All in the Fam­ily

Cal­len­ders, Cougars ea­ger for their shot at a state ti­tle

The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT) - - SPORTS - By Paul Augeri

HIG­GANUM — There are two play­ers named Cal­len­der on the Had­dam-Killing­worth foot­ball ros­ter, and an­other is on the way next fall. Their fa­ther, who has been in­volved in the sport for decades, coaches the Cougars’ of­fen­sive and de­fen­sive line­men.

The Cal­len­ders — as­sis­tant coach Ge­orge, se­nior lead­ing rusher Tobey, and ju­nior twoway line­man Trey — are the fam­ily within the ex­tended H-K foot­ball fam­ily. They have en­joyed the ride this year as much as any of the sev­enth-seeded Cougars, who en­ter the fi­nal day of prepa­ra­tion for the Class S cham­pi­onship game Satur­day against No. 4 Bloom­field.

“We’re look­ing to hold on to Ge­orge,” H-K coach Mike Bak­lik said.

But when it comes to H-K foot­ball in the home, Ge­orge Cal­len­der isn’t go­ing on and on about his kids’ or the team’s suc­cess, or what Tobey and Trey might need to do to be bet­ter play­ers. There is a line drawn, and all of them like it that way.

“There is ex­cite­ment about play­ing for the ti­tle, but the boys pretty much dis­ap­pear from me in the house. The only time we talk foot­ball is if there is a game on TV, or if we’re talk­ing about how my youngest son (Tate) is do­ing,” he said. “That’s pretty much my ap­proach. I don’t want to over­whelm them. They have me at prac­tice. They don’t want to lis­ten to me all over again at home.”

Ge­orge Cal­len­der grew up in Bos­ton, played at Cen­tral Con­necti­cut State and was an as­sis­tant coach at Farmington, St. Paul and Vi­nal Tech over the years be­fore join­ing H-K’s staff. He has seen the other side — fa­thers as as­sis­tants go­ing hard on their own kids and maybe

de­stroy­ing their spirit for the game.

“I’ve seen it. I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced it, coach­ing all those years,” he said. “My kids are not liv­ing my dream. They are do­ing their own thing.”

His per­spec­tive aligns with the themes of H-K foot­ball un­der Bak­lik — hu­mil­ity, en­joy­ing the mo­ment, stick­ing to the plan, play­ing within one’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

“Just ex­e­cute and en­joy what you’re do­ing and do it well,” Cal­len­der said. “That’s pretty much what Mike preaches to them. As long as all of the kids stay to­gether and do what they are sup­posed to do, we’ll be suc­cess­ful with what we’re do­ing here.”

H-K (11-1) has won eight straight games. The Cougars might not have re­al­ized it at the time, but when they lost to Cromwell/ Port­land in Week 4, they were in a must-win sce­nario the rest of the way.

In early Novem­ber on the road, the Cougars faced an Old Say­brook/West­brook team that had de­feated Cromwell, and they won by 30 points. Two nights be­fore Thanks­giv­ing, they knocked off ri­val Val­ley Re­gional/Old Lyme for the first time in seven years in the an­nual Prin­ci­pal’s Cup game to fin­ish 9-1 and qual­ify for the play­offs.

In the Class S quar­ter­fi­nals, the Cougars buried Bullard-Havens for their first-ever play­off win. In the semi­fi­nals, they scored first in over­time, then stopped un­de­feated Stafford/East Wind­sor/Somers at the goal line on fourth down to ad­vance to their se­cond ti­tle game in the pro­gram’s 43-year his­tory.

Yet there is not a hint of ten­sion or pres­sure in HK’s ranks ahead of the fi­nal. Af­ter all, it’s not as if this team still needs to prove it­self. This is a re­flec­tion on play­ers like Tobey Cal­len­der, one of five cap­tains and the team’s lead­ing rusher in yards (1,462) and av­er­age per carry (7.5) — he is as loose and grounded as a star player can be.

Af­ter the 52-0 win over Bullard-Havens, Cal­len­der said he could have told Bullard’s de­fen­sive line what H-K’s next play would be and the Cougars still would have been suc­cess­ful run­ning it. It was said partly in jest and he took a lot of good-na­tured flak from the coach­ing staff about it.

“Tobey is hum­ble and not a big show­boat. He does his thing and does his thing well,” Bak­lik said. “He sees the big pic­ture. This year he’s been like a role model, not just a leader of the pack. He knows when to go have fun and when to get down to busi­ness.”

With ju­nior run­ning back Dal­ton Modehn (team-best 21 rush­ing touch­downs), Cal­len­der (20 scores) gets the bulk of the touches. This would have been the case last sea­son, but Cal­len­der dis­lo­cated his el­bow in Week 2 and did not play again. He and Modehn, plus Zach Kauff­man, have com­bined for 491 car­ries on 566 run­ning plays, prov­ing that three op­tions are bet­ter than one.

“You prob­a­bly hear a lot of teams talk about the spread, dif­fer­ent for­ma­tions on of­fense. We don’t have the kids to throw the ball around, we just keep them within what they are ca­pa­ble of do­ing,” Ge­orge Cal­len­dar says. “We’re not ask­ing them to do any­thing they can’t do. We just ask them to be con­sis­tent in what they can do.”

Trey Cal­len­der, at 6foot-2 and 285 pounds, is the big­gest of the un­der­class­men on H-K’s lines and, like his brother, to­tally fun to be around. He is ag­ile enough to be used oc­ca­sion­ally in the dou­ble wing (10 car­ries, one touch­down). He is also the team’s long snap­per. Bak­lik loves his ver­sa­til­ity. Trey’s fa­ther be­lieves his son is just be­gin­ning to re­al­ize his po­ten­tial.

“Trey has a very ca­pa­ble body. For a big man, he is pretty quick. As the kids will say, every time some­one is within one of Trey’s fingers, Trey is go­ing to take him down,” Bak­lik said. “And he can get down the field. Most teams use their run­ning backs and wide re­ceivers to re­turn punts, and Trey can get down the field (on cov­er­age).

“We can give him the ball at full­back, he can be our lead blocker, he’s got the big­gest hands on the team. He can catch and he can throw. He will be a weapon some­where in the next cou­ple of years.”

There is a fourth Cal­len­der, too. The old­est, Tor­ren, played foot­ball for a cou­ple of sea­sons and now helps with film­ing games from the end zone. Mother Cal­len­der, Robin, also is on the H-K sports scene — she coaches the var­sity vol­ley­ball team.

Ge­orge Cal­len­der was ac­tive in H-K’s youth foot­ball pro­gram but largely un­known to the staff when he came aboard. Since the be­gin­ning, Bak­lik said he can coach the sons without look­ing over his shoul­der.

“I’m al­lowed to make coach­ing de­ci­sions (with Tobey and Trey) without hav­ing to ask,” Bak­lik said. “Ge­orge’s an­swer usu­ally is, ‘What­ever you think is best for my kids.’ ”

Cal­len­der now bleeds blue and gold like the other as­sis­tants, most of whom have deep roots in the pro­gram.

Barth Keck, who also coaches the line­men, spent stretches of time as an as­sis­tant dat­ing to 1993, the year be­fore H-K last played for a state cham­pi­onship. Of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Tyler Wil­cox and de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Jared Hickey are both for­mer H-K play­ers. As­sis­tant head coach Rob Grasso built this staff and “has been the heart of our pro­gram for the last five years and even more than that,” Bak­lik said.

And there’s Bak­lik him­self, only the se­cond head coach in the 43-year his­tory of the pro­gram. He played for its founder, Den­nis O’Rourke, and took the reins from his men­tor at age 29, af­ter O’Rourke’s 37th and fi­nal sea­son in 2013.

For the Cal­len­der fam­ily, Ge­orge said his wife is hav­ing the most dif­fi­cult time manag­ing the ex­cite­ment of the Cougars play­ing for the state ti­tle.

“I think Robin is ec­static than we are, to tell you the truth,” Ge­orge said. “She’s been call­ing every­body about this game. She’s ready to go. She’s ready to go.”

Chris­tian Abra­ham / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Had­dam-Killing­worth’s Tobey Cal­len­der stiff-arms a de­fender dur­ing the Class S quar­ter­fi­nals against Bullard Havens.

Paul Augeri / For Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Had­dam-Killing­worth’s Trey Cal­len­der rum­bles in for a touch­down against Old Say­brook/West­brook.

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