BEDFORD — There are lots of new faces in the Bedford High School football program this season, and one of them belongs to the head coach.
After running the Bedford program for four seasons, Derek Stank resigned in March to become the head coach at San Marcos (Calif.) High School. Bedford won two Division I championships — including last year’s title — and reached the semifinals twice under Stank, a former defensive lineman at the University of New Hampshire.
The new boss is former Kearsarge Regional coach Zach Matthews, who played college football (quarterback) at Plymouth State. Matthews’ resume includes five years as the offensive coordinator at Merrimack Valley. He became the defensive coordinator at Kearsarge in 2010, and was elevated to head coach in 2011.
Although the head coach has changed in Bedford, you can be sure the expectations haven’t. Matthews, 40, said he likes being part of a program that has a high standard.
“Absolutely,” he said. “To be honest that’s what made the position interesting to me. I think as coaches we set high expectations. I wanted to be surrounded by a group of people and kids whose expectations are as high as mine. I have high expectations, I think our coaching staff here has high expectations and I would say the same thing for the kids. The kids are are the biggest ones who call each other out on it if something’s not good enough.”
Things were good enough last year, when the Bulldogs capped a 12-0 season by beating Pinkerton Academy in the Division I championship game. Like Stank, however, many of the key pieces on that team are no longer around. That group includes Ryan Toscano, the 2018 New Hampshire Gatorade Player of the Year who is now lining up at linebacker for UNH.
This year’s Bedford team will rely on the big guys up front, guys like tackle Torey Helton, center Charlie Kneissl-Williams and guard Drew Allard, all of whom started on the offensive line last year.
“I’d like to think the line’s our strength,” Helton said. “We have three offensive linemen and two defensive linemen back.
“Right now there’s a lot of competition. Especially at the (skill positions) there’s a lot of kids on the same level that can definitely get to that top spot.”
Helton said receiver Soloman Sanchez and running back Sonny Elie are two skill-position players to keep an eye on this year. Sanchez, a junior, began his high school career at Manchester Memorial. Elie, who is also a junior, returned a punt for a touchdown when Bedford tied Salem 7-7 in Friday’s Queen City Jamboree.
“(Elie is) very shifty,” Helton said. “I think he’ll have a big impact for our team on offense. He plays outside linebacker and he’s very quick, so I definitely think he’ll have an impact there too.”
Matthews: “Are we having to find a bunch of skill kids? Yeah, we absolutely are, but when you can be solid up front and be stout at the line of scrimmage you have an opportunity to let some of those young skill players grow and develop.
“There’s no doubt there’s a lot of kids here who have been waiting their turn.”
Three assistant coaches on Stank’s 2018 staff returned to coach under Matthews, including defensive coordinator Sean Donohue. There are also three new coaches on staff. Bedford’s defense will still look familiar under Donahue, but Matthews brought his offensive playbook with him from Kearsarge.
“Still gonna be a spread system, just a different way of communicating it,” Matthews explained. “We’re still running inside zone, we’re just calling it something different. It’s just a different hand signal. Every coach has a different flavor. There’s lots of different styles of spread offense. We’re lucky to have a lot of athletes here who can do a lot of different things. The formula is pretty simple. We just want to get the ball to athletes in space and let them do the rest.”
Matthews will be facing what appears to be a tougher schedule this year than what Stank and the Bulldogs had to deal with last season. Bedford’s crossover games will be against Division I South, a conference made up of Londonderry, Pinkerton, Salem, Timberlane and Windham. Division I South was the only conference that sent three teams to the playoffs last year (Londonderry, Pinkerton and Salem).
The Bulldogs will open their season at home against Windham on Sept. 7.
“Any time you go through a coaching change it’s different for these guys, it’s different for me,” Matthews said. “You just kind of figure things out. For the first couple days of practice they’re just trying to figure out what my expectations are and how I want things done. I’m trying to evaluate talent. Hopefully we’re at the point where we’re through that initial phase where it’s a little uncomfortable and we’re working toward the season.”