Friday, December 17, 2010

Unsung Seniors

The Pioneers held their annual breakup banquet last Sunday and the Moms did a tremendous job putting together the event. The Middle School Cafeteria was festooned with plenty of Blue and Gold with beautiful centerpieces on the tables A delicious steak dinner was served and there was an array of homebaked desserts to die for. Not to mention (Shameless Plug Alert!) the outstanding photo collages of all the seniors by Sunrise Photography that were prominently displayed.

Head Coach Neal Weidman and the coaching staff presented a host of awards. You can check out my Villager article and photos in this week's edition for all the details.

"I'd like to tell the players how much respect we have as coaches for playing football, for playing a whole season," the coach said as he began his comments. "In Massachusetts, it's a long season. They show up the third week in August when it's a hundred degrees out and they play until Thanksgiving Day when it can be ten degrees out. It's a tough thing for everybody but we have a lot of respect for all these guys.Without them it doesn't matter. They're the reason we're here."

All season long, there was much talked and written about the outstanding stars of the team, and all if it was well deserved. At the banquet there was also some heartfelt comments about some of the other seniors who did not get as much recognition during the year.

I thought this would be a good time to share some of those tributes for those of you who were not able to attend the event. And for those of you who were there, I'm sure you won't mind revisiting them.

In no particular order, here are your 2010 Lynnfield Pioneer Unsung Seniors, as described by their coaches.

John Bossi
"John really grew as a player and as a person over the last four years," Weidman said. "He took advantage of his opportunity to play this year and I am extremely happy for his success this year and I'm very proud of his efforts."

In presenting Bossi with the game ball for the Chelsea win, defensive coordinator Greg Haberland said Bossi was "someone who will always hold a special place for me because of how far he came as a football player this year. He worked hard in the offseason and became a difference maker this year. I coach football to provide student-athletes with positive experiences. When you see someone like this individual change in front of your eyes and develop into a hard working football player that's what's most rewarding to see as a coach.

"This guy is why I coach football," Haberland went on. "I'm very proud of him. I'll always remember him for the effort that he put in every day in practice. It's not always about the wins. It's about helping young men to achieve success. This guy made the season for me."

Ben Kendrew
"I was very happy when Ben decided to play this year," Weidman said. "Had he played for four years I believe Ben would have been a very good high school football player. I was actually surprised at how good he actually was. Unfortunately there's a lot to learn in football. Probably any other year than last year Ben gets a lot more playing time than he did because he was that good. I have a lot of respect for him coming out as a senior and showing up every day. He worked hard and stuck it out for the entire year."

Rich Dimare
"It was nice to get Rich back this year," said Weidman. "He took some time off from football but decided to come out after the season started. He gave us some depth at the line positions. It's always nice to have a positive senior join the team."

Wes Sullivan
"Wes had a great senior year," Weidman said. "As a junior we could see him technique-wise in the defensive backfield as probably the best guy that we had. He was real close to becoming a starter. He defended against all potential big plays this year. I don't think anything got over his head. He defended a ton of passes. He tackled well in the run game. For guys that don't get beat deep it's not easy for them to get involved in the run game but he did that when he needed to. Wes was given Honorable Mention honors for All-League deservedly so.

"Going into the season we had a bit of concern about our defensive backfield only because we graduated all three starters and it ended up being a strength for us and Wes was a big reason why."

In presenting Sullivan the game ball for the Danvers win, assistant coach Chris Sakelakos said that Sullivan rose above the rest of the young defensive backs to become the vocal leader of the group and "backed it up by playing with intensity and confidence."

Tim Shannon
"Mr. Consistency," Weidman called him. "Tell Tim to do something once and you never have to tell him ever again. It's really amazing actually. During the Amesbury game they had a little bit of success on us in the beginning of the game throwing the ball. They were throwing it underneath our zone a little bit. At halftime we told everybody to guard them a little bit closer within your zone. Done. That's it. No more success for them. All we had to do was tell Tim once and that was it. He tightened up a little bit, knocked down every pass they decided to throw. Down 13-7 at the half we ended up winning 30-13. Tim was a big reason we were able to do that. Tim was also given Honorable Mention for All League."

In his presentation speech for the game ball for the Bishop Fenwick win, Sakelakos described Shannon as the kind of guy that "doesn't say much, leads by example, always know what he is doing and where he is supposed to be at all times. He knows what everyone else is supposed to be doing and can tell them if they don't know. He's dependable, consistent and steady at all times."

During the Bishop Fenwick game, Shannon was called on to cover Ryan Lipka, who would go on to catch over a hundred balls, breaking the Massachusetts high school record for receptions. The Pioneers held Fenwick to 30% pass completions (11 for 34). Shannon had two tackles and an interception in leading the Pioneer defensive backs.

In presenting the LAA Scholar Athlete of the Year  award, Weidman said of Shannon, "not only is he one of the nicest kids in the school but he had a great season as a football player his senior year. Most impressively is that he is also a phenomenal student. He brings our overall GPA up and makes us look a little better to the rest of the school. He has a GPA of 4.23."

Craig Cataldo
"Craig was a great addition to our team this year," Weidman said. "To be honest with you, going into the season  we weren't sure how the offensive line was going to shake out. Then we lost Evan (Panzero) and we didn't know Craig was going to play but when we passed out equipment he was there. To be able to start both ways after not playing a down of high school football  is really a testament to his athletic ability. He really made himself into a good offensive lineman. He was limited on technique only because he hadn't played before. Craig was given Honorable Mention for All League this year."

"I always felt like there was a ton of talent walking the halls of Lynnfield High and sometimes the most talented athletes just don't play football," Line coach Gino Fodera wrote in his presentation speech awarding Cataldo the Ipswich win game ball. "My first day of football this year coach said to me 'hey we got a kid who's a first year player who's a senior' and I said, 'good maybe he can help us.' When I walked into the team meeting and saw him I said 'ok,we have to use his size somewhere on the O-line.

"From day one his form and technique were on cue," Fodera went on. "It seemed as if he had been playing for years. He's one of the most coachable players I've ever dealt with and I wish he was coming back next year."

Fodera noted that when the Pioneers were prepping for Ipswich, they were keying on a particular Tiger lineman that was a two time All League player. According to Fodera, Cataldo dominated him throughout that game.

"I seriously wish I sent that film to the people who voted for All League because it clearly belonged to Craig Cataldo for that game," Fodera noted.

Matt Kelly
"Matt is a very good athlete who most years is a two way starter for us," said Weidman. "He had no high school playing experience until this year. His speed and quickness was a great attribute to our special teams. If we hadn't had the players that we had this year in front of him I believe that he would have had great success not only on special teams but also on offense and defense as well."

Coach John O'Brien said that Kelly played special teams all year and was the leading special teams tackler.
In presenting Kelly with the game ball for the Cathedral win, O'Brien noted that Kelly had four tackles and two interceptions. On the season, Kelly had 31 tackles, three interceptions, a blocked punt, a PAT block and forced fumble.

Nick Burtman
"Nick turned himself into a very good and consistent offensive lineman," Weidman said. "He made himself a lot stronger over the last four years and became one of the stronger guys on the team. He had some games where he really moved some people. Our offense is predicated on our running game and you have to get movement on the double team. The reason we were able to run the ball so well this year was in part because of  Nick Burtman. One of the other reasons our line was able to come together was because of his consistency."

In awarding Burtman a game ball for the Manchester Essex win, line coach Fodera noted that the Hornets had a reputation for being big and physical up front "so we made it a point to tell the guys at practice to match their physicality." According to Fodera, Burtman  "in particular really played up to the challenge. He really did his job blocking for the O-line opening up holes and pass blocking."

According to Fodera on one particular play Burtman trapped his man with "perfect form. He hit him so hard his helmet flew off his head and opened a hole that was textbook. I will show this one play to younger players for years to come. That's how you trap block."

Fodera summed up "we were lucky to have a player like Burt the hurt."

Pete Foustoukas
"Pete had a great year," Weidman said. "One of those guys that as a junior was right there on the edge of playing. He kind of got overlooked a little this year. Being in the same receiving corps with Steve (Ullian), Ricky (Berardino) and A.J. (Roberto) will do that to you. He had three of the best players in the league that he had to share the spotlight with. Pete knew that and was willing to do the other things. Block, try to motivate the team when he could, all the little things that we needed. In the Amesbury game not only did Pete motivate everybody at halftime, but also had a huge catch on the scoring drive that gave us the lead that we needed. I give him a lot of credit for that."

"Pete was a guy that got better as the year went on and worked very hard in practice," Haberland said about Foutoukas in presenting him with the Amesbury win game ball. "I really pushed him at times. I told him before the season that he's a senior now and there are no more excuses and he responded. He even said to one of the coaches 'I don't think coach Habs likes me very much.' Actually it was the opposite. I really liked him and I wanted him to succeed which he did. He cared and it meant a lot to him. Not just for him to succeed but for his teammates to succeed. I always saw him giving his teammates word of encouragement.

"As the season progressed," Haberland continued. "He made some big catches as a result of all of his hard work in practice. In the Amesbury game it all came together. He made a big catch for a first down. That drive ended up being the go-ahead TD and we never looked back after that."

Haberland noted that this year's seniors "were part of two seasons of real good football. Our society nowadays measures success by wins and losses. This group is 19-4. Pretty impressive. It really changed Lynnfield football. When I first started four years ago we could see that we had a special group here and they proved it. It was a pleasure coaching this group."

Special teams coach Fern Lavoie provided the perfect summary with his final address to the seniors.

"Everything you need to know about yourself, you've learned from playing football," Lavoie said to the seniors. "You know how you respond to adversity, you know how you respond to challenges, you know how you work in a group and you know how well you work with other people and the respect that you have for your teammates. If you like what you saw in yourself, then by all means carry that with you and make that part of your personality. Make that part of your inner core. And if you're not so happy with it, it's never too late for you to change your path. You're all great guys, and I think you all have a wonderful life ahead of you and it's been a pleasure working with you."

Offseason Posting Schedule
The season may be over, but I will be keeping the blog alive during the offseason. I'll be posting on the first Friday of every month until the 2011 season begins in August. My first post of the new year will be on January 7 when I will highlight the Top Plays of 2010. Be sure to check back for that.

I would also like to thank you all for the overwhelmingly positive response I have received in regards to the blog. Since the beginning of the season, over 1800 unique readers have visited the blog with almost 14,000 page views. I'm told there are readers from many other states and this has become a way for friends and family to follow the Pioneers during the season.

As you can imagine, it takes a good deal of time to put these together, but it is truly a labor of love. I appreciate the support and kind words, and if you continue to read, I'll continue to write.

In closing, I'd like to wish you all a Happy Holiday seaon and a healthy and prosperous New Year.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Pioneers Dominate CAL Small All Stars

In this week's Villager, you will find many photos, my game report and articles on co-captain Gino Cohee and the Pioneer's point scoring spree this year. There is also an article by Dan Tomasello listing the Pioneers who were named to the CAL Small All League Team.

The Pioneers captured six of the 24 spots on the team, most of any team in the league.

Co-Captain A. J. Roberto led the way, being named the League's Player of the Year for his strong two way play as a receiver and linebacker. This is his second year earning All League honors.

This is the second year in a row that a Pioneer was named Player of the Year. Receiver/defensive back Chris Grassi earned the honor last year.

Lynnfield nailed down four of the 11 offensive slots. Co-Captains Gino Cohee at quarterback - his second straight year as All League, Jeff  Gannon at running back and Steve Ullian at wide receiver were all named. Offensive lineman Jonathan Roberto joined his brother on the all league squad, one of only four juniors selected.

Senior Rick Berardino was selected as a defensive back, the only Pioneer named to the All League defense.

Four other Pioneers received Honorable Mention recognition: Senior defensive backs Tim Shannon and Wes Sullivan and senior lineman/linebacker Craig Cataldo. Sophomore lineman Andrew Kibarian also received Honorable Mention, one of only five sophomores named.

The group will be among those honored at the team's breakup banquet on December 12.