By Steev Riccardo
Webster – As Bartlett High School head football coach Dane Laboissonniere prepares for his third season at the helm for the Indians, he recently took some time to reflect on the road he took to get here.
Laboissonniere grew up in Coventry, Rhode Island, where he attended Coventry High School and played football and baseball, two sports he referred to as “1 and 1A.” It was football, however, that he chose when he attended Nichols College in Dudley, following in the footsteps of both his father and his grandfather, who also attended the college.
As a tight end under former head coach Bill Carven, Laboissonniere had what he calls an “enjoyable four years” at Nichols. He earned a starting spot during his senior year. “I was a blocking tight end and caught a few passes here and there.”
He met current Bartlett Defensive Coordinator Mike Tolman, who also played for the Nichols Bison as their starting center during his freshman year, and they played together for four years.
Tolman introduced Laboissonniere to current Bartlett Offensive Coordinator Rob Sargent, with whom he had attended high school. The fact that the three have known each other for several years can explain why they get along so well and Laboissonniere calls them “a close knit staff” and said that they had “a very successful season last year staff wise,” and were all on the same page.
Here is where the story gets a little interesting. While he was still in high school, Laboissonniere started volunteering as an assistant coach with the Coventry Pop Warner team. This continued through college.
As a freshman, while playing for the Bison, he would travel “45 minutes to an hour” to attend and coach the team on Sundays, once his own football obligations were done for the week.
While a junior, he was part of the coaching staff that won the American Youth Football National Championship. “At that point, I was thinking I am the greatest coach ever,” he said jokingly.
The irony in all this is that Carven, his college coach, never knew that he was doing this and to his knowledge still doesn’t know.
When his college days were over, he hoped to get a coaching job at a university and sent out applications everywhere. He had one opportunity to be a graduate assistant on a coaching staff in Iowa, but didn’t want to move away form the area.
Around the same time a teaching job came up at Bartlett High School in Webster and he started as a student teacher in the history department under then-department head Cathy Lipsky, whom he said he had a great relationship with and admired.
The following year, 2009, a full time offer to teach at Bartlett came up and he accepted it. The only problem was that the football team already had a full coaching staff in place with Chris Nasis at the helm. He did, however, agree to start coaching the girl’s jayvee basketball team and the girl’s jayvee softball team.
An interesting scenario popped up two weeks before football season when he heard about an opening at David Prouty High School in Spencer. Even though he had never been to Spencer he interviewed and was hired to become one of the football team’s assistant coaches under Andrew Tucchio, known among his peers as “Tuch.”
“It wasn’t ideal and it wasn’t what I hoped for,” said Laboissonniere, who saw the Panthers struggle and go 2-9 that season, but then something magical happened.
David Prouty turned things around on the field and went 13-0 and won the school’s first Super Bowl title. Suddenly he had another key chip to add to his resume as an assistant on a Super Bowl winning team.
The hard part about all this was coaching at David Prouty while teaching at Bartlett. He knew kids like Rocco DiStefano and DJ Kirby-Thomas and said it was “awkward” for them having their teacher coaching against them.
After the successful 2009 season, Laboissonniere was looking to branch out and get a head-coaching job, when an interesting situation popped up. Indians' head coach Chris Nasis resigned in March 2010 and suddenly the Indians' job was open and it was the perfect fit.
“I was really psyched to get the Bartlett job, teaching brings you closer to kids, so I already knew all the kids.”
His first season, the 2010 season, was not easy. The team struggled and went 2-9.
“We had a tough season, we lost a couple of games that I thought could have gone the other way, but even so it was a tough season.”
Seven of the team’s nine losses were to playoff teams and it didn’t help that the team lost to key rival Shepherd Hill and on Thanksgiving in a heartbreaker 15-14 to their other big rival, Southbridge.
The 2011 season proved to be a big turning point for both the coach and the Indians as they went 7-5 and earned a playoff spot. Even though they were beaten by Shepherd Hill and the season didn’t end well, it was still an optimistic turnaround for the coach.
“We had a couple of injuries on Thanksgiving, DJ’s injury hurt, he gutted it out, but he wasn’t himself. We came out and we fought hard and clawed back into. It looked like it could have been over early, but I was proud of the way the kids played.”
“Going into the playoff game five days after playing a physical team like Southbridge, we had to go play another physical team in Leicester. It was close in the first half, but in the second half, not having DJ at full speed really hurt us again, especially on Defense”.
“Two of those guys are moving on to play at the next level and we are very proud of them,” said the coach about DiStefano and all-star lineman Arthur Hackenson, who will both be attending Springfield College in the Fall.
Laboissonniere was quick to credit DiStefano, Hackenson, Kirby-Thomas, Connor McCarthy, and David Brooks and the rest of the 15 seniors for playing key parts in turning the program around last season. He said they all played a role in the successful turnaround.
Despite losing an excellent senior class, this year’s team still looks promising. The team has six starters returning on the offense and will be led by three excellent co-captains in Kelly Chisholm, Akeem Belnavis, and Mina Zaky.
“The three co-captains are leaders; these are guys that have started since they were sophomores and are key players for us”.
The team has several key seniors returning along with the co-captains including Chris Vosburg, Justin Demma, Michael Brown, and Billy Phillips. “We have a good crop of seniors.”
Along with the impressive senior class, there are also a flock of promising underclassmen, including junior quarterback Ricky Spooner.
The coach is expecting a lot from “The Spoonman.” “He has to step up, it's time for him to carry on, last year he managed the team, this year he has to go above and beyond that.”
One newcomer who will be of interest not only to the coach, but everyone watching the Indians, is junior running back Alex Givens-Perry, who transferred to Bartlett last year from Doherty in Worcester and missed football season. If he plays the same way on the football field as he does on the basketball court, his aggressive and physical style could be a huge plus for the Indians.
Laboissonniere and the Indians will play the same schedule they played last year with only the locations changing, which means they open on September 7 against a very strong Northbridge team, on the road.
When asked about the opener, the coach said, “we are coming in as the underdog, but we are OK with that.”
You get the feeling that everyone is going to be “OK” with Bartlett football, especially with Dane Laboissonniere leading the way.
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