Just about everything is new this year for the Toll Gate football team, and with the way the past three seasons have gone, that almost can’t be a bad thing.
The Titans haven’t won a league game since 2010, going a combined 0-21 since then. As the 2014 season gets to begin, they have a new coach, a new division and quite a few new players, giving them a clean slate and a strong desire to turn the page on the past and focus on the future.
Jim Stringfellow is the head coach this season after taking over for Matt Mancuso, who was the head coach for the last three years. Stringfellow was most recently a Pilgrim assistant coach for the past 13 seasons. When the position at Toll Gate was available, he jumped at the chance to take over.
“With my experience and my coaching staff I put together, we went in with everything positive,” Stringfellow said. “We want to come in to Toll Gate and turn the program around. We met with the kids early in May when I received the job and we put it all right on paper for them.”
The Titans also have a new home as they moved down from Division II to Division III. They’ll play against rival Pilgrim – which also moved down – as well as Classical, East Greenwich, Hope, Lincoln, Middletown, Narragansett and Ponaganset.
It’s a chance to make some headway after the problems of the past three seasons.
“I think it’s good for Toll Gate this year, because it will definitely be a rebuilding couple of years,” Stringfellow said. “We have six returning seniors and we have a bunch of underclassmen. I think it’s going to give them good experience to perform this year and hopefully have a winning season.”
Paving the way for more excitement around the program is the turnout, as 42 players have shown up in the summer, which is more than twice as many as the 16 who were part of the team that finished last season.
There isn’t a lot of experience, but that’s fine with Stringfellow, as it adds to the clean slate aura around the program.
“They have come together in a short time with a new coaching staff,” Stringfellow said. “They’ve put the last seasons in the past and they want to start fresh. I think that’s what’s been helping them out a lot. They’ve been positive, no negatives.”
The six returning seniors are all serving as captains, and they’ll step into big roles this year. The most accomplished of that bunch are fullback Nick Lemoie, tight end Jacob Moran and lineman Jake Lima. Lima was second-team all-division last year, while Lemoie emerged as a valuable contributor out of the backfield and Moran became the team’s top target.
The other three also saw time, as Jimmy Marsella plays on the line, Sean Vann plays running back and Dan Smith is penciled in at quarterback for the graduated Joe Brosnahan, an all-division selection.
“So far they’ve done everything we’ve expected as captains and as seniors,” Stringfellow said.
Smith will pilot the ship on offense, and Stringfellow is confident that he, along with Lemoie and Vann, can produce some points out of the team’s Wing-T offense.
“He’s very capable of throwing,” Stringfellow said of Smith. “Smart kid. We have the horses behind that can run the ball in Lemoie and Vann.”
Five of those six should also factor in on the defensive end, where Lima and Moran will play linebacker, Lemoie and Vann will play safety and Marsella will play noseguard. Junior Alex Mowry is slotted in at another safety spot right now, with junior Jake Stachurski playing a defensive end spot and junior Brandon Neiwert playing defensive tackle.
Junior La Salle transfer Joe Gasbarro – who is 6-foot-6 – will play defensive end too, and also serve as a receiver/tight end on the offensive side. A few freshmen may factor into the defensive mix as well.
“The whole team is out here busting their butt,” Stringfellow said. “They’re doing a fantastic job. Everyone is meeting our expectations as a coaching staff.”
Stringfellow and his staff are shooting high in year one, as the team has set a goal of reaching of the playoffs despite its winless mark each of the past three seasons.
But before looking that far ahead, the Titans just want to win a game. Doing that, for a senior class that has stuck with the program despite all the losses the past three years, would be a great step in the right direction.
“We want to make the playoffs, but we also want to get these seniors their first win in four years,” Stringfellow said. “That’s huge. They’re committed to being out here every day and we’re committed as a coaching staff to getting these guys in a position where they can win.”
The players certainly think it’s possible as well.
“We’re a better team than we’ve been the past few years,” Moran said.
Toll Gate will get its first real look at the new on-the-field product Thursday, Sept. 4 when it travels to and takes on Warwick Vets in an Injury Fund game at 7:15 p.m. On Sept. 13, it will travel to PCD/Wheeler/Juanita Sanchez for a non-league game, and then will begin its Division III slate at Narragansett on Saturday, Sept. 20 at 12:30 p.m.
“Having no success for three years, you need change,” Lemoie said. “We got a change in division and a change in coaches. We’re hoping for good things.”