Tyngsboro’s Haley a 140-pound Comet
TYNGSBORO -- Keenan Haley is ready to embrace the pain that accompanies every collision his body is involved in during his final game in a Tyngsboro High uniform.
As is the case for the vast majority of seniors on high school teams throughout Massachusetts on this Thanksgiving Day, Haley may only have four quarters of football left in a career that began in grade school.
And the 5-foot-5, 140-pound middle linebacker is determined to go out with a bang.
Although he doesn’t possess the physical measurables you look for in an impact defender, Haley has never been short on talent. He is relentless in his pursuit of contact and ballcarriers, a punishing fireplug who cuts anyone in his path down to size.
“A few running backs have tried to run him over,” said Tyngsboro head coach Rob Beaudette, whose Tigers have a 6-4 record. “That didn’t work out very well for them. They paid the price. He’s a form-tackling freak. He cuts runners down by going low. Sometimes he’ll body the runner up.
“He’s very strong. He’s technically sound. He has great balance. He’s just always around the ball making plays.”
Heading into Thursday’s annual Colonel’s Cup showdown against arch-rival Groton-Dunstable at 10 a.m. at Tyngsboro High, Haley leads the Tigers in tackles with 94 (62 solo). Haley has also registered team-highs in sacks (4), tackles for loss (11) and forced fumbles (2) while leading a defense that has notched four shutouts.
When he isn’t making tackles, Haley is throwing his body around making blocks. Haley was Tyngsboro’s starting center for a little more than half of this season, and now is seeing some time on offense at slot receiver, where he is used primarily as a blocker.
Haley has been named to the Midland-Wachusett League C Division and Central Massachusetts all-star teams.
“I live for that moment of contact,” said Haley. “It’s why I play. It’s the best feeling, especially when I get a hit on the quarterback. No one ever says anything to me (about my size). But I can tell they are surprised at how hard I hit. They definitely feel it. I know when I got somebody real good by the look they give me getting up off the ground.”
Midway through last season, Haley suffered a season-ending ACL injury in his left knee. After sustaining the injury, Haley continued to play against Quabbin and made several tackles.
“That just shows how tough he is,” said Beaudette. “He played through a torn ACL. He actually chased a kid down and made a tackle with a torn ACL.
“Whether he’s making a tackle or a block, he just has that I’m going to get you mentality. He’s lit some kids up with hits this year. How he does what he does, I don’t know. I can tell you it’s not taught.”
Haley is extremely thankful he will spend this Thanksgiving on the field instead of watching from the sideline. Tyngsboro beat Groton-Dunstable, 23-20, on a last-second field goal by Justin Huberty last November.
“I wanted to be part of that game, but it was a good team win,” said Haley. “I’m excited to be playing this year. The game is at home, too. I really can’t wait to get out there.”
Haley put in six months of hard work doing physical therapy to get his knee back into playing shape. He hit the ground running during training camp, and hasn’t slowed down since.
“The first week of PT I wasn’t sure if I’d ever get my knee back to normal,” said Haley. “But it kept getting better. I was a little nervous the first time I was involved in live contact. But after that first hit, I knew I was good to go.”
Thanks to his compact size, Haley can hide behind defensive linemen, making it difficult for blockers to locate him. He roams from sideline to sideline making tackles.
Haley is a defender on Tyngsboro’s lacrosse team. He would welcome the opportunity to continue his football career, but is leaning toward trying to play lacrosse in college.
“He is a perfect special teams player for college (football),” said Beaudette. “He would be unbelievable on kickoffs. He can maneuver through traffic going full speed and is a great open field tackler. He has the temperament needed to do that. He has a tremendous work ethic and is a tremendous leader. He’s fearless. Nothing stops him.”
Haley hopes to makes his last football hurrah with the Tigers a loud one.
“We’ve been playing really well as a team, but we can’t underestimate any team,” said Haley. “Groton-Dunstable is a rivalry game. They are going to give us their best shot. I’m just going to go out and try to play every play like it’s my last.”
Follow Carmine Frongillo on Twitter @cwfrongi