WEST ANDOVER — It’s difficult for even Franklyn Espinal to define his role for Greater Lawrence.
He’s an outside linebacker, for sure, and an impact one at that. On offense — that’s a bit more complicated.
“My role is whatever can best help the team in the moment,” he said. “If you need a long catch, or if you need a tough 3-yard run for a first down, then that’s my role. As long as I can get that first down, or touchdown, I’m doing my job.”
A running back/receiver hybrid, who played quarterback for the first time in his career on the night before Thanksgiving, Espinal is one of the driving forces behind Division 7 North champion Greater Lawrence (7-5), which will look to end 2019 with a bang, when it hosts Assabet Valley (9-3) in the State Vocational Large School Bowl on Thursday (6 p.m.)
“We can still win a championship this fall,” said Espinal, whose Reggies won the Vocational Bowl in overtime last fall. “It stunk that we lost in the state semifinals, but this still feels like a state title game for us. We’re so excited. We’re saving up all of our energy, and we’re going to let it all out on the football field.”
Few players have meant more to the Reggies this fall than the 5-foot-8, 170-pound senior who is best described by the baseball term, utility man.
Espinal enters the season finale with 56 carries for 417 yards and five touchdowns rushing, 13 catches for 216 yards and a touchdown receiving, he threw a touchdown on Thanksgiving and has added two defensive touchdowns.
Not bad for a first-year starter.
“Franklyn is a clear example of how hard work pays off,” said Greater Lawrence head coach Tony Sarkis. “He worked so hard in the offseason. He really bought into our system and is a great teammate. He has done a great job for us this year.”
A Lawrence resident who moved from Haverhill in middle school, Espinal began seeing varsity time last fall as a fill-in linebacker for a Reggies squad that went 10-3 and beat Northeast in the Vocational Large Bowl.
This fall, he was determined to make an even bigger impact.
“I wanted to show that I was the best man for the job,” said Espinal, who studies automotive but now hopes to pursue electrical. “I knew I had to step up. Knowing that I was going to be a starter gave me a sense of responsibility. I wanted to set the tone for the defense, and set the bar as high as I could.”
From his outside backer spot, Espinal has helped lead a Reggies defense that has allowed 16.3 points per game, including a pair of shutouts.
“Our guys are never that big, but we know how to hit,” he said. “All of our alums are guys that loved to lay the boom. I learned from them to fear no man. In football, it’s hit or get hit. It’s never going to be easy to run the ball my way. They’re going to know No. 8 is out there.”
On offense, Espinal has a pair of 100-yard rushing games, and caught five passes for 137 yards and a touchdown in the state semifinal loss to Abington. But he took on a whole different challenge on the night before Thanksgiving, when he filled in at quarterback for area rushing leader Shamil Diaz, who was out with a concussion.
“I had never played quarterback,” Espinal said. “But as soon as we found out Shamil was hurt, I had to step up. The coaches knew I could run the ball and take the hits. I have a pretty decent arm, and I know the playbook. So they took a chance on me.”
Espinal ended up running for a game-high 142 yards and completed three passes, included a 17-yard touchdown.
With Diaz expected to be back on Thursday, Espinal will switch back to his familiar utility role on offense, and plans to turn in a few big plays in his final high school game.
“Personally, I’d like to have 100 yards receiving, intercept a pass and force a fumble,” he said. “But, at the end of the day, I just want to do whatever I can to help my team win the title.”
TD VARIETY PACK
Greater Lawrence’s Franklyn Espinal has scored a touchdown five different ways this fall.
Rushing: Has five ground TDs, the longest two 25-yard scores.
Receiving: Caught a 45-yard TD from Shamil Diaz in the Division 7 state semifinals.
Passing: Threw a 17-yard TD to Christopher Tineo on Thanksgiving.
Interception: Returned a pick 35 yards for a TD against Lowell Catholic.
Fumble: Returned a fumble 61 yards for a score against Nashoba Tech.
Miscellaneous: Sacked a QB in the end zone for a safety against Wakefield and has scored two 2-point conversions.
Contact David Willis at @DWillisET or DWillis@eagletribune.com.