Thursday, February 2, 2012

Awards Night!

Since this is awards season - People's Choice, Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, Grammys etc - I thought it would be a good time to review the 2011 Pioneer awards that were presented at the end of year dinner. My article in the Villager in early December detailed all the winners but there were some great comments that accompanied the awards that I thought would be good to share.

First, however, I thought I'd start with head coach Neal Weidman's reflections on the Pioneers' 2011 season that ended with a 5-6 record.

"Anyone that plays this game, I have a ton of respect for," the coach said in his opening remarks. "It's not easy. Football practice can be tough. It's not always fun but it's necessary. The games, especially when you win, are unbelievably rewarding for a lot of different reasons. One the amount of work you need to put in in order to play this game. Also you only get to play once a week. Most other sports you are going to play a couple of times a week. We ask these guys to come six days a week and five of those days are practice and one day is to play the game. So to put that much work in it's very rewarding when you have some success.

"The season this year," Weidman went on, "we had our ups and downs no doubt. We got hit by the injury bug not just one time during the season but a couple of different times. At one point I think we had five seniors injured which is always difficult. There's a trickle down effect. We end up having to bump guys up to take those positions and it goes all the way down through the JV team.

"We played some really strong games," he continued. "To sum up how really close we were, were two games that we lost. Two teams that represented Division 3A this year we faced played in the playoffs and that was Newburyport and Hamilton Wenham. They played a very close 7-0 game which wasn't a surprise to me because they were both very strong defensive teams in different ways. Newburyport was a little bit faster and Hamilton Wenham a little bit stronger.

"We played Newburyport the first game of the year," the coach said. "We were only returning three starters on both sides of the ball. All of our skill position players had never started a varsity game offensively. We really didn't know what to expect. Late in the third quarter it was 14-14. We had a quick whistle on a zone read where Mike (Karavetsos) was running down the sideline for a touchdown and the referee blew the whistle. He thought the running back had the ball. That kind of turned the momentum around in that game. We ended up losing that game but we played them really tough and that was a team that went to the playoffs.

"The other game, I know everybody knows, was the Hamilton Wenham game. They were undefeated all the way to the Super Bowl . They probably would have won that game but the Player of the Year in our league (quarterback Trevor Lyons) got hurt in the first half of the Super Bowl game and they only lost by two points. That was tough for them. But that game that we played them went into overtime. They had not really been challenged the entire year. Their closest game that they played all year other than our game was 18-6 against Newburyport in the regular season. They'd beaten everybody pretty badly.

"After the Hamilton Wenham game this year we did not play our best football for whatever reason," Weidman said. "But we were really that close up to that point which is really a tribute considering the amount of new guys that we were breaking in this year. We had 13 seniors but a lot of them were either first year or only had played a couple of years. I was really proud of that as far as that effort goes.

"Lastly, Thanksgiving Day," the coach said. "It's a tribute to the entire team of how every single person is capable of stepping up and we believe that we can do that. Early on the game was going well. Shortly thereafter the quarterback gets hurt. To compound that, our second string quarterback had mono and couldn't play so we were asking a freshman and sophomore to step in on Thanksgiving Day and they did that. And that's just one example of what these guys had to do throughout the year. We had to do that alot because of the different types of injuries we had throughout the year.

"For that these guys should be proud," Weidman concluded. "No one talked about it. No one complained about it. They just did what we asked them to do. We put kids in and they played. And they did well considering the circumstances. The boys deserve a round of applause for that."

Following the coach's remarks, the season awards were presented.

And now, the envelopes please...

Senior Captain Jonathan Roberto (Team MVP, All League Offensive Line, Captain Award)
"Not only was he an All League selection, he was our emotional leader," Weidman said in presenting Roberto with the Team MVP award. "He played every play with a very high motor. He played positions that are difficult to judge by stats. If you're an offensive linemen, you don't get a whole lot of stats. If you're a defensive linemen, you don't necessarily always make a lot of tackles because a lot of the job of the defensive linemen is to take up blockers so the linebackers can make the tackles.

"Obviously we are going to miss Jon as a football player," Weidman said. "What we'll miss most is his toughness and versatility. He played on our offensive line, played defensive tackle and defensive end for us. He was a long snapper. He did everything for us at one time or another."

Junior Andrew Kibarian (Team Offensive Player of the Year, All League Defensive Line)
"This was a very difficult decision for the coaches," said assistant coach Gino Fodera in presenting the Offensive Player of the Year award to Kibarian. "This year we had 1300 yards passing and over 1600 yards rushing. Without him and his fellow teammates that would have never happened. He is a player that has the ball in his hands on every play. (Center) was a position we asked him to play last year, a position he had never played before. It is one of the most important positions in football. He's been a force on both sides of the ball the last couple of years. On offense (other teams) tend not to blitz up the middle because they know it wouldn't work.

"One game in particular stands out," Fodera went on. "Pentucket had a stud middle linebacker. I told him all week he had to block this guy. On Saturday he did that and we won the game."

Junior Tyler Palumbo (Team Defensive Player of the Year, Gutso Award, All League Honorable Mention)
"He is a two year starter at linebacker and filled in as a freshman due to injuries," assistant coach John O'Brien said in presenting the Defensive Player of the Year Award to Palumbo. "He led the team in tackles. He had a big blocked PAT against Amesbury to preserve a 14-13 win. He had a huge hit of the week against Ipswich to cause a fumble which he also recovered in a 13-7 win. He recorded 12 tackles in that game. He averaged 11.8 tackles game. He had a real nose for the football. He plays with a great passion and emotion and is liked and respected by his peers. He is a vocal leader on defense and we expect big things from him next year."

Palumbo also received the team's Gutso Award.

"This is an award for guys that work hard on defense, work hard on special teams because they don't get the every day press with all the touchdowns and the yardage," O'Brien said in presenting the Gutso Award to Palumbo. "He follows in great footsteps of (prior winners) George Hennessey and A. J. Roberto. Points are added for tackles, interceptions, blocked punts, blocked PAT's, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, sacks, defensive touchdowns, special teams touchdowns and the hit of the week. He had 153 points - 120 tackles, one PAT block, five forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, one sack, one defensive touchdown and one hit of the week."

Junior D. J. DeGeorge (All League Defensive Line, Amesbury Game Ball)
"There were a handful of kids that could have gotten this game ball," Fodera said. "But one play really stuck out in our minds.  It was a game changing play. After being double teamed all game and with Amesbury driving on our 25 yard line D. J. busted through and caused the fumble. A. J. Gallo scooped and scored and that would end up being the winning play. If D. J. , doesn't make that play, we probably don't have a game ball to give out for that win."

"He finished the year with 57 tackles and six sacks," Fodera said.

Senior Steve Yobaccio (All League Wide Receiver, Pentucket Game Ball)
"Steve Yobaccio grew as a player over four years," Weidnman said. "He took advantage of his opportunity to get playing time this year. I was proud of his efforts and he was named as an All League Receiver this year."

"The Pentucket game was a big win for us this year," said assistant coach John Dimarco in presenting Yobaccio with the Pentucket game ball. "He had four tackles on defense and had the game winning touchdown on offense. When he made the catch on offense it was really a great catch where he had to adjust for the football, still run another ten or fifteen yards. I wasn't surprised at all because he is one of the hardest workers in practice every day. When we would do stations and groups he was the first guy up. He worked the whole four minutes of the station and never let down. He was a great leader and part of the reason he made All League receiver was because he had a real selfless attitude. He made a lot of great blocks that sometimes go unnoticed and sprung touchdowns so it wasn't just his ability to make catches. We are really going to miss him next year too."

Junior Mike Karavetsos (All League Quarterback, Ipswich Game Ball)
"The Ipswich game was our first league game," said assistant coach Fern Lavoie in presenting the Ipswich game ball to Karavetsos. "We knew we had to win this game to get off to a good start in our league. Mike ran the ball 17 times for 70 yards and a score. He also threw the ball for another 85 yards and a touchdown pass which proved to be the winning score because we won the game 13-6. Mike completed 74 of 146 passes for 1249 yards for the year. That's the third best record in the last 23 years of Lynnfield High School football. He also ran the ball 123 times for eight touchdowns and 765 yards. His 13 touchdown pass for the year tied for the single season record. His 13 touchdown passes was third in the division and he's sixth on the list of all time touchdown passes for Lynnfield."

Senior Captain John Gaff (Coaches Award, All League Honorable Mention, Captain Award)
"John was a two year starter and senior captain," said Weidman. "His improvement from freshman year until the time he was a senior was really amazing. He was a player who made the most out of his natural size and he made the most of it because he decided he was going to work at it. After his freshman year he put in the time and was able to turn himself into a two year starter."

"He wasn't the biggest, he wasn't the fastest, he wasn't the strongest," said Fodera in presenting the Coaches Award to Gaff. "But the one thing he had is heart and a passion for the game. This is a kid that came out every single day. He slugged it out fifteen hours a week not including the weight room and film room. In three years, I don't think he missed one practice. He is a kid I respect a lot and his parents should be proud because he's a top notch kid and I'm glad I met him. He was always trying to get himself better. "

Senior Captain Mike Thomas (All League Honorable Mention, Georgetown Game Ball, Captain Award)
"Mike missed the majority of the season," said Weidman, "which is always tough for anybody but especially for a senior captain who played four years for us. That was a big loss. He was a big part of our offensive plan. He had a great junior year. An explosive running back. His leadership was fantastic. He showed up every day when he was hurt. Every single day. And fulfilled his captain's duties while he was hurt and I'm most proud of Mike for that."

"Mike broke his collarbone - broke it - and was supposed to be out six weeks," Weidman said in presenting Thomas his Captain's Ball Award. "He was only out five weeks. He came back early. The doctor told him he could. He didn't advise it. I asked him if he was sure. I called his parents and asked them if they were sure. They said 'he wants to do it.' He came to me and said 'I want to play my last few games of high school football.'

"This gentleman battled injuries all year," said O'Brien in presenting the Georgetown game ball to Thomas. "He lost five full games and half of two others. But he still showed up every day for practice. That says a lot about a kid. He made the commitment to himself and he made the commitment to his teammates. Season stats for the year 55 carries 322 yards two touchdowns. Four catches for 67 yards and one touchdown. More important than the stats, I believe, was his leadership which was very, very, very much at the forefront. He had that electrifying 85 yard touchdown run to open the second half of the Georgetown game."

Sophomore Kyle McGah (Courage Award, All League Honorable Mention)
"We asked Kyle to do a lot for us - a lot," Weidman said in presenting the Courage Award to McGah. "He played running back, played middle linebacker, punted, first protector on the punt team, wing on extra point, kickoff and kickoff return teams as well as many other things. We asked him to do all these things even though he was only a sophomore. At times I forgot he was only a sophomore. He did it and he did it well.

"This was especially courageous for him, not only because of his age," the coach went on, "but because he did it all only a month after his dad passed away."

Senior Cameron Weeks (LAA Scholar Athlete)
"Cam is a four year player," Weidman said, "and he made himself better each year. More impressive than his improvement over a four year period as far as football goes is how he was able to find a balance between his academics and his athletics. His consistency in the classroom was unbelievable. Cam has a 4.2 GPA."

Senior Dan Ashwell (Bishop Fenwick Game Ball)
"Dan had a great senior year," Weidman said. "He was fantastic for us at corner. He defended against all potential big players. He also played receiver where he was a big play threat for us. He has a ton of athleticism and speed and was able to use that this year."

"Dan was great for us all year on both sides of the ball," said Dimarco in presenting Ashwell with the Bishop Fenwick game ball. "This particular game he had 109 yards receiving on four receptions and two touchdowns. On defense he had two tackles and one interception. We always knew that we could count on him on offense, on defense, on special teams to be a leader with the defensive backs and wide receivers. He was a great kid to have and we're really going to miss him next year."

Senior Tyler Shaffer (Unsung Hero Award)
"Tyler was a four year player who always gave his best," Weidman said. "It was an absolute pleasure to have him on the team. He was consistent and reliable and we knew we could always count on Shaff when we needed him."

"It's a pleasure to give this guy a little recognition after four years of his service here at Lynnfield High School," said O'Brien in presenting the Unsung Hero Award to Shaffer. "Great kid. Comes to practice every day with a smile on his face ready to go. His teammates thought the world of him. Sometimes it's tough when you don't get a lot of playing time to get yourself out of bed on a Saturday morning but the man was here every Saturday. It's much appreciated. I had a lot of fun with him. He's a terrific kid and I wish him the best."

Senior Nico Varano (12th Man Award)
"It was nice to get Nico back this year," Weidman said. "He played as a freshman, took his sophomore and junior year off as far as football goes and then he came back which was great. He's a great kid and he had a very, very good senior year.  He played a lot of receiver for us, gave us depth at defensive back and probably more importantly, he was a very positive influence throughout the year."

"His importance to the team could be easily overlooked," assistant coach Chris Sakelakos said in presenting the 12th Man Award to Varano. "We felt as coaches that he was an enormous asset to the team. He could be plugged into any one of the four receiver position and know what he was doing immediately. He would also tell the younger players what they should be doing if they were confused. He had some big catches including a couple of touchdowns throughout the year. He grew tremendously as the year went on as well as giving the full amount of effort at all times. Most importantly I feel he helped the character of the team. He was always in good spirits and brought a lot to the team."

Sophomore Ryan Devoe (Scout Team)
"The scout team award is one that I feel is most important," said Sakelakos in presenting the honor to Devoe. "Being on the scout team is one of the hardest things to do as a player. You go out and run the other team's plays and you kind of take a beating from the older kids. We run the same plays over and over and you get hit time and time and time again by the biggest kids on the team. It's pretty thankless. We have many scout teams. Ryan volunteered every single time. We didn't have to call him out or look for him. He immediately jumped in. He was a running back, linebacker by position but throughout the scout teams he played receiver, jumped in at goal line, jumped in at the d-line at different position drills. So much that we started worrying about him that he would keep getting up. He kept plugging away at it and we want to recognize him for it."

Senior Sendoff
As has become his tradition, Weidman made sure to recognize each senior, regardless of whether or not they won an award. 

"The hardest thing about coaching," Weidman said, "is having to say goodbye to the seniors. You know it's the end of something. When you play your last game the feeling that you get is tough. As coaches, we get that feeling every single year. That becomes very difficult."

The coach then took a minute to speak about each of the other seniors on this year's squad.

"Frank Coburn wasn't able to play this year because of injury," Weidman said. "He got hurt the first week of the season which was a big loss for the team. Frank played on all of our special teams and played defensive line for us."

"In the Amesbury game, the second game of the year," Weidman said, "Jon Rogers had either the longest or second longest play from scrimmage this year. Just as he was starting to hit his stride for us he was injured - another senior that was out for the entire year. I really think that he would have had a big year for us." 

"I was very happy that Mike Doherty decided to play this year. Had he been here all four years I believe he would have been a very good player for us. Unfortunately he got injured just as he started to earn himself more playing time. I have a lot of respect for him. He moved here his junior year and what he's been able to do as far as playing athletics here at Lynnfield and also coming in and fitting in with kids he just met as a junior is something I'm real proud of."

"Jared Owen was a great addition to the varsity this year," Weidman said. "He was a starter on most of our special teams and he also gave us depth at the tight end position. He really grew as a player and as a person and it was great to have him back this year."

"Joe Mehr came out as a junior and ended up working his way on the field," the coach said. "He was a special teamer as a senior and got playing time. I can say a lot about Joe football wise, but more importantly, next year Joe is going to be serving our country and I wish him luck with that. He will be in our thoughts next year."

"What has happened here is that when seniors leave, they never really completely leave," Weidman summed up. "They are always welcome back. They are always a part of it. We have kids come back all the time and it doesn't matter whether you were 10-1 or 1-10. Because of the commitment these guys have made they'll always be part of the Lynnfield football program.

Varsity Certificates

Getting their varsity certificates were Mike Doherty, A. J. Gallo, Nico Varano, Giulio Pellegrini, Kyle McGah, Anthony Costa, Alex Roper (who was also named All League Honorable Mention), Matt Kramich, Anthony Mancini, Mike Karavetsos, Alex Pascucci (who was also named All League Honorable Mention), Tyler Palumbo, Mike Thomas, Jared Owen, Dan Ashwell, Frank Coburn, Tyler Shaffer, Joe Mehr, Alex Rugato, Jon Roberto, Terin O'Neill, Michael Bonafine, Connor Lordan, Corey Ragusa, Cam Weeks, Andrew Kibarian, Zack Panzini, John Gaff, Andrew Mucci, Dom Costa, D. J. DeGeorge, Jonathan Rogers, Mike Soden and Steve Yobaccio.

JV Certificates
In a sign that bodes well for the future, the Pioneers had a huge group of underclassmen. Sakelakos presented JV certificates to 12 sophomores and 20 freshmen. The most impressive thing about that is that 31 of those players were on the Pioneers' opening day roster. So instead of the usual attrition that occurs during the course of the season, the squad coached by Sakelakos and Vincent Calderone actually INCREASED by one. That is normally unheard of.

Earning their JV certificates were sophomores Shyheim Cole, Ryan Devoe, Franz Kalanderi, David Aiken, Pierce James, Jake Dalton, Matt Connolly, Joe Dias, Nick Bucci, Anthony Vaccaro, Chris Brown and Kenny Grant and freshmen Josh Greeley, Jerimyah Juste, Kevin Lee, Nick Pascucci, Nick Wilkinson, Dan Sullivan, Michael Look, Chad Martin, Lucas Pascucci, Cam Rondeau, Edison MacIntosh, Dylan Shaffer, Alex MacLachlan, Steven White, Brando Troisi, Paul Dirico, Jonathan Knee, Max Cohee, Rob Debonis and Connor Yildirim.

2012 Captains
Finally, Weidman announced that a quintet will lead the Pioneers as captains next season. Andrew Kibarian, Alex Pascucci, Tyler Palumbo, Mike Karavetsos and D. J. DeGeorge will be the 2012 Pioneer captains.

It's the first time Lynnfield has had five captains since the 2000 season when the Pioneers were led by Mike Geary, Dan Veinot, Jim Motzkin, Kevin Condardo and Drew Barraford.

That's it for now. Check back on March 2 for my next post.