Keith, Dodge and Castine win Novak Award

  • Turners Falls head coach Chris Lapointe (left) stands for a photo with 2018 Cannon Novak Award winners (left to right) Kyle Dodge, Reilan Castine and Wyatt Keith, Sunday at St. Kazimierz Society in Turners Falls. STAFF PHOTO/JASON BUTYNSKI

Staff Writer
Sunday, December 02, 2018

TURNERS FALLS — Wyatt Keith already made history this season as he rushed for 2,355 yards to set the area single-season record.

On Sunday, he made history again as the first player from Pioneer Valley Regional School to win a Cannon Novak Award.

The Turners Falls High School football team handed out its prestigious awards Sunday afternoon during the 60th annual ceremony at St. Kazimierz Society and Keith was one of three recipients to take home one of the large trophies, joining quarterback Kyle Dodge and offensive and defensive lineman Reilan Castine.

The Anthony “Cannon” Novak Award is presented annually to players on Turners Falls and is named after Novak, who was a four-sport letterman (football, basketball, baseball and track) at Turners Falls from 1933 until 1935. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II, Novak enlisted and served on a naval destroyer during the war. He returned home after the war and married, but tragically died of leukemia on Dec. 7, 1958 — coincidentally 17 years after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. As always, members of his family were on hand Sunday to honor the winners, and for each of the three seniors who won, the award held special meaning.

Keith became the first player in program history not from Turners Falls to win, as this season saw the team form a cooperative with Pioneer, and Keith was one of six players to come over to the Powertown.

“It’s really an honor. Especially for me coming from a different school, it’s humbling,” he said. “Going into the season, I thought it was going to be a weird experience, I mean wearing blue instead of black, but honestly, we all felt like a family. We didn’t feel like different schools.”

Keith picked up plenty of hardware on the day as he was named Offensive Player of the Year as well, and was given a game ball from both the game against Mt. Greylock when he eclipsed 2,000 yards, as well as from Turkey Day, when he put the finishing touches on what now stands as the all-time single-season record in Franklin County. The Pioneer Sports Boosters also gave Keith a present for his milestone, and a banner was unfurled during the ceremony that will hang in the Pioneer gymnasium commemorating his joining the prestigious 2,000-yard club, which only includes two other area athletes — Greenfield High School’s RJ Byrd (who also eclipsed 2,000 yards this season) and 2012 Turners Falls football player Ryan Wilder, who was on hand Sunday as the guest speaker at the event. Keith’s name is already on a banner hanging in the Turners Falls gymnasium along with Wilder’s for joining the club, and will soon hang in his own school’s gym.

“I love how we are able to do it at both Turners Falls and Pioneer,” he said of the dual banners. “It shows that it really was the need of both schools to come together.”

The Novak Award also held special meaning for Dodge, the senior quarterback from Turners who finished the season with 1,145 yards passing to lead the area. Dodge also won last year, and joined a prestigious club of two-time winners at the school.

“Definitely a good season to go out with, I had a lot of fun,” Dodge said of his senior year. “We didn’t know what this was going to be like with the two schools combining, but Day 1, we knew what it was going to be about. The Pioneer kids came in and we pushed ourselves to the limits and I think them blending in with us really helped us out a lot. It was a perfect match. It was the closest team I’ve ever been a part of.”

One of the players responsible for helping Keith and Dodge put up their big offensive numbers was Castine, one of the top offensive linemen in the league, and quite possibly the best defensive lineman in Franklin County. The long list of former recipients included his older brother Tahner Castine, who won the Novak Award in 2015.

“It’s pretty awesome,” he said of winning the award. “Being a lineman, you don’t really get recognized as much, but the hard work and determination paid off I guess.”

The event featured a packed house and after eating lunch, Wilder stood up to speak to those in attendance. After becoming the first-ever player in area history to reach 2,000 yards in 2012, Wilder went on to play at Westfield State University, where he earned a degree in criminal justice. He is now a police officer in Windsor, Conn. 

Wilder hit the 2,000-yard mark during his senior season, but was a three-year captain for Turners Falls. After narrowly missing out on rushing for 1,000 yards in both his sophomore and junior seasons, Wilder had a goal in mind going into his senior year. He said that after his junior season ended, he was in the weight room and saw Turners assistant coach Jay Wonsey, and at that time he told Wonsey about his goal for his senior year.

“I said I was going to rush for 2,000 yards and coach Wonsey laughed,” Wilder said.

Wilder was the last one laughing after hitting the mark that following year, and he had a message for the players and others in the room on Sunday as he spoke about a phrase, “Impossible is nothing.” He said that if you reverse it, it reads, “nothing is impossible,” something that he spoke about both on the field and off. He told the story of Roger Bannister, a British distance runner who was the first human to run a sub-4-minute mile in 1954. Since that time, over 20,000 people, including high schoolers, have run miles in under 4 minutes, which he said was partially done due to the belief that it was in fact possible. He said that with hard work and determination, anyone can achieve their dreams.

“You are not just going to achieve it, just like football, you have to put in years of effort and consistency to get what you want,” he said. “I’m a very average person. I was never the strongest, fastest or biggest, but I ran for 2,000 yards and now I get to see people break my record and accomplish their goals.”

Turners coach Chris Lapointe then handed out individual certificates before moving into the Coaches Awards. Senior Tyler Lavin was named Most Improved for his season kicking and playing fullback, while senior captain Jack Putala was named 12th Man for being a leader despite suffering a broken arm that ended his season in Week 4. Two Pioneer student-athletes also picked up awards as Jake Comiskey was named Defensive Player of the Year after the linebacker made a team-leading 82 tackles, and Jake Wilson was named Lineman of the Year, although the entire offensive line — Dom Carme, Drew Denney, Castine, Comiskey and Putala — were also recognized.

In another nice moment from the day, the Turners coaches asked all the players and cheerleaders on hand who made the Honor Roll this fall to stand and be recognized and roughly three quarters of the teams stood to an applause.

Turners Falls finished the season 8-3 and won the Intercounty League North Division. The team earned the No. 2 seed in the WMass Division 8 Tournament, but fell to eventual WMass champion Hoosac Valley in the semifinals.