High School Football Preview: Long road ends with season opener

  • Members of the Amherst Regional football team run the second of two circuits on a snow-free path across Community Field during a Hurricanes practice on March 2. STAFF FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst Regional football senior lineman and captain Owen Frenette, foreground, leads a line of players in warmups on the school parking lot to open a team practice at Community Field on Tuesday, March 2, 2021. The players used the lines of the parking spaces to keep themselves nine feet apart.

  • South Hadley football players warm up on Memorial Field at the start of a Tigers practice on March 4. STAFF FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 3/18/2021 9:10:01 PM

The past few seasons of Amherst Regional football have been about obsessively chasing championships. The Hurricanes claimed their first Western Massachusetts title since 1999 last year and reached the state final at Gillette Stadium.

They’ve been in the playoffs four years running. Coach Chris Ehorn halted playing on Thanksgiving because he didn’t want to play a game that doesn’t progress toward a banner.

A dozen seniors graduated from last year’s trophy-claiming team. Amherst had talent returning in the fall, then the MIAA opted to move the football season to the spring. The Hurricanes still practiced, but it wasn’t the same. They’ll return to the field Friday at 7 p.m. at East Longmeadow. There will be no playoffs, no trophies. Just games so that the players can have a season.

A fall without football taught them the value of being able to play.

“You’re put in a position to realize how fortunate we are to play the game of football,” Ehorn said. “We learned his year there’s more to life than playing football games, but football makes life that much sweeter.”

With no postseason, Amherst requested the toughest schedule it could play to increase the importance of each game. The Hurricanes are facing a who’s who of the area’s top teams. After the date with the Spartans, Amherst has Division 3 schools Agawam and defending state champion Springfield Central lined up followed by a rematch of the 2019 Division 5 sectional final against West Springfield. The Hurricanes close with Chicopee Comp at home.

“We’re excited we were able to jump in there and take on a tougher schedule and have these challenges. We want to play the best,” Ehorn said. “Central led by example. They seek out the toughest opponents possible. We don’t mind following in those footsteps of let’s play the best, let’s see where that takes us.”

Junior Zayd Sadiq will provide a dynamic threat on the outside both at receiver and defensive back, while Landen Worgess will anchor both lines. With all of Amherst’s graduations from the backfield, that opens up opportunities for Tafari Proctor to carry the ball after a standout junior varsity season last year.

Freshman Jameson Dion will take over at quarterback and play safety.

Ehorn has also managed to recruit athletes from the basketball program, and soccer players than normally couldn’t play football have joined the team.

“Our talent is up there with our previous year’s team. The difference is a lot of it is new talent,” Ehorn said. “We’ve got to get them up to speed with how we do things. The guys are locked in.”

South Hadley

The defending Division 7 champions didn’t rest on their laurels during the fall season which is normally nonstop football. The Tigers started an NFL Flag league and competed against each other in addition to practicing.

Hunter Carey’s graduation leaves massive holes to fill on both sides of the ball, but South Hadley plans to use its depth rather than rely on one player to replace his production.

Shawn Mitchell returns as a senior quarterback after splitting time last season, and the Tigers winged-T offense will rely on multiple running backs. James Couture has experience along with Aidan Sullivan, but there are carries available for players that step into the roles.

South Hadley’s young line from a season ago also has another season to gel and develop together.

The Tigers will enjoy its home field advantage with five of six games on its turf field behind the high school.

Northampton

Joe Kocot took a realist’s approach to the Blue Devils’ Fall II plan. They have to wear masks at all times and even lift outside.

“I told both the players and the coaches to not make a big deal about this,” said head coach Joe Kocot. “This is just the way it is, nothing is going to change, so let’s get our work done.”

Northampton originally was unsure if it would have a football season with the city’s sports ban, but players picketed City Hall and brought attention to the issue. The ban was lifted the weekend before the season started.

When it was still in limbo, Kocot organized a combine for his players to show what they could do for college coaches.

“We wanted to send some numbers to colleges for the kids so we did the broad jump, the 40, the three cone drill as well as power lifting numbers,” he said.

Kocot graduated ten seniors last year but still has a fair number of veterans on the roster, including Brett Holten and Braeden Tudryn. 

Northampton has no home games scheduled, but Kocot is hoping that they get at least one before the season is over.

“At this point, we don’t even know if we will even get a home game. If we did, it would probably be the last game of the year,” said Kocot. “We’re dealing with it and that’s fine.”

Easthampton

The Eagles will be a team without a home this season after the district began construction of a new school where their football field stood at White Brook Middle School.

“For the first two weeks we haven’t even had a field to play on. With the new middle school being built, we’ve been forced to play in the parking lot,” Easthampton coach Matt Bean said.

Jacob Neumann, who would have been a senior starting running back and linebacker, decided to transfer to Williston Northampton and reclassify before the year. He was the standard bearer for a strong senior class that will lead Easthampton’s road warriors.

“Despite these challenging times, we are really grateful to be able to play,” Bean said. “Our seniors are just thankful to get at least some playing time this year at all.”

The Eagles made the Division 5 playoffs last season but fell in the opening round against Amherst.

Belchertown

The Orioles are used to beginning the hard work of the season in the heat of the summer, but in Fall II, they are forced to adapt to bitter temperatures at times. Senior center Chris Greene, a senior said the long hiatus has given the team some time to train independently.

“The preparation for our first game of the season normally is best described as a marathon, paced and steady,” Greene said. “This year, it feels more like a sprint. Despite the newfound challenges, we are strong as ever and ready to hit the season running.”

Belchertown will need to find replacements for senior quarterback Cam Otto and running back Cal Daskam, who keyed the offense last season.

Smith Vocational

The Vikings will enter the year with yet another new head coach: Alec Subocz, an assistant last year.

“My focus is on accountability and discipline,” he said. “The better teams I’ve been around have never overlooked the little details so my staff and I want to make sure that we keep close attention to the basics.”

Having a new coaching staff is never easy for any high school football program. Throwing in the COVID pandemic does not make it easier, but Subocz is trying his best to make the transition smooth.

“The key thing is making sure that both the veterans and new players follow our rules,” said Subocz. “It was a significant change.”

It is a full reset for Smith Vocational. Freshmen Alex Martinez will take over under center. The young talent will be thrown right into a starting role, but his older brother and starting center, Zak Martinez, will be there right with him.

“I get to snap to him which is amazing,” Zak Martinez said. “He’s played against these Springfield teams before, and he was quarterback in those games. If that wasn’t a challenge and this is, I don’t know where he’s been.”

In the backfield, there will also be shared carries for Smith Vocational, with Tyler Pratt, John Castro and senior Erik Leet leading the charge.

“I expect all three of them to have some amount of carries this season,” Subocz said.

As much as Subocz wants to win, his objective this year has been giving his 10 seniors a send off for all their years in the program.

“I’m hoping that we win a couple games,” Subocz said. “With all the seniors and juniors that we currently have, I’m hoping that we can turn that goal into reality.”




Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

Copyright © 2021 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy