One of the most noticeable differences between the old coaching regime at South Boston High and the new one is the coaching staff’s beige fisherman hats with embroidered Knights logos on the front.
“It’s a skin-health thing -- I’m paranoid about skin cancer and things like that,” said first-year head coach Ray Butler during the team’s first day of double-session practices Thursday at Saunders Stadium. “I know a coach who got [skin cancer] years ago, he got it behind his ears. So you wear the baseball hat and forget about the sunblock. Since then, I’ve been incredibly paranoid about it.
“Us as coaches, we tend not to take care of ourselves when the season starts. Breakfast is a coffee and you don’t eat again until the end of the day.”
With that kind of attention to detail, South Boston hopes to turn the page in its football program and move on from the last six seasons under Sean Guthrie. The former Boston College football player, who is still a math teacher at South Boston, was notified of the change in direction just before Christmas vacation last year.
Butler, a Latin Academy alumnus who has 20 years of coaching experience at the high school and college levels, was hired in April.
“He was a very well-liked coach and he genuinely cared for these kids and their well- being, so it’s a difficult situation to walk into,” Butler said. “Bill Parcells said a long time ago, if you give the kids an excuse to drop out or quit, they’ll take it.
"We had such a long period from when he [was asked] not to come back to when I was hired. Kids wonder, ‘What’s going on? Am I really being card about?’ So kids have those questions and that has a lot to do with how things transition.
"But he did a lot for this program and the kids liked him a lot and they respected him a lot. But that’s the past and people say the past is past and history, and there is no future in the past is how it goes.”
Even though Guthrie did informal work with some players in the weight room during the transition period, turnout has been low at South Boston’s camp so far. Only 12 players were dressed for Thursday’s practice.
“It’s one of those things where if everyone who did paperwork shows up, we’ll probably have 60 kids on the team," said Butler. "One of the things we ran into is a large number of the kids had job opportunities with some of the programs out there, ABCD and some of those things."
Butler remains positive, and his players seem to be ready to move on with him.
“It’s been a good challenge,” said senior cornerback Demario Taylor. “He’s pushing us, he’s trying to get us better than we were last year, and we’re learning new things this year.
“I’m getting over [Guthrie] now, because sooner or later you’re going to have to move on. The new coach, he’s helping us forget the past and think about the future.”
It helps that Butler has so much experience on the sideline. He started his coaching career as the JV coach at Holliston High in 1993 and worked his way up to offensive coordinator by the time he left in 1998 to take a job on MIT’s first-ever football coaching staff.
A year later, he got an offer to coach at the University of Rhode Island, but the commute became too difficult when he got married, so he took a job at UMass-Lowell. That program was dismantled after two years, so he moved to Mount Ida College.
From there, he went to Curry College before going back to MIT in 2008.
For the last three years, he has been a physical education and health teacher at Boston Latin School. Last year, he served as an assistant coach at Latin before the South Boston job opened up.
“It was one of those things where, do you want to continue being a position coach or take an opportunity to be a head coach?” he said. “This looks like an opportunity to build a program and get things going.”
Before he could get things going on the field, he had to fix up the storage shed at Saunders Stadium.
“It was leaking, the floor was rotted, and it was infested with mice and everything,” Butler said. “The coaches donated the labor and BSA donated some materials and it’s 100 times nicer than it was. So things won’t get ruined and it will last and we’ll be good to go.”
While Butler won’t be in the building -- he is still teaching at Boston Latin -- assistant coach Kevin Williams teaches at Excel High in the South Boston Education Complex. Williams played at Latin Academy with Butler before moving on to play at Northeastern.
Another assistant, Leon Finkly, was South Boston’s quarterback during its last Super Bowl run in 1998. Volunteer Eli Harrington rounds out the staff.
They all sported the beige fisherman caps with the embroidered Knight perched on the front.
“Coach Williams rocks it because he makes it look like a cowboy hat because he buttons up the sides,” said senior wide receiver and tight end Victor Wu. “Everybody else looks like it’s about to rain or they are about to harvest some crops -- harvesting crops for Thanksgiving, for the Thanksgiving game.”
About Boston Public Schools Sports BlogMore »
- Justin A. Rice -- A metro Detroit native, Rice is a Michigan State University (Go Spartans!) and Northeastern University graduate. Rice lives in the South End with his dog and wife, who unfortunately attended the University of Michigan ... his wife, that is. He curates the BPS Sports Blog and is always looking to write about city athletes with great stories. Have an idea? He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJustinRice or @BPSspts.
- Ryan Butler -- A Rhode Island native and avid Boston sports fan, Butler played basketball, baseball and football throughout his time in Barrington Public Schools. Now currently in his middler year at Northeastern University, he joins Boston.com as a correspondent for the site's BPS coverage. Have a story idea? Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on his Twitter @butler_globe.