On paper, Toll Gate looks to be one of the favorites in Division III this season. Now it’s just the matter of taking that talent to the field and producing victories.
The Titans went just 1-6 in Division III-B play last fall, but they closed the season strong with a Thanksgiving Day victory over rival Pilgrim, and Toll Gate will return nearly all of its key contributors from that 2016 team.
“All of the freshmen that were starting when I took over the program three years ago are now starting as seniors,” Toll Gate head coach Jim Stringfellow said. “Hopefully that pays off.”
Toll Gate’s most significant returner is four-year starter Anthony Vann at quarterback. Vann took the ball as a freshman, and has continued to get better with each season, shining for the Titans last Thanksgiving against the Pats.
Stringfellow noted that Vann has improved even more in the offseason, and he should be ready to lead the Titans’ offense once again when it takes the field for the first time on Sept. 8 at 6 p.m. against Providence Country Day/Wheeler/Juanita Sanchez, which went 7-0 in regular-season play last fall before falling in the Super Bowl.
“He’s looking really confident,” Stringfellow said of his senior signal-caller. “Anthony is reading defenses better than he was last year and checking down to receivers. He wants to play at the next level, and if someone picks him up I think they’d be impressed.”
Vann will be surrounded by several talented players on offense, as well.
Senior Qyon Pichardo will be back to play wide receiver, while senior Anthony Calise will play wingback, sophomore Kenny Morel will be at fullback, junior Chris Souza will start at running back and junior Michael Negri will move from fullback to tight end. Seniors Alex Christina, Max Laiter and Bobby Lisi will highlight a strong offensive line.
Many of those same players will be key on the defensive side of the football, too.
Pichardo and Calise will play cornerback, with Negri at weak safety and Souza at strong safety.
All-Division middle linebacker Teagan Stringfellow will be back as a junior, and he will be joined by Morel at that position. Christina, Laiter, sophomore Brandon McNiel and Lisi will all help set the tone up front on defense.
Jim Stringfellow will be assisted by Jack Paliotte, John Fitz-Simon, Matt Raso, Mike Stewart, Frank Gallagher, Nick Salois, Rob Davenport and Jeff Howe this season.
In addition to PCD/Wheeler/Juanita Sanchez, Toll Gate will take on Smithfield, Scituate, Burrillville, Tiverton, Central Falls, Coventry, Hope, North Providence and Pilgrim.
Jim Stringfellow expects defending Division III champion Burrillville to be strong once again.
However, Toll Gate could very well have the most returning pieces out of any team in Division III.