WILMINGTON – Certainly we can all attest that this past winter/spring was an odd football season. There were freezing cold nights, blistering hot weather, only six games, masks and it just was different.
Here in Wilmington, the Fall-2 season was pretty successful as the Wildcats finished 4-2 with wins over Burlington, Wakefield, Watertown and Winchester, and defeats against league/state powers Melrose and Stoneham.
Now comes this fall season where everything should be back to normal. Wilmington returns almost the entire team with the exception of captain Stephen Smolinsky, who will be a big loss. All he did was score 62 points, including five rushing TDs, one receiving TD, while booting a pair of field goals, 12 PATs and adding a conversion rush.
While he has since graduated, the remaining core of the team has been together for three years now, and for fifth year head coach Craig Turner, he's been talking about this group for quite some time now.
"I have been telling them since their freshmen year that this class is going to do some really good things,” said Turner. “It's a shame that we didn't have playoffs last year because I think we were peaking at the right time and maybe we might have been able to make some noise.
This group seems poised to be a real competitive group. What that translates to in terms of wins and losses, I don't know, but we're playing a little bit of a tougher schedule than we normally do and the league is just really tough. Burlington is going to be a lot better. They were very young last year and they bring back a ton of kids and got two transfers from Austin Prep, who are both really good. They should be right in the thick of it. Melrose and Stoneham are Melrose and Stoneham (as perennial league contenders)."
Wilmington opens the season with three non-league games with trips to Woburn and Greater Lowell before hosting Billerica. After that comes the five league games. When Turner was interviewed last Thursday, the team had just two scrimmages under its belt.
"It's been alright. I don't know if we have really gotten a great test so far in the pre-season. We scrimmaged Winchester and they are very young. We scrimmaged Greater Lawrence and they are younger than they usually are and then (on Friday) we have Arlington, so we will see how that goes," he said. "For the most part, we have picked up where we left off in the spring, save for a couple of new faces in a couple of new spots."
This year's team will be led by its four captains, Gavin Erickson, Marcello Misuraca, Jake Chirichiello and John Rhind. The four of them will return as two-way players. Erickson (5-11, 180) is a wingback/receiver and then a cornerback. Chirichiello (6-2, 260) is a two-way tackle, Rhind (6-1, 200) is a tight end and then defensively he is moving from his starting defensive end spot to linebacker, joining Misuraca (6-2, 195), who is back there, but is moving from fullback to halfback on offense.
As of last Thursday, Turner said that senior Pedro Germano (5-9, 160) will be back at quarterback with Misuraca at halfback, along with Erickson, who will rush and catch the ball from different formations. Sophomore Michael Lawler (6-0, 160) appears to have won the fullback position, while John Germano (5-8, 155) will be at split end and Rhind at tight end.
The line will consist of junior left guard Lucas Gorham (6-0, 260), Chirichiello at left tackle, Michael Ings (5-10, 240) at center, the combination of Adam Sulick (5-11, 200) and Ali Aboukal (5-10, 225) at right guard and Jake Malloy (6-1, 260) returns at right tackle.
"The good thing about trying to transition offensively from the spring is we have been able to hit the ground running here in the pre-season," said Turner. "Gavin had a nice long run against Gr. Lawrence, Marcello looks really good at halfback and Lawlor I think is really going to open some eyes at fullback. He's really a fast, shifty kid and he's another kid who is like a home run hitter for us. John Germano at wide receiver just continues to get better and just makes a lot of plays."
John Germano had nine receptions for 158 yards with three scores last year and Rhind had two catches for 46 yards. Erickson contributed with six catches for 156 yards and one score, as well as rushing the ball 41 times for 227 yards and one score. Misuraca rushed 77 times for 301 yards and two touchdowns and added six catches for 56 yards and a score. Either handing the ball off or throwing to them will again be Pedro Germano. He came on towards the latter part of the season including his brilliant performance against Winchester, completing 8-of-10 attempts for 158 yards and three TD passes. On the season he completed 31-of-61 passes for 553 yards with six TDs and just two interceptions.
"The difference between where Pedro was at the start of the Fall-2 season to now is like night and day. He's just so much more comfortable back there," said Turner.
Defensively last year, Wilmington barely gave up an inch in the early goings, and then had an outstanding game in a loss to Melrose. After that was a few steps back in the loss to Stoneham.
"The biggest issue during camp so far is our top three defensive ends have all been injured and haven't been able to play yet" said Turner. "We have been working some young guys in at that spot. Hopefully those injured guys will be back (before the season starts). We're trending towards that direction that they will all be ready for Woburn."
When healthy, Luke Murphy (6-2, 195) and Jack Rooney (5-10, 170) will be the two ends, Chirichiello, Yvenson Jeanty (5-11, 220), who was a starter as a sophomore but didn't play in Fall-2 and Malloy will have the two tackle spots. Marcello, Rhind and the combination of Peter LeBlanc (5-10, 175) and Dempsey Murphy (5-10, 220) will be the linebackers, while Erickson and John Germano will be the two cornerbacks, Nate Rebinskas (6-0, 175) will return at free safety and Alfonso Gambale (5-11, 160), who missed the spring as he had a torn ACL, will be the strong safety.
Providing depth this year in various positions includes seniors Nick Doyle, Brady Robbins, John Spencer, Joey Cornish and Brett DeAmbrose, juniors Brett Ebert, Joey Kulman and Owen Cushing, and sophomores Hunter Sands, Julien Cella, Nick Iascone, Antonio Smolinsky, Clyde Lambert, Nojus Giniotas, Noah Spencer, Ryan Weinstein and a pair of freshmen Shane Maguire and Kenny Branley.