Warriors open season on Friday at Landrigan against Reading

Published in the September 5, 2018 edition


WAKEFIELD — John Rafferty isn’t spending much time thinking about Wakefield’s perfect 9-0 season during his senior year when he accounted for 124 of the Warriors’ 230 points and won the Shawmut Award for outstanding player in the 20-0 win over Melrose on Thanksgiving Day.

That was 1970. 

“It’s been such a long time,” said Rafferty with a grin. “A real long time. I hate to say how long. That being the case, there isn’t anybody here who was here before. The landscape has changed, it’s still Wakefield but the people have changed. As a result I literally feel as if I’m going to a new school, new experience.”

As such, the 2018 Warriors have had to prepare for the season while getting used to this “new” coach and system during Coach “Raff’s” first year at the helm.

CAPTAIN Mike Lucey is back at quarterback to lead the Warrior offense in 2018. (Donna Larsson File Photo)

The Warriors were always going to be young this year as they need to replace 24 graduated seniors, and all but just two returning starters on offense and defense. Add to that a new system and mostly new coaching staff and what you get is not just an adjustment for returning players, but a unique opportunity.

Wakefield’s players have had three scrimmages against Saugus, Methuen and North Reading to not only continue to learn the lingo and system and build on preseason practices, but earn the respect and trust of a staff who is looking for candidates who have the passion to help build something great.

The coaches aren’t looking for anybody to vacuum the rugs or paint the walls. They need builders. It’s time to mix the concrete and level the ground for a foundation.

“Some houses are in moving condition. Others need a little touchup and some need major renovations. Some are tear downs,” said Rafferty, finally arriving at Wakefield’s current building progress. “We have to break it all the way down and start back up.”

The mindset of the 2018 Warriors will determine not only the team’s success this season but the fate of the future of the program. The seniors have the responsibility to embrace the changes and lay the groundwork for upcoming classes.

For that, Wakefield will turn to returning senior captains Mike Lucey and Danny Marinaccio.

Lucey is back for his third season as the starting quarterback while Marinaccio will get the bulk of the carries in what will be a run-heavy attack while also leading the defense from his linebacker spot.

“They’re good guys, good football players and good captains who are experienced and talented,” said Rafferty of Lucey and Marinaccio. “We’re going to be leaning on them that’s for sure.”

The two make up the only retuning starters on the offensive side, as the entire offensive line needs to be replaced. The only other returning starter on defense is junior safety Michael O’Keefe. His older brother Billy O’Keefe will return as a tight end and defensive end. Senior Derek Dimascio will return as a key running back and linebacker. Junior Robbie Fossett got plenty of reps as a linebacker last year and junior Taaj Andrews will be a key lineman on both sides of the ball, but the vast majority of starters will be brand new to their roles at the top of the depth chart.

To help them with those specific roles will a coaching staff that is a mix of Rafferty’s assistants at North Andover and local guys.

Mike Mosto will control the offense as the offensive coordinator. Kevin Slattery will coach the offensive line and defensive line. Drew Crawford will coach the tight ends, defensive ends and special teams. Jim DeMartino will coach the wide receivers and defensive backs while former Warrior QB Brian Millea (WHS ‘08) will coach up Lucey and the quarterbacks as well as Marinaccio and the linebackers. The group will help each unit quickly adapt to Rafferty’s preferred style of play, which should be no surprise to those who remember his prowess as a running back in the Middlesex League.

“Offensively we want to run the football,” said Rafferty. “That’s something we are going to work hard towards and something we want to achieve here. Defensively it all starts there also insofar as stopping the run.”

Smashmouth, for lack of a better term, might be the best way to describe Rafferty’s teams at North Andover during his time as head coach from 2001 to 2014. It worked to the tune of a 95-58 record.

But, like his days as a student athlete at Wakefield High, that was in the past.

“Every now and then I’ll run into somebody from the past and that will take me back a little bit, but by and large I’m just really living in the here and now,” said Rafferty.

The Warriors beat Reading 34-6 during Rafferty’s senior year in 1970. The Rockets come to town on Friday night at 7 p.m. as one of the best programs in the area for a long time. It will kick off the 2018 season for Wakefield but it will also begin a new era.

Right here, right now, is a brand new situation with plenty of brand new varsity football players. It will certainly take some time to build something great and build it right, but commit to the process and coach Rafferty promises that a bright future is in store.