SPORTS

Storylines heading into football season

Posted 3/17/21

Last week I mentioned in my column that I would be talking a lot of football the next few weeks. So, here I am, ready to talk some football. This week, I feel like it is important to set the table for this season. Next week I will focus more on

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SPORTS

Storylines heading into football season

Posted

Last week I mentioned in my column that I would be talking a lot of football the next few weeks. So, here I am, ready to talk some football.

This week, I feel like it is important to set the table for this season. Next week I will focus more on predictions, but let’s use this week to get our feet wet and to get a feel for the local landscape.

Unlike most years, the pandemic has given us a wonky schedule. It will be shortened, starting in March. Teams have a small window for preseason activity, which seems a bit unfair considering the season is starting much later than the norm. When I say it’s unfair, I am not pointing a finger saying that the teams have been treated poorly, it is just the typical COVID-19 ripple effect that has dealt these teams a tough hand.

It will be interesting for sure, but let’s take a look.

In Warwick, two teams will be ready to defend titles in Bishop Hendricken and Pilgrim.

For Hendricken, it will be interesting to see how things play out with a new starting quarterback. Tom Comella was the team’s signal caller the previous two seasons, but now he is gone to play for Division II Stonehill with his brother Nic, who will also be leaving a pretty big hole on the defensive side of the ball.

Hendricken will also have a new offensive line and will also be working without their star playmaker in Angel Sanchez. He also graduated last spring and is playing prep ball.

Point being, this team will have a new look, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

However, the state’s most dominant force in Jason Onye will be ready to go on the defensive line.

Onye, the Notre Dame-commit, will likely be even better than he was last year, which seems like ages ago. The Hawks also return Andres Andujar in the defensive backfield for one last ride before leaving for Bentley in the fall.

Of course, head coach Keith Croft and his staff are a well-oiled machine. Hendricken will have plenty of tough competition in Division I and as I said, will likely have some growing pains early on offensively. Defensively though, it’s hard to not be impressed.

The Pats will have a new look on both sides of the ball, having graduated over 20 seniors.

Pilgrim will have almost an entirely new starting lineup on each side, including a new quarterback in Connor Widmer.

I swung by a practice last week to touch base with the team and get a feel for how things were going, and one thing is for sure: They have committed to Widmer.

That is a great decision in my opinion, make it clear who the new signal caller is and start building around him. Mike Borges turned into one of the best quarterbacks in the state last year and was arguably the best in Division III. The quarterback is the most important position in the sport, so to commit early on is a good way to create some stability moving forward, especially when the team is largely new.

As a junior, this will also be a big year in his development as well. If he can put it all together and rise to the occasion, the Pats will be sitting pretty next year when he is a senior.

It is tough to truly gauge where this team is at since the majority of it is brand new. But that’s what makes it fun. I am interested to see if and how this team returns to the top. The defending champs will have their hands full, not to mention that it has had an irregular offseason.

Cranston West has reached the Division I Super Bowl the past two seasons and have come up short against North Kingstown.

West is another one of our teams that will head into 2021 with a new starting quarterback as Cam Alves will be joining the Comellas at Stonehill.

Although West lost a handful of key seniors, it has been a pretty deep roster for the past couple years and I don’t expect a drop off from the Falcons this upcoming season.

With Brennan Stetson and Kris Degaitas returning on offense, the Falcons should once again have plenty of speed and athleticism to work with. Not to mention they have had one of the toughest defensive units in the state in recent years as well. At the high school level, toughness and aggression can be such an advantage on the defensive side of the ball, and regardless of who lines up for West, that will be their brand.

East will be a bit of a wild card in Division I this season.

Much like the boys basketball team in the winter, the Bolts had one of the youngest lineups last season and this year will be a big test to see where they’re at.

Will the youngsters learn from a down 2020 to take a step forward? Will they realize they still need one more year of seasoning before competing with the top clubs?

This East team is still pretty young, but with so many seeds planted last fall, it will be exciting to see which ones grow. This is not an official prediction, but don’t be surprised if we see quarterback Ben Harding and wideout Tyler Pinckney emerge as a solid duo.

Lastly, speaking of another young rising team, the Johnston Panthers will be poised to take a big step forward.

Some felt that 2019 would be the year that they saw big improvement, but they walked away with just one win.

So sure, to expect a championship would probably still be a little premature. But with quarterback Hunter Remington returning with his top pass catcher in Thomas Zednik, this team should be ready right out the gate.

There are still plenty of questions surrounding this roster which is still pretty young, but like East and Pilgrim, those uncertainties set us up for what should be a wild few weeks.

One last football thought, I loved seeing the New England Patriots being so aggressive this week in free agency. Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Matthew Judon, what a nice start. The roster is already better than it was last season.

Here’s the thing though … what good is a nice roster when the quarterback position is unsettled at best? Cam Newton is cooked if you ask me. He was dreadful passing the ball last season and seems like a lost cause when it comes to mechanics. Not that I am a quarterback guru.

Running quarterbacks are great, but passing is vital, and their one option at the moment can’t do it. We’ll see if they bring another guy in the fold whether it be a free agent, trade, or draft, but I am only moderately optimistic about this season. The roster may be improved, but bringing back Newton in my eyes will be a massive mistake.

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