Beginning with a Thanksgiving Day victory in 2011, the Warwick Vets football program pulled itself out of a brutal stretch and into contention. After winning one league game in the previous three years, Vets was in the playoff mix in 2012 and 2013, finishing last season with its first winning league record since 2008.
In terms of personnel, last year might have marked the end of that era. All but a handful of the players who spearheaded the turnaround have graduated. But no matter how different things are this fall, the Hurricanes don’t plan to let the positives of that era fade.
“We’re optimistic,” said head coach Mike Nappa. “We feel we’re good enough to be in the playoff hunt again.”
It will certainly be different. The last two graduating classes have claimed almost a full team, including Vets’ top offensive threats. Much of the Hurricanes’ offensive success the last two years was built on the shoulders of running back T.J. Boyajian, who graduated after the 2012 season and quarterback Jesse Sedoma, who finished up last year. Last season’s strong offensive line was led by seniors. The defense was sparked by players like Dave MacDonald, Dennis Scalzo, Tim Hogan, Jeremy Morrissette and Kyle Morrissette, all of whom were seniors.
“Jesse’s a big loss, MacDonald, the Morrissette twins, a lot of the defensive guys – they’re all big losses, but we had guys behind them last year doing a very good job,” Nappa said. “Obviously, it’s not easy to do the same things those kids did, but they’re ready to step up.”
The ’Canes do have a few contributors back in the fold, led by lineman Connor Thompson and running back Mickenzey Pacheco, who are serving as captains. Almost everyone else is brand new, or at least new to a major role.
Leading the parade is junior Nick Beaufort, who’s expected to take over quarterback duties. He has big shoes to fill – Sedoma was a four-year contributor who was the first-team all-division quarterback last year. Beaufort only has a few varsity snaps under his belt, but Nappa thinks his abilities will make up for the lack of experience.
“Just watching Nick making his reads, he does a nice job,” Nappa said. “He can run, he can throw. He’s a leader in the huddle.”
Beaufort will be at the controls of an offense built around the option, a similar look to last year. Pacheco – a senior – will likely be his favorite pitchman in the option. He saw significant action in the backfield last year and brings good speed to the table. Senior Tom Galligan and sophomore Matt Kelly will also be in line for carries.
“We’re going to be a hybrid,” Nappa said. “We’ll still run our option and our power series. The biggest difference that we’re going to have this year is that we’ll be able to switch sets on the run and do things quickly. We’re hoping to be able to confuse teams.”
When Beaufort drops back to pass, he’ll look for junior Jacob Isaac – one of the team’s most athletic players – and Anthony Ferri, among others.
The offensive line is led by Thompson, who will be the starting center for the third year in a row. A physical presence, Thompson will also be a strong leader for an otherwise new group. Nick Reynolds, Israel Thomas, John Massie and Cory O’Rourke are penciled into the other spots, but they’re getting pushed by a few others.
“Every year, my line coach says, ‘We’re a little light in this area or that area,’” Nappa said. “This year, he says ‘We’re strong,’ and we all looked at each other like ‘What?’ We’re big up there and a little quicker than we were overall. We had some good linemen there, but we’ve got more depth than we’ve had in the past.”
Defensively, Vets is looking for several of those lineman to anchor the front seven. Behind them, Vets will have to regroup without MacDonald and Scalzo, whose hard-nosed play at linebacker set the tone for the entire team. Isaac will likely be in one of the outside linebacker spots. Owen Amirault and Brendan Daniels are among the front-runners for the other jobs, while Pacheco will contribute somewhere, as well. Beaufort and Nate Ferri are set to anchor the secondary.
“We’re not sure exactly where everybody fits in yet,” Nappa said. “Overall, we might have more speed. I think It’s just a matter of whether we can play aggressively. The athletic part of it, we’re good. We’re not as far along in football knowledge but it’ll come.”
Vets will remain in Division II this year, while city rivals Pilgrim and Toll Gate are heading to Division III. The Hurricanes will play in the same II-A sub-division as last year, but the rest of the league will look a little different. Central, Coventry, Mt. Hope, Rogers, St. Raphael, Shea and Woonsocket are the other teams. Only Coventry, Mt. Hope and Woonsocket were on Vets’ schedule last year.
It’ll be a challenging slate, but Vets hopes to be up for it.
“We feel comfortable that we can compete up there,” Nappa said. “Depth is a little bit of an issue. It’s the practice speed that we have to get, but we’ll be alright. The attitude has been very, very good.”
Vets will host an Injury Fund game against Toll Gate on Sept. 4. The season-opening non-league game is Sept. 12 against Chariho. League play opens Sept. 19 when Vets hosts Rogers.