High school sports is about opportunities.

The opportunity to play, first of all, to compete and have fun. The opportunity to develop good sportsmanship and self-discipline, to learn how to win and to lose.

For the best players, sports can also be an opportunity to show what they can do and earn a chance play at the college level, perhaps on a scholarship.

There hasn't been much of the latter kind of opportunity associated with the Haverhill High football team in recent years.

After winning its opening game in 2008, the team went winless the rest of the season. The team went 0 for 2009 and 0 for 2010.

But there were hopeful signs by the end of that 2010 season, and in 2011, the Hillies began winning again, going 4 and 7.

Now Haverhill players are finding out once again that there is gridiron life after high school.

Five seniors on last fall's squad have committed to play for Division 3 college teams, as Alex Lippa reports in a story today on page 1.

Will Haskell will play offensive tackle for Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., a member of the New England Small College Athletic Conference, whose academically prestigious members also include Amherst, Williams, Bowdoin, Middlebury and Wesleyan.

Lineman Ryan Filliger will be lining up at center for Worcester State.

Linebacker Aaron Moisan and wide receiver-linebacker Taylor Sullivan will be teammates again at Plymouth State.

Another linebacker, Connor Tufts, will play at Framingham State.

A sixth senior, Nick DeFusco, will attempt to make the Division 1 UMass Amherst team this fall as a walk-on while team MVP Blaine Joia looks to play a post-grad season before considering college.

Meanwhile, junior players Dan Burrows, Tommy Morgan and Chance Brady are already being talked about as potential recruits next year.

"I'm so proud of the way our program is progressing," said head football coach Tim O'Connor, in his second year. "When I got here no one wanted to play college football. Now big schools are trying to recruit them." None of this is an accident.

Recognizing the importance of team sports, Haverhill officials made a conscious decision to invest in athletics, rebuilding the high school stadium, hiring a new athletic director and football coach and cutting the maximum sports user fee by more than half to make playing more affordable.

The immediate result was a surge in the number of kids going out for football — 50 percent more — and a team that was able to build on the glimmers of success evident in the previous year.

Success breeds success. That's another valuable lesson that can be learned on the playing fields.

It's good to see the Hillies are back in the game.

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