Sunday, August 23, 2015

Points to Ponder as Pioneers Prepare for Preseason

by Tom Condardo

Are you ready for some football?

Time to say goodbye to summer and hello to the start of the 2015 Lynnfield Pioneer football season. Preseason workouts start Monday and the opening scrimmage against Masco next Saturday morning is less than a week away.

I thought I'd start things off by pondering some of the happenings around the league.

Coaching overhaul
I wrote about the significant coaching changes in my article in the Lynnfield Villager this week. You can check it out here or in the paper edition available at newstands around town. Of the six schools in the CAL Baker Division, three will have new coaches. Ipswich and Georgetown dipped into the college ranks for their new head coaches with the Tigers naming Endicott assistant Kevin Fessette and the Royals tapping Eric McCarthy who has coached at Pace and Plymouth State. Manchester Essex selected long time Beverly assistant Jeff Hutton to lead the Hornets. With Glen Gearin entering only his second year at Amesbury, the grizzled veterans of the Baker coaching ranks are now Andrew Morency entering his tenth season and the Pioneers' Neal Weidman beginning his eighth year.

Establishing a program from scratch can be difficult which would seem to be an advantage for the established coaching staffs. But having so much new blood on the sidelines can be a double edge sword. Yes it's tough getting a new system set up in the few short weeks leading up to the season, but that uncertainty also poses problems for opposing teams. You know what to expect from teams with coaches and systems that have been around for a while. For half of the Baker League season, Weidman and his staff will have to prepare for teams with a clean slate. They may only have a game or two of tape to prepare for these new programs. It should be interesting.

Speaking of coaching, I also noted in my Villager article that Weidman now has the highest winning percentage of any coach in either CAL division. At 56-17, Weidman's Pioneers sport a .767 winning percentage, significantly higher than Newburyport's Ed Gaudiano's 172-118 (.593). Weidman's record is even more eye-popping in the past six years when his Pioneers have put together a 53-9 mark, good for an amazing .885 winning percentage.

Trivia Time
In the past ten seasons, three teams have clamped a stranglehold on the CAL Small title (in whatever name they called it - CAL Small, CAL/NEC 4, Baker). The Pioneers won it in 2009, 2012, 2013, and 2014. Hamilton-Wenham captured the crown in 2005, 2010, and 2011. Amesbury won back to back championships in 2007 and 2008. Which team broke up this three team cartel with a title run in 2006? Answer below.

Beefing up the Tigers
One of the first initiatives for Fessette at Ipswich has taken place not on the field but in the weight room. According to an article by Joshua Boyd in the Ipswich Chronicle, the first thing Fessette noticed was the outdated condition of the Tiger weight room with some equipment dating back to 1999. Drawing on his college coaching experience, Fessette focused on improving the entire weight program.

Fessette told Boyd that the program needed to be based on powerlifting racks with platforms to do explosive movements. "Those explosive movements have a direct correlation to what we do on the field," he said to Boyd. "If you can do it with weight on your back, you can do it on the field."

Putting together a partnership of the Ipswich Education Foundation, the Ipswich Football Boosters, and EBSCO Publishing, Fessette was able to purchase $16,000 worth of equipment. The Tigers have had a good turnout in the refurbished weight room increasing from 30 players before the offseason to over 40 attendees by mid July, according to the article.

Clippers Set Sail
When Newburyport comes to town to open the season on September 11, it will be the first stop on a long odyssey for the Clippers. The refurbishment of World War Memorial Stadium is now underway and was scheduled to be completed by mid October, but construction delays have pushed that back to November. As a result, the Clippers will be playing most of their schedule on the road.

The long awaited rebuild will include the removal of the visiting stands which will be replaced by a walking mezzanine deck similar to the one at Hyland Field in Manchester. The field is scheduled to be ready for the Thanksgiving Day game against Amesbury with the dedication taking place the night before.

Wing Flying East
One of the more interesting developments in the league is the hiring of single wing guru Ed Melanson at Hamilton-Wenham. If you haven't heard the story, Melanson left the North Reading program following an alleged conflict with another coach over field use. He was suspended for a game following the incident and then resigned telling the North Reading Transcript he clearly felt  he was "no longer welcome" at North Reading. He reconsidered and tried to rescind the resignation but NRHS principal Jon Bernard would not allow it. This despite nearly the entire team descending on his office to get him to reverse the decision.

Since then, Melanson has been looking for just the right position and feels he has found it with Morency's staff at H-W.

"Coach Morency calls his own offense but I really feel that after our meeting I will be counted on to be a contributor on the team," Melanson told me. "I was very picky about where I would go if anywhere but this seems like a good fit."

Melanson is one of the few devotees of the run heavy single wing. He deployed it effectively at North Reading, helping to turn around a struggling program that went 30-54 in the eight seasons prior to his arrival. The Hornets then posted a 24-9 record in Melanson's three-plus years there.

It's doubtful the the Generals will run the wing exclusively as the Hornets did since Melanson will not have the OC title. But you can bet the Generals will roll out some wing wrinkles in certain situations.

It'll also be interesting to see what Hornet head coach Jeff Wall does with the offense in North Reading. They do have four seasons of experience running the wing, but no one has the depth of knowledge of that offense like Melanson, so it would be surprise to see North Reading continue to run it exclusively.

Trivia Answer
The only non Lynnfield/H-W/Amesbury trio to win a CAL Small title in the last decade was Ipswich who posted a 5-0 mark to take the crown in 2006. Following that championship run, the Tigers fell into a tailspin losing 30 straight games between 2007 and 2009 and posting a 14-71 record over the next eight seasons. Fessette becomes the Tigers third head coach in the past four years.

That's it for now. Check back for more as this thing now gets real.