PEABODY — Ask the five captains of the 2018 Peabody High football team what's one thing that would make their senior season a success and you'll get five different, increasingly ambitious answers.
"To make the playoffs," two-way captain Abe Kaba said, followed by a chorus of answers that included, "To not lose a game," as well as "To make a Super Bowl," plus "To win the NEC," and finally just, "Be better than 6-5."
In order to make those goals a reality, head coach Mark Bettencourt knew his Tanners needed changes. Two years of struggles scoring points, and missing the playoffs in 2017, led the sixth-year boss to embrace the zone blocking and three- and four-receiver sets of the spread offense.
"I don't want to be one game over .500; I want to compete for championships," said Bettencourt, "And I didn't think that old smashmouth offense was going to get us there. That's not the personnel we have now."
Senior quarterback Matt Jandrisevits, a transfer from Malden Catholic, will be the trigger man. He's got an excellent feel for the deep ball and a stable of pass catchers that includes juniors Colby Therrien, Declan Russel, Dylan Peluso and Colten Cole as well as senior Jared Ridley.
Though they're going wide and employing the shotgun, the Tanners still expect to be balanced offensively. With junior Angel Paulino looking faster and sturdier after leading the team in rushing as a 10th grader, there's no reason they shouldn't.
"It's an up tempo style and we're excited about it. The line is big and it's really good. I feel like its one of the better lines around," said co-captain Tyler Norman, a tight end and defensive end.
The Tanners return three starters on the interior of the line with captain Michael Lock at center and captains Kaba and Chris Glass at guard. Senior Aiden Kelleher is ready to step into a starting role at tackle, and junior Phil Makoci has been dynamite so far at the other tackle spot.
"We've got five guys that can protect, a back in (captain) Jake Sousa that can help us protect, a good quarterback and a stable of guys who can make plays with the ball in space," said Bettencourt. "The roster is suited to this offense, and it's our job as coaches to scheme it to put them in the best spots to succeed."
Though the Tanners have been solid on defense in recent years, they're revamping that scheme as well with less emphasis on size in the middle and more on speed on the outside. As a consequence, this year's training camp has been hyper-focused on film work and playbook installation with the players trying to soak it all in.
"It feels like an AP class," said Sousa, who is taking over at middle linebacker as Glass shifts to defensive end. "But this kind of learning pays off a lot more than not."
In the defensive backfield, senior Carlos Hernandez has enjoyed a strong training camp, as have Jack Woods and Joey Mastromatteo. Joe Casey could contribute at linebacker, while Brandon Caniff should step in right away in a safety spot.
"We're throwing a lot at the players. To be honest, I've lost sleep over it. Is it too much? Are they getting it?," said Bettencourt. "So far in the scrimmages, they are."
Peabody lost four of its first five games last season, costing them a playoff berth even through they rebounded to finish over .500. They also haven't won a season opener since 2014, putting a big bull's-eye on September 7 against Somerville.
"There's no better time than now," said Norman, "Legit, that has to be our approach for the whole season."
Last year's record: 6-5 (did not make MIAA playoffs)
Head coach: Mark Bettencourt (6th season, 28-27)
Team captains: Chris Glass, Sr., OL/DL; Abe Kaba, Sr., OL/DL; Michael Lock, Sr., OL/DL; Jake Sousa, Sr., RB/LB; Tyler Normal, Sr., TE/DE.
Top returning rusher: Angel Paulino (91 carries, 582 yards, 4 TDs).
Top returning passer: Colby Therrien (18-of-36, 174 yards, 1 TD).
Top returning receiver: Dylan Peluso (10 catches, 167 yards, 3 TDs).
Last league title: 2000 (Greater Boston League)
Did you know? Angel Paulino's 2017 season marked only the second time in the last 25 years that the Tanners were led in rushing yardage by a sophomore.
Date Opponent Time
Sept. 7 Somerville 7 p.m.
Sept. 14 at Danvers 7 p.m.
Sept. 21 at Marblehead 7 p.m.
Sept. 28 Revere 7 p.m.
Oct. 5 at Masconomet 7 p.m.
Oct. 12 Malden 7 p.m.
Oct. 20 at Beverly 1 p.m.
Nov. 22 Saugus 10 a.m.
* Does not include MIAA playoff dates