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Reminiscing with Concord High’s 2000 football state championship team

Last modified: 10/18/2015 12:32:19 AM
They’re attorneys, state troopers, servicemen and fathers, a few with gray hairs poking through or a few extra pounds settling around their waists.

Fifteen years ago, they were running backs, quarterbacks, linemen and linebackers.

Fifteen years ago, they were state champions.

On Saturday, Concord High will celebrate its 2000 state champion football team at the school’s annual homecoming game. And the former players are itching to step back on Memorial Field and reminisce.

“I’m looking forward to having my 3-year-old son there (on Saturday) and bringing him out on the field,” said Keith Sawyer, a split end and cornerback on that 2000 team who went on to play at the University of New Hampshire. “Maybe he’ll be playing out there in 15 years.”

“We don’t shut up about it when we run into each other,”

said Kevin Madden, one of the team’s captains and a linebacker/tight end who later played at Bates College. “At Tory Sokul’s wedding, we must have watched the highlight tape (of the 2000 season) at least 20 times over weekend.”

When they get together Saturday, there’ll certainly be insider stories the rest of us aren’t privy to, but they’ll also rehash so many highlights burned onto the capital city’s sports consciousness.

For starters, there was the 9-1 regular season, when Concord’s starting defense allowed an average of just 5.9 points per game, while the offense scored at least three touchdowns in all but three games. The lone loss came in Week 5 to Londonderry, a thorough 23-0 beating by the team Concord had lost to in the championship game in 1998.

“I remember losing to Londonderry – it was the only game we lost. We were shut out in the rain,” Sawyer said. “But we all kind of came together and just knew we were better than that and steam-rolled from there.”

Madden pointed to the team’s response to that game as the moment he knew for certain that the Tide was championship caliber. Concord came back a week later, invaded Gill Stadium and handed the defending state champs from Manchester Central their only loss of the regular season, 38-19.

“They were a hell of a team,” Madden said. “… It was a night game, everyone in the state was there watching, it was high publicity. And to slap them around at their place, it gave us a lot of confidence and showed we could bounce back and handle adversity.”

Those two games would have their rematches five weeks later in the playoffs. And this time, Concord left no doubt who was the better team.

“We got handled,” then-coach Bob Camirand said of his team’s regular-season loss to Londonderry. “I’d be a liar to say I wasn’t concerned. We realized there were things we couldn’t do. We had to do something different. We put in a few wrinkles and things just happened.”

Players like lineman Sam Bardo and fullback Cha Cha Warriner – predominantly offensive players – took on larger defensive roles, while Keith McNulty played only offense.

It was a characteristic of the 2000 Tide, sacrificing for the betterment of the team. Sure, there were statistical standouts like quarterback Matt Skoby (who still holds six individual school records) and the thunder-and-lightning backfield of Warriner and halfback DJ Proulx (holder of five individual records). But also more quiet heroes like linemen Bardo, Justin Leonard (now the head coach at Epping-Newmarket), Chase Cote and Cory Dix (who’d later play at UNH with Sawyer).

And then there were players like Jared Corcoran, who Madden said “could have been a star running back on any other team, but played defense for us,” and Sokul, a speedster who sacrificed a career at skill positions to turn into a force at guard.

It was that kind of depth and versatility that allowed Camirand to shuffle some players for the rematch with Londonderry. Against a bigger Lancer squad that had bullied the Tide in the regular season, Concord took the opening kick, got good field position, then ran power three or four times in a row.

“We just ran it right down their throats,” Madden said. “We overpowered them. It was a slap in their face, that we weren’t going anywhere.”

Concord scored almost at will, and defensively set a new school record with six interceptions in the 53-8 victory. Skoby threw for three touchdowns, two of them to Madden, who also returned an interception for a score, and Proulx ran for a pair of TDs.

“I don’t know if I coached that game 100 more times if we’d execute as well as we executed that day,” Camirand said.

The demolition continued the following week in the championship against Central. Facing a team that had averaged 36 points per game and a quarterback (Ricky Leclerc) who was the state’s player of the year, Concord reset its one-week-old record with seven interceptions in a 38-0 shutout for the school’s first football championship since 1989.

Warriner and Proulx combined for 215 yards rushing and four touchdowns, Skoby threw for 114 yards and two TDs and ran for another score, and Sawyer equaled a school record with three picks.

“That’s as good a run of two weeks of football as any team has ever seen,” said Camirand, whose team outscored its opponents 91-8 with 13 interceptions in those two playoff games.

“It was insane. We just really clicked,” Sawyer said. “None of us thought we going to lose. We thought we’d win every game. It was the right chemistry of guys who were very good at every position, and we all got along with the coaches.

“I love Coach Camirand. He was an old-school football coach. … He always stressed doing the right thing. When any of us got in any minor trouble, he’d come down on you pretty hard. He always stressed the person on top of the football player.”

And it’s those people who’ll be reuniting Saturday to remember their time as players.

“There really are a lot of good memories. A lot of pride,” Madden said. “It was a good group of guys, we had all known each other a while, playing football and others sports together throughout the city. It was being able to come together and play so well those last few games of the year.”

For the players, many of whom remain close friends, playing in fantasy football leagues together despite being scattered across the country, it’ll be a chance to catch up face-to-face. For Camirand, who retired after 15 seasons at the helm after the 2008 season, it will be a chance to catch up with many players he hasn’t seen in years.

“It’s nice to see them, see where they are in life, reflect back on the good times we had. It’s nice to see them mature and develop, to have families, be good citizens,” Camirand said.

“I don’t know if they realize the importance of those four years we have with them. But as a coach, every year it’s a different group of kids, and whether you win a championship or lose, the most important thing is what you do with your lives afterwards.”



(Sandy Smith can be reached at 369-3339 or ssmith@cmonitor.com.)


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