TOWNSEND -- When longtime North Middlesex soccer coaching legend Pen Burnham announced his retirement from the boys' soccer head coaching position he held for 10 years, assistant coach Jeff Waldron decided to try his luck at the lead job.
Waldron, who is entering his fourth year at North Middlesex Regional High School as a physical education teacher, is ready for the challenge of putting his stamp on the Patriots' soccer program.
"Pen is a great guy and fortunately for me, he decided to retire," Waldron said.
"I learned a lot from Pen as the junior varsity coach. I seriously lucked out timing-wise. When I came out of college, I was not sure I would get a job as a physical education teacher, let alone a head coaching job four years in -- this is great.
" I learned a lot from Pen. The kids really respect him. He carried himself well and kept composed as a coach. He taught me how to get kids to work for you.
He taught me winning is important, but it is not the most important tactic."
Waldron is a self-described players' coach, all for establishing a rapport with his team.
"I have the same approach to teaching as I do coaching," he said. "If you show an understanding of the kids you are working with and genuinely listen to them, you will gain their respect as a coach.
"If you do that, they'll jump through fire for you."
North Middlesex director of athletics James Bunnell watched Waldron field a very successful junior varsity program last year and was impressed with his ability to relate to his players.
"He did what a JV coach is supposed to do," Bunnell said. "At the beginning of the season everybody got into the games and he developed those kids.
"Pen has been here forever, and it is sad to see him go," said Bunnell. "We originally wanted to get Jeff to shadow Pen on sidelines and inherit some of those qualities Pen possesses. When Pen submitted his resignation, I posted it internally and Jeff applied.
When I sat down to meet with Jeff in the first week of July, he popped out of his chair and asked 'when can I start?' You need that enthusiasm in a coach.
He is going to do well because of the qualities he possesses as a coach and a teacher."
Waldron is a graduate of Gardner High School, where he played soccer before continuing his education and playing club soccer at Bryant University with stops at Assumption College and Keene State (N.H) , where he completed his teaching degree.
He is a very energetic coach who will bring intensity to the Patriots' sidelines.
"I think the kids will thrive off it," Bunnell said. "Last year's soccer team had 12 seniors, so the majority of this year's varsity team will be from his junior varsity squad. I think it will be a nice smooth transition for Jeff and his team. "
One of Waldron's strongest traits is to recruit new players to the program from his gym classes.
According to Bunnell, the boys' and girls' track and field teams enjoyed a spark in their numbers in large part to the ability of Waldron, who is a track and field assistant coach under head coach Suzanne Williams.
"To be able to have Jeff in here teaching a physical education class is just a win-win," Bunnell said.
"I think the kids having him in the building is great because he will be able to bring a lot to the table experience-wise.
He is ready to stay here and he is pumped up. He wants to field a very competitive team."
North Middlesex has stepped down a league to the Midland-B as a result of declining enrollment.
Waldron says that the league change could not have happened at a more opportune time.
"It is a lot lighter schedule, but you still cannot chalk off any games as a guaranteed win," Waldron said.
"Again, there are no easy games. We have to give every team its due respect.
"We hope to get to that magic playoff number," he said. "Nothing has really changed.
Our kids won't have that league change at the back of their minds. When it's all over, we can prepare for the next game."
Waldron has plans for the Patriots to play a communication-based game and with that, comes a lot of responsibility on all 11 players to be in sync.
"I try to play a style with a captain at all the tiers of the field," the coach said. "We are going to run the lines and the channels with pure communication. I break things down where everyone understands their job."
Pride runs deep inside the hallways of North Middlesex Regional High School and Waldron hopes he and his Patriots can continue to build the prestige of the boys' soccer program.
"In no world did I think I was going to be in this position to be the head varsity soccer coach so soon," Waldron said."We have great parents and great kids. I hope to make the parents, the players and our community very proud. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else than at NM."