If Tewksbury High wrestling coach Brian Aylward has anything to worry about as his team prepares to open the 2011-2012 season Saturday at Greater Lawrence, it's the fact that the football season spilled over into the wrestling season this year.
With half of his starting line-up having been wearing shoulder pads instead of singlets until this past Monday, Aylward has had precious little time to prepare his squad for Opening Day.
But then again, with top wrestlers like Derek Tarpey, Dan Altavesta, Chris London and Mike Davidian still running high on adrenalin from a Super Bowl football season, Aylward hopes his wrestling squad will feed off the momentum created by the football team, and hit the ground running this weekend.
"I think what these guys accomplished on the football field is going to be a huge benefit for us (in wrestling)," Aylward said. "But at the same time, it's a totally different sport and a totally different season. No one's going to hand anything over to us, and our kids know that. We've got to go out and carve our own identity on the mats."
To a great extent, however, much of that identity was carved out last winter. Led by London's North Sectional championship in the 160-pound weight class, Tewksbury enjoyed a great deal of success last year, and almost all of TMHS' top performers from 2010-2011 are back in uniform again this season.
London, who finished 4th at the Division 2 State Meet, returns to action in the 170-pound weight class. Davidian, who had a standout season in the middle weights last year, is back strong at 160 pounds, along with Altavesta (at 145 or 152) and Tarpey at 182.
All four of Aylward's top returners were starters on his football team, while three other wrestlers with huge upsides -- David Allen, Tim Martel and Dan Donovan -- also suited up for the Super Bowl.
And even through Aylward takes great pride in the success these athletes have had on the gridiron in recent months, he is just as excited about their potential on the mats.
"This is as good a group from a work ethic standpoint and from an experience standpoint as we've had in years," said Aylward, who is entering his ninth season as the TMHS wrestling coach. "We're excited about them, for sure."
From sophomore Mike McAteer at 106 pounds to senior Andrew Conserva at heavyweight, the Redmen have solid returners at almost every weight class. Sophomore Mike Reznikow will go at 113 or 120, junior Nick Stavros will compete at 120 or 126, senior Matt Greenwood will return at 132 pounds and both senior Sean Wackrow and junior Joe Burger bring experience back at 138.
Altavesta and senior returner Brandon McCarthy will solidify the middle of the line-up at 145 and 152, with Davidian expected to do more great things at 160, London stepping up to 170 and Tarpey going at 182. Martel, a junior, Donovan (sophomore) and Allen (senior) are all lurking around 195, with Conserva and sophomore Nick Jansen at 220 and heavyweight.
"Tarpey had a great run last year until he got dinged up right before the sectionals," Aylward said. "Davidian had a great stretch through the middle of the season. He's got a chance to be as good as there is out there. Sean Wackrow is a sleeper. Matt Greenwood showed he can wrestle at the upper tier level last year. Danny Altavesta has beaten some very good kids over the course of his career. A lot of these guys have a chance to make some noise.
"There's a lot of experience there that's been built up over the last few years," Aylward added. "We think we've got an opportunity to be pretty good this year. We're certainly off to a good start with the work ethic they've showed so far."
Of course, the Redmen compete in the toughest wrestling league in the state, so the competition will be stiff again this winter. After Saturday's tri-meet opener with Greater Lawrence and perennial Division2 state power Milford, Tewksbury hosts defending Division 1 State Champ Lawrence next Wednesday in its home opener.
"Methuen is loaded for bear, Lawrence is the defending dual meet champ, Chelmsford is very good, Billerica is very good, Lowell is always good," Aylward said. "As strong as this league is every year, I think this is going to be a banner year for the MVC."
Tewksbury wastes no time going against the best of the best, either. After hosting Lawrence, the Redmen will compete in Wilmington's Sons of Italy Tournament on Dec. 17th and then do battle in the Lowell Holiday Tournament at the Tsongas Arena over the Christmas break.
"We've got our work cut out for us right out of the gate," Aylward said. "We're concentrating on weight management and getting guys down to weight and getting the line-up squared away right now.
"I'm amazed that with so many of these guys coming off a roller coaster ride of a football season, no one has begged out of doing their work," Aylward added. "That's going to bode well for us as we get into the season."