At times, Ryan Turpin struggled with the faster pace as a varsity football player at Quincy High last fall, a sophomore trying to find his way in a challenging 11-game schedule.
The junior cornerback, after an offseason of hard work, however, did not miss a beat when the Presidents took the field for their first scrimmage in late August against visiting Milton.
The 6-foot-2, 167-pound Turpin snagged a loose ball out of the air that had bounced off the shoulder pads of the targeted Milton receiver, cut back to the left, and returned the interception for a touchdown.
His play prompted a spectator to imitate the signature taunting gesture by one of the headliners of WWE wrestling, West Newbury native John Cena, while repeating the popular grappler’s “you can’t see me” catch phrase.
Quincy High coach Bill Reardon, however, has a clear vision of his team emerging as a contender for a postseason berth this fall. And Turpin’s game-changing play, though merely a preseason highlight, stoked up the sideline to kick off the season with a bit of a swagger.
Last October, member schools in the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association voted, 161 to 131, in favor of a new system that will cut the number of Super Bowls from the 19 that had been spread across Eastern, Central and Western Massachusetts, to six. Each division will have one state championship.
While there will be fewer Super Bowls, there will be a vast increase in playoff teams, upping the number of EMass participants from 32 to 112.
Following Week 7, on Oct. 27, the playoff teams will be determined by power ratings, which are calculated based on a team’s value and its opponents’ values.
The postseason will begin the following week; if a team loses, it will be eliminated from Super Bowl contention, but will continue to play out the remainder of the season, including its Thanksgiving rivalry matchup. Teams that don’t qualify for the playoffs will continue to play a full schedule as well. The Super Bowls are scheduled for Dec. 7 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.
The new format gives programs such as Quincy, Archbishop Williams (Catholic Central Large), Dedham (Bay State Herget), and Foxborough (Hockmock Davenport) hope.
“The old system, no go,” Quincy’s coach, Reardon, said. “If the new system was in place last year, we would’ve made the playoffs. The kids here this morning, they’re excited, they’re hungry. It’s a breath of fresh air.”
Quincy finished 7-4 with a 3-1 mark in the Patriot League’s Keenan Division, but was nosed out for a playoff spot by Duxbury, which ripped off 37 straight wins before falling to Mansfield in the first round of the playoffs.
The Presidents have not appeared in the postseason since 2003, when they were a member of the Atlantic Coast League.
Turpin, the junior cornerback, said last year’s 37-28 midseason loss to Duxbury was a “jab in the stomach,” but the thought of it makes Quincy work harder to improve this year.
“It’s a little haunting,” Turpin said. “When we’re in the weight room, that’s all we think about. ‘Are the Duxbury kids working harder than us?’ ”
James Lam, the Presidents’ junior quarterback, refuses to let himself be outworked. As a sophomore, he threw 15 touchdown passes and ran for five more.
Attending a football camp at Boston College in June, he shared ideas with high school players from across the state, taking particular interest in his conversations with linebackers who detailed what defensive coverages work best.
The Quincy squad is still young, but made big strides last year after finishing 2-8 in 2011.
Tailbacks Alex Alexandre, Kenny Garcia, and Jahvae Handsome-Fields are part of a “three-headed monster” that will be counted on to step in for recent grad Jalen Green, the South offensive MVP in the Shriners’ Classic.
“[Green] knew he was leaving [for Framingham State] and there were certain guys who can step up to the plate after that,” Alexandre said. “Me being good friends with him and putting in a lot of work in the offseason with him, he knew I’d be an offensive threat on this year’s team.”
As a captain, Alexandre said, he is determined to lead by example in Quincy’s drive for a playoff spot.
Dedham has not had a sniff of the postseason since 1988, when Dave Flynn and his fellow Marauders lost to Brockton in the Division 1 Super Bowl.
Now entering his third year as head coach at his alma mater, Flynn has worked out a few kinks after inheriting a team that was in “disarray” and fielded 39 players, four of them seniors.
This year’s sophomore-laden squad is coming off a 1-10 season. They have had trouble establishing themselves in the Bay State (Herget) league where Natick and Walpole have traditionally run the table.
But Flynn is expecting the new points system to help Dedham’s cause: 12 points will be awarded for beating a team from a higher division, compared with 10 for a win against a foe from the same division.
“The good part of it for Dedham High School is every one of our games is against a team in the conference above us,” he said. “If you look at it from the Dedham perspective — me, I’m an old-school guy, I think this is going to be a historic year.”
Senior captain Jay Maxwell was hampered a year ago by a stress fracture in his foot, but he is determined to pound out a 1,300-yard season on the ground. He finished with 1,000 in nine games in 2012, with six starts.
Archbishop Williams senior back Kylan Philbert-Richardson has his eye on churning out 2,100 yards rushing this season, which put him over the top in breaking the program’s career record (4,330).
His top priority, however, is to power the Bishops past Catholic Central Large foes Cardinal Spellman and St. Mary’s of Lynn.
When he first learned of the new playoff format, his thinking was it was “time to go to work.”
His coaches at Archbishop Williams have created the “thousand club,” which measures the total of the amount of weight a player squats, benches, and scores on a hang cling. Philbert-Richardson was the first player to meet the requirements.
Coach Bill Kinsherf said offseason work has led to the most fit and game-ready team he’s had in years. His teams lost in the 2004 and 2005 Super Bowls.
Kinsherf believes early and sustained divisional wins can help his team create space in the standings to break an eight-year postseason drought.
Foxborough has not advanced to a Super Bowl since 2006.
The Warriors were denied a playoff berth in the Hockomock (Davenport) league last year, despite their final 8-3 record.
Coach Jack Martinelli, entering his 32d season, says the new system will provide better representation across the board.
He called his team’s win over favored Mansfield a turning point last season. But at year’s end, there was no postseason berth.
Senior captain Luc Valenza said Foxborough is geared up for the new season, but admitted it was “strange” that the final three games are undetermined at the season’s start per the new format.
Regardless, the four-year starter, who led the team in tackles last year (95) while rushing for 730 yards, said his teammates must take the same approach in every game.
“It’s just hard work and work ethic each game,” Valenza said. “Strive to win. We really want it this year, I can tell.”