The Warwick Vets football team got over one major hurdle last year, winning a game for the first time in three seasons.
But this season, the ’Canes are intending to make winning games the norm – not the exception.
Vets brings back a host of contributors from last year’s team, which beat Coventry during the regular season and then downed Pilgrim on Thanksgiving Day, and the overall atmosphere is different this time around.
Gone is the burden of finally trying to break in to the win column, and in its place are high expectations and the belief that contending in Division II is a very attainable goal.
“Things are going well,” Vets coach Brian Nappa said. “The kids have really been working hard. They got a little taste of the victories last year, and they’re looking to build on that.”
And building should be easier than it has been in the past, not only due to the wins, but due to the experience.
Because Vets was a little short on depth last year, a lot of younger players were forced into action. There were growing pains, for sure, but those players are now a year older and have significant varsity playing time under their belts already.
“We didn’t have a lot of depth last year, partly because we were so young,” Nappa said. “The sophomores we were playing last year saw a lot of varsity time, and they’ve come a long way.”
There’s a lot of newcomers on the field as well, giving Nappa and his staff newfound depth to go along with the experience.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that come out,” Nappa said. “I think the winning kind of spurred some interest.”
The ’Canes are hoping it translates into consistency.
Setting the tone are the team’s two captains, seniors T.J. Boyajian and Tony Lonczak.
Lonczak was a second-team all-division performer in the secondary last year, and he’ll play outside linebacker and tight end this season.
Boyajian has been a contributor for the varsity since his freshman year, and he’ll be the team’s primary ball carrier and biggest offensive threat.
“They’ve been our vocal leaders,” Nappa said. “They’re doing a great job.”
The team will have to rely on both players if it’s going to be successful, but there are other key pieces as well.
At quarterback, junior Jessie Sedoma returns after splitting time under center last season with two others. He also played in a platoon role at quarterback his freshman year.
This year, the position is all his, and Nappa has been impressed with what he’s seen.
“He’s matured a lot this off-season,” Nappa said. “He’s stepping up, taking a leadership role on the team as a junior. He’s definitely moving in the right direction.”
Joining Boyajian and Sedoma in the backfield will be juniors David MacDonald and Dennis Scalzo. They’ll likely be splitting the fullback duties, and they’ll also anchor the middle of the defense at inside linebacker.
“We’ve got a pretty heavy backfield,” Nappa said. “That’s nice to see.”
On the offensive line, senior Josh Ginaitt has stood out over the summer with both his play and leadership.
“He’s been the leader of our linemen,” Nappa said. “He’s really stepped up. He’s been crushing people.”
Tentatively joining Ginaitt on the offensive line are seniors Nathan Brotman and Casey Beauregard, junior Ricky Antonio and sophomore Connor Thompson.
On the outside, senior Andrew Sjodahl is back to headline a group of players vying for time. Junior Jeremy Morrissette should also be a contributor.
Defensively, things aren’t quite as clear cut.
Junior Christian Mirillo will be playing defensive end, while a number of players are competing for a spot on the other side. Defensive tackle is the same way, with multiple players still trying to separate themselves.
One definite strength is at linebacker. Along with Lonczak, MacDonald and Scalzo, Tim Hogan is in the fold after putting on 30 pounds and growing about three inches in the off-season.
“He’s a mammoth,” Nappa said.
In the secondary, Morrissette will play at one of the corner spots, while Sjodahl is the safety. The second corner position is still being sorted out.
All things considered, the ’Canes are pretty excited about the players they’re putting on the field.
“We’re pretty optimistic going into the season,” Nappa said. “We’re happy with some depth that we have. We’re comfortable where we’re at now. We’re a lot farther in our installation than we have been in the past.”
The team didn’t go to a summer passing league this year and instead used the time for the whole team to get together and do some skill work.
The result has been steady progress for a group that is hoping to make the leap from a one-win team to a playoff team.
“It’s been down to business,” Nappa said. “Last year we started from square one. This year we’ve progressed a lot faster through camp and the summer. They have a good foundation from last year. They’re not looking backwards at all. They’re doing a pretty good job of focusing on what we have, rather then focusing on lingering thoughts and stuff in the past.
At the end of last season, the coaches sat down with the players and asked them all to write down three goals.
Across the board, one goal was on everybody’s list – make the playoffs. It’s that type of attitude that has Vets aiming higher than it has in quite a while.
“They set their standards, and one of the goals that everyone had was they want to make the playoffs,” Nappa said. “Their eyes are on the prize.”