Statistically speaking, there has never been a better time to be a varsity football player for the Danvers High Falcons.
The Oniontowners come into the 2018 season riding the wave of five straight winning seasons, the first time in the program's 117-year history that has ever happened. They've won five playoff games and captured a divisional playoff crown in the last half-decade while winning 36 games and producing a .643 winning percentage, the school's best-ever for a five-year span.
To that, this year's Falcons say that's great. Now we want to go out and do even better.
"We expect to be able to compete with everyone on the schedule and will be defined by the players' work ethic, toughness and character, which is the team's main strength," said second year head coach Ryan Nolan.
Do the Falcons have enough to dethrone the five-time Northeastern Conference Tier 1 champions from Marblehead? That will play out on the gridiron over the next seven weeks, but the title could be decided when the two clubs meet in Danvers on Friday, Oct. 19, the week before the playoffs begin.
"We've got a tremendously hard working and committed core group of players," added Nolan, "with leaders in every grade."
Having lost few seniors from last year's club, the Falcons are experienced and athletic. Their linemen are also much larger, having committed to the weight room in the offseason.
Tom Walfield, a junior and one of the team captains, is among the leaders up front who starts on both sides of the ball. So does senior two-way starter Lance Ledesma, fellow senior Ron Remotigue (who can play the line or at tight end), senior tight end Almany Vargas and sophomore Andrew Chronis. Senior Rob Murphy, junior Jacob Stone and sophomore Ben Wilichoski are others who figure to be matched up in plenty of 1-on-1 battles in the trenches.
"The O-line is very much improved and has experienced a lot of varsity game action," admitted Nolan. "The coaches feel very confident that eight-plus players can play up at the varsity level."
Matt McCarthy, a senior captain and excellent student, leads the skill position players. A shifty running back who ran for 457 yards and five scores a year ago while also catching 16 passes for an additional 381 yards and two touchdowns, he has the speed to beat defenders to the outside and is savvy enough to follow his blockers between the tackles for big gains.
Athletic juniors Ezra Lombardi, Richie Canova and J.P. Kelter join McCarthy in the backfield to give the Falcons balance and depth. Junior fullbacks John Strangie, Russ Canova and Mike Morrill have plenty of talent and physicality to move the chains as well via the ground.
Brendan Treacy, who saw some time at quarterback a year ago, will be the No. 1 signal caller this time around. Out of both the Falcons' I-formation and spread packages, he'll have the option of throwing it to a bevy of receivers, including seniors Justin DiTomaso and Kyle Little and junior Jeremy Hilton.
"Brendan has worked very hard, and we expect big things from him as an athletic QB," said Nolan. "Matt McCarthy leads our group of skill position players, but Ezra, J.P. Kyle and Justin, among others, are all primed for breakout seasons offensively after seeing great success on defense last year."
Defensively, Danvers will run multiple seven-man fronts. A versatile and deep set of linebackers include Mike Shannon, Remotigue, Vargas, Russ Canova, Richie Canova, Strangie, Morrill and Wilichoski, with Walfield, Ledesma, Chronis, Murphy and Stone the main cogs in the defensive line. The secondary will be led by McCarthy, DiTomaso, Lombardi, Kelter, Hilton and Little.
In addition, state champion wrestler Max Leete, a sophomore, will assume the Falcons' kicking duties and, according to Nolan, shows great promise.
Last year's record: 6-5 (lost to Tewksbury in Division 3 North semifinals)
Head coach: Ryan Nolan (2nd season, 6-5)
Team captains: Matt McCarthy, Sr. RB/DB; Tom Walfield, Jr. OL/DL
Top returning rusher: Matt McCarthy (79 carries, 457 yards, 5 TD)
Top returning passer: Brendan Treacy (11-for-16, 129 yards)
Top returning receiver: Matt McCarthy (16 receptions, 381 yards, 2 TD)
Last league title: 2013 (Northeastern Conference South)
Did you know?: The Falcons have a chance to do something they've never done before in their gridiron history dating back to 1902: produce six winning seasons in a single decade. Danvers has compiled five straight winning campaigns — which matches the number earned during the entire 2000s, tied for the most ever in DHS annals.
(does not include MIAA playoff games)
Date Team Time
Sept. 7 Masconomet 7 p.m.
Sept. 14 Peabody 7 p.m.
Sept. 21 at Medford 6 p.m.
Sept. 28 at Malden 7 p.m.
Oct. 5 at Lynn Classical 7 p.m.
Oct. 12 Beverly 7 p.m.
Oct. 19 Marblehead 7 p.m.
Nov. 22 Gloucester 10 a.m.