For most teams, losing arguably the state’s most prolific wide receiver to injury a week before its season opener would be an insurmountable hurdle.
But No. 4 Natick isn’t like most teams. And having senior quarterback Troy Flutie, the soon-to-be Boston College Eagle, under center certainly doesn’t hurt. The Redhawks march onto the field for their 2013 opener and first test run without injured Brian Dunlap Thursday night as they travel to No. 17 Weymouth. Kickoff is 4:30 p.m.
Dunlap, a junior, suffered a season-ending foot injury in a scrimmage Aug. 24 against Holliston that required surgery. Natick coach Mark Mortarelli knows Dunlap’s production — 86 catches, 1,550 yards, 23 touchdowns in 2012 — will be hard to match, but says the team is still optimistic.
“We’re still focused. Our expectations are still very high,” Mortarelli said. “We have a very talented group of seniors and I think certainly we won’t be able to replace Brian, but our program will go on and we have a bunch of kids who expect to win a lot of games and work very hard.”
Weymouth coach Kevin Mackin said his heart goes out to Dunlap, adding, “The whole state is being shortchanged by that injury.”
Senior receivers Alex Hilger and Justin Robinson are tabbed with trying to replace Dunlap on the outside. Despite the loss, which Mortarelli acknowledged will force the team to make minor tweaks to its attack, the Natick offense figures to still be as dangerous as any, thanks to Flutie. He racked up more than 3,000 yards through the air and another 1,000-plus on the ground last season, which will grab the attention of any defense trying to contain him.
“Against any opponent, discipline is key,” Weymouth coach Kevin Mackin said about stopping Flutie. “Guys need to know what’s expected of them, they need to execute their assignments and obviously when you have a superstar athlete like that, a Division 1 college athlete, it’s even more important.”
The Wildcats are led by do-it-all quarterback David Harrison who was second in Division 1 last year with 128 points.
Mackin said Harrison “could probably excel in any sport we offer here at the high school.” Harrison is also an all-conference basketball player, and track athlete in the winter and spring. The only sport Mackin questions Harrison’s ability in is hockey, but that’s only because Mackin has never seen him skate.
“He just has got tremendous speed, tremendous athleticism, hand-eye coordination, footwork,” Mackin said. “He’s a very gifted athlete.”
Mortarelli is prepared for Weymouth to use Harrison at multiple positions Thursday night, from slot receiver to kickoff returner.
“He’s literally one of the top players in the state, in my opinion,” Mortarelli said. “I think we certainly need to slow him down and know where he is on the field and identify what he’s trying to do.”
There’s a lot of familiarity between the pair of Bay State teams despite Thursday’s label as a nonleague affair, with Weymouth in the Carey and Natick in the Herget. They have met plenty of times, and as Mackin put it, “There aren’t many secrets between Weymouth and Natick.”
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With Yom Kippur this weekend, there are football games five straight days, beginning with Wednesday night’s Framingham-Franklin game and ending Sunday when Newton South plays Brookline. In games matching ranked teams, newly appointed No. 1 Everett (1-0) hosts No. 12 Xaverian Friday at 7 p.m. The Crimson Tide moved up one spot from No. 2 after previously top-ranked St. John’s Prep’s 20-14 loss to now-No. 5 Bridgewater-Raynham. St. John’s Prep (0-1) drops to No. 6 this week but has a chance to creep back into the top five when it hosts No. 3 Brockton on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. The Boxers will try and move on from the graduation of quarterback Austin Roberts, as running back Aaron LeClair returns for his senior season.