The wait may seem to last fall for football to start, whether it be high school, college or professional. But, for those around Haverhill who are looking to get a head start on watching the game, there’s a new team in town.
The Haverhill Hitmen begin their inaugural season in the New England Football League on July 20, when they host the Mass. Warriors at Trinity (Haverhill) Stadium (6 p.m.).
From scratch, the Hitmen have been built by a group of people who, according to head coach Emilio Colon, simply love the game and can’t get away from it. The team, comprised of a host of former local stars, is ready and raring to go already.
“It’s been a great experience to build a team and grow the camaraderie,” Colon said. “I’m looking forward to the season. I really am.”
Colon’s excitement is being met by the crop of players around him, including former Haverhill High standout Tim Nutter at quarterback, plus former Whittier star and Sacred Heart tight end Jaylin Deveau.
Other local stars, like Haverhill grads Malcolm Novello and Aaron Brooks, as well as Whittier grad Nate Allen, are expected to contribute, too.
In fact, Colon estimates somewhere over 90% of his players are products of Haverhill and Whittier. The rest of the squad is made up of players from Lawrence, Salem and a few other nearby cities and towns.
“It’s a good mix of local talent,” Colon said. “As of right now, we seem to be in good shape. ... It’s coming together nicely, the city of Haverhill has embraced us and it’s looking very positive. That’s for sure.”
As for the staff, which includes current Haverhill High assistant Jeremiah Arriaga as the defensive coordinator, the blend between players and coaches is going smoothly.
Colon has been around the block long enough to keep these things in check.
The Lawrence native and Lawrence High grad played quarterback at the University of Maine. He’s a Lawrence Hall of Famer and, after a nine-year career, a New England Football League Hall of Famer, too.
Having coached in the NEFL since 2006, he’s confident about moving the Hitmen in the right direction.
“Football is just in my blood,” Colon said. “I’ve been doing this for a very long time.”
As for the season ahead, there is optimism.
Practices have been going on since May, and the Hitmen have held a handful of scrimmages, too. Games are on Saturdays and there is only one day of practice per week, on Wednesdays.
“It’s a long day, those Wednesday nights, but it’s the love of the game that brings everybody there,” Colon said.
When the season officially begins, the Hitmen will be on level ground with the rest of the NEFL. But things have been a bit different, starting with how they came to be.
Colon said most teams charge dues to play, but, other than uniform costs, the Hitmen have raised money through sponsorship and fundraisers. They hosted a golf tournament and held a raffle, doing what they can to cover the costs.
The goal is sustenance, then excellence, from the group of “working men doing what they love — football.”
“This is going to be a team that will hopefully be around for a while,” Colon said. “Nothing’s handed to us. We’re a bunch of guys trying to find our way in this league. The fact of the matter is, as long as we work together and work hard, we’ll be successful.”
Meet the Hitmen
Who: Haverhill semi-pro football team
League: New England Football League (NEFL)
Home field: Trinity Stadium
Opening game: July 20, 6 p.m., home vs. Mass. Warriors
Head coach: Emilio Colon
Find out more: Haverhill Hitmen on Facebook