BILLERICA – When a program that has established the kind if winning tradition that the Shawsheen Tech Football program has, going through a season like last year’s 4-7 campaign is not something you are accustomed to. Nor is it something that you want to repeat.
With four Commonwealth Athletic Conference championships in the past decade, including two in a row in 2017 and 2018, the Rams have seldom been in a position where they were not at least contending for the league crown until late in the season. Last year was different of course, as the Rams suffered their first losing season since 2013 in a campaign marred by numerous injuries to key players.
Shawsheen coach Al Costabile, entering his 22nd season as head coach of the Rams, is hoping that the Rams are able to take the lessons learned least year and use them to their advantage this season.
“Sometimes good things can come out of bad things,” Costabile said. “We were all disappointed with last season and nobody can be happy with it. You can’t use injuries as an excuse, but when the injuries involve all three captains, it is hard to overcome that. We went through a stretch last season where we lost all three of our captains (Ryan Quinones, Omar Eldaly, Stephan Saint-Juste) and then we lost several of our offensive linemen. It was like an epidemic.”
Some of those injured players, like offensive linemen Alex Newcomb of Tewksbury, Jonah Varallo and Aidan Leffler of Tewksbury overcame their injuries and were able to get back into the lineup towards the end of the season. Just sophomores at the time, Costabile was impressed with the hard work they put in to get back into the lineup, and he is hoping that kind of mentality carries over into this season.
“We had a lot of guys who got a lot of experience last season,” Costabile said. “Those sophomore linemen came back and got some playing time and learned how to overcome injuries and get back on the field. We have a lot of kids with experience and we are excited about that.”
It is along that offensive line where the Rams might be strongest, as Varallo at left tackle, Leffler at right guard and Newcomb at right tackle with anchor a very good group up front.
“Jonah is gong to be a force. He really did his due diligence in the weight room. He is a three-sport athlete (hockey and lacrosse) and he gained a lot of experience last year,” Costabile said. “Leffler looks great so far. He is a hard-nosed, hard-working kid. Alex was out a couple of games last year, but he got back on the field and got some great experience.”
Joining the on offensive line will be senior center John Wermecke, who brings a wealth of experience to the position. It is often said that center is the most important position along the offensive line, and Costabile feels like the Rams are lucky to have a player like Wermecke in that role.
“John played 13 games as a center for us his sophomore year, and then last year due to injuries to other players he moved into playing guard and tackle for us,” Costabile said. “Now, we are happy to have him back at center. He has basically played 24 high school football games, so that is a lot of experience to bring to that position.”
The Rams are a little less experienced under center, where junior Chris Disciscio will take over for two year starter CJ Zemetres. Disciscio may not be experienced, but Costabile is confident in his abilities as evidenced by his performance in the Rams recent scrimmage against Bedford.
“He is doing a really good job of setting in at quarterback,” Costabile said. “He took a big step forward against Bedford. He took some big shots and made some clutch passes while taking those shots, one of them for a touchdown.”
Disciscio will be helped by a strong running game, led sophomore running back Dylan Timmons of Wilmington and junior running back Diondre Turner of Wilmington. Timmons saw some significant playing time as a freshman in the second half of the season due to all the Rams injuries, and Turner showed some great potential when he was in the lineup as well. Both look primed to take another step forward this season.
“They are both setting in as tailbacks and they are both looking good,” Costabile said. “We are excited to see what they both can do this year.”
Senior wide receiver Josiah Martinez of Wilmington, along with fellow senior wideout Anthony D’Ampolo of Tewksbury will provide some sure hands for Disciscio when he puts the ball in the air. D’Ampolo went from a non-starter last season to being elected by his teammates as one of four co-captains this season.
“Anthony is an example of somebody who got some experience last season, and just worked had and got better in the off season,” Costabile said. “He has done a tremendous job. We have been very impressed with him as a coaching staff, and the kids have been impressed too, which is why they voted him as a captain.
Another pair of locals, senior Santino Garafalo of Tewksbury and senior Conor Rooney of Wilmington, another one of the Rams captains, will provide some big targets at tight end. Rooney will play a lot of wide receiver for the Rams as well, but at times he will come in to give the Rams a to tight end set that will be very tough to defend.
“Santino is a very good talent and he has good size. He is 6’4 and he has long arms. He can make some plays for us,” Costabile said. “Conor is big, strong and athletic. He is an outstanding athlete and he will be a college lacrosse player. He played for us as a freshman, but not as a sophomore and then he came back out last year. Now that he has learned the game more, he is going to be a very good player for us.”
Many of the same names will be helping the Rams on defense as well as offense, with Garafolo and Varallo playing defensive end, while Leffler and Newcomb will be defensive tackles. The Rams will also be very strong at linebacker, where a pair of talented and very tough young men will aim to wreak havoc on defenses. Seniors Pat O’Leary and Shane Stairs, both returning CAC All-Stars will look to build on their impressive seasons from last year, and will also serve as the Rams other two captains.
“They are a couple of good leaders. They are stalwarts,” Costabile said. “Pat played through injuries last season and Shane played with a cast on his hand the last five weeks of the season. They had to be tough kids to be able to play through the things they did.”
The defensive backs haven’t been set in stone as of yet, but the Rams will likely be led by some talented athletes, including Martinez, senior Connor Rich, Turner and senior Jake Bonanno.
The Rams will need to be strong on both sides of the ball if they hope to make a run at a league title, where defending champ Greater Lawrence remains the team to beat.
“Greater Lawrence will be very good. They are definitely the top team in the league,” Costabile said. “I think we can have a good season. Last year was different for us, because we have always been in contention, and we hope to get back to that this season. I feel like we can do that. I know the players are focused on it, and the coaches are focused on it. We are all on the same page in terms of turning things around and getting things back to the way we are used to things being around here.”
The Rams will open their season on Saturday afternoon at 2:30. The Mohawks are coming off a disappointing season in their own right, going 4-6 last season after back to back Division 8 Super Bowl titles in 2017 and 2018, but Costabile knows the Rams will have to be ready to take their non-league opponent’s best shot.
“They have a great tradition down there,” Costabile said. “They were a little disappointed last season, just like we were, but they are looking to bounce back, just like we are. They have some good size up front and have some talented kids at both quarterback and running back. They are going to be a tough opponent to open up against.”