Dan MacKay, coach

Burlington High third-year football coach Dan MacKay hopes to put the pieces together for his team this fall. The Red Devils open at Lawrence on Saturday, Sept. 14.

BURLINGTON — The 2019 version of the Burlington football Red Devils will have to lean on a trio of returning seniors who look to lead a strong junior class whose week-to-week improvement will be imperative for the Devils to improve on their 5-6 campaign of last year.

Perhaps the biggest development in the offseason is the loss of senior Ryan O’Halloran, who has decided to focus on hockey. O’Halloran was a catalyst in the offense last year as a receiver and a stalwart in the defensive backfield at safety.

“In my opinion he was the best receiver in the Middlesex League last season,” said third-year Burlington coach Dan MacKay. “It is a big loss, but he has decided that is what we wants to do going forward and he will be missed.”

The offense starts and ends with the quarterback and the Devils are in good hands with senior captain and third-year starter, Khyle Pena. Pena took huge strides last year as a junior collecting season totals of 2,057 passing yards and 18 passing touchdowns, along with three rushing touchdowns. He is primed for a huge senior season.

“He really understands this offense now and has a grasp of where everyone should be,” said Mackay of his signal caller. “He has really grown physically and has got a lot faster and quicker. He hasn’t missed a workout and is a true leader of this team.”

For a team that likes to throw, Pena will lean on senior Jake McCauley. He had a breakout season as a junior last year and was a favorite target of Pena’s last season. Junior Matt Pinkham (who serves as the back-up quarterback), and his cousin Shawn Pinkham, also a junior, will look to take on an expanded role in pass catching duties as will senior Josh MacLeod.

In the backfield, the Devils lost senior Jake Doherty to graduation and looking to replace him will be junior Ryan McGillvary and senior John Hurley.

The offensive line is a work in progress, but it will be anchored by senior captain Chris Jones. Jones, who also served as a captain his junior year, has the important job of left tackle, protecting the blind side of Pena. Fellow senior George Haddad will anchor the right tackle position.

The remainder of the line is set to be held down by that strong junior class and includes Thomas Porter (left guard), Dalton MacKinnon (center), and Ray Magliozzi (right guard).

Like most smaller schools, the Devils will lean on several of the aforementioned players to play on both sides of the ball with Jones leading that way at defensive tackle along with Haddad and Magliozzi in the mix. Junior Justin Sacca should also see time on the defensive line.

MacKinnon, who was thrust into action last Thanksgiving at linebacker, will start at that position alongside fellow junior Sami Ahmed.

McCauley and MacLeod could see time at linebacker as well as in the defensive backfield. The loss of O’Halloran hurts, but opens space in the defensive backfield for Matt Pinkham, Shawn Pinkham, and Hurley.

As for the layout of the Middlesex League Freedom Division, the conversation usually starts with Melrose which MacKay calls, “one of the more physical teams we play.” Stoneham, fresh off a Division VI Super Bowl, will be a challenge as well.

Burlington fared well in a tri-scrimmage with Chelmsford and Methuen and more recently played tough against Lowell and trailed 14-6 after the first-string guys were removed.

MacKay (6-16 through two seasons) will return most of the same coaching staff including Pat Magee, Kevin McDonough, and Danny Murphy. Tom Brooks and Andy Donaghy are new additions.

Three Middlesex League teams kick off the season this Friday while the rest begin on Friday night, Sept. 13. However, the Devils will have to wait even another day as they travel to Lawrence for their season opener on Saturday, Sept. 14 at 1 p.m.

Burlington has its home opener on Friday, Sept. 20 at 7 against Woburn. The Devils got the best of the Tanners last season in a 21-16 victory in Woburn.

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