Begin drive for sixth straight league championship

Published in the August 23, 2017 edition


LYNNFIELD — Pro football fans have no doubt heard the silly babblings coming out of Foxboro of a possible 19-0 season for the defending Super Bowl champions. Well the Pats aren’t the only local squad entering this season with high expectations. Though no one is predicting an undefeated season, there is no questioning the potential of the 2017 Lynnfield Pioneer football team.

PIONEER co-captain Anthony Murphy maneuvers through an agility drill on the first day of football practice. (Tom Condardo Photo)

PIONEER co-captain Anthony Murphy maneuvers through an agility drill on the first day of football practice. (Tom Condardo Photo)

A talented, experienced squad began preseason practice last Friday evening as the local gridders aim for a sixth consecutive Cape Ann League championship and potential deep run in the playoffs. The Pioneers return five offensive and eight defensive starters from a team that last year went 6-4, captured their fifth straight CAL title, and made it to the Division 3A North semi-finals. Nearly 70 players turned out for the first day of practice including 18 seniors and 21 juniors.

“It’s obvious that the juniors and seniors who were here last year know what’s going on,” Weidman said following the squad’s initial practice session. “We did twice as much on this day this year than we were able to do last year. Our expectations are definitely higher this year. Last year we had to take it pretty slow and I was pretty patient. I told them I’m not going to be patient this year. We’re going to hit the ground running and that’s really the way they want it anyway.”

     The Pioneers do have some holes to fill with the loss of CAL Baker MVP Louis Ellis and Lineman of the Year Mike Stellato. Filling the void starts with the team’s five captains. All League receiver Nick Kinnon, the Pioneers’ leading scorer last year is back for his senior year. As the reigning State Division 5 indoor 300-meter champion and EMass Division 4 outdoor 100 and 200-meter champ, Kinnon figures to give opposing defensive backs all they can handle. Lineman/tight end Nathan Drislane, two-way lineman Harry Collins, linebacker/tight end Cooper Marengi, and running back/linebacker Anthony Murphy round out this season’s Pioneer leadership.

     Also returning for his senior season is quarterback Matt Mortellite. As a junior transfer from Malden Catholic last season, Mortellite completed 62 percent of his passes (128 for 208) for 1731 yards and 21 touchdowns – tied for most ever in a single season by a Pioneer quarterback.

Weidman is beginning his tenth season as head coach coming in with a 70-31 mark. That .693 winning percentage tops the list all Lynnfield football coaches. During his nine-year tenure, the Pioneers have captured six league titles, a division championship, and earned a trip to the Super Bowl.

One big advantage for the Pioneers is that their outstanding varsity coaching staff returns intact. John O’Brien (defense and running backs), Gino Fodera (line), Chris Sakelakos (defensive backs and receivers), Fern Lavoie (special teams), Pat Lamusta and Jeff Gannon (varsity/junior varsity) all return. The Pioneer freshmen have two new coaches in John Davidson, who arrives from Stoneham and Steve Almquist who was an assistant at Saugus.

Schedule additions, new division

The Pioneers will have two new opponents on their slate this year. Wayland returns to the Pioneer schedule after an absence of 12 years with the teams last meeting in 2004. However, the Warriors and Pioneers are no strangers on the gridiron, having met 37 times from 1958 to 2004. In addition, the Pioneers will play Winthrop in another non-league contest. They won’t be facing Danvers this year. Their Baker League opponents remain the same – Amesbury, Ipswich, Manchester Essex, and Hamilton Wenham.

In another change, the MIAA has shuffled their divisions again and the Pioneers have been placed in a new, 11 team, Division 5 North. They go from having the second highest enrollment in last year’s Division 3A to being the smallest school in their new division with a 9-12 male enrollment of 320. Should the Pioneers make the playoffs they will be in the mix against Somerville (653 male 9-12 enrollment), Bedford (429), Newburyport (370), Weston (363), Watertown (352), Triton (346), Swampscott (343), Pentucket (333), Amesbury (331), and Saugus (330).

Preseason Schedule

     The Pioneers will prep for the season with three scrimmages at Pioneer Stadium. Masco will visit on Saturday, August 26 at 2 p.m. Salem comes in on Tuesday, August 29 at 4 p.m. and the Pioneers will have their final tuneup when they host Melrose on Friday, September 1 at 4 p.m. The Pioneers open the regular season when the Newburyport Clippers come to town on Friday, September 8 at 7 p.m.

     “We haven’t discussed our goals for the season yet,” Weidman concluded. “Right now, the goal is for our preparation to be good and for us to be a more mature team because we are older. If we accomplish that first, and I see that going in the right direction, then we’ll have some pretty lofty goals.”