When King Philip took the field on offense for the first time this fall at Community Field against North Attleboro in the season-opening non-league meeting, most were expecting No. 6 to run out and line up under center. Most were surprised when instead senior John DeLuca, who had been a two-year starter at quarterback, lined up at receiver.
The KP coaches had decided in the preseason, after watching junior Brendan Lydon at passing camps and at the annual Under Armour 7-on-7 regional passing competition at Oliver Ames, that the offense would be more dangerous and have more weapons to game plan for if DeLuca was used on the outside rather than at quarterback.
“When we came back from OA, we thought John needs to go out because he can catch and gives us more versatility on offense than having Brendan over there,” said KP coach Brian Lee earlier this week.
When asked what DeLuca’s reaction was to the news that Lydon would be the starter, Lee replied, “John’s just not your typical guy; he just wanted to win and if that made us better then that’s what he wanted to do.”
KP entered the season with question marks about how good it would be (for example, KP started the season at No. 6 in this site’s preseason Hock 5), but on Saturday evening the Warriors will line up to face Reading in the Div. 1A Super Bowl at Gillette Stadium. DeLuca’s team-first attitude in preseason set an example for the Warriors to follow.
“I also think it permeated our team and that’s why we’ve had success this year,” said Lee, an old school coach who appreciates a player putting the needs of the team before personal recognition. DeLuca is a character made from his coach’s mold.
“With social media and Twitter and everything else, it’s look at me and look what I’m doing,” Lee continued, “and now everyone thinks about their college career before they’re even done with their high school career. Getting a kid to be selfless like that, I think it says a lot about his character.”
The coaches in the Hockomock League agreed with that assessment by Lee and voted DeLuca as the MVP of the Kelley-Rex division after an unbeaten 5-0 league campaign. Although his statistics are not as gaudy as others in the division, the coaches recognized how much DeLuca means as a leader for the Warriors.
Lee explained, “You look at the bulk of his work over the last three years in the Hock and the coaches know who he is and the kind of player he is. He’s the kind of kid that no matter who you are, you want to coach kids like John.
“He’s a hustler, he’s an animal in the weight room, he’s an animal in the classroom, he never gets in trouble, and all that. He’s everything you want to coach.”
DeLuca enters Saturday’s game with 59 carries for 503 yards and five touchdowns and 14 receptions for 111 yards. On defense, he totaled 29-1/2 tackles, including 4-1/2 for loss, and added a pair of sacks. Ordinarily, these would not be the numbers associated with an MVP season, but DeLuca, who led the Warriors to a league title and berth in the Div. 2 South final as a sophomore quarterback, was also the punter, the holder, and the obvious leader on and off the field.
“When you look at his overall stats, you think well he didn’t rush for a tremendous amount but he always made a big play,” said Lee. “He was always making plays.
“He’s a great linebacker and he’ll probably play the defensive side of the ball in college. Punting and holding and doing everything that he does for us, playing receiver…he even plays defensive tackle for us in some of our sets.”
Versatility was the reason that DeLuca found himself at receiver to start the season and he has embraced the utility role. KP is not a team that puts the ball in the air often, so many times being a receiver means stepping in to block on the edge. He has jumped in at quarterback to run the ‘Wildcat’ sets and get the tough yards that he was known for when running the QB sneak the past two years.
When KP needs tough yards, the Warriors turn to DeLuca. When the defensive needs a stop, the Warriors count on DeLuca to get in the back field and make something happen.
“He’s meant everything for us,” said Lee, “He’s just a winner and he’s so happy all the time that it rubs off on everyone.
On Saturday, the Warriors will turn to DeLuca for one more MVP performance, as KP goes in search of its first state title. From a preseason of doubts to a potential championship, Lee praised his senior for helping lead the way.
Lee reflected, “We didn’t know what we were going to be, how the season was going to go, we just turned to John to do everything and he did it.”