During his first practice as head coach of the Chelmsford football program, George Peterson supplied unrelenting energy Friday morning.
On Day 1 of the MIAA’s preseason calendar for the state’s 290-plus varsity programs — a two-hour conditioning session with helmets but no pads — Peterson moved from unit to unit at Chelmsford High, sporting a sun hat and a T-shirt that read “Restore the Roar.”
With help from a coaching staff comprised of Chelmsford alumni and his former teammates at the University of New Hampshire, the former Lexington coach hopes to restore the Lions to a higher level of success after last year’s 3-8 finish.
“We’re just trying to create a culture of hard work and lots of effort,” said Peterson. “I firmly believe you win games through effort and we’re trying to create that passion from the coaching staff and have it trickle down from the top to the kids.”
“The program has an unbelievably rich history of success. My wife is from here and it’s very important for me to represent this community the way it should be on the field. We’re really excited about the opportunity to bring this to a new level and restore that pride that’s been around the program for 100 years.”
After leading Lexington to six playoff appearances in eight seasons and consecutive Middlesex Liberty League titles in 2016 and 2017, Peterson implemented some of the same strategies in his first practice with Chelmsford. The Vermont native held a joint practice with the JV and freshman teams in an effort to build for the future. With only 18 seniors on the roster, Chelmsford may not be a power this year.
But Peterson hopes to build for the future and perhaps find a star who can compare to Sal Frelick, who developed into the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year under his tutelage at Lexington.
“We want everyone to feel like an important piece of this, which they are,” said Peterson. “The future is that freshman level, so we have to get them on the same page as the varsity level guys now. That’s why we did it in Lexington, and you see a kid like Sal Frelick step in as a sophomore and have a prolific career there because he learned everything as a freshman.
■ John DiBiaso has been at this a long time. St. Patrick’s, Weston High, the legendary 26 years at Everett, and now Year 2 at Catholic Memorial.
Yet Friday morning, he rose at 5 a.m., for a practice at 5 p.m.
The Knights return a number of key starters from last fall’s run to the D1 Super Bowl against St. John’s Prep, including cornerstones Owen McGowan, a junior linebacker committed to Boston College, and Catholic Conference All-Star lineman Zachary Goodwin. QB Barrett Pratt and tailback Darrius LeClair also return.
“The nucleus is there,” said DiBiaso. CM returns seven starters on offense, five on D.
The loss to Prep is a motivator. “I haven’t had to say a word,” added the coach. “They definitely remember what happened and they’ve been very self-motivated in the weight room and conditioning.”
■ At North Andover, coach John Dubzinski and his staff opened training camp with drills covering the fundamentals of defensive signal calling. With former captains Jake McElroy, Gabe DeSouza, Darren Watson, and Ryan Slattery graduated, the defending D2 Super Bowl champions will be hard pressed to maintain their state-leading 13-game winning streak.
But Dubzinski is hopeful that continuity on the defensive side of the ball and a solid running game will allow his program to remain in the hunt.
“Last year everybody talked about the offense, but it was the defense that won the day in [the Super Bowl],” said Dubzinski. “We’re just trying to build off that.”
North Andover returns only four starters on defense, but hopes that Methuen transfer Ricky Brutus will make a difference at safety or linebacker. Brutus should also share carries with Freddie Gabin and Mike Difoi in the backfield. Junior Will Schimmoeller and senior Peter Radulski are competing for the starting quarterback job, and the tall task of filling McElroy’s shoes.
“They’ll be missed,” Dubzinski said of his 2019 senior class. “They left a great legacy, but it’s a good example for these kids to go by. As a young kid, you want to get involved in a program with a good legacy. They saw what it takes to win a championship and I think that’s something you want to step into. Basically, the keys are handed to you, now you have to keep it going.”
■ In their first preparation for the 2019 season, Hingham first-year coach Mark Nutley and star receiver Cole Finney took a quick look back to how last season ended, a 28-26 loss on Thanksgiving Day to Scituate. Nine days later, Scituate won the Division 5 Super Bowl.
Friday, the Harbormen were back on the same turf.
“Our plan is to practice the week after Thanksgiving,” said Nutley, the program’s fourth head coach in six seasons. He coached at North Quincy for five seasons before serving as defensive coordinator at Hingham last fall. He replaces Jim Connor, who resigned following a 7-3 campaign.
Hingham lost its two other games to Duxbury, a fact not lost on the 6-foot-6, 235-pound Finney.
“It’s every year,” said Finney, who has committed to Duke. “It’s been unfinished business since about the sixth grade, and we’re ready to finally beat them.”
■ In Everett, returning Crimson Tide players looked bigger, faster, and stronger at Memorial Stadium and coach Theleuxon Pierre seemed more relaxed in his second go-around.
Standout sophomore Ismael Zamor (eight D1 offers, including Michigan) entered camp last season at 5 feet 11 inches, 165 pounds. This year, he is 6-1, 185. On Friday, Pierre used him a lot at wideout next to junior Tyrese Bapitste.
Sophomore Jayden Clervaux will be key in the backfield, looking polished. The same goes for sophomore defensive end Jaylen Murphy.
Both attended the Boston College camp this summer.
Junior QB Duke Doherty has taken a step forward, cutting corners on the option quicker and zipping a few beautiful deep balls.
The O-line in smaller, but very experienced led by senior John Malloy. Despite the youth at the skill positions, the Tide on day one looked poised to represent that “E” on the helmet.
“Our O-line is older but I don’t have a single skill position player who is a senior,” said Pierre.
■ BC High was 4-7 in Jonathan Brillo’s first season as head coach. But the start of Year 2 was impressive Friday afternoon, with 100-plus players at the first session with more waiting to cleared to play.
The biggest impression? Sheer size.
Ozzy Trapilo, a 6-9, 270-pound senior tackle, will anchor the line. The Boston College commit is joined by by 6-4, 280-pound junior Henry Ball and 6-7, 250-pound classmate Erik Russell.
A good core of varsity lettermen return at the skills positions, including junior quarterback Bobby Wisenhunt.
“We got a good number of talent,” said Brillo. “It is hard to really single one guy out.”
■ While he was raised in Reading and currently lives a mile from Austin Prep, Billy Tucker hadn’t stepped onto campus for more than 20 years until the school offered to host his son’s team in a Reading Pop Warner Super Bowl last winter.
Blown away by the facilities and intrigued by the prospect of potentially coaching his son, Jackson, in the future, the former Reading High and Bentley star applied for the coaching vacancy at Prep. He was promptly hired to replace legendary coach Bill Maradei, who retired after winning 270 games over 40 years at Dom Savio and Austin Prep, a state record for Catholic schools.
“The dots kind of aligned,” Tucker said during Prep’s first practice Friday afternoon. “I quickly realized that potentially this was something that was meant to be.”
Tucker, the Globe’s Division 2 Player of the Year in 1992 and a member of Bentley’s Hall of Fame, currently works for ESPN Scouts Inc. and has directed UnderArmour’s High School All-American Game for the past 12 years. The 44-year-old runs a linebacker camp for Ray Lewis and a defensive backs camp for Deion Sanders, so he hopes that his extensive connections with the professional and collegiate game will help students at Austin Prep gain more exposure throughout the recruiting process.
With Tucker taking over, the Prep roster increased by 20 players this offseason. Only seven are seniors, but that includes an FBS prospect (according to Tucker) in 6-4, 310-pound lineman Chris Walsh. His sophomore brother, Harry, is also a potential college prospect.
“I want to elevate this program to the next level,” said Tucker. “Part of the reason I took the job is to hopefully create exposure for these guys. We’re in a bubble, unfortunately, in New England and it’s hard to get noticed. But I’m connected to colleges and I have a lot of resources at my disposal and I want to help these guys through the process.”
■ The West Bridgewater players and their new coach, Justin Kogler, began camp Friday with late-season losses still fresh on their minds.
The Wildcats (10-2 in 2018) advanced to the D8 semifinals before bowing to Pope John. Kogler, meanwhile, led Old Rochester to the D6 Bowl, a 26-20 loss to Stoneham.
As if the stakes weren’t high enough for Kogler in his new digs, he’s taking over for a legend at West Bridgewater. Bill Panos was let go in the offseason after 33 years, replaced by Kogler, a former Durfee and Bridgewater State star.
“Coaching is coaching to me,” Kogler said of the differences between him and Panos. “Every coach has different routines; I just think getting them used to what we’re doing offensively, what the practice routines are, practice tempo . . . I just think that’s the biggest challenge because they’ve been used to something for so long.”
Kogler is faced with a smaller talent pool with the Wildcats than at ORR, as roughly 50 players showed up to Day 1 of camp – down from about 70 with the Bulldogs.
The numbers don’t seem to deter the coach, who pointed out he had several players capable of making a roster at any level in the state while looking at the bright side of the shallow depth chart.
“It’s easier to get everybody reps and to make sure everyone’s learning,” Kogler said. “I actually kind of like the smaller numbers, to be honest.”
■ Needham High punctuated a 7-4 campaign last fall with a 14-13 victory over archrival Wellesley on Thanksgiving. The Rockets held their first 2019 workout on the outfield grass of the baseball field Friday morning at 8 while the football field is undergoing construction.
“[Practice] was clunky like you’d expect for the first day,” said second-year coach Doug Kopsco. “But at the same time the tempo was really, really good so we’re all just trying to learn the technique. I think that the coaching was great, the energy was great, the effort was great, but as to be expected at this point in the year, we still have a long way to go.” The focus was 7-on-7 drills, zone work, and conditioning.
“I saw a lot of good energy, a lot of heart from a lot of kids,” said senior captain Odahri Hibberts.
The focus for the players, emphasized Kopsco, is family, accountability, toughness, and respect.
■ Bryan Pinabell has a 27-year coaching career at schools in Florida, Georgia, and most recently, Malden Catholic.
Friday was a new chapter. In his first day of camp at Bishop Feehan, his roster includes Caleb Fauria, son of former Patriot Christian Fauria, a 6-4, 245-pound senior tight end committed to the University of Colorado, and senior back Rex Bruschi, son of former Patriot Tedy Bruschi.
“Some people might look at that as intimidating, I look at that as exciting,” said Pinabell, who takes over for Gary Doherty following a 6-5 campaign in 2018.
Tedy Bruschi’s youngest son, Dante, is on the freshman team for the Shamrocks, along with Case Mankins, son of former Patriot lineman Logan Mankins.
■ At East Boston Stadium, the Jets ushered in the preseason under clear skies and with a strong, cool wind off the coast. John Parziale, in his 11th season as head coach, had 27 candidates for the first session.
The historically competitive side went just 4-7 last year.
“It was a down year for us last year, absolutely,” said Parziale. “But we had a lot of close games where we just couldn’t finish.”
“The kids are great, we have really good kids at the high school here, so I can’t complain. They’ve done everything asked, I know they’ve worked out in the summertime, they’ve been working hard.”
Karl Capen reported from BC High and Everett, Jake Levin from Hingham, West Bridgewater, and Bishop Feehan, Seamus McAvoy from East Boston, Ethan Nash from Needham, Steve Sousa from Catholic Memorial, and Weitzer from North Andover and Austin Prep.