PAWTUCKET — Two great names from Tolman High football history were reunited on Monday evening for the taping of Bill Mulholland’s “Good Sports” cable access television show.
Larry Caswell and Frank Geiselman shared a stage, talking about their successful careers as quarterback and wide receiver, respectively, at both Tolman and the University of Rhode Island.
“The game has changed a lot over the years,” Caswell admitted on Monday morning. “But it’s funny. Our coaches at Tolman, Rollie and Gig Pariseau, were very innovative for their time. We threw the ball 20 or 25 times a game in 1963, the year Frank and I played together. Frank was a year older and he went off to the University of Rhode Island. In my senior year, we had to run the ball more and we won the state championship.
“I followed Frank to URI in 1965 and we again played under a coach who liked to throw the ball. Jack Zillie ran a split end-oriented offense that really took advantage of Frank’s skills.”
In high school, Geiselman (now the athletic director at Cumberland) played basketball first, then went out for football as a senior.
“Frank was 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds,” Caswell remembered. “He was a big target who could run and he had great hands. If I got the ball anywhere near Frank, he caught it.”
“I played basketball for three years and one year of football,” Geiselman recalled. “I guess I was pretty big but we had a lot of big guys on that team.”
At URI, Caswell and Geiselman set school records for passing and receiving before briefly moving on to professional football. Geiselman, a two-time All-East receiver at URI, was drafted in the 13th round by the Green Bay Packers in 1968 and was one of the last cuts made in the preseason.
Caswell, who made all-Yankee Conference at quarterback in 1966, spent three weeks in the St. Louis Cardinals’ camp in the summer of 1969, then played a few games for the New York Jets’ farm team, the Bridgeport (Ct.) Jets.
“They paid me $300 a game,” Caswell recalled. “That was pretty good money back then but I knew I had to get started with my life. Frank and I both talked about it at the time. The NFL draft had 19 rounds in those days. That was a lot of players coming in to the league every summer. We just felt it was time to get on with our lives.”
Geiselman settled in as a coach and teacher at Cumberland High in 1971. Caswell started doing the same at Shea High.
“I coached football under Tilo Margarita and then Neal Hackett at Shea,” Caswell said. “I ended up as the head coach for five years after Neal died of cancer.”
Caswell eventually became an assistant coach at URI under Bob Griffin.
“When Bob was fired in 1993, I got a job scouting for the Buffalo Bills,” Caswell recalled. “I kept doing that until 2001.”
Once he stopped working in football, Caswell found himself thinking more of his own playing days.
“We had a lot of fun,” he said. “I remember growing up and going over to Daggett Avenue where Tolman practiced when I was a kid. I would see Sugar Addison running the ball. Gerry Philbin was probably there, too. He was a few years older than me. It was fantastic for us, seeing Gerry go from Tolman to playing in the 1969 Super Bowl with the Jets. I never felt he got enough credit for what he accomplished in football. Maybe Tolman should have a football Hall of Fame and bring Gerry back every year.”
Caswell, who lives in South Kingstown with his wife Merry and two daughters (both student-athletes), watches a lot of football on television.
“More college than pro,” he admitted. “It’s really interesting to see the spread offenses and all the variations in offense from college to college. It makes sense to spread the field. I think the spread is similar in some ways to the old single-wing offense. It’s all about creating different blocking angles for the linemen.”
Caswell was surprised to hear his alma mater is undefeated in league play this year.
“I usually check for Tolman’s score in the newspaper but I didn’t know they were undefeated,” he admitted. “That’s wonderful. I coached (Tolman coach) Dave Caito when he played at URI. And when I was out recruiting, I ran into his uncle Tom, who coached high school ball in Chelmsford, Mass. and then started up the program at Merrimack College. I think Dave’s father (Phil) and uncle (Jerry) were also coaches. That’s quite a family tree for football coaches.”
Caswell remains good friends with the two public school athletic directors in Pawtucket – Tolman’s John Scanlon and Shea’s Ray McGee.
“When Tolman and Shea started playing each other on Thanksgiving, John and Ray asked me to come and give a speech to the teams at their dinner the night before the game,” Caswell said. “You know, I saw the rivalry from both sides. I played for Tolman and coached at Shea. The only championship I ever won in football was with Tolman in 1964.”
Caswell, now 63 years old, admitted the competitive fires still burn inside his body.
“I always have missed the competition and the fun of playing,” he said. “Since I got out of football, I do find myself from time to time thinking of back when I played. You never really forget the people you played with. I used to see Wally Drapala and Mike Waller occasionally. But you get older and people move away.”
Geiselman says his high school career “was a long time ago. I run into Mike Waller and Wally Drapala and Jimmy Squadrito occasionally but I have stayed more in touch with my old basketball teammates. I think it’s true that you have a shared experience with all of the guys you played with. I’m closer with some friends than others but when you play sports with somebody, that’s a special bond.”