July 29, 2010By Mal Boright Observer correspondent
When the Vermont Shrine football committee and coach Charlie Burnett selected graduated Champlain Valley Union High seniors end Matt Long and tackle Nathan Mills to be part of the team to take on its New Hampshire counterparts a week from Saturday at Windsor High School, they came up with all sevens.
The first two CVU gridders to make the Shrine team, Long wore number 7 and Mills 77 on the Redhawk combine that played its way to the Division 2 title game last fall.
And the fact the game is being played on Aug. 7 … well, that too could be a sign.
“I hope to go down there and help us beat New Hampshire,” Long said Saturday as he looked ahead to training camp opening this Thursday at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, N.H., just over the Connecticut River from Windsor.
Long, an All-State performer at defensive end, was one of the original nominees to the team.
Mills, an alternate, was named to the squad July 8.
“I’m pretty excited about that,” Long said of the additional Redhawk.
For Mills, it was a call to, well, get into playing shape.
“I am really excited,” Mills said Tuesday. “I have been lifting weights and running outside. I’m in a lot better shape than a month ago.”
Last year, the behemoth tackle had a playing weight of 270 pounds.
“At the end of school I was around 290. Now, I am back to 278,” he said.
Long, who will play at Wesleyan University in Connecticut this fall, has been working out from guidelines provided by Wesleyan’s football staff. As a result of weight training and running, the 6-foot-5 Long is up to 220 from his CVU playing poundage of 200.
“He is just all muscle,” Mills said with a chuckle.
Both players like the idea of playing for Burnett, whose Essex High team rolled undefeated to the Division 1 crown last year. Burnett coached both players two years ago in his one season at CVU.
Current CVU coach Jim Provost is very pleased that the two made the Vermont team.
“If there is ever a kid who wonders if work in the weight room pays off, all he has to do is look at Matt,” Provost said. “He is Vermont’s player of the year and a great leader by example.”
Provost believes Mills should have been on the Shrine team for the beginning.
“He is very athletic for a guy his size,” said the coach. “He can get down not just the first but the second block from his offensive tackle position. Our backs really loved running behind him when we went to off-tackle plays.”
While both players are aware of the Granite State’s dominance of the game in recent years, they are optimistic that Vermont will perform well this year.
After all, both were part of the CVU surprise last year in which the Redhawks went from a Division 3 non-contender in 2008 to the penthouse of the Division 2 championship game in 2009.
So when did each of these solid veterans last year start believing they had something special going?
“For me it was the first game at Burr and Burton (in Manchester),” Mills said. “Two years before, we got crumbled by them down there. But this year I was not having a tough time pushing their guys around and we won big.”
Long said that for him it was the second game of the season at Division 2 Rice Memorial.
“We went there and really played well (a one-sided victory) against a Division 2 team, plus our fans outnumbered the Rice fans,” he recalled.
So now it is on the Twin-State contest and the big stage, where they would like to take part in one more surprise outcome.