For high school football coaches, this is an absolutely emotion-filled week as you prepare to say goodbye to seniors, some of whom have been together four years for every step on the field.
So we went out and talked to the coaches about the special kids, the ones that keep them coming back. Here’s what we found.
“I’ve noticed the camaraderie from this group,” said Central Catholic coach Chuck Adamopoulos, whose Raiders face Andover for the title tomorrow in the MVC large.”One of my parents reminded me recently that I predicted all this back at our banquet four years ago. They told me I said there was something special in that freshmen group, who knew?”
Coach A on a couple notables in that “special” class.
Ryan Doherty, captain: “If you told me, his sophomore year, that he’d be a captain, I would have gone and run into traffic. He drove me crazy. I remember I went down to St. John’s for a freshmen-JV doubleheader one Saturday. I was in jeans, work boots, with a hoodie on, as inconspicuous as I can be. I was standing at the goal line, away from our bench on the opposite, side and here comes Ryan on a long TD run. He gets to about the 10 and slows down to salute the St. John’s kid (mockingly). I proceed to go on the field to read him the riot act. I’m screaming at him, screaming to our coaches, ‘He’s all done, get him out!’ and nobody knows who I am. They think I’m some looney fan. He had no idea I was there at the pylon. He went pale when he saw me. To come from that point, to be the leader he is now speaks volumes about the kid. He’s been unbelievable.”
Sean Kirchner, starting guard: “He didn’t play freshman football. The kid is 280 pounds now and he was 250 pounds back then and didn’t play football. I asked him why once, and he said he was a hockey player. Well, freshman baseball season comes around, and my son Brian is on the team. Here’s this 250-pound freshman catcher, biggest catcher I’ve seen since John Candy caught for Richard Pryor in the movie, ‘Brewster’s Millions.’ I worked on him and his parents that whole spring and got him to try football. He’s been a two-year varsity starter, one of the best offensive linemen in our league. He’s such a likeable kid, but he set a school record. The kid has been in a fight with every guy on our scout team in practice. He’s the most hated starter by the scout team. They know they can get to him, and someone’s always trying to goad him into a fight. It’s hilarious.”
Dan Dziedzic, backup lineman: “His parents are from Poland, and one day he’s on the cell, speaking to somebody fluently in this foreign language, which turns out to be Polish. All I knew was I didn’t understand it. So later I find out after one of the JV games, he sang the Polish national anthem on the ride home. After a varsity win this year, I had him sing it again. He’s got a great voice, a booming voice, a voice you’d here in some movie made in Eastern Europe. Well, he’s worked hard and made it onto our field goal team now. I told him that must qualify him for the Polish Athletic Hall of Fame.”
Ben Tavitian, two-way lineman: “He’s probably one of the most sincere kids I have coached. Sophomore year, he’s starting at nose against Billerica. During the week, I warned the defense about this obscure formation Billerica might use. They never did. We’re getting killed at halftime, and I’m on a major rant in the locker-room, just fuming. Ben raises his hand and asks, ‘Coach, when do you think they’ll run that formation you showed us?’ Any other kid, I’d have thrown out of the room. But this was classic Ben. He broke the tension. We ended up coming back to win that game. I’ll never forget it.”
Wildcats driven by leaders
Whittier coach Kevin Bradley has 15 seniors, but only a few that impact on the field. Don’t sell them short.
He’s dedicated this season to them. Here’s an inside look why:
Joe Murach, special teams: “He’s one of the most special kids I’ve ever coached, not because of numbers or stats. In four years, he’s missed one practice because he was sick. He runs scout offense, scout defense, whatever we need. He’s one of the reasons we’ve had the season we’ve had. The younger kids see his dedication. They copy it. Year-round, he’s a kid I’ve counted on for four years.”
Matt Lech, injured lineman: “He’s another kid who can’t play because of an injury but is there every day at practice. He helps as a manager, coaching, filming, he’s like another assistant. Football is his life. And he won’t let the game go. He wants to hook on in college, help out a program. The kid is my right-hand man. He’s looking at Stetson University. The coaches don’t know how lucky they’ll be to get him.”
Eric Pomer, lineman: “We have this group of backup linemen, who are always there, always so positive. I’m just so proud of them — guys like Lou Fabrizio, Anthony Temperino, Jesse Triplett, Sam King, seniors who’ve stuck with it. Right now, that group is typified by Eric Pomer, a kid who hadn’t played much at all. In the last few weeks, he’s stepped up because of injuries and done the job for us in three straight starts. Here’s a kid, one of the top students in the class, who waits his turn and is doing a great job. I’m just so proud of them all.”
Don’t overlook Lancers’ Polanco
Mike Yameen has had driven, dedicated kids before. He’s had some wilder, free spirit types too.
Together, they have merged on the corner, to form one of the league’s best-kept secrets. Here’s Yameen with more:
Jaddiel Polanco, cornerback: “I can’t say enough about him. He’s a kid you look at, and say no way he’s a football player. Then he goes out on the field and proves you wrong. The kid can really cover. He’s a player. We’re just starting the college process, and he’s the first to get everything in order. He’s driven to play at the next level. Now, I have to sell him to coaches, who are going to look at him and wonder what I’m talking about. Then we’ll show them the films. He’s done all we’ve asked, except catch the football. I always joke with him. What is a defensive back? He’s a wide receiver who can’t catch. But he’s been unbelievable.”
George Urena and Franger Baez, receivers: “It’s amazing what they’ve done after seeing little or no time on varsity last year. They’ve combined for almost 90 catches and over 1,500 yards with 15 TDs -- for guys who never played last year. But we tested them, and they came through with incredible patience and work ethic. I said it before, you find out in a season like this who really loves the game of football. And they really showed us something.”
Chris Pena, linebacker: “His stats won’t show it, but for threw years he’s been there for us at linebacker. The kid hasn’t missed a practice. He put a ton of work in, during the offseason and he took a leadership role this year that we couldn’t have gone without.”
Can Reggie 5 go one more step?
Greater Lawrence Tech coach Tony Sarkis has laid it out for his team plain and simple the last two weeks. “I don’t know if a win gets us into the state Vocational Bowl, but I know a loss (to Whittier tomorrow) and we’re out.”
It’s a point his five seniors, who’ve played together since fifth grade with the Junior Maulers, have been rallying around as the team preps for the Wildcats.
“Sophomore through senior year, they’ve kept us competitive all the way through,” said Sarkis of his hardened vets. The leaders are probably Marcus Ortiz and Cristian Rivera, with Jake Barchard and Victor Gonzalez.
“We’re a tailback high school and Cristian has been amazing, carrying on the tradition here. We’ve got a lot of personalities here, but if I had to pick a true leader, it might be J.J. Montero. The kid broke his leg, a bad break, at a 7 on 7 tournament this summer. They put a rod in it. The kid stuck right through the season. He’s there at every practice. And it was pretty amazing. He got cleared to play in the last game against Blue Hills. What a huge achievement to come back. And what a huge lift for the kids. It was an inspiration.”
Robart stands tall for Hillies
Haverhill coach Tim O’Connor wasn’t quite sure where Curtis Robart fit on the football field, but when he saw him work he was sure that he belonged somewhere.
“We never knew what position he should play,” said O’Connor of the 5-foot-9, 210-pounder. “We tried him at tailback, fullback, linebacker, guard, defensive end. And he gave it his all at all of them.”
The Hillies finally decided to let Robart loose as a hybrid linebacker-defensive end, and O’Connor is thrilled with the results.
“We could only ask him to do that because he is so smart,” said the coach. “We ask him to do four or five different things a game. We are running different defenses and blitzing more or less. But he is always up to it.”
At 6-foot-4 and 290, lineman Dan Burrows has earned the label of a “Gentle Giant.” But one fact is for sure.
“I wouldn’t want to make him mad,” said O’Connor.
Once he is on the football field, the four-year varsity starter flips the switch, and has been a key reason why Chance Brady is set to surpass 2,000 rushing yards for the season on Thanksgiving.
Rangers rely on Langford
Methuen coach Tom Tone wasn’t going to break out the stop watch and test it, but he swears something is different when watching Colin Langford run.
“I don’t know if he is actually getting any faster,” said Tone. “But his game speed is sure faster than it was. He was always good, but that breakout game was amazing.”
Langford had the game of his life against Lawrence, catching nine passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns.
Any football coach would be thrilled to welcome a player the size of 6-foot-2, 310 pound George DeLeon. Once the former Florida resident, then Lawrence High student, got the hang of the offense, he broke into the starting lineup on Week 3, and has been a mainstay throughout the season.
Rugged Hitchcock steps up
North Andover entered the season with the toughest co-captains around in 220-pound lineman Nate Hitchcock and 215-pound linebacker Glen Hartford. But, in the third game of the season, Hartford was lost for the year with a knee injury.
Asked to take on more of a leadership role, Hitchcock was ready to shoulder the load.
“When, all of a sudden, you are the only captain there is a lot of pressure,” said Scarlet Knights coach John Rafferty.
“But he really stepped up. He was the one that really led our offseason workout program, and he has been a rock for this team.
By any standards, Nick Oswald’s 402-yard, four-touchdown performance in a win over Dracut was spectacular. But it was a little extra special for those that knew his humble football beginings.
“This is a guy that has gotten every ounce out of his abilities,” said Rafferty. “He wasn’t a kid everyone was jumping at the chance to have on the field as a sophomore. But he kept working so hard, and he has taken the position by storm this season.”
Sachems surge for Hayden
Perhaps it’s the gnarled red beard that matches his 5-foot-10, 210-pound muscular frame. Or maybe it’s that Tim Freiermuth’s jersey and face seem to always be covered in mud from Pentucket’s perennially chopped up football field. But there something about the senior tight end/linebacker that screams football player.
“He has played through a lot of pain over the years,” said Sachems coach Steve Hayden. “He has done all we have asked of him and more.”
What more can be said about his leadership than that Freiermuth was the only player selected a captain for Pentucket this season, the first time the Sachems have had a single captain since 1998.
A four-year varsity player and three-year starter, Freiermuth moved to fullback for the first time this season, rushing for over 100 yards in an upset of Hamilton-Wenham.
But when the call came to move back to tight end, “Fry” did so without a peep.
While Freiermuth entered with plenty of hype, few would have expected Franco Pizzarella would become a key player three years ago when he barely tipped the scale at 120 pounds and struggled to find the field for the Pentucket freshman team.
But there was not quit in Pizzarella, who at 6-foot-1 and just 155 pounds has carved out a key role playing all over the field.
“He is one hard-nosed kid,” said Hayden.
“He has been our starting defensive end, and he has also played tight end and on the line.”
Many in Dan Thornton’s place would use his name to his advantage. After all, he shares that name with his father, Pentucket athletic director Dan Thornton. The younger Thornton, who is currently playing with a cast on his broken wrist, never made it an issue.
“It didn’t matter if his name was Dan Thornton or Dan Jones,” said Hayden. “One week he was playing split end, then tight end, then center and guard. He has done it all and he gives it everything.”
Lipani more than just speed, power
Much has been made of North Reading running back Carl Lipani’s amazing statistics over his two season as Hornets top running back.
But another side of Lipani most stands out to North Reading coach Jeff Wall.
“My 8-year-old daughter idolizes Carl,” said Wall. “After one game he was doing an interview with a reporter when my daughter ran over to him. He stopped the interview, got down on a knee and told her he scored a touchdown for her. Then he held her hand and they walked off the field together. He is a man of tremendous character and never lets his ego get in the way.”
Linebacker Mike Moscaritolo was on top of the world at the end of last season, after finishing with 123 tackles, 10 sacks and earning Eagle-Tribune All-Star honors.
But his enthusiasm turned to disappointment when, in a preseason scrimmage against Triton, he suffered a dislocated thumb, needed surgery and missed the first six games of the season.
Instead of wallowing in his troubles, Moscaritolo became a coach for his fellow linebackers. He was finally cleared to play against Manchester Essex, and over the last three games has regained his form as the Hornets set their eyes on a postseason run.
Haskell makes amazing return
Georgetown coach Paul Sobolewski wasn’t quite sure what to expect from senior Kenny Haskell. After suffering concussion issues as a sophomore, Haskell sat out his entire junior season. But he decided to come out this season, and the Royals are certainly happy he did.
“He came out, won the job at middle linebacker, and has had a great year,” said Sobolewski. “When you are as young a team as we are, you need someone that you can lead on, and he has been our guy.”
Sobolewski knew he was asking a lot when he asked receiver Tom Zargaj to move to running back after the Royals lost top back Matt Prescott to an injury.
But his anxiety was calmed when, in Zargaj’s first game at halfback, he broke off a 64-yard touchdown run.
“He had never played running back before and had five touchdown catches as a senior,” said Sobolewski. “But he graciously accepted the move and did a great job. He was also a great captain.”
No doubting Scarpa and his wit
Some could be self-conscious about their height, but Andover QB C.J. Scarpa — listed at 5-foot-9 — isn’t afraid to make light of the situation.
Following one snap over his head in the preseason, he could be heard saying to his center, ‘Hey, do you think I’m 6-feet-tall or something?’”
Scarpa, of course, has shattered the area record with 30 touchdown passes this season. And he’s already made his college plans. Next fall, he will be playing quarterback at Elon University in Elon, N.C.
Scarpa said he hopes the experience at the Division 1-AA school will help him in his goal to become a football coach after college.
Andover’s defense took a severe hit in Week 4 of the season, when the Golden Warriors lost star linebacker/kicker Mark Zavrl for the season with a torn ACL. But while he couldn’t be on the field, a little thing like knee surgery couldn’t keep him off the sidelines.
Just hours after he had surgery on Oct. 12, he was in a week chair on the sidelines watching his Golden Warriors beat Lawrence.
He does joke, however, that he remembers very little from the game due to the after-effects of the medication.
More recently, Zavrl has worn a path up and down the sidelines each game, barking out instructions and words of wisdom to his fellow linebackers.