Football is finally back in the Tri-Town area with the MIAA’s Fall II season underway. Old Rochester Regional and Old Colony Regional Vocational Technical High School have not begun regular-season games just yet, but both teams are back to work and have each scrimmaged in preparation for their abbreviated campaigns.
However, just because the two football programs are back to work does not mean the pandemic hasn’t forced coaches and players to make some adjustments.
“I think everybody is in the same boat. We only have an hour and a half to practice, so that’s cut down significantly from what we usually have,” ORR Head Coach Bryce Guilbeault said. “But we’re kind of just adapting on the fly and going with it and trying to get in as much stuff as we can. I think it’s very vital for the underclassmen — the sophomores, the juniors, and even the freshmen.
“For them, they get a good advantage. They’re playing football now, we’ll end in May, and two and a half months later, we’re back out there. So this is a great opportunity for these guys to get some experience and (for us to) really coach those guys up and utilize practice time, so come August, we’re ready to go.”
Both ORR and Old Colony have young teams this season, so with the preoccupation on the present, there is also a focus on the future. While the underclassmen can use Fall II as a season of preparation for the fall, seniors have a unique opportunity to grow their game while closing out their high school playing careers.
“Every day, we’re talking about COVID protocols and telling guys they can’t be hanging out in group settings,” Guilbeault said. “I say it every day, but the seniors also talk about it every day and say, ‘Guys, go home. Don’t go to your buddy’s house.’ That’s great to hear because kids are going to listen to their teammates more than they’re going to listen to me.
“They know the reality that this isn’t baseball or basketball where we can squeeze three games in a week. If we miss a game, we’re probably not making it up. I think they’re approaching it like they have an opportunity to get in seven games, and they want to get in every game they can. It’s really nice to see those guys step up in a leadership role.”
Much like the winter season, schools will not play outside their respective conferences throughout the regular season. For Old Colony, one odd change has been the shift in the Cougar Cup, a game historically held last on the program’s slate, that has been bumped up to the season opener.
“It’s weird,” Old Colony head coach Brandon Mendez said. “I was actually talking to the Tri-County coach, and he was like, ‘I just want to get off the ground and get one game in.’ I’m glad we’re starting off against them because we know it’ll be a good game and adversarial. At the end of the day, we’re all just happy to get on the field and let the kids get a chance to compete.”
The Cougars return four seniors: tailback-safety Thomas Stanton, fullback/linebacker Ryan McGuiggan, quarterback/defensive end Austin Mendes, and wide receiver/outside linebacker Jared Boren. Some other names from Old Colony’s roster to pay attention to throughout the season include junior guard/linebacker Ray Thibeault, junior lineman Joe Rubini, sophomore lineman Hunter Morrell, sophomore quarterback Mat McGuiggan, freshman center Ryan Letendre, and freshman wide receiver Shawn Markham. Old Colony starts regular season play with a 7:00 pm kickoff on Friday, March 19, at New Bedford.
Quarterback Ryon Thomas, wide receiver Dylon Thomas, wide receiver/safety Tommy Durocher, tight end/linebacker Ryan Quinlan, offensive lineman Jared Achorn, and offensive lineman Mitch Higgins headline Old Rochester’s roster as the senior group. The Bulldogs host Dighton-Rehoboth on Saturday, March 27.
By Nick Friar