Locked in a 14-14 game at Cape Ann rival Amesbury on the opening weekend of the Fall II football season, Ipswich coach Kevin Fessette decided to trust a newcomer.
Senior kicker Rowan Silva – a Cape Ann League Golf All-Star last fall — had shanked the first extra point attempt of his impromptu football career. But Fessette gave him the nod to try a 24-yard field goal with just over eight minutes remaining, and Silva’s boot proved to be the difference in a 17-14 win.
With four seasons on the MIAA athletic calendar this year due to the pandemic, athletes like Silva are finding new opportunities to contribute on the gridiron.
Fessette, who also coaches hockey at Beverly, knew of Silva as a tough hockey player, and that his older brother, Connor, had played quarterback for Brooks. So he convinced Silva to come out for football this spring and wound up slotting the versatile athlete in at kicker.
“If you take a good athlete, they can figure it out quickly,” said Fessette, “Mentally, once he was ready, kicking came naturally. We would love to have a kid with years of training, but some athletes can come in and have an immediate impact. The sky is kind of the limit for [Silva] and he’s become a weapon that can often go unnoticed.”
The following week, Silva’s impressive work on kickoffs helped Ipswich defeat North Reading, 28-14, for the first time in 15-plus years.
And while Silva is one of the few golfers giving football a shot during the Fall II period, he’s not the only athlete jumping into a new role.
Several soccer stars are thriving as kickers across the state. Han Xiao is 12 for 13 on extra point attempts and has a 21-yard field goal for 3-0 Acton-Boxborough, Nabil Barkallah has converted all 14 extra point attempts for 3-0 Tewksbury, and Bishop Fenwick soccer captain Aidan Dwyer has nailed eight extra points during two wins for the Spartans.
“In the fall I was joking with some of the kids on the football team that I should come out,” said Dwyer, a senior from Peabody. “My intention was always to kick and in late January it got more serious.
“I knew we didn’t really have a set kicker and I could be a valuable contributor, and I think it’s awesome to have the opportunity to try something new this year.”
With football unable to practice last fall and wrestling postponed this past winter, Wilmington senior Stephen Smolinsky played varsity soccer and basketball for the first time.
Smolinsky not only made the roster on both teams, he became the Wildcats starting center midfielder, and has carried that competitive attitude into the Fall II season.
In his second year as Wilmington’s kicker, Smolinsky hit the winner from 24 yards out in a 3-0 win at Burlington March 20, then provided a 2-yard rushing touchdown and a 32-yard field goal in a 9-2 win at Wakefield this past Saturday.
“[Smolinsky is] a throwback type of kid where you put him in competitive situations and it’s not new because he plays so many sports and he’s always trying to get himself in the mix,” said Wilmington coach Craig Turner.
“He definitely kicks that soccer style kick with the inside of the foot. In practice we always tell him to kick from the hashes and bend it like it’s a corner [kick] and both of his field goals this year were tough kicks from the hashes that went through because his technique allowed him to get good draw on the ball.”
Smolinsky said if the wrestling season is cancelled this spring he would shift by playing lacrosse or outdoor track, and that he plans to try out for the football team as a linebacker or safety wherever he goes to college.
“I like to compete in a bunch of different ways,” said Smolinsky. “One sport isn’t enough for me. I’ve got to stay active and compete against other people, that’s what keeps me motivated to keep going.”
Cambridge junior Ezra Barnesson usually swims for the Charles River Aquatics Club year round, but had time this spring to play football. His parents had prohibited the contact sport prior to the pandemic. But he said that they felt the mental health impact of staying out of sports would be worse than the potential impact of taking hits on the football field.
Needless to say, his parents were relieved when he was able to draw upon his experience playing soccer in middle school to earn a role at kicker.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for Barnesson — who missed a field goal and had another one blocked in his debut — and some of the other new specialists. North Andover soccer goalie Matt Wessel — who is punting for the Scarlet Knights — cited several examples of getting roughed up or forced into a short punt by an oncoming rush.
But after missing so much time in a team environment, these student-athletes are simply happy to compete.
“I know what I need to work on and I’m glad for this new challenge,” said Barnesson, who hopes to swim collegiately and study engineering at the Coast Guard or Air Force Academy.
“I always try to put my best effort into everything I’m doing and I hope to improve [as a kicker], because this is something new. I don’t have much experience, but I hope to represent my city and team as best I can.”
▪ Few are as proud of Norwood’s 2-0 start than second-year coach Manny Lopes.
A Super Bowl champion with the Mustangs in 2000, playing for Tom Lamb, Lopes has worked his way from a position coach, to defensive coordinator, to head coach of his alma mater. He knows what a successful football team means to the community, and he is ecstatic to see Norwood contending again.
“I tell our guys, I said: ‘People care. People care about what our football team does,’” Lopes said.
On Saturday, the Mustangs took down perennial Tri-Valley League power Holliston, 19-14, for the first time since joining the TVL in 2018. With attendance limited at games because of the pandemic, the action was streamed live at Lewis’ Bar and Grille in Norwood, to the delight of those watching.
The win marked a major step forward.
“That was huge,” Lopes said. “Holliston’s been the cream of the crop of the Tri-Valley for a long time . . . That’s what we shoot to be.”
Senior Robbie Wladowski, who has already played golf and basketball for the Mustangs this year, and plans to play baseball in the spring season, has been a standout in the backfield.
“I always tell our guys, listen, I want you to play three [or more] sports,” Lopes said. “You should play as many sports as you can in high school. That’s the time to have fun.”
▪ Though a number of teams are entering Week 4 in Fall II, Blue Hills opened Friday with a 26-0 Mayflower Conference win over Cape Cod Tech Friday — their first game since a 26-22 loss in the vocational title game on Nov. 23, 2019.
Coach Ed Catabia realizes that goals are different this year. He wants to balance winning football games with simply enjoying the hard work. Perhaps no one exemplifies that goal more than senior running back and linebacker Joe Fagan.
“He’s a very intensive individual — on and off the field,” Catabia said. “He keeps us entertained in practice quite a bit . . . but when he’s ready to play, he’s 110 percent involved, no matter what it is — offense or defense.”
Bellingham 36, Dedham 13 — Gavin Elder completed 11 of 16 passes for 263 yards and three touchdowns in the Tri-Valley League road win for the Blackhawks (2-0). He threw a 70-yard score to Chris Domercant, a 65-yard strike to Akeem Wynn, and a 5-yard touchdown to Blake Feola. Blake Simpson (92 yds, 3 TD) led the ground game.
Dover-Sherborn 21, Millis 0 — Sunday’s rain did not stop Johnny Bennett, who scored on a 20-yard pass from Grady Russo and returned a punt 65 yards for the touchdown. Russo added a 22-yard rushing score for the host Raiders (2-0) in the Tri-Valley League matchup.
Ethan Fuller also contributed to this story.