LINCOLN – Henry Cabral stood in a corner of Gaskin Alumni Hall on the campus of the William M. Davies Jr. Career & Technical High School last Tuesday night and spoke with two youngsters with vastly different builds, but who share the same goal.
No one heard what they said; no one needed to. Their quite-serious body language explained all. They nodded their heads before Cabral moved on to talk with others.
Most of them had just walked into the black-and-gold-clad gymnasium for what Cabral calls “pre-season workouts,” but this entire scene is brand new to all of them, including Cabral.
The long-time teacher at Davies Tech recently was chosen as the coach to lead the Patriots’ first varsity football program, so he’s only trying to utilize all the coaching knowledge he’s accumulated over the decades to educate his new charges.
It all starts with communication.
Some he’s known from class, others he’s never met before, but he wants one thing from all: A 100-percent effort in trying to make Tech a bona-fide program within the R.I. Interscholastic League’s Division IV.
Not five years from now, not three, but right away. That’s why he insisted making the playoffs come November is his primary goal.
After athletic director Bob Morris and school director Adam Flynn first began discussing the possibilities of a football program at Davies early in the 2018-19 school year, and it amazingly didn’t take long for it to become reality. Nor did it take much time to hire Cabral, one Morris described as a natural choice.
“I’m really pleased with the numbers we’ve seen; we had 46 kids at our first football meeting at the end of the (school) year, and there are roughly 19 kids here (Tuesday),” Cabral stated. “This is the fifth informal workout we’ve had, but during the winter and spring, we had a (weight) lifting program in place, and there were 25-30 guys who showed up for that.
“What we’re doing now mainly is working on conditioning – a lot of running, plyometrics (jumping, stretching), doing active warmups. We’ll have kids who want to be receivers running pass patterns, quarterbacks working on their throws, linemen breaking off and working on stances and ‘bird-dogging’ (or blocking techniques).
“I want to say that not all of the kids we had sign up and participate in the weightlifting programs are here all the time; that’s because, for example, if a kid has another commitment – a baseball game with a youth team, a summer league basketball game or an academic thing (which Davies often does) – I’ll excuse them.
“Right now,” he added, “the purpose of all this is to get the kids conditioned and to build a foundation. That is, introduce the guys to routines we’ll follow throughout the year – and for years to come. We’re introducing them to the verbiage we’ll use on offense, defense and special teams; the structure of practices; and teach them to understand what we expect of them.”
When asked how he feels about accepting this daunting position, Cabral – always a consummate gentleman but a stickler for discipline on and off the gridiron – grins and answers, “I’m excited and very happy; I feel privileged to have been chosen because this is the first program ever started here. I’ve received so much support from Mr. Morris and director Flynn, and so many others. I feel truly blessed. This is a great opportunity for me, for all of us.”
According to Morris, Cabral has earned high marks in area coaching circles for years now, and it all started, at least at Davies, when he landed the Patriots’ varsity baseball managing job back in the late 1990s/early 2000s.
Following the 2006 campaign, he chose to give up coaching at Tech as he had a growing family back home in Bristol, and he wanted to mentor his children in the usual – Little League, Pop Warner football, etc.
He previously had coached football at Mount Hope High (after having played for and graduated from the old Bristol High in 1990) between 1995-2003 under his old mentor Tom Vendituoli and friend T.J. Del Santo.
Bristol and Warren highs, by the way, merged in 1994.
Once his kids aged out of their athletic leagues, he coached them and others at Kickamuit Middle School, then returned to Mount Hope, more or less his alma mater, in 2014.
“I went back (to the Huskies) when T.J. took over the program again, but I always helped out Tom, Doc Abbruzzi and Roland Rodrigues, all of whom are R.I, Football Hall of Famers, Providence Gridiron Club Hall of Famers,” Cabral noted. “They were my mentors for me all along the way, and I owe them the world.
“During the school year, I also talked to Dino (Campopiano) over at Shea and asked him his advice, what he went through at first (when he began coaching football 20-plus years ago),” he continued. “He just said, ‘Henry, anything you need, just ask. I know what you’re trying to do over there,’ and I found that to be very understanding. We had known each other for years because of baseball, but he didn’t have to say that.
“I wanted to reach out to him and find out what he does to keep his program moving forward; I mean, Shea has been awesome over the years. I can only hope to emulate what he’s done over there. He’s taken it from Division III or IV to Division I, and that’s remarkable.
“I truly believe that football, like no other sport, brings kids together. The guys become like a family; on every play, you have to rely on the guy next to you to do his job, and so on.”
He and Morris have decided upon most members of the former’s coaching staff. They include offensive/defensive line coach Bill Meekins; special teams/scouting coach Justin Medeiros; and defensive coordinator Miguel Oliva.
Meekins, who played at the University of Rhode Island, is a legend at DT, while Medeiros has coached several of these Pats as the varsity baseball squad’s chief. Oliva played his ball at Brockton High, then American International College in Springfield, Mass., but he also has represented the Boston Bandits’ semi-pro team – and coached Pop Warner in his hometown of Brockton.
As for how Davies looks now, Cabral laughs and says, “Green. Really green and inexperienced. It’s still so early. We had a kid who backed up (quarterback) Justin Klemanchuck at Tolman last year transfer over, and he saw some varsity action at cornerback, and I also have an incoming freshman from Pawtucket who apparently has a ton of experience. They’ll vie for the quarterback openings (both varsity and JV).
“I’m actually fortunate because we have a bunch of feeder programs that these kids come from, including the Fairlawn Cardinals, Darlington Braves, Oakwood Raiders, and I know one kid played for the West Elmwood Intruders. Then there’s the Mount Hope Cowboys (of Providence).
“Plus, talking to coach Morris and our guidance department, we’ve had a waiting list from area towns that we never had before – North Providence, Lincoln, etc. Pawtucket and Central Falls, those are always filled.”
Cabral explained he believes he has athletes, some pretty raw, though he thinks some of them will surprise themselves with the talent they awaken deep inside. Training camp opens Aug. 19, and the Pats will conduct their first scrimmage at Juanita Sanchez/Providence Country Day eight days later, then have another at Narragansett on Aug. 31.
The following week, on Sept. 7, Davies will have its Injury Fund game against, appropriately, Campopiano’s Raiders at Max Read Field, then will open its varsity campaign against Scituate at Pariseau Field on Friday, Sept. 13 at 6:30 p.m.
“I believe they’ll be stunned at what they can accomplish,” he smiled. “I was very happy with what I saw in the weight room during the winter and spring, the level of focus they had and the surprising strength some of them had.
“The big challenge for us as a vocational school is, with the students being so spread out, getting them to continue to work out during the summer months and have them really buy into our program. That’s very important.
“The interest is there; we’ve always talked about offering football here at Davies, but it took for coach Morris to be hired to make it real,” he added. “In order for our season to be successful, the entire community around us has to buy in, not only the coaching staff and players but the student body, the administration, the teachers, the custodial staff – I mean everybody.
“And guess what? Everyone has been so far. I really think that coaching here is a no-brainer because football will attract more kids to our school. We have a lot of great things going on here now, like academics, in the shop areas, athletics, and having football is only going to make us that much better, more attractive (as an institution).
“The interest is definitely there. Our goal is to be competitive against every team every time we play. I’ve already told the boys, ‘Yeah, we’re a first-year program, but we need to strive to make the playoffs just like every other team is. Our goal is to get better in every practice, every day, every week and in every game.’”