HAMILTON — Size, whether in terms of the height and girth of the players or the sheer number of them on the roster, is not usually available in excess in the Cape Ann League's Baker division.
It would be easy to think Hamilton-Wenham, one of three defending Baker champs after sharing last year's crown with Ipswich and Lynnfield, is undersized. But it would be foolhardy to think for one second that the Generals are undermanned.
"There's definitely going to be one matchup or another in every game where we're outsized," said co-captain Thomas Monahan, an offensive guard and defensive end at 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds. "But it's not about how big a guy is; it's about his technique and how hard he can hit."
Small, medium or large in the T-shirt department, the Generals have plenty of talent to build on last year's 9-2 season.
Quarterback Billy Whelan has thrown for over 3,000 yards and 36 touchdowns combined over the last two seasons, and though his top four pass catchers from last year graduated, he sees plenty of skill to target in both the running and passing games.
"I'm really excited for the season. We absolutely have the pieces to compete," said Whelan, another captain who has a 16-5 record as the starting QB.
What's the biggest benefit of all that experience under center?
"It leads to making good decisions, and even more it leads to making fast decisions," said Whelan, who could also line up in the secondary on defense and rush the ball more than in years past, quipping, "I think the bubble wrap is coming off a little bit this year."
Veteran coach Jim Pugh, six wins shy of 200 in his career while entering his third season at Hamilton-Wenham, knows junior Ian Coffey has the chops to be a bell cow running back. The speedster ran for 756 yards and 11 touchdowns as a tenth grader and with a rugged, veteran offensive line in front of him is primed for an explosive season.
Returning senior center Evan Bucci is flanked by Monahan, Mike Moynihan and Henry Smith, with junior Ethan Moynihan in the mix along with senior Drew Cirinna. Aidan Nistl and Finn Brophy are big, physical blockers capable of making impacts at a variety of positions, and Quinlan Kelly packs a punch at tight end.
"We have a lot of guys that have stepped up, that have been working hard and studying, and now that it's their turn they're ready to make an impact," said Monahan. "We're excited to prove we can be as good as last year, and we feel like one of our strengths is the offensive line."
Defense should be another strength since H-W held seven of its 11 opponents to two TDs or fewer last year. Captain Sam Webber is ready for an expanded role at middle linebacker, and with Monahan and Henry Schibli causing havoc up front, the Generals may have one of the most physical front sevens in Division 6 North.
"I can't wait to get out there in a game. There's nothing better than making a big hit on defense," said Webber. "Last year I got to play next to Phil Durgin and he was such a big leader, showed me so many things, that I want to pass that on to the other guys like he did for me."
Senior Giles Hubbard is poised to step into a big role on defense. Colby Cala and Cam Guyer have speed and could contribute on both sides of the ball.
It's a tough slate to open the season for Hamilton-Wenham with a road game at Bishop Fenwick on tap for Week 1 before its home opener against North Reading. The Gens also picked up a road bout against Norwell to fill the void left by football independent Georgetown.
"It's a good group with great leadership. I like our team chemistry," said Pugh, who had 40 players come out in Grades 9-12, up slightly from last year. "We have battle-tested players and we'll have them ready. They want it pretty bad."
Last year's record: 9-2 (CAL Baker co-champs, Division 6 North finalist)
Head coach: Jim Pugh (3rd season, 16-6 at H-W, 194-116 overall)
Team captains: Tom Monahan, Sr., OL/DE; Henry Smith, Sr., OL/DL; Sam Webber, Sr., FB/LB; Billy Whelan, Sr., QB/DB.
Top returning rusher: Ian Coffey (98 carries, 756 yards, 11 TDs).
Top returning passer: Billy Whelan (97-of-170, 1,606 yards, 18 TDs).
Top returning receiver: Ian Coffey (8 catches, 91 yards, 2 TDs).
Last league title: 2017 (Cape Ann League Baker)
Did you know? Billy Whelan's 36 career touchdown passes are already an H-W program record, and he could become one of a handful of North Shore passers with 50 career scoring strikes later this season.
(does not include MIAA playoff dates)
Date Opponent Time
Sept. 7 at Bishop Fenwick 7 p.m.
Sept. 15 North Reading 1 p.m.
Sept. 21 at Gr. Lawrence 7 p.m.
Sept. 29 Amesbury 1 p.m.
Oct. 5 at Norwell 7 p.m.
Oct. 12 at Manchester Essex 7 p.m.
Oct. 20 Lynnfield 1 p.m.
Nov. 22 Ipswich 10 a.m.