SALEM — Zack Liupakka heard the critics. He heard the trash talk from opponents and the negativity from neighboring communities and even his home town.
And he was sick of it.
“People were saying we stunk and that we were losers,” said the Salem High tri-captain. “It’s very hard to hear people saying, ‘You guys are horrible and aren’t going to win a game this year either.”
After suffering through a devastating 0-12 season a year ago, and dropping the first four games of this season, Liupakka and his Blue Devil teammates could have folded. Instead, they were more determined than ever.
Determined to prove the critics wrong, determined to silence the opponents and — most importantly — determined to end the losing.
And victories have followed.
“You start looking in the mirror and thinking about how you want to be remembered,” he said. “When bad things happen, are you going to just sit there and mope, or are you going to get back on your feet and keep fighting? There is only so much you can take of that (negative talk). We wanted to prove everyone wrong.”
With the gritty 5-foot-6, 170-pound Liupakka setting the tone at both inside linebacker and fullback, Salem has left those 16 straight losses in the past, winning two of its last three games with victories over Manchester West and Merrimack.
“There is no greater feeling than winning,” said Liupakka. “To finally triumph over everything and prove that we are good enough to win is amazing. It makes all that hard work from the last two seasons worth it.”
As a sophomore, Liupakka was a backup on the Salem squad that finished 7-4, advanced to the Division 1 tournament and actually led Pinkerton in the third period of the semifinals before falling short.
While he knew the Blue Devils would face challenges with the retirement of long-time coach Jack Gati, replaced by Adam Gagne, and the graduation of Eagle-Tribune MVP and all-time leading rusher Jerickson Fedrick, Liupakka felt the squad was in position for at least some success in 2012.