Gone are the days — at least temporarily — of coaches pacing their teams through the preseason and the early, non-league portion of their football schedule.
The landscape has changed in Massachusetts high school football because of the newly instituted playoff system, and the ripples will be seen in a variety of ways.
Danvers is a perfect example.
Last fall, Falcons coach Sean Rogers spread the offense around early in the season before leaning much more heavily on Alex Valles, the team’s premier running back. Valles finished strong, rushing for over 800 yards and 14 touchdowns, but he’ll likely carry more of the load early this time around.
“Every game matters a little more this year. If you beat bigger schools, in terms of division, you gain points. Every non-division opponent carries points, sometimes more so than division games, so there is no holding kids back. You gotta have everything going from Day 1,” Rogers said.
“Last year we limited (Alex’s) touches at the beginning and tried to save him for division play. He had a great year even with limiting his touches. He has the work ethic; he’s done a great job through the winter, spring and summer. It’s time for him to go out and play — and I’m sure he can’t wait.”
Valles is one of three captains for the Falcons, along with senior classmates Anthony Cordoba and Mike Favreau. Cordoba is a running back and linebacker while Favreau is a two-way lineman who played almost exclusively on defense last fall.
According to Rogers, only four other players return with significant experience from a team that went 5-6.
Junior quarterback Nick Andreas is back after securing the starting job last year. He threw for 670 yards and five touchdowns to lead an offense that averaged 25.6 points per game.
Seniors Brian Daly and Tom Quinn bring back some stability to the offensive line, and Andy Curtin is a returning linebacker for the Falcons.
A lot of empty holes that need filling remain, but the returning players plus the enthusiasm and work ethic of the younger players have Danvers’ optimism high.
“Practice is good. The kids are enthused and focused, which is everything you’re hoping for going into the season,” Rogers said. “Offensively, we’re making a few different changes ... and it’s starting to catch on a little.”
Junior Chris Behen missed most of last year due to an injury, but he has had a strong camp as a running back and defensive back. Evan Haynes (Sr., TE/DL), Danny Lynch (So., WR) and Sam Vitale (So., LB) are also pushing for playing time while a pair of talented freshmen — Matt Andreas and Quinn Holland — could also see time.
Matt Andreas, Nick’s brother, is what Rogers calls an “athlete”, but he’ll primarily play receiver and defensive back for Danvers. Holland, meanwhile, is trying to earn time in the defensive secondary.