TEWKSBURY – The past ten years have been pretty special with the Tewksbury Memorial High School Football team. The Redmen have combined for a 90-25 record since 2011, have won eight league titles, a Super Bowl title, lost in two other Super Bowls, won four sectional titles and of course won ten Thanksgiving Day games.
Now we enter 2021 season and everything, everything is different. The team will no longer be playing on the old Doucette Field and instead will be playing at the absolutely gorgeous new complex built adjacent to the new elementary school which will be finished this time next year. There's also lights at the new field, so all home games with the exception of two will be held on Friday nights.
The Redmen – if they qualify – will also be playing in a state wide playoff format, so no more eight-team sectional brackets and moving on to the Eastern Mass Championship and then the Super Bowl. Instead, it'll be a 32-team bracket, that gets trimmed down to two, who will play for (in this case) the Division 4 state championship title.
Also different will be plenty of new faces on this year's roster. Star players from this past Fall-2 season Will McKay, Kyle Darrigo, Ryne Rametta and Michael Duggan have put on new football jerseys, now playing at the collegiate level with Springfield, Worcester State, Husson University and WPI, respectively.
Certainly every year the Redmen's schedule is pretty gruesome – a heavy hitter every week, more or less – and this year is certainly no different. On Saturday, Tewksbury, the No. 5 ranked team in D4 according to the Boston Herald, opens up with the No. 7 ranked team Danvers in a non-league game, the first to be played on the new astro-turf field starting at 1:30 pm.
Also on the schedule will be games against the Andover and Lowell, the fifth and tenth ranked teams in Division 1, the usual contests against MVC rivals Chelmsford, Billerica, Dracut and North Andover, who should all be much improved from last year, then two additional non-league games with Hopkinton in week three and what could be the best Wilmington team in the past decade.
The Town Crier met up with veteran coach Brian Aylward last Friday, hours before the team's second scrimmage against Leominster. At that time there were many holes to be filled position wise and many questions to be answered.
“It's a big adjustment, personnel wise for sure. We lost a lot of seniors and this current senior class has always been kind of small. We have some good players who weren't with us last season through injuries or transfers or kids competing in track so with that I think there's a lot of learning,” said Aylward, now in his 25th season with an overall record of 165-99-1.
“We have some veteran coaches and we have dealt with all kinds of situations. We have been here before so it's just a matter of adjusting how we teach, how we roll certain things out and put together schemes that are going to work with the personnel that we have. It really doesn't change from year-to-year. We try to be multiple with our teaching because things that may be a good fit for us offensively or defensively one year may not be a good fit for us because of personnel the following year. We're in that process and we're still at the point of trying to figure out who can help us at the varsity level, how many personnel packages we can run and that kind of thing.”
From what Aylward explained, there's going to be many changes and those could still be happening before kick-off on Saturday. Junior Michael Sullivan is one of those affected by a change. He is going from wide receiver to the quarterback spot.
“Sully played wide out, some flanker and some different spots for us offensively last year. As far as our returning guys who played at the varsity level, he has a good understanding of all of the things that we try to do. He's very bright so that's a big part of it. He's getting used to doing some stuff that he's never done before.,” said Aylward.
Behind Sully will be junior Sean Hirtle as the fullback, who will block for the tandem of Danny Fleming and Alex Arbogast.
“Sean had a good freshman year and last year he was injured. He's a rugged kid. He's tough, he's fast, he has all of the tools and he's going to be a good player for us,” said Aylward. “Danny Fleming is the other skilled guy besides Sully that has had some varsity reps as a sophomore two years ago. Now he's back with us (after a year at Bishop Guertin High School in New Hampshire) in a different system and in a different spot than he was before so there's some learning there.
“Alex's freshman year was his first season as a running back. He had a great year and then last year decided to do track where he had great success (despite several setbacks with injuries). He's been healthy. We have had a long conversation about being track healthy is being 100 percent healthy and football healthy it's 100 percent rare. We had a good cerebral conversation about that. He's going to be really effective but he's always going to have bumps and bruises, especially in the position that he's playing. He's rugged and he's been good so far.”
Providing some of the edge blocking for those guys to be successful when they carry the ball will be a rotation of three players at the two tight end spots with Blake Ryder, Isaias Pena and Paxson Green.
“We like all three guys a lot. Blake is a junior, and then Isaias didn't play with us last year but physically he's one of the top guys that we have. He's learning it,” said Aylward. “Then we have Paxson who is a sophomore and physically he is certainly a varsity level player, but he's doing a lot of learning. It's always easier to implement some new things when you have people who have been in your system and who have done some things before, so we have to be patient as coaches. We also have to be smart on how we implement some layers of our offense because if (the players) don't know it, it doesn't matter how good you are. We will do as much as they can handle mentally.”
The offensive line brings back the most experience, plus it's shaping up to be a pretty impressive group led by all three of the team's captains, Cole Kimtis, Aaron Connelly and Nick Wilson.
“As much as there is some inexperience with some of the skilled guys, upfront is where we have some experience. We are excited about what those guys can do. We have Davenche Sydney at center. He played tackle for us last year so he has a year under his belt. Cole Kimtis and Aaron Connelly are at guards and they are two good seniors, who have experience, who are quick and tough. At tackle we still have some options. We have Nick Wilson, who is a veteran guy and we are tinkering at using him in a couple of different spots in these hybrid types of offensive things so he may shift to the backfield as a fullback at times as we did some of that last year.
“Luke Shaw is a sophomore and we're excited to see what he's going to do over the next couple of years but again he is new, he's learning because he doesn't have that experience but he's a hard worker. I think he gets better every time out.
“James Carroll is a junior and he's a big body and he's blessed with a lot of talent. He's development is mostly mental than it is physically. He has worked hard and he looks good. He needs to focus like a varsity player and I think he can do that and he's going to help us a lot. It's going to give us a lot of flexibility if we're able to get him (to where we want him to be).
“We have options with Davenche out at tackle as well as we have a senior in Evan Silva, who is a little bit undersized, but he's a tough kid. He will be our back-up center. We have some flexibility that way. Coach (Paul) Norton does a great job (as the offensive line coach) and we're lucky to have him. He's the best in the business. He does a real good job of dealing with my non-sense, when I try to change up a scheme and those kinds of things. He's become much more flexible with me and it wasn't always that way back in the day. He's awesome. We're lucky to have all of the coaches that we have here.”
Across the way for heights and weights, Sydney stands in at 6-2, 270, followed by Kimtis at 5-10, 215; Connelly at 5-11, 185; Wilson at 5-10, 255; Ryder at 5-11, 190; Pena at 6-0, 210; Green at 6-2, 200; Carroll at 5-11, 245; Hirtle at 5-9, 175, Arbogast at 5-9, 170, Fleming at 5-10, 175 and Sullivan at 5-9, 165.
Out wide for Sullivan's targets will be led by Aiden Trulli (5-9, 155).
“Aiden had a good year for us last year. He played in some of our spread sets. He has worked real hard over the summer. He looks real good. We have the ability to tandem him up with Sully out on the perimeter, or if Fleming is at QB. We also have a sophomore and a freshman who we are excited about and they are more like traditional quarterbacks.
“We are piece-mailing some different things for Sully that we think he can do and we think he can make those throws. Read progressions and all of that stuff so we're not going to have to form-fit him into what we did with Ryne or Jay Connolly as that's not fair to Sully and it's also not smart by us. We have to tap into the things that he does good and continue to execute those things. Then we can add in more pieces as he gets more comfortable. Doing it that way has always been important to us, more so this year on the offensive side,” said the coach.
Defensively, Aylward said the team is still a work in progress and as of Friday were toying with different alignments, sometimes a four or five-man front, while possibly using Fleming as a strong safety/outside linebacker.
“Defensively we still have a lot of guys who are in the mix. It's a matter of figuring out how many defensive ends can help us, how many tackles or linebackers can help us. We're getting close to figuring out how big or how small our pool (of players) are going to be to play in those positions.
“We have Sydney and Kimtis at the tackle spots with Nick Wilson, who will be at tackle or nose guard if we're running a five-front. Other guys who can help us inside include Carroll and Shaw. Connelly returns at defensive end and he played well for us there last year. We also have Green and Max Mattuchio (for the other side).
“At middle linebacker, Hirtle has been probably the top guy there and then Isias Pena, who had been at defensive end before and we're moving him to linebacker. He's getting better there everyday. Evan Silva can help us there. The outside linebacker/strong safety types may include Danny Fleming, who has the most experience and is a real good player as well as Justin Darrigo. A couple of sophomores have looked pretty good like Hunter Johnson and Braydon Aylward and some others. Both Sully and Trulli give us flexibility at safety and cornerback.”Arbogast is new at cornerback but physically can do it. Ryan Cuvier has been nice surprise for us and it's good to have someone tall back there. Logan Auth, a senior, has plugged his way through and continues to work really hard and he will be in the mix.”
OPENER VS DANVERS
On Saturday, Tewksbury will host Danvers to start the season in a non-league game. The teams have played each other five times, including four this past decade, all but one in thrilling one score or one point playoff games. In 1945, Tewksbury won 9-0 and the teams didn’t play again until 2014 with the Redmen winning 34-6. The next year Danvers won 14-13 and then Tewksbury returned the favor with a 21-20 win in 2017, followed by a 28-21 win for the D3 North title in 2018.
“Coach (Ryan) Nolan is a really knowledgeable coach, especially on the defensive side, and he will certainly have his kids ready to go,” said Aylward. “This will be a tough match-up for us. They will come here with good talent, they will execute and they will be tough. Their offensive co-ordinator is the former head coach at Ipswich and he had great success there. He runs a lot of the Wing-T stuff. Right now we are just so focused on our guys, what their roles will be, what's our best opportunities for success and focusing in on trying to get better every time out.”