Bates football: Litchfield's Flaherty finds role with Bobcats

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Bates junior Kyle Flaherty, an Oak Hill High School graduate, charges upfield against Trinity earlier this season. (Theophil Syslo/Bates College)

Late in the third quarter against Tufts, Bates diveback Kyle Flaherty took a handoff and charged up the middle for a touchdown,

It was only a 2-yard run, but Flaherty was finally back in the end zone, for the first time since he was in high school.

“That was a pretty special moment,” Flaherty, who is from Litchfield, said. “I had my family here.

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“That was pretty special. We didn’t win that game, but it was great.”

That touchdown came in the third game of the third season of Flaherty’s college career.

Before arriving at Bates, Flaherty was part of the massive turnaround of the Oak Hill High School football program. He and Alex Mace, now a defensive back at Husson University, formed a productive backfield that helped the Raiders win state championships their junior and seniors seasons, 2013 and 2014.

“We went from a 3-5 team to going to the semifinals and playoffs. It was a pretty quick turnaround,” Flaherty said. “The following year, we went to states for my junior year, so that was a pretty special moment for the community, the school, coaches, players, everybody.”

It was during the 2013 state championship that former Bates assistant coach Chris Kempton noticed Flaherty.

“I’ve always driven by Bates, ever since I was a little kid,” Flaherty said. “I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to come here. It’s a great school.”

“I’m loving the football here, especially,” Flaherty added.

Flaherty played slotback his first two seasons at Bates. He saw action in three games as a freshman in 2015, and carried the ball three times for 19 yards. He played in all eight games in 2016, and again had three carries.

This season, as a diveback, Flaherty has 36 carries for 131 yards. He has played in seven of Bates’ eight games (he missed one with an injury). After splitting time most of the season with Peter Boyer, Flaherty has taken over the starting job since an injury ended Boyer’s season last month.

“It’s rewarding. It’s definitely rewarding,” Flaherty said. “The past two years have been a grind in the offseason. You’re lifting, running five days a week, just trying to get better. It’s definitely great to get on the field and see some playing time.”

Flaherty found the end zone a second time early in the fourth quarter of last Saturday’s 24-17 win over Bowdoin. That win clinched Bates’ fourth straight Colby-Bates-Bowdoin series championship, three of which Flaherty has been part.

He said that game is probably the highlight of his college career so far — Bates won another CBB, and he contributed a touchdown.

“That was a pretty big moment for us,” Flaherty said. “Especially the seniors winning the fourth straight outright CBB, which is the first time … here at Bates.”

Again, that second touchdown came on a short run, a 1-yard dive play.

Those types of runs are Flaherty’s gig now as a diveback in the Bobcats’ triple-option offense. He runs up the middle and he blocks. Simple, maybe, but vital.

“I love it,” Flaherty said.

“Being a triple-option team, it starts with trying to establish the diveback running the ball, and the more we can do that, the more it opens up everything around that,” Harriman said.

“But then we do ask them to block on the perimeter, block in the pass game.”

After last season ended, Harriman and the Bates coaching staff realized that Flaherty could add depth at diveback.

He also seemed like a natural fit.

“He’s just kind of an old-fashioned, hard-nosed football player,” Harriman said.

After finding out about his new position, Flaherty got to work in the offseason. He and Boyer pushed each other to improve by lifting and running together.

Looking at photos of Flaherty playing at Oak Hill, it’s clear that he has bulked up at Bates.

“I’m a little taller and heavier than I was in high school,” Flaherty said. “I’ve gained like 30 pounds or so.”

Flaherty didn’t add all that weight this past offseason, but Harriman said, “Knowing he was going to diveback, there was a little more of a conscious effort I think to put some size on.”

Flaherty’s done well running the ball, but Harriman is just as impressed, if not more so, in Flaherty’s blocking, both in pass protection and for slotbacks on their runs.

“It gives me a little appreciation for the guys in high school that blocked for me,” Flaherty said.

Flaherty said he has improved even more mentally than physically as a football player at Bates.

“I guess I’ve just found my role,” Flaherty said. “It’s not like trying to be the best player on the team, you just have your role in college and everybody does their job to make the whole things work.

“You kind of just have to realize it’s a group effort and not about you. It’s about a bigger picture.”

Flaherty is a history major and is considering law school when he’s finished at Bates.

But there is still a lot of football to play — starting this Saturday at Hamilton (2-6), and then nine games next season.

The Bobcats (2-6) have won two straight games after losing their first six, and Flaherty hopes the recent success will be a springboard for the team into his senior season.

“Us underclassmen really want to step up … and make the end of our season the best it can be and end on a good note,” Flaherty said. “And, especially, have some leverage going into next year.”

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