New season is here

Last year, the Merrimack High School football team had no problem scoring points, usually.

Then why did the Tomahawks finish 3-6 after starting the year 2-0?

Simple. They couldn’t stop the opposition from scoring, giving up an average of 43.4 points a game.

Tomahawks second year head coach Dante Laurendi feels things will be a bit better this year.

“I like what I see,” he said. “We’re running around. We entered this off season with definitely an emphasis on it. I think there’s a different attitude, a different approach. I’m hoping that a year of understanding the defense, and getting to know it a lot better, gets these guys more comfortable.”

That and the return of senior linebacker Joe Giampietro (5-foot-10, 200) from his second knee injury in three years, has to help. Giampetro was the defense’s heart and soul before he went down in Week 2

The Tomahawks have a good future with a talented sophomore class that was dominant as a freshman team a year ago. The problem is the present, with only six juniors, led by returning tight end-linebacker Eian Roberts (6-3, 170) and a lack of experience on the offensive line where the lone returnee is senior tackle Justin Devana (5-11, 240). Senior Stephen Gage, who played two years ago but was out of the area with his family for a year, is back, and his 5-7, 210-pound frame should help.

“This reminds me of the first few years at Nashua North,” said Laurendi, a former Titans assistant. “We had some linemen who were big bur really didn’t know they were big, didn’t know they were athletic. As they got more experience, they figured it out. We need to mature quickly.”

Offensively, the ’Hawks will hand the quarterback reins to sophomore Justin Grassini, who was superb running last year’s freshman team. “He’s a very good athlete, has a live arm, and he loves to play,” Laurendi said.

Laurendi feels that it will be up to Grassini, along with Giampetro at running back and an experienced receiving corps to help the inexperienced offensive line. “We want to be able to spread the field, make people cover a lot of areas and help those guys out,” he said.

Senior receivers Ryan Barry (5-7, 160), Andy DeGregorio (5-9, 160) and Dylan Beaulieu (5-10, 195) should provide Grassini with some open targets so he can get rid of the ball quicker.

Defensively, Laurendi is hoping sophomores such as Tyler Deneill (5-10, 190, defensive back) and outside linebacker Danny McKillop (6-1, 180) can grow up quickly in the system. There should be some experience in the secondary with Barry, Degregorio, and Beaulieu. Devana will also play on the defensive line and Gage will double as a linebacker.

The bottom line on the season?

“It’s going to depend on the young kids and how fast they mature,” Laurendi said. “And how much leadership our experienced kids give.

“We’ll be young, and depth’s an issue. But depth is an issue for everybody.”

New season is here

In his first preseason as a varsity head coach, Chris Lones has preached working hard and working together to the Hollis Brookline High School football team.

If the Cavaliers do the first one, Lones believes they’ll have a good season when all is said and done.

As for the second, he’s done his best to make sure the players are gelling as a unit.

“We set up a buddy system of a senior with a sophomore and a junior with a freshman, because the classes worked out numbers-wise, so we put those two groups together and they’ve taken ownership of that,” Lones said. “Those upperclassmen have taken to those younger kids, to help them. Even getting the kids to school for eight o’clock in the morning for practice because freshmen and sophomores aren’t driving yet. It’s worked out really well and the togetherness has been big.”

There’s certainly plenty of familiarity on the field, as the Cavs return around two dozen players who got varsity experience on a team that finished the season by winning three of its final four games after an 0-5 start.

The players are also familiar with their new head coach, as Lones was an assistant a year ago during Rich Bergskaug’s one season as head coach, and Lones coached several of the players in the Jr. Cavs program.

“That’s been a benefit of mine and of the kids,” he said. “They’re not getting to know the expectations of somebody, they know what my expectations are. We set those expectations when they were in sixth grade. When those kids walked on the field the first day, they knew what they were getting. And we know what they’re expecting of us. They want to have a winning team and a positive year, and we’re doing everything that we can to make sure that we get them as prepared as possible.”

The one spot the Cavs are forced to replace a player on offense is at quarterback, where Patch Zorn and Tommy Grant have been battling to fill in for graduated Austin Pigott.

Both players saw time at receiver a year ago, and whoever ends up starting will benefit from having running back Matt Ferenczhalmy, along with receivers Joe Brooks and Tommy Schmalz, returning.

The offensive line, however, will look different for HB.

“Our O-line averaged 268 (pounds) across last year,” Lones said. “We’re not that big this year, but we’re much faster. Our offensive line returns two starters from last year’s unit, but the three who played behind them, at any given moment last year, those guys could have been starters. The other guys ahead of them were seniors and a little bit bigger.”

Lones likes what he’s seen from linemen Mike Morgan, Tommy Johnson, Jack Price, Mark Thibeault, Ray LaForest and Quinn Pendalton, while two others, Colin Loftus and Brian Delaney, transferred back in from Bishop Guertin.

On defense, Lones is expecting inside linebackers Wyatt Farwell and Andrew Butler to get a lot of recognition.

“Those two are the ones who are going to have the lion’s share of tackles,” he said. “Our defense is predicated on our dog and bandit (outside linebackers) doing their job.

“Last year, Nick Garside was our MVP and he played that bandit position better than I’ve seen anyone play it. He had no stats because he was responsible for the strong side on every single play.”

Brooks, Schmalz and Zorn will be looked upon to lead the secondary, and the Cavs will turn to another standout soccer player, Cole Owens, to handle the placekicking.

After suffering through injuries the last two seasons, Lones is hoping that HB will have better luck in that category.

“Last year, we were a much better football team than 3-6,” he said. “We were much better than our record. That’s the one great thing about the game of football, in any year, everyone has a chance. If you think you can just roll a ball out there and win a football game, somebody is going to punch you in the mouth.”