Pinkerton Astros Football '07

When ex-NFL running back Joe Dudek of Derry works with the Pinkerton running backs, he takes a hands-on approach. Here he helps Astro standout Bobby Dattilo with a ball-protection drill in preparation for tomorrow's Division 1 title game. » Jarrod Thompson, Staff PhotographerMore photos

Ex-SI coverboy has helped reshape the Pinkerton running game

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Friday, November, 16 By Ryan Lambert
Staff writer

This year, more than in years past, Pinkerton's running backs have hit the holes more quickly and been smarter with the ball.

The reason is simple: a former Heisman Trophy candidate, Joe Dudek, is now a part-time coach with the Astros, who are headed to their fourth straight Division 1 championship game tomorrow with Nashua South.

The former Plymouth State great was famously tabbed as "The thinking fan's vote for the 1985 Heisman trophy" by Sports Illustrated in 1985 ... ahead of an Auburn running back by the name of Bo Jackson.

"When you can utilize someone with the ability of Joe, who can speak to your running backs and give them real-life tips on what a running back should be looking for as he comes through the hole and such, it's invaluable," said Astros coach Brian O'Reilly.

"The biggest difference?" asked senior feature back Bobby Dattilo. "Speed. Our outside game is much better. The first game this year, we actually fumbled a lot, so that's why he kind of hammered away on a drill so we'd learn to hold onto the ball. That's probably the biggest thing is ball security."

Dudek, who described himself as, "all about speed cuts and ball protection," has also preached the importance of using the field to your advantage and keeping a hand free to throw a stiff arm.

"It's the finer things," said Dudek, a native of Quincy, Mass. who for several years lived in Derry and now calls Auburn, N.H., home. "You see those flashes and they come back to the bench with a big smile on their face. That makes me smile too because it might have been something I showed him."

What is also important to the kids, said O'Reilly, is Dudek's credibility. The 6-1, 195-pounder placed ninth in the Heisman voting and scored two touchdowns in a game before 61,230 fans as a replacement player for the Denver Broncos in 1987. The year before he was on injured reserve for the Broncos.

"Oh, yeah, he knows what he's doing," said Dattilo, the leading rusher for a team averaging 234.8 yards a game on the ground. "His achievements show that and with him living in New Hampshire and everything, you can definitely relate to him."

Last year, Dudek came to Pinkerton at the suggestion of a friend, Steve Tewksbury, an assistant coach for the Astros. After working with the freshman and JV teams last season, Dudek moved up to the varsity this fall.

Freshman quarterback Luke Somers, freshman fullback Michael Mazzola and sophomore halfback Scott LaFleur went through 10 weeks of training with Dudek over the summer. By the end of that stretch, all three said they had shaved two tenths of a second off their 40-yard dash times.

"At the end of the 10 weeks, I had a barbecue at my house for them," said the 43-year-old Dudek, who was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1997. "They went through all my memorabilia. To hear about it is one thing but to see it is another. I even showed them game film and I think it earned their respect in that they know I've been there and done that."

Dattilo said that Dudek has brought two drills, in particular, that have helped his game.

One is the "Graham Cracker," where the running back sprints forward, shuffles to the side, back-pedals, and sprints forward again.

"That's really helped our agility," he said. There's also the three-cone drill, where the ballcarrier runs forward and cuts around a cone while Dudek tries to strip the ball out of his hands.

Dudek said he's especially impressed with how far the game, and the kids who play it, have come is.

"It's so sophisticated," he said. "The amount of plays and adjustments they make, we weren't doing that much when I was in college. We had six plays to the right, six to the left and that was it. To only have two and three days of practice between games, what these kids can digest and filter and take to the game is really impressive."

O'Reilly, for his part, knows that Dudek's teachings could mean the difference between a tackle for a loss and a game-breaking run that seals the championship.

"Any small thing can change the game on Saturday and make all the difference, and you never know when it's going to happen," he said. "When it comes to someone with Joe's background, teenagers will tend to listen more because he knows what he's talking about."

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