Preparations are officially underway for the 2011 football season as 55 players reported Monday morning for the team's initial training session at Doucette Field.
The Redmen will open their season in just under three weeks when they host Lincoln-Sudbury on Sept. 10, and coach Brian Aylward may need all that time and more to put together his starting line-up after watching a talented class of over a dozen seniors graduate from last year's team.
Among the most notable gaduates from the 2010 team are , and the passing tandem of and
Connolly and Vibber were off to a potentially record-setting start last fall as the Redmen opened with consecutive wins over Lincoln-Sudbury and Lawrence. But just as the Redmen hit the toughest part of their schedule, and the team dropped six straight Merrimack Valley Conference decisions before rallying to win their final three games of the season and finish 5-6 overall.
The toughest job for Aylward, who is entering his 15th season as the team's head coach, may be to find enough muscle to replace the guys who manned the trenches last year. Among the most notable graduates from the offensive and defensive lines were Dan Sugrue, Rob Pruyne, Jerry Etienne, Sean McCarthy and Jacob Theisen. The team also lost hard-hitting linebackers Chris Andella and David Gallatto to graduation.
"We graduated a lot of talented kids," Aylward said. "So there's going to be a lot of open competition to fill those positions. We had a lot of work invested into that group that just graduated."
The one position where the competition may not be wide open is quarterback, where 6-2, returns with a considerable amount of experience. Saunders has started at QB in eight varsity games so far in his career, having filled in for the injured Connolly for several games during both his sophomore and junior years.
"Saunders has almost had a full season of varsity experience under his belt at this point," Aylward said. "He's one of our leaders coming in, and he worked extremely hard in the weight room over the summer. He's bigger, faster and stronger than he was last year."
The Redmen have some experience coming back at the running back position, as well, as as a junior. Bettano, who comes in at 5-10, 165 pounds, shared the backfield with Arcari for much of the season last year as the Redmen concentrated on the ground game while Connolly was out injured.
"We're very excited about Chris Bettano," Ayward sad. "I thought he was one of the better backs in the league last year and I think he's going to be one of the best this year."
Bettano's versatility should serve him well this season, according to Aylward.
"He can run hard inside but he's also got good speed," Aylward said. "He's a shifty runner and he's got good hands, so we'll throw him the ball, too. We've got big expectations for him."
Bettano and Saunders will captain the team along with senior strongman Derek Tarpey, who is coming off a standout season on Aylward's TMHS wrestling team. Tarpey played offensive guard and defensive end last season, but he may be switched to linebacker this fall.
"Tarpey comes in as pretty much one of our strongest kids," Aylward said. "He's tough as nails."
Other seniors expected to play big roles this fall include Brad Gahagan, who started at strong safety as junior last year. Gahagan may see time in the offensive backfield as a slot back this year.
Several recognizable names from the TMHS wrestling program will be counted on to provide senior leadership. Dan Altavesta returns with experience at both linebacker and as a slot back, and was one of the team's top special teams players last year. Chris London brings experience and toughness to the outside linebacker position, and Mike Davidian has the versatility to play a variety of positions.
With both Vibber and three-sport star Joe Hulme having graduated from Tewksbury's receiving corps, senior Frankie McLaughlin should become a key player at wide receiver and defensive back. Nick Winn returns with experience at middle linebacker, but he is coming off wrist surgery this summer.
Defenisve back Scott Thurlow and linemen Frank McInnis and Brandon O'Keefe also figure high on Aylward's list of seniors who should contribute.
"We've got a lot of underclassmen we're excited about, too, but from the outset we're looking at the seniors and seeing what they can provide for us," Aylward said.
At least 50 players will board a bus with the coaching staff on Wednesday and head up to Camp Robin Hood in Freedom, New Hampshire for five intensive days of training. It will be the team's 11th straight year of running its preseason training camp at Camp Robin Hood.
"It's a first class facility and a first class operation," Aylward said. "We'll know a lot more about these kids when we get back from five days at camp."
Tewksbury will participate in two-preseason scrimmages prior to the team's opener. The Redmen will visit Greater Lawrence Regional on Tuesday, Aug. 30 at 4:00 p.m. and they will host powerhouse Gloucester High from the Northeastern Conference at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 3.
"We're optimistic," Aylward said. "These kids have been working hard at captains practices, in the weight rooms and in the 7-on-7 (summer passing) league. I think a lot of people are going to look at some of the bigger name players who we lost through graduation and maybe underestimate some of these other kids who have come up out of nowhere."