After a 22-month absence, prep football is back in Massachusetts.
While the MIAA opted to wedge a football season into the spring, giving public and parochial seniors in the Class of 2021 one final go-round, the Independent School League and the other three NEPSAC schools in Eastern Mass — Dexter Southfield, Phillips Andover, and Pingree — all forewent football because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While teams were able to practice because of a suspension of the out-of-season coaching rule, between the final NEPSAC bowls on Nov. 16, 2019, and Phillips Andover and Rivers School opening the 2021 campaign last Saturday, there were 672 days without prep football games in the Bay State.
“It’s such an unusual year to have a two-year gap with no games,” said Tabor Academy coach Chris Rorke. “Most of my team I never saw in full pads until this fall. As a coach, it’s a very unusual situation to have this much uncertainty. It’s definitely a unique year.”
Dexter Southfield coach Casey Day agreed.
“There are numerous players who will be playing varsity football for the first time, so overall experience, collectively, is a work in progress,” he said.
While some members of the Class of 2021 are back as graduate students or were able to reclassify, most of the returning starters this fall were sophomores the last time their school played games.
“It’s going to be very difficult for underclassmen who lost an entire year due to COVID,” said Groton School coach Jamie Lamoreaux.
It’s also difficult for new coaches. While Anthony Figueiredo (St. Mark’s) and Randdy Lindsey (Rivers) were hired two years ago, they’re both entering their first season as head coach. Strangely, the one coach hired entering the 2021 season, Rob Murray (Nobles), coached the program on an interim basis in 2017.
The combination of going nearly two years without games, a trio of new coaches and new rosters everywhere makes this a particularly difficult season to handicap. In the ISL 6, Buckingham, Browne & Nichols, Milton Academy, and Governor’s were mentioned by league coaches as top contenders, while Lawrence Academy, which struggled with low numbers and had to forfeit games in 2018 and 2019, is expected to make a strong push back toward the top, where it was from 2014-17.
“We have to build a togetherness with a lot of new faces and a lot of new people playing together,” said coach Jason Swepson, who is entering his third season. “We have to build that bond and togetherness. We had a good camp and I feel excited about having the ability to compete in the fourth quarter.”
The ISL 10 is particularly hard to predict, with Middlesex and Groton mentioned as possible front-runners.
“Many teams are sporting very new rosters,” said Figueiredo. “It is hard to say how the league may play out, but players all around the league share the same eagerness to compete.”
To read team capsules for every NEPSAC program in Eastern Massachusetts, go to globe.com/schools.