As the sun rose last Tuesday, the Danvers High School football team was indoors, running 40-yard sprints and working out in the weight room.
“A lot of kids are excited to be out here,” the Falcons’ senior captain and running back Chris Behen said. “The second you get back into [practice] it feels great.”
Instead of enjoying the final weeks of summer, high school football teams around the state are already getting in shape for the upcoming season.
Danvers is coming off a successful 7-4 season and the Northeastern South conference championship, but the players are facing the challenge of adapting to a new coach and his system.
“They knew in the offseason that they had to get in shape, and they did it,” first-year-coach Shawn Theriault said. “So now we’re hitting the ground running.”
Theriault, who was the defensive coordinator at Andover High the last four seasons, said his players’ commitment to conditioning helped them learn his spread offense quickly.
“All offseason, we trained to get them ready to be able to run an up-tempo, no-huddle offense and play defense,” he said. “All the work they’ve done in the offseason paid off.”
We want everyone to have the right mind-set. Nothing is going to be given to us.’
Through the summer, Danvers senior captains Behen, Nick Andreas, Richie Martino, and Chris Valles led the team through conditioning sessions and captains’ practices.
According to Andreas, the goal this summer was loud and clear: Learn the new system.
“We need to be ready to go on both offense and defense,” the 6-foot-2, 207-pound quarterback said. “We need to be mind and body sound. We still have some ways to go, but I really do feel like we’re going to be ready.”
After the team captured its first NEC South title in eight years, Martino, 17, said the offseason work has helped build momentum toward this season.
“Because we improved last year, we want to keep building on that,” the 5-foot-10, 165 pound defensive back said. “We knew we were really going to have to work, especially with a new coaching staff.”
Valles also noted the effect on team camaraderie.
“The team chemistry rises so much when you have everyone together three days a week at least,” the 5-foot-10, 165-pound wide receiver said. “We’re all in the weight room and we’re all pumping each other up. We know each other’s tendencies.”
The payoff, captains say, will come when the season kicks off.
“The team has been unbelievably dedicated,” Andreas said. “We went from being a very bulky team to a very athletic team.”
“We got a lot stronger and we’re in a lot better shape,” Behen said of summer conditioning. “Everything we’ve been doing all comes together when we get out on the field.”
At Bishop Fenwick High School in Peabody, the Crusaders are coming off of a 13-0 season and a Division V Super Bowl win at Gillette Stadium last December.
But from the looks and sounds of things, that’s all in the past.
“The team this year hasn’t won anything,” said senior captain and first-year starting quarterback Matt Renzulli. “We want everyone to have the right mind-set. Nothing is going to be given to us.”
That’s the message the senior captains have worked hard to ingrain in their teammates’ minds.
“Guys on the team are smart enough to know that nothing comes easy,” said senior captain and middle linebacker David Hurley. “We know we’re in for a long road again.”
“If we want to do what we did last year, everyone needed to be at [conditioning],” said senior captain and tight end Aiden Moulton. “Otherwise we’re not going to be able to get it done.”
Entering his 17th season as Bishop Fenwick’s head football coach, Dave Woods credits his players and captains for setting a new tone for this season.
“The kids have set pretty high standards for themselves,” he said. “They’ve taken the approach that last season is over, and now it’s [their] turn to get back to the Super Bowl.”
As part of their plan this summer, senior running back Rob Carillo and his fellow captains stressed the importance of working harder each day.
“Go 110 percent every time,” Carillo said. “The coaches will notice that.”
“We want to be the best conditioned team in our league,” Renzulli added. “We definitely want to be the team that’s still kicking it in the fourth quarter.”
Ipswich High senior Ryan White knows exactly what it feels like to not be “kicking it” in the fourth quarter.
After finishing 2-9 last season, White and his teammates want to change that feeling under second-year head coach Greg Brotherton.
“We all got together at the end of last season and said, ‘Ipswich needs a revival,’ ” the 6-foot, 190-pound running back and linebacker said. “We’re the team that’s going to do that.”
The Tigers have spent the summer reinventing their team identity. while getting more players to show up to conditioning and captains’ practices
“The big thing that we improved on from last year was that we definitely got more people out and coming to events,” said senior wide receiver and outside linebacker Eddie White.
“We haven’t had a winning season since 2006, when we won the Super Bowl,” senior wide receiver and defensive end Alecks Kuljic added. “We want to change that this year. With the group of kids we have, we can actually make something happen this season.”