By Mike Biglin, Walpole Times
BRIDGEWATER, Mass. -- His football season has been over for almost a month now, but Jack Lavanchy is still grappling with how it went.
On one hand, the Bridgewater State junior wide receiver played the best football of his career, putting in a record-setting campaign that placed him top 10 nationally in two Division III statistics. But on the other hand, the Bears suffered their worst season in 33 years, going 2-8 – with six of those losses by seven points or fewer, and three of them by a field goal or less.
"It was a tough season," said the former Walpole High standout. "The wins are the most important thing. It doesn't matter about my individual performances. If we can't come through with the win, the other stuff doesn't do much for me. I'd give away those stats for a win any day of the week."
But Lavanchy and his coaches are hoping the major strides he made this season will prove fruitful on the stat sheet and scoreboard next season.
"He's gotten better every year, every game," said Bears head coach Joe Verria.
In his second season at BSU after transferring from Merrimack, Lavanchy became the Bears' top receiver. He set the new program standard for receptions in a season with 80 in 10 games, piling up 1,193 yards and nine touchdowns. He ranked eighth nationally for catches per game, and ninth in receiving yards per game. For his efforts, he was named to the All-MASCAC first team, and was selected to the New England Football Writers Division 2/3 All-New England Team.
"He became our go-to kid," said Verria. "He always made the big catch when we needed it, despite being double covered a lot, too."
He started the season somewhat quietly, with four catches for 56 yards in a 20-19 loss at Buffalo State. But after that the numbers started piling up, with five games over 100 yards receiving and three with double-digit catches.
The Bears lost 21 seniors, including nine All-MASCAC players, from the 2016 squad that went 8-3. To start the season, Verria employed a two-quarterback rotation during games, between senior Jonathan Marrero and sophomore Stefano D'Emilia. But Verria after a few games turned to D'Emilia full-time, and he instantly formed a great partnership with Lavanchy.
"I don't know what it was, but we just had a certain connection on the field," said Lavanchy. "He definitely seemed to like throwing my way, and I certainly can't complain about that. We formed a bond, and it just built throughout the year."
It culminated in a record-setting performance on Oct. 21 against Western Connecticut, when Lavanchy made 14 grabs for 254 yards – both new program highs – and two scores in a 27-20 defeat.
"We had issues at times moving the football, but the one area I thought we could be very successful is getting the ball to Jack," said Pat Callahan, the Bears co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach. "A lot of my game planning was geared toward him.
"He's special; he brings a lot to table. One thing is his physicality, because he's so much bigger than so many defensive backs, and he has deceptive speed."
Callahan said what makes Lavanchy a great receiver is, first, his ability to adjust to the ball in the air, and secondly is his route running.
Lavanchy had to contend with extra attention once his stats started piling up, especially with senior Travis Bassett – the Bears' second-best all-time in receptions – lost to injury. Callahan started moving Lavanchy all over the field trying to free him up, playing him in the slot as well as out wide, and motioning him a lot more.
"It was just a little more in-depth in route running and concepts, which I really liked," said Lavanchy, "I really enjoyed changing things up. Doing new stuff keeps the defense on its toes."
"He likes to be challenged," said Verria. "He's got a little bit of that, 'Go ahead, try and stop me' attitude. You can see it in his eyes as well. Challenge him, and he's up to the challenge."
In just two seasons, Lavanchy is already third all-time on the BSU charts with 128 career receptions, and fifth with 1,746 yards.
"People came up to me here and there, tell me about that stuff, and I just kind of brush it off," he said. "I want to focus on the game plan, not on the individual stuff. Just focus on coming up with the win, instead of my own personal achievements."
But this year's personal success, in conjunction with the on-field disappointment, has Lavanchy primed for a huge senior season.
"I'm definitely excited, because we will have a lot of returners back," said Lavanchy, who is an exercise science major who hopes to become a personal trainer. "We'll have Travis back, and Stevie with a year under his belt will be able to read defenses better. We have the majority of the offensive line back. I think we're going to be solid."
Callahan and the coaches are looking for something else from their newest all-star.
"We're going to rely on him to be a leader next year," said Callahan. "We're looking at him to take a leadership role. That's my expectation, and hopefully he takes that and brings his game to the next level."