By Matt Jenkins
---- — Mark Bettencourt has a big job ahead of him as he begins his first season as the Peabody High football head coach.
Coming off an 0-10 campaign, the Tanners haven’t had a winning season since 2004. Peabody surrendered 420 points last fall, most in program history, and managed to score just 78.
Bettencourt is starting from the bottom, focusing on attitude, commitment and fundamentals first. The coaching staff remains optimistic; his five assistant coaches were all part of Peabody’s glorious past.
Dave Bettencourt, Mark’s uncle, and Jimmy Festa will be running the defense with the help of Mark Falco, while Bob Murphy and Matt O’Brien, Peabody’s interim coach last year when former head coach Scott Wlasuk resigned in midseason, will handle the offense.
“There’s a lot of respect there; that makes the practices flow. They all know the task we have. We’re trying to see what needs to be fixed and make corrections,” Bettencourt said. “That’s why I hired these guys; everyone has been in that locker room and been on this field. I wanted to surround myself with people who have been there and done that.”
Many of Bettencourt’s players this season have “been there”, in terms of time spent on the field. It’s the “done that” (i.e., winning) that has yet to happen for this group.
A year ago, Wlasuk welcomed back exactly 2 yards of offense. Now, Bettencourt at least has the luxury of having nearly all the Tanners’ production back this season.
Peabody’s top five runners — Billy Teehan (167 yards), Cody Wlasuk (163), Ryan Collins (124), Michael Raymond (116), and Tanner Moquin (41) — are all back this fall. Raymond (14 rec., 282 yards), Collins (16 rec., 173 yards) and Moquin (10 rec., 133 yards) were also the team’s most productive receivers.
Raymond, a junior, had some of the most interesting stats on the North Shore last year. In addition to being among Peabody’s leaders in rushing and receiving, he also took over the quarterback job in midseason and threw for 277 yards and two touchdowns. Raymond is the front-runner to start at quarterback this season.
A quintet of seniors, including Wlasuk (RB/LB), Joe Molica (OG/DE), Brandon Rapoza (C/DT), Chris Sierra (OG/DE), and Mike James (RB/CB), will provide the leadership as captains. Senior Matt Crawford (OG/DE) and his leadership qualities have also helped ease the transition for Bettencourt.
Junior linemen Mike Heafy and Ethan Mercedes have also had strong camps for Peabody.
Bettencourt, who has been the Peabody High baseball coach for the last nine years, intends to get back to running an offense similar to what worked for highly successful Ed Nizwantowski when he was coaching in the 1980s, ‘90s and early 2000s — which means the Tanners will be focused on running the football effectively.
“We’re surrounding them with the traditions (of Peabody football). A lot of people in the community want us to do well and I think that has really sunk in. The effort we’ve gotten has been outstanding,” Bettencourt said. “I’m trying to take my philosophies from baseball and bring it over to the football field and see what happens.”