WINCHESTER — The Winchester High football team is coming off a winning season, capped by a double-overtime Thanksgiving Day classic victory over Woburn.
The Sachems have some key skill players coming back from that team, including Turkey Day folk hero, “Touchdown Tommy” Degnan, but they also have some serious holes left behind by the graduation of the Class of 2019.
Winchester had a pretty good turnout as far as numbers coming out for the team, but the 50 upperclassmen and 20 freshmen are slightly down from a year, and 20 players less than the decade-high of 90 from two years ago. The junior class is a strength, and the sophomore class a little on the light side in terms of numbers.
The most glaring hole to fill is on offensive line, where junior captain Brendan Gill (6-1, 250) is the only returning starter. Gill has started at center since early his freshman year, and this year he will also be part of the rotation at defensive tackle.
“Brendan has already played a lot of football for us,” said Winchester coach Wally Dembowski. “He’s turned himself into a good player.”
Degnan, a senior captain, moves in as the full-time starter at quarterback, and will also be a key player on defense at middle linebacker. Degnan was worked into games last year at quarterback when the team was looking to run the ball in certain situations, although he is certainly capable of throwing a good ball as well.
Although he scored 26 points (4 rushing TDs, 2-point conversion) against the Tanners, Dembowski is looking for Degnan to spread the wealth this season. Co-captain Charlie Ward will be his backup, although the latter’s main rolls will be at linebacker and long snapper.
The Sachems have a terrific running back in junior Jimmy Gibbons, whose sophomore season included a 202-yard, multi-touchdown game against Arlington. Gibbons will be the primary running back, but Derek Gianci will also see action after looking good in his brief appearances as a freshman, a year ago.
Winchester’s receiving corps will be led by another junior, third-year starter Henry Kraft. Junior classmate Jakob Flores, who saw a lot of action at cornerback as a sophomore, will be the starter on the other side. A couple of taller receiving candidates include juniors Brady Martin (6-0, 175) and Patrick Ross (6-1, 170), along with seniors Brandon Lavey and James Lowenstein, plus junior Camilo Vozzella.
Lavey, Lowenstein, as well as Ward and Gibbons, are among the boys lacrosse players in the program who are coming off an MIAA Div. 2 State championship in June.
“Those lacrosse guys are good to have on the team,” said Dembowski. “They bring something with them. They know it takes hard work to win anything.”
The rest of the offensive line is wide open, but the early candidates for the starting slots are seniors Graham Ryer at one tackle, and Adam Bischoff at guard, sophomore Grigory Dushkin at the other tackle, and sophomore Sean Holland at the other guard. Also in the mix are sophomores Jadd Farra and Thomas Casey, plus junior Jake Errico.
Many of these same players will be in the rotation at defensive tackle along with Gill. Senior co-captain Michael Sirignano will start at one defensive end, and senior Aria Manfred will start on the other side. Both were effective getting into the offensive backfield, last year.
Degnan and Ward will featured at linebacker, along with juniors Jack Menninger and Gabe Morais. Sophomore Tom Centurelli also bears watching as part of the five or six players the Sachems will use at linebacker.
Winchester will use seven players in the defensive secondary, including Gibbons at safety, and Kraft and Flores at cornerback. Look to the wide receiver group for other defensive secondary candidates.
“I’d like to see them get better each week,” said Dembowski. “We are not going to be a finished product in the first week.”
The Sachems was to hold a joint practice with North Reading, earlier this afternoon, at Knowlton Stadium. Wednesday night (6:30 p.m.), Winchester will travel to Stoneham for a scrimmage, which the Sachems hope will help get them prepared for the season opener the following week with Malden Catholic.
“It should be a good, physical battle, and that’s what we are looking for to see where we are at,” said Dembowski. “Stoneham isn’t a big school but they are a very physical football team and it will be good for our kids to go up against them.”
While Winchester certainly has its issues with which to deal, so do many of their opponents, three of which will have first-year coaches, including the Lancers, Arlington and Lexington. Wakefield’s coaching change last year was not a popular one, and many varsity players left the program, leaving the Warriors an extremely young team. It will be interesting to see how Wakefield looks in year two under John Rafferty.
“Last year ended on a positive note for us with wins over Wilmington at home and against Woburn in double overtime,” said Dembowski. “We actually had a winning record (6-5).”
Winchester has an earlier start to the season than most Middlesex League teams as it will play host to Malden Catholic next Friday, Sept. 6 (7 p.m.) at Knowlton Stadium.