It's been a trying couple of seasons for now third-year head coach Dan Connors and his Essex Tech gridiron club.
Following a 2-win campaign back in 2017, the Hawks doubled that total a year ago behind a senior-laden squad. Still, they finished the season under .500.
Now, however, all signs point to the Hawks making some noise in the Commonwealth Athletic Conference — and that noise starts with a bruising offensive line.
"Our strength is the offensive line ... by far," said Connors. "They're kind of stealing the show in camp. We finally have some big guys up front that can get out and move people. Two of them are over 250 pounds and we're expecting big things from them."
Who are those 250-pound linemen, you ask?
That would be juniors Tyler Geary, a Salem native, and Matt Innis, who hails from Danvers. Both saw crucial time last year, and Connors says they hit the gym hard during the offseason and came into camp ready to make a statement.
Having a couple of big bodies in the trenches should make a world of difference, especially for a young team such as this that graduated their top four rushers (Manny Alves, Vin Brazzo, Ben Condon and Hunter Lane), as well as their top quarterback in Brazzo, from a year ago.
This autumn, those quarterback reins will be handed over to one of either John Mahar, Rocco Schirripa or freshman Devin Lebron, all of whom have shown flashes of why they should be the guy.
In the backfield there's senior fullback Connor Drigotas, whom Connors says is "penciled in", along with a committee of wingbacks in seniors Jacob Dumont, John Ranieri and Mike Medeiros.
Essex Tech is also excited about the possibility of deploying an every day offensive weapon: senior wide receiver Jaiden Anja. "He played a little last year but wasn't a main receiver," Connors said. "He's extremely athletic; we have to find a way to get Jaden the ball and will look to run some vertical plays for him for sure."
Junior Carmen Avola (defensive line), senior Lou Shkliew (tight end and defensive end), senior Mike Medeiros (safety and back), junior Tom Gale (middle linebacker) and sophomore Thurston Blaisbell (lineman) are some other names to watch out for this season.
Last year’s record: 4-7
Head coach: Dan Connors (3rd season, 6-16)
Team captains: Mike Medeiros, Sr., RB/S; Carman Avola, Jr., DL; Tom Gale, Jr., LB.
Leading returning rusher: Tom Gale (3 carries for 18 yards)
Leading returning passer: None
Leading returning receiver: Antonio Polsonetti (1 catch, 50 yards, 0 TDs)
Did you know?: Essex Tech has lost its last three opening games; its last win came in a 33-7 drubbing of Georgetown in 2015.