By Matt Williams
---- — BEVERLY — Ask six of the senior leaders on the Beverly High football team what the strength of the 2013 Panthers might be, and they respond almost in unison:
As head coach Dan Bauer’s defending Division 2A champions ride into the new Division 3 Northeast and a realigned Northeastern Conference, their Wing-T offense is looking for some ballcarriers to replace graduated all-stars Brendan Flaherty and Kenny Pierce, and some new blockers.
Any growing pains the Beverly offense might experience should be balanced off by the defense, which was similarly outstanding a year ago and returns plenty of experience in linebackers Sean Winston and Isaiah White.
“The defense should be solid. We have a lot of guys ready to step up and some experience,” said Zach Duguid, a senior defensive end and guard.
Beverly (13-0 a year ago) was very good at getting off the field on third down a year ago. Defensive end/linebacker Sam Mulumba coming off the edge should help that trend continue, and defensive tackle Jared Paris will clog the middle. In the back end, seniors Joey Kozlowski and Jack Morency anchor the secondary.
White, a speedy and rugged senior, ran for 862 yards and six touchdowns a year ago. He’s ready to assume a bigger workload, though the misdirection that makes the Wing-T dangerous dictates that other running backs will emerge as well. Kozlowski (141 yards, two TDs last year) and seniors Steve Negron and Bruno Caetano are some of the leading candidates.
“I’ve talked to Kenny and Brendan a little bit about what it means to be a leader, and I’m going to try to do that,” said White. “The biggest thing for me is to keep doing what works and to come to work hard every day. I want to do whatever is going to help the team win.”
Nick Manthorne, who got a few starts last year when Dave Rollins was injured, takes over as the Panthers’ starting quarterback. His experience will help; he could also be a threat to tuck it and run. Duguid, Winston and Paris will be fixtures on the offensive line.
The Panthers have 17 seniors and nearly 70 players in grades 10-12, strong numbers for a town that’s backed its football team in a big way the last few years, with two Super Bowl titles in the last three seasons. Bauer has turned in seven consecutive winning seasons (the current high water mark on the North Shore) and his team should be ready for the season opener against Haverhill (tomorrow, 1 p.m.).
“We’ve had a lot of things installed a little earlier than last year. We’ve been working hard in camp to get everything down,” said Winston. There will be more emphasis on early season games this year as team jockey for playoff positioning.”
“Every game counts now, and that’s kind of exciting,” Morency added.
Which game are this year’s Panthers most looking forward to? League rivals Danvers and Gloucester are near the top of the list, the captains said. And of course, they all mentioned the big one: Thanksgiving against rival Salem.