DERRY, N.H. — Now in his 32nd season coaching at Pinkerton Academy, Brian O'Reilly is absorbing a two-pronged lesson — mixing a little Merrimack Valley history with some basic genetics — courtesy of Zach Tulley.
Zach, of course, is the son of three-time All-Yankee Conference linebacker at UMass and former Eagle-Tribune All-Star at Central Catholic Matt Tulley and the former Donna Getchell of the famous ex-Methuen High Getchells.
You're talking a recipe for toughness right there. The legend, born in Methuen, just hadn't spread up to the Granite State. It has now.
"Zach Tulley is one of the toughest kids I've ever coached," said Pinkerton Academy football coach Brian O'Reilly. "This is a kid who has broken his thumbs three times. That's thumbs. And he's never missed a game in football or lacrosse. He's gone out there in both and played with casts."
Tulley, a two-way starter at tight end and linebacker, leads the Astros Saturday afternoon (1 p.m.) when No. 4 Pinkerton travels to top-seeded Salem in the New Hamshire Division 1 semifinals. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound junior leads the Astros, averaging about eight tackles game.
"I never saw his dad play," said O'Reilly. "But if he's anywhere near as tough as Zach is, I can see how he was the player he was."
Tulley has started the past two years on the Astros defense, helping the team to the 2008 title game and yet another shot at greatness and a title.
Of course, the first question is how did the Hampstead, N.H., resident end up at Pinkerton and not Central Catholic.
Dad was a Raider. So was his older sister, Jackie.
"Most of my friends were going to Pinkerton, and I wanted to stay with my friends," said Tulley. "When we first moved to Hampstead, all my friends were playing lacrosse, so I got into it. I was looking forward to playing it at Pinkerton."
Clearly Matt, now an electrician and firefighter, has gotten it right with Zach, a fact that O'Reilly appreciates immeasurably. Zach chose football on his own, getting a somewhat late start in the game by trying it for the first time in seventh grade. The personal instruction from an expert like Matt has paid huge dividends.
"He's always been tough and has talked to me about not showing pain and playing through it," said Zach. "He's always there for me, breaking down plays and showing how to see what's going on out there."
Saturday, Tulley and the Astros will be looking to make amends for one of their worst performances in this 5-5 year, a 24-7 regular-season pasting by Salem that wasn't as close as the score might indicate.
"We didn't do our job defensively and didn't play our game," said Tulley, whose team enters the playoffs with losses in two straight, three of the last four. "I definitely think we can change that. We've picked up the intensity. We're playing better as a team."
Regardless of the outcome Saturday, O'Reilly knows he can count on Tulley to show up and deliver.
"Zach is one of those tough, old-time football players, and I'm so glad to have him back for another year," the coach said.
N.H. Division 1 State Semifinals
Who: No. 4 Pinkerton Academy (5-5) vs. No. 1 Salem (9-1)
When/Where: Saturday, 1 p.m., at Grant Field, Salem, N.H.
What's at Stake: The winner plays a week from Saturday for a state championship against the winner of Manchester Central-Nashua North.