BRAINTREE — Camp kicks off Aug. 19 and the pads go on a few days later. The players, and coaches, on the Stoughton High football team have their eyes glued to the calendar.
After falling short of the Hockomock League’s Davenport Division title a year ago despite a 9-2 finish (2-2 in league, behind 3-1 Sharon), the Black Knights have, unofficially, started the preseason process. Stoughton, like many other programs in the area, worked on their skills — specifically, throwing and catching — in a summer passing league. Dedham, Milton, and Randolph, along with host Braintree, were also represented. Players do not run after the catch, and linebackers are not present.
Stoughton coach Greg Burke and his staff were on the sideline, but only to observe, per state rules.
“This is just a good run for the kids,” Burke said. “Everybody looks great in these, to be honest with you. They’re working out during the week, but it’s great for your skill kids in a competitive mode.”
The Black Knights entered Wednesday night’s finale with a 3-0-1 mark, though no championship is awarded.
Dan Snyder, a former quarterback at Stoughton (Class of 2009) who coaches the Black Knights summer entry, said the passing league is a huge step in the preseason process.
Snyder conceded that he still has a few regrets from his high school career, namely a 5-6 record his senior year.
One of his goals this summer: making sure that the current group of players is prepared enough that they will not have any regrets of their own on the field.
“I learn more from them than they learn from me each year, which they don’t understand,” Snyder said.
“I learn how different athletes react to different coaching methods, I learn the different types of positions. They make me a better coach as I make them a better player.”
Stanley Sajous, a rising senior quarterback, is ramping up his workout routine.
He said preparation, in terms of weight lifting, running hills, conditioning, sprinting and squats, is strenuous, especially when practices transition to two-a-days.
“No one on the team is squatting less than 250,” Sajous said. “You’ve got to be in shape because when the pads come on, they’re much heavier. You’ve got to be able to run, keep your routes, and not get tired.”
Sajous, who has suited up in the passing league every summer, said his offseason motivation comes from those who doubt him and his team’s ability. He said the negative claims are baseless, but they still put a pressure on him that tests his merit as a football player.
This year, he believes a Super Bowl appearance is not an unrealistic goal. Sajous also felt that last season, the Black Knights were the better team in each of their two losses (Canton and Sharon).
Another QB, junior Alex Acciavatti, is focused on a more immediate goal: winning the starting job.
“I’m competitive; I like to compete,” Acciavatti said. “It’s all fun, but you like to have that competition with other people. I’m just trying to prove myself to the coaches, take control, and show them I can lead the team.”
He said the passing league has been an aid to him because he can mesh with his teammates and form chemistry as well as scope out clubs he will see during the regular season.
Acciavatti said the constant preparation for his team’s Sept. 12 opener against Pembroke is stressful. From being at the school for 8 a.m. practices to lifting weights to playing in the heat, they are all steps to establishing a fast-tempo team.
As an underclassman, Acciavatti puts the onus on himself to be invested in every play as if it was a big-game situation. After throwing an incompletion at the end of a drive, he walked to the sidelines showing contempt on his face.
“You want to have fun,” Acciavatti said. “But it does get a little aggravating when something doesn’t go your way. You just try to be motivated yourself. When something goes bad, you’ve got to be a leader on the team, even if you’re an underclassman.”
Snyder is not surprised to see the players hold themselves to a high standard. As the season approaches, he said, players wake up mentally, which inspires them to wake up physically.
Two other alums, Matt Green, a junior receiver at Bridgewater State University, and Matt Mack, an incoming freshman at Becker College, were also on hand for a recent session, offering their perspective.
“I think that was a moment for them, seeing him getting ready for the next level,” Snyder said. “They’ve learned from their past before they’ve studied it because of the guidance that they’ve had.’’
Snyder believes that toughness, a Stoughton signature, will shine this coming season, with the Black Knights leaning on grit and coaching.
“When you have someone like Coach Burke, who bleeds black and orange, it’s very hard not to play as hard as you can for that man,” he said.
Peter Cappiello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter@petecapps.