BURLINGTON — For Burlington head football coach Dan MacKay, he will be starting this abbreviated six-game season with more things new, than old.
MacKay, entering his fourth year as head coach of the Red Devils, will be working in a new quarterback, a new defense, and a revamped coaching staff. All the while this will be done in a unique season where coaches all around the Middlesex League deal with COVID-related restrictions.
“The biggest change in how we have had to prepare so far is we are limited in how we can meet,” said MacKay. “Doing a lot of this virtually is not the same and that has certainly been the biggest challenge so far.”
Another challenge facing MacKay is the loss of three-year starting quarterback Khyle Pena. Sophomore Nick Berglund will step into the void.
“Nick (Berglund) has looked really good in our camp so far,” said MacKay. “He definitely adds another athletic dimension to the position for us. It is kind of an ideal situation having a sophomore like we did with Pena so we can have three years with him and develop him. It is unique how it has worked out that way.”
The offense will have some familiar carryovers from last year’s team. At wide receiver last year’s leading pass catcher Shawn Pinkham returns for his senior season. Senior Matt Pinkham slots in as the team’s No. 2 receiver while seniors Cole Freiden and Ryan Tigges will look to make an impact as well.
At the tight end position, Burlington will rely on senior Griffin Carter who gained experience last season before getting injured and junior Tim Vadnais.
In the backfield will be a troika of backs who all look to be in the mix. This group includes senior Ryan McGillivary and juniors Sammy Doherty and Adam Eldeeb. All will be looking to replace the production left behind by John Hurley (graduation).
The offensive line will have some new faces. This starts at the top with new coach Joe Knight, most recently coaching the same position at Framingham State, and had put time in at Bryant University, Billerica High, and Woburn High (2011-13).
Three returning players will lead the offensive line. Senior captains Ray Magliozzi and Sami Ahmed while junior Garrett Asher is a returning starter. The line will fill out with a combination of players including Justin Sacca, Anthony Elkins, Ahmad Kiswani, and Tyler Duggan.
Defensively, the Devils will be led by first-year coordinator Joe Cappozi, previously of Framingham State and Billerica High, where he established a relationship with MacKay during his time on the Indians staff.
The defensive line will be led by Magliozzi and Carter, but MacKay is hoping for some new faces to add to the mix including junior Kerwin Pierre-Louis, sophomore Noah Berry, and freshman Andy Jacinthe.
At linebacker, Burlington has experience with Ahmed and Asher while Vadnais, Eldeeb, and Charlie Grattan will also contribute.
In the Devils secondary is where they may be strongest. Shawn Pinkham and McGillivary are returning at cornerback while Matt Pinkham and Doherty return as starting safeties. Joe Mitchell and Cole Frieden will mix in as well.
In a season with unknown expectations, Burlington had 62 kids come out for tryouts from grades 9-12, a program high in the four years MacKay has been head coach.
“It was certainly more than I expected and more than I have ever had,” said MacKay. “The biggest thing we face with numbers is finding linemen. So many of those 62 kids are skilled players. We need to find and develop linemen.”
A big loss on the line is senior Dalton MacKinnon who was injured during last season and seemed primed to return. However, a shoulder injury during hockey season has forced MacKinnon to pass on the season and prepare for his senior season of lacrosse.
Other additions on the coaching staff include Matt Clifford who will coach the receivers. Clifford played at Merrimack and Billerica High. Former Burlington player Chris Conte joins the staff as well.
The shortened six-game schedule will include five Freedom division opponents and a cross-over opponent from the Liberty (likely Lexington or Woburn). MacKay knows the challenges he faces within the Freedom.
“Melrose always seems to replenish their team and they are coming off a state title and Stoneham has been tough the last few years,” said MacKay. “Wakefield was very physical last year and both Wilmington and Watertown are strong so we will have our hands full.”
The scheduled games are set for Saturday mornings with the Devils opening on March 20 at 10 a.m. at Varsity Field hosting Wilmington.