How a red barn in a quiet town led to the resurgence of a CT football team

There is as much romanticism in its bucolic setting as there is practicality. Away from the frenetic pace of I-91 and I-95, Chad Caffrey’s red barn is as mystical as it is productivity.

“There is definitely an identity,” said Killingly football coach Chad Neal.

Heading into its CIAC Class M playoff semifinal on Sunday against Branford, the undefeated Killingly remains the only school below Class L and the only one east of the Connecticut River ranked in the Top 10 GameTimeCT.

Killingly is tucked away in the quiet corner of Northeast Connecticut and The Barn, 20 minutes west of Hampton School, is tucked away in an even quieter corner.

Yet with repeated great surges of strength, a great chorus of success resounded from a rural structure equipped with weight training equipment and dedication in equal parts.

“The barn is the difference from where we were then and where we are now,” said Neal, who led No.7 Killingly to six successive Class M semi-finals. “When Chad came on staff and sent the kids out there, that’s where Run People Over comes from, that attitude and that identity. “

RPO is football jargon for Run Pass Option.

In Killingly, RPO stands for Run People Over.

Yes, the program won state titles in 1981 and 1996 and made it to the finals in 1994. With a constant flow of linemen and running backs like the sons of Caffrey, Austin and Zach, player of the year. 2017 Gatorade State Spencer Lockwood and now Jack Sharpe and Soren Rief, the dominant game has become a recurring theme. Call it RPO already.

Caffrey, who joined Neal’s team 10 years ago and is the back-linebackers coach, has been a powerlifting practitioner for a long time. He has coached his younger brothers and their footballing friends. He has formed small groups of high school footballers over the years. He ran Flex Gym in Burrillville, RI for a while. He coached youth football.

It was then that his own boys began to emerge, as did The Barn in 2012 and 2013.

We’re not talking piecemeal, casual here. Behind these barn walls is a full gym. Squat racks, benches, inclines, cardio equipment, workouts.

“I’ve always had my own business,” Caffrey said. “I have redone a section of the barn. Originally it was 55 by 80. I set up a playroom there as the children grew older, a sort of complete apartment. Bathroom and all that. So when the kids come, they don’t have to come into the house.

Not only does Caffrey, 51, oversee everything, he rides with them. Over the years he has been bodybuilding, participated in Strongman, even did a weight training show. His wife Betty also participated.

“She’s the strongest,” Neal joked.

First there was Austin’s class, Josh Angell, Justin Lasher, they all worked with Caffrey on The Barn. After their eighth year, the class that ultimately won the State Title in 2017 – Zach Caffrey, Lockwood, Jake Gauthier, Ethan Canova – all started lifting.

In 2015, Austin Caffrey ran for 1,926 yards and 23 touchdowns. In 2017, Lockwood ran for 3,027 yards and 42 touchdowns.

Before COVID hit, Caffrey would have up to 25-30 children in the barn at a time. There were two sections. He said his main guys, who were really loyal and only played football, would squat on Monday. The others would do a deadlift. On Wednesday everyone sat down. Thursday was the shoulders. Friday was the reverse of Monday.

So when does it start on the calendar?

“If the football ends on December 11 (with the national finals), we’ll be there on December 12,” Caffrey said.

They will go up to The Barn until the start of football. In hot weather, they go out onto the field to run and do agility exercises. Caffrey does it for free.

“Right from the point of injury, since I started 10 years ago our injuries have gone down tremendously,” Caffrey said. “Even with the concussions, which had been a concern.”

Caffrey tries to make it as interesting as possible. He makes the players lift in cycles.

“We are going to create a pyramid so that the children have something to look forward to,” he said. “They can go against each other and maximize. We are going to spend 12-15 weeks, 10s, 8s, 5s, 3s, 2s, singles and have a maximum day.

There are two large whiteboards. Everyone writes their name. They track their progress. In the next cycle, they start their next pyramid with heavier weights.

“I’m from the old school,” Caffrey said. “I’m not a big fan of heavy-duty cleans and hanging cleans. I just think it’s hard on the wrists. I’m a squat, bench, deadlift guy. My philosophy is that if you can lift 600, when you get to college, you can clean up.

It might be old school, but there is a science to it and Caffrey even asks players to lift light weights in school before games.

Caffrey had to reduce it with COVID. To be sure, it became more of an invitation. Killingly has lifting in school and it helps. The end of COVID will be a welcome mat for The Barn.

“It’s a lot about the parents,” said Caffrey, whose daughter plays field hockey in Southern Connecticut. “When you’re a junior and a senior, you probably drive. But before that, parents must also be dedicated. It’s a bit of a hassle, but if you really want your kid to be good at it and have a great high school experience, then you need to put in the time.

To make the most of their time, Caffrey said, some parents come in and do cardio when their sons are lifting.

Improvement? Caffrey talks about the kids who arrive after their eighth grade bench pressing 135 pounds. He has them benched 225 before their sophomore years. And by the time they leave as seniors, especially linemen, they’re squatting between 600 and 700 pounds.

“In 2015, at the start of this season, we won the ECC weightlifting competition in New London,” said Neal. “This is also when we took off on the field.

The Barn is perhaps known to high school football and wrestling fans around the ECC. Yet in the rest of the state, people will watch those big numbers rushing at Killingly and wonder where the hell do those running backs come from every season?

Now you know.

The Caffreys, Lockwood, Sharp, Rief. Barn.

“Austin, he was going to be our full-back and he became the first full-back,” Neal said. “Power. Speed. Spencer, his junior year in 2016 has become our comeback. Zach was the full back. When Spencer was the Gatorade Player of the Year in 2017, people forget that Zach also ran for more. of 1000.

And in the M-Class Championship, it was Caffrey who resumed play after Lockwood rolled his ankle and ran for nearly 200 yards. Austin went to New Haven, Lockwood to Trinity, Zach to Plymouth State.

The RPO assembly line continued. Nsaiah Harriet and Jackson Lopes led to Lopes and Sharpe and now Sharpe and Rief. Sharpe, a senior, totaled nearly 1,300 yards and 22 touchdowns in 10 games. Rief has nearly 1,000 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns.

“It just keeps rolling,” Neal said.

“And whatever freshmen we come up with,” Caffrey said, “are next.”

“Also an eighth grade group coming up that’s going to be pretty good,” Neal said.

They roll into The Barn, tucked away in a quiet corner of The Quiet Corner. They are deploying RPO and a state football powerhouse.

“Absolutely,” Neal said. “These guys from the barn, they’re together all year round. This is the core.

[email protected]; @ jeffjacobs123

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