea spent three days in North Haven learning the intricacies of the single wing offense.
“I could walk around and do anything I wanted during practice,” Aprea recalled Wednesday. “I could go into their meetings. (North Haven coach) Tony (Sagnella), I can text him whenever I have a question. He’s had as much to do with the success here as anybody.”
Aprea put the lessons he learned to good use, relaying them to one of his two assistants, Eric DeMarco, for some fine-tuning. He then had to wait for his players to buy into the ground-and-pound approach that he was selling.
“Last year,” Aprea said, “I think we just had a lot of kids who wanted to run and score touchdowns. … That just doesn’t work for the single wing. It’s three and a half yards, that’s all we want — three and a half yards. We’ll go for it on fourth down no matter where it is, within reason. If it’s fourth-and-two at the 35 and above, we’ll go for it.
“They have to buy into that, and they have.”
In doing so, O’Brien Tech — which added football as a varsity sport in 2011 — has gotten off to a surprising 4-1 start. The Condors have never won five games in a season.
“We’ve never been a team that was supposed to win,” senior tight end/defensive end Tyreek Green said. “We were always the underdogs.”
That line of thinking is why the Condors have struggled to cope with last Saturday’s 22-20 loss at Thames River, during which they committed six turnovers. They’re no longer interested in moral victories.
“It was hard,” senior running back/linebacker Mason Santa Maria said. “It was one of the worst losses I’ve ever had.”
With 35 players from eight different towns, the Condors have set out to change their reputation as a perennial afterthought. The program’s lack of funding, though, has made it that much harder.
The school doesn’t have a weight room suitable for football, meaning most players go to Planet Fitness or their local YMCA to train on their own. Their practice field is made up of mainly dirt and crab grass. Between that and their gameday field rests an 8-by-40 foot storage bin that serves as a makeshift locker room.
Aprea, who took over as head coach in 2012 after serving as the offensive line coach in 2011, said if it wasn’t for the booster club, which he has run for the last three years, the program wouldn’t remain afloat.
“That’s a bin. We don’t have a locker room,” Green said. “The school doesn’t provide anything for us. We provide it all by ourselves. We’ve just got a little old bin for now, until this program grows into bigger things.”
Added senior offensive/defensive lineman Brendan Gilbert: “We do what we can here. … Some people might look at it as just a storage bin, but we look at it as that’s our locker room.”
What’s refreshing for the Condors, who visit CREC co-op on Saturday, is that their determination is finally paying off in the standings. Their old-school, run-oriented offense featuring junior Jommar Roc (73 carries for 448 yards) and his twin, Jonte, (70 carries for 428 yards), has helped set the tone.
“We don’t have the weight room like other schools, but it doesn’t really matter,” Green said. “As long as you have heart and determination, it’s all set.”
Heart and determination is all Aprea can ask for.
“I know we’re never going to win a state championship, we’re never going to be the talk of the town and we’re never going to score 28 points in the fourth quarter and have the world worship us,” he said. “We’re never going to do any of those things, but we have kids who want to play football and we provide that opportunity for them.
“Hopefully we can teach them a little bit about life along the way.”