By Matt Jenkins
---- — There are many challenges facing the players selected to play in the Shriner’s High School Football Classic every year. Today’s contest (4 p.m. at Bentley University in Waltham) is no different.
For one thing, it’s not easy to quickly get back into the swing of things on the gridiron after spending almost six months away from the game. Adjusting to a new coaching staff and different teammates with very little time to build team chemistry doesn’t help the cohesion. Then, of course, there’s the difficulty a player has in finding his role, even if it’s for a one-game showcase.
One thing that doesn’t bother these young athletes is lining up with players who they were forced to battle against for the last four years.
Take the Marblehead and Beverly representatives, for example.
The Magicians’ Ian Maag and Ty Bates butted heads with Beverly’s Mike Dooling and Brendan Flaherty for the last three years, desperately trying to knock the other team out of the Northeastern Conference title chase.
Do those heated contests cause any residual damage?
“No, not at all. They’re a bunch of great guys and (Beverly) coach Dan Bauer does a great job with the team,” Maag said. “They’re great football players and there’s no trash talking.
“It’s nice for them to be on our side rather than going against them. I’ve met a lot of new kids and people that are great guys. That’s one of the best things about Shriner’s.”
Maag, Bates, Dooling, and Flaherty will join forces on a North team coached by Bauer and including several other North Shore football talents. They’ll meet the South in the 35th Annual Shriner’s High School Football Classic.
“It’s a great bunch of guys, very friendly,” said the 6-foot, 225-pound, Springfield College-bound Dooling said. “We’ve bonded over the past two weeks.”
The North team also includes Alex Moore, Lucas Bavaro and James Fagan from Division 1 Super Bowl champion St. John’s Prep, and Sean Antonuccio from Masconomet. Masco’s Dylan Mann was also originally selected to play, but a nagging knee injury kept him from participating.
The team got a slow start with practice, shaking off the rust and battling the wet weather last week. Everything has come around since then, however.
“We started practice last Monday, so we’ve been going at it for about two weeks leading up to it,” said Dooling, who will be alternating between defensive tackle and defensive end. “We’ve had tough weather with rain every night, and one night we had it cancelled. Other than that it’s been pretty easy — but practices have been tough. We’ve been trying to get mentally prepared.”
With all the talent and leadership on the North, it’s no wonder that the team has come around so quickly.
Bates, a hard-hitting linebacker, was named defensive captain for the North.
“It’s been a quick transition. We graduated last Sunday and the next day had football practice. It hasn’t been much of a summer vacation,” said Maag, who expects to play both quarterback and safety. “It takes a few days to get back. The first day we were rusty, but you gotta be patient, nd the talent takes over and you get back into it.”
This may be an all-star game of sorts, but the players aren’t planning on just coasting through four quarters.
“Our goal is obviously to win the game. I’m pretty sure coach said the other day that the North has only won two of the last 10 games,” Dooling said. “We’re hoping to make it the third one. We definitely want to win, but we also want to have fun; that’s a big part of it.”
Nine locals were selected to participate in today's 35th Annual Shriner's High School Football Classic at Bentley University: Dan Bauer (head coach) Beverly Mike Dooling Beverly Brendan Flaherty Beverly Ian Maag Marblehead Ty Bates Marblehead Alex Moore St. John's Prep Lucas Bavaro St. John's Prep James Fagan St. John's Prep Sean Antonuccio Masconomet