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Rich McKenna right at home in Billerica, as head football coach

Westford Academy Head Coach Rich McKenna is stepping down to take over the head coach position at his alma mater.
Westford Academy Head Coach Rich McKenna is stepping down to take over the head coach position at his alma mater.Credit: The Boston Globe

McKenna returning to Billerica High

Peter Flynn always admired the work ethic of Rich McKenna .

McKenna, who was a sophomore on the junior varsity at Billerica High when Flynn directed the Indians to a Division 2 Super Bowl title in 1993, later developed into a superb linebacker.

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And he left quite an impression on Flynn, who hired McKenna as his defensive coordinator at Billerica in 2002 for the start of a four-year run.

Even then, Flynn hoped that one day McKenna would be his successor. “I said, ‘I hope when the time does come, you'll be at Billerica,’ “ said Flynn, who stepped down in November after a 23-year run, compiling a 150-99 record with a pair of Super Bowl wins (1993, 1999).

“That's how impressed I was with Richie's tactical work. He's never satisfied, he wants to learn more and more and you see that. It's a thing of beauty and he did an excellent job with us.”

On Friday, McKenna returned home, resigning as head coach at Westford Academy to accept the same position at his alma mater.

McKenna] “is a terrific teacher and coach and will be a great ambassador and leader for the football program,” Billerica athletic director Dave Lezenski said. “We look forward to having him build a championship program on the field and in the classroom.

“Rich brings an incredible passion and enthusiasm for Billerica Memorial High School. He demands the best from his student-athletes both in the classroom and on the field.”

Working on Flynn’s staff, McKenna said he learned “how to run a successful progam.”

“I learned how to sell kids to college coaches, how to schedule a successful summer program for the kids and the day-to-day operations of being a head football coach,” added McKenna, who was 28-17 in four seasons at Westford. “It was a great experience learning from him.”

After his stint at Billerica, McKenna worked as a defensive assistant at Framingham State and Merrimack College.

“He's so well prepared for this,” Flynn said. “He has such an insatiable desire to learn and that's quite evident. He really branches out and tries to absorb as much tactical procedures as he can use.”

McKenna, who teaches physical education at Marshall Middle School in Billerica, said, “I live here, I work here, and I have kids in the school system, so when the position opened, I thought it just made sense. It was tough meeting with the [Westford] kids and letting them know, and it certainly wasn't easy leaving with all their hard work and efforts. It’s a good community with good leadership, and a very competitive team.”

With seniors Troy Faretra (12 passing TDs, 7 rushing TDs) and Justin Mount (14 rushing TDs, 4 receiving) operating the spread, the Grey Ghosts finished 7-4 last fall.

Westford “has a lot of decent skill position kids that can move the chains,” McKenna said. “They're a good group of kids that are all committed, and I'm going to miss this group. f it weren't Billerica, the only other high school I'd coach is Westford Academy. But that being said, I'm looking forward to the Billerica kids and I'm excited.”

Billerica will graduate 17 players from last year’s 2-9 squad, including all-conference picks Matt Clifford (receiver) and Chad DellaPorta (lineman). McKenna said the number one task will be to “hit the hallways and get some more of those athletes out there.”

Westford Academy athletic director Dan Twomey , while noting there are qualified candidates interested in the position internally, said McKenna was “a football mind, a hard worker, and somebody who cared about all the kids here.

“We’re looking for someone with similar qualities; a passion for football, somebody who knows the game very well and wants to continue to build the program and help us be as competitive.”

Berube gains 200th

Off to the best start in program history, the Tufts women’s basketball team presented 11-year coach Carla Berube with her 200th career win on Saturday afternoon, a 54-41 NESCAC victory over visiting Middlebury.

The well-balanced Jumbos (13-0), ranked 8th nationally in Division 3, received 12 points and 13 rebounds from grad student Kate Barnowsky.

“I have 15 players who have bought into what’s important to successful teams — we’re all here for a common goal and that’s to play basketball with a passion, take a lot of pride on the defensive end, compete every day at the highest level and to really enjoy the ride,” said Berube, singling out the Jumbos’ leadership and chemistry.

Offensively, “the open player takes the shot,” added Berube, 200-72 overall at Tufts. “We’re trying to continuously create for each other and make good, smart decisions with the ball.”

The Jumbos hit the road for Bowdoin (Friday) and Colby (Saturday) this weekend.

Vesey helps
get the gold 

In Team USA’s spirited run to the gold medal at the World Junior hockey championships, North Reading’s Jim Vesey put together an impressive tourney. Skating the wing on the Americans’ top line, the 19-year-old Harvard freshman compiled a goal and four assists in seven games. His quick finish of a Johnny Gaudreau feed in a 5-1 semifinal win sent Team Canada goalie Malcolm Subban to the bench. The US secured gold with a 3-1 win over Sweden in Ufa, Russia, Saturday. . . .

Salem State forward Nate Simpson was a workhouse in the paint last week, averaging 16.3 points and 14 rebounds in powering the Viking men’s basketball team (9-4 overall) to four straight wins. A senior from Lowell, he earned co-Player of the Week honors in the MASCAC. . . . Wilmington’s Amy Fahey netted her 1,000th career point at Fitchburg State last week with a 22-point effort in an 85-55 win over Anna Maria. The junior forward averaged 14.8 points and five rebounds in four games.

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