Coming off of an eight-win campaign and having lost only four seniors to graduation, it's safe to say that expectations for the Ipswich High football team have been ramped up this season.
After a trio of 6-5 seasons under his guidance, head coach Kevin Fessette led the Tigers to a sterling 8-3 mark and a share of the Cape Ann League Baker Division title last fall, its best since the 2006 Super Bowl championship year.
With eight starters back on offense and nine on the defensive side of the football — many of them juniors who cut their teeth on the varsity in 2018 — there is deserved optimism in Tigertown.
"If we can stay healthy, it could be a fun year," said Fessette. "It's about how hard the kids work, and they have to stay focused."
At a small school like Ipswich, many of the players that start do so on both sides of the ball. Remaining relatively healthy will be paramount for any success the Tigers have.
"We have 38 kids in the program, so injuries could hurt us quickly," said Fessette.
One spot on the field that's changed is quarterback, where Cam James will line up under center. Formerly a running back and tight end, the 5-foot-11, 175-pound senior captain has good field sense, is quick (415 yards and 7 TDs on 65 carries a year ago) and possesses a strong arm; he completed the only two passes he threw a year ago, good for 83 yards and a score.
Fellow captain Cole Terry, a junior, returns in the backfield and could be even more explosive than he was last fall when he ran for a team-leading 913 yards and 9 touchdowns. Also 5-11 and 175 lbs., he can get outside the tackles for big gains and power his way up the middle and evade tackles with his strength and footwork.
Juniors Chase Huntley (381 yards and 4 TDs on just 33 carries a year ago) and Josh Mallette (286 yards and 4 TDs on a mere 23 carries) are also back in the backfield. Along with James and Terry, that gives Ipswich almost 2,000 rushing yards returning out of its split back Veer offense.
When the Tigers take to the air, James will have 6-1, 170-pound junior wideout Justin Bruhm (8-265, 2 TDs) as his top target. Big (6-4, 190 lbs.) Nakil Walker, a junior, and junior Ethan Jean-Charles (5 rec., 95 yards) will also be targets as tight ends.
Ipswich's two other team captains, seniors Will Ginolfi (5-11, 190) and Alex Somers (5-10, 175) will lead what is expected to be a strong run blocking and pass protecting unit up front. Expected to join them are senior Brian Trefry (6-foot, 215 lbs.), juniors Jake Wile (5-9, 240), Alex Yanakakis (5-9, 190) and Jack Macklin (6-1, 245) and freshman Farlei Marques (5-8, 175), the latter of whom started at defensive end on Thanksgiving vs. Hamilton-Wenham.
Lining up in the Tigers' 4-2-5 defensive scheme, James and Bruhm are expected to play free and strong safety, respectively, with Mallette manning one of the cornerback spots. Ginolfi and Terry should spearheaded the defense as inside linebackers along with Huntley, while Somers, Trefry, Wile, Macklin, Yanakakis, Walker, Marques and Jean-Charles are among those who'll rotate in up front.
If you're looking for guys who could surprise while stepping up into key roles for Ipswich this fall, Fessette points to junior Marlin Desscources in the backfield and sophomore Jack Gillis in the trenches.
Last year’s record: 8-3 (Cape Ann League Baker co-champions; lost in Division 6 North quarterfinals)
Head coach: Kevin Fessette (5th season, 26-18)
Team captains: Cam James, Sr., QB/DB; Will Ginolfi, Sr., OL/LB; Alex Somers, Sr., OL/DL; Cole Terry, Jr., RB/LB.
Leading returning rusher: Cole Terry (117 carries, 913 yards, 9 TDs)
Leading returning passer: Cam James (2-for-2, 83 yards, 1 TD)
Leading returning receiver: Justin Bruhm (8 catches, 265 yards, 2 TDs)
Did you know: The Tigers scored a total of 278 points in their eight victories last season, an average of 34.75 points per triumph. Both the point total and average points per win were tops among all Cape Ann League teams.