• Joe Pace

Granite State of Mind, #5: Eustis Field, Exeter AREA High School, Exeter


1990, not 1960, though an easy mistake

I indulge here in another place that figures prominently in my high school-era memories. There have been multiple grass gridirons to bear the name Eustis Field, including the swampy practice field at the end of the trail behind the school (a story, perhaps for another day) and the playing surface at Ball Stadium at the new facility. But the one I cherish most was what we used to call the upper field, the game-day field behind the old high school building on Linden Street. Despite the best efforts of the grounds staff and the bucolic background of changing foliage it was never a beautiful field, shot through with the hard-packed baseball infield, dusty or muddy or even icy depending on the vagaries of New Hampshire autumn weather. And yet it was our field, our home field, and we did our best to defend it.

Our best wasn't as good during my time as it would become later. My three varsity seasons from 1990-92 were the last three years of Dick Eustis' legendary coaching career (the field bore the name of his father, coach and AD before him) as well as the first three years of Bill Ball's also-legendary (and still active) coaching career. Even with all that sideline firepower, we Blue Hawks managed three straight seasons of three wins and five losses, the historic doldrums of a program that would go on to be a dominant force in New Hampshire high school football over the following two decades. We had our share of talent, but we also had the misfortune of playing against schools above our weight class (Exeter would drop down a division shortly after our graduation in 1993).

I have endless memories of that field, too many to choose from. I remember when Jason Robertson's knee gave out covering a kickoff. I remember running behind blocks from Jason Oechsle and Erik Anderson and John M Powers and Daniel Galvin and Daniel Woodworth and Gavin Lauder and Geoff Taylor, and trying to throw some blocks of my own for Eric Borden or Eugene Pikul Jr. or Derek Barbin. I remember as a sophomore waiting my turn on the sideline with Ken Winchenbach Walden and Tim MacAulay. We were never a great team, but that's fine because I was never a great football player. I could run the ball a little - my high point on that field might have been a fifty-yard score on fourth-and-one against Dover in a junior varsity game, I could lead block a little, I could play a little linebacker. My best work probably came on special teams, covering kickoffs and punts. Imagine my surprise when, my senior year, I was named one of the seven statewide scholar-athlete-leader award winners by the New Hampshire Football Foundation and Hall of Fame. As I remarked more than once during the awards dinner, they must have been short on scholar-leaders that year.

Later, when I joined the Exeter Seahawks youth football program staff, I'd actually coach more games on that field than I played. Working with young men like Colin McQueen and Isaac Moore and Nick Shennett and hundreds more allowed me a little longer to be a part of that field of daydreams.

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