Tomahawks hoping to rebuild quickly after strong season

MERRIMACK – The look on Merrimack High School football coach Kip Jackson’s face when asked about numerous positions on his 2017 team told it all.

“Not sure yet,” the answer would often be.

And that, folks, is what they call rebuilding.

Jackson and the Tomahawks had the luxury of a strong upper class the last two seasons, one culminating in a semifinal berth last season when those players were seniors.

And now? It’s a whole new ballgame with almost a brand new team.

“I think the difficulty is more the fact we have a number of players who don’t have any varsity experience,” Jackson said. “Just because when we took over the program, a lot of the kids that we had as started as sophomores. Last year was their third year starting varsity football.

“We could bring up situations or discuss things and they had a point of reference. These guys have nothing to fall back on. … It’s that plus understanding the intensity of playing a football game on a Friday night vs. a Thursday or a Monday afternoon (sub-varsity days). It’ll be different.”

There are just two returning starters on offense – main key Joe Eichman, a 6-0, 190 pound senior back/slot receiver, and junior Jesse Bronchuk (6-1, 290) on the offense line.

And zero players on defense. Ouch.

Other than that, you likely won’t be able to tell the players without a program.

Up front offensively, the ‘Hawks will have 6-1,270-pound senior James Murray, 5-11, 200-pounder Colin Wandell, 5-11, 210-pound senior Dom Damata, and 6-0, 185-pound junior center Cole Keefe.

Whom will they be protecting? Two players have been fighting for the quarterback job – senior Ryan Devanna (6-1, 160) and junior Ben Eichman (6-0, 175).

The winner will likely be handing off and throwing to Joe Eichman, really the key mainstay back from last year’s successful team (8-1 regular season, 9-2 overall). There’s also seniors C.J. Grace (5-9, 160) and Caden Shvanda (6-1, 155) to catch it and run it.

So as you can see, the weapons aren’t fully developed yet.

It’s a whole new team defensively. Joe Eichman will be a leader there as well at defensive back.

Up front, Keefe (end), Damata (nose) Bronchuck and Murray will be mainstays while also add in sophomore Jared Dyer (6-3, 235), who could be a solid defensive end.

Linebacker is the key position on any high school defense, and again there’s not much experience there. Six-foot, 165-pound junior Adam Thornton. Right now, he’s about the only sure thing as the Tomahawks will play multiple safeties/corners.

Junior Tristan Wood (6-0, 185) will be back there, along with both Eichmans, Grace, and junior Garett Murray (5-8, 160).

“We’re starting over again,” Jackson said. “A lot of inexperienced kids, a tough schedule, and we’re playing a lot of good offenses. … It’s going to be tough.”