Making his move
Mike Vailas took the snap and started to roll out to his right, but after a couple of steps, the Bedford High School senior stopped.
Why am I doing this, Vailas thought, and he turned his eyes downfield.
Nothing but green turf sat in front of him for almost 10 yards, more than enough room for him to get to full speed, make a Goffstown player miss and pick up the yards needed for a first down.
Or maybe he’d break a couple of tackles, change direction and find his way into the end zone. It’d happened before, in wins over Portsmouth, Winnacunnet and Spaulding, passing plays that Vailas opted to tuck the ball and take his chances with his legs.
It didn’t always work, but a lot of the time it did, and that’s a big reason why the Bulldogs went into last Saturday’s game against Goffstown at 5-0.
But this time, Vailas didn’t run.
“That play wasn’t a designed rollout,” he said. “I started rolling out for no reason, and I was like ‘What am I doing?’ I stopped and it gave me a couple more seconds to find Andy Penaskovic.
With plenty of time to wait for someone to get open, Vailas stayed in the pocket, kept his eyes downfield – even pointed a receiver to a spot – and threw a laser toward the end zone, where Penaskovic caught the pass for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown in a 17-10 victory over the Grizzlies.
“That’s the play I’m most proud of him with,” Bedford coach Kurt Hines said. “That play he made, the touchdown pass, I don’t think two weeks ago, he would have made that happen. He would have made something happen, but he would have scrambled.”
It was another step in a process that started not long after the 2013 football season ended prematurely for Bedford. After the Bulldogs fell to Manchester Central, and fell from the postseason picture, Hines went to Vailas and told the receiver and defensive back he was going to be the team’s quarterback in 2014.
“We had a team meeting probably a week after the last game last year and he said ‘We’re going to put you at quarterback,’ ” Vailas said. “I was like ‘All right’.”
There were plenty of people for Vailas, the youngest of four brothers, to talk to about the position.
One of his older brothers, Tommy, was a quarterback at Bishop Guertin and Governor’s Academy, in Byfield, Mass. Another brother, Andy, was also a quarterback at Bishop Guertin and is in his senior year playing for the University of New Hampshire. His other brother, Jimmy, also played at Bishop Guertin and UNH.
“It helps so much,” Mike Vailas said. “They’re not just going to tell me good job. They’re going to critique you on everything. That’s what you need, especially at quarterback. They’ll tell you to get your elbow up, follow through, flick your wrist.”
At first, Vailas was going to follow in his brothers’ footsteps and head to Bishop Guertin, but after spending his freshman year there, he decided to return to Bedford.
“I went to Bishop Guertin first because my brothers were there and we thought it would be a good fit,” he said. “I didn’t really like it. I didn’t like the drive and I wanted to stay at home and play for Bedford.”
It’s been a rewarding move for both sides, as the football team has compiled a 22-4 record in his two-plus seasons, and Vailas has been a key member of the boys lacrosse team, which has won the last three Division II championships and will move up to Division I in the spring.
While Vailas has verbally committed to play lacrosse at Bryant University, he’s enjoying what could be his last season playing football. With three regular season games left – starting with Friday night’s home game against Concord – Vailas knows he still has room to improve as a quarterback.
Hines set a modest goal for Vailas at the beginning of the season, but since he’s eclipsed that mark so much recently, the coach is thinking he should maybe expect more.
“My goal is to get a hundred yards passing from him,” Hines said. “We know he’s a threat on the ground, and he’s proved that week after week. But to have a program that’s going to compete with the best, we need to have an offense that has versatility. He’s getting better each and each week.”
In his last two games, Vailas is a combined 18 of 27 passing for 262 yards and a touchdown, but perhaps most importantly, no interceptions.
“I’ve still got plenty of work to do,” said Vailas, who also starts on defense and returns kicks. “It’s tough at times. I think I’m finally getting the hang of it.”