The moment is very nearly here.
In a day, the sounds of shoulder pads cracking, quarterbacks barking out audibles, passes falling perfectly into receivers’ hands and linebackers dishing out huge hits will fill pristine turf stadiums and dusty back fields across the region.
That’s right, football is back.
High school football teams from both Massachusetts and New Hampshire open practice on Friday, kicking off what should be another stellar season on the local gridiron scene.
“We are all so excited to finally put the pads on and start playing football,” said Methuen star QB Connor Bryant. “Everyone has been working so hard in the offseason. Now we’re ready to take it to another level.”
New Hampshire teams have three weeks of work. The Granite State opens the regular season on Sept. 6-7. The majority of Massachusetts teams begin playing games the following week.
Right now, the Friday night lights and cheering crowds are far away. There is no glory here, just hard work and sweat.
“I’m excited to see what Blue Devil football has in store,” said Salem standout running back Brandon Wall, whose Blue Devils are coming off a run to the Division 1 semis before a loss to Pinkerton.
“We’ve been working so hard all summer. I can’t wait to be out there again with this team in the fall.”
Many are wondering what North Andover, fresh off its first state championship in program history and a perfect 13-0 season, can possibly do for an encore in 2019.
The Scarlett Knights were hit hard by graduation, but return Eagle-Tribune All-Star running back Freddy Gabin (955 rushing yard, 15 TDs) and received a big transfer in fellow Eagle-Tribune All-Star Ricky Brutus (676 rushing yards, 15 TDs).
“I know our kids, just like every high school football player, have circled this day on their calendar,” said Knights head coach John Dubzinski. “Last year is ancient history and it is crucial that we have great, up-tempo practices.”
There’s plenty of excitement in Methuen. The Rangers are led by Eagle-Tribune All-Star Bryant, who last fall was second in area with 1,543 passing yards, threw 14 touchdowns and ran for 892 yards and 13 TDs. His favorite receiver last year was Kareem Coleman (410 receiving yards, 5 TDs).
Another veteran QB is three-year Haverhill signal-caller Brady Skafas (656 yards, 5 TDs passing last year).
“It’s really exciting to be back on the field,” said Skafas. “It’s always exciting to start off with a clean slate. I can’t wait to see how it all comes together in my last year at Haverhill.”
Central Catholic will, as always, be in the hunt. Top returning players include receiver/defensive back Nick Donatio and tight end/linebacker Jermaine Wiggins.
“The players are excited to end the summer training and start playing football,” said Raider coach Chuck Adamopoulos.
Lawrence returns MVC All-Star QB Jacob Tamayo (1,032 yards, 9 TD passing) for head coach Rhandy Audate’s second season.
Andover’s Victor Harrington, who impressed as a freshman starter last year (1,300 yards, 15 TD passing), should show growth this fall. The Golden Warriors also return the likes of Yale-bound kicker/linebacker Shamus Florio.
Whittier has plenty to be thrilled about, with the return of Eagle-Tribune All-Star running back AJ Espinal (area-best 1,339 yards,14 touchdowns).
And while their archrival Greater Lawrence graduated 23 seniors, the Reggies are optimistic.
“We have the opportunity to work with some young kids and develop them quickly,” said coach Tony Sarkis.
Rounding out Massachusetts is Pentucket. A breakout star could by Jake Etter, who missed most of last fall with an injury but became an Eagle-Tribune All-Star in basketball and baseball.
Salem heads into 2019 with a potentially potent backfield. After the Blue Devils were devastated by injury last fall, Brandon Wall emerged and ran for 874 yards and nine touchdowns.
If Josh Maroun (529 rushing yards, 6 TDs in 2017) returns strong from his torn ACL, running behind the likes of Owen Gormley and Beau Dillon, the Blue Devils could be explosive.
Pinkerton, which advanced to the Division 1 title game for the second straight season, graduated five Eagle-Tribune All-Stars. But the Astros, as always, will find the next generation of key contributors.
Windham kicks off its second season in Division 1, and first under new head coach Jack Byrne, the team’s longtime defensive coordinator.
“I think the team has the opportunity to do something really special,” said Jaguars top lineman Bobby DiCicco. “Our entire offensive line is returning, and we will have athletic personnel in backfield. We feel like we have a chance at a huge season.”
Timberlane is celebrating 20 years since its last state title, and coach Kevin Fitzgerald is confident in his current squad.
“The energy and enthusiasm from players and coaches is contagious,” said Fitzgerald. “It’s always interesting to see the improvement in our older guys, and to see which younger guys will emerge into playing key roles.”
Josh White and Todd Alley take over as co-head coaches at Sanborn, the Indians’ third different head coach in three seasons.
And Pelham should have a dangerous passing game with quarterback Ian Hoey (1,123 yards, 17 TDs passing) returning for his third year under center.
There’s plenty of excitement across the region.
“The Windham players, coaches, and community are so excited for the season to kick off,” said Byrne. “I get texts every day from kids, parents, and others around Windham counting down the days.”
That countdown is just about to end.
Contact David Willis at @DWillisET or DWillis@eagletribune.com.