Fall sports preview: Experience drives Frontier football

  • Ito McMillan carries the ball during practice Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019 at Frontier Regional High School. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Frontier Regional assistant coach Scott Dredge shows Ito McMillan, left, and Garrett DeForest how to do a drill during practice, Aug. 22 at the school. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ito McMillan, left, carries the ball while defended by Sam Hebert during practice Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019 at Frontier Regional High School. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Frontier Regional players Donovan Hoffman, from left, Ito McMillan and Garrett DeForest practice, Aug. 22 in South Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Donovan Hoffman, top, works with Ethan Machon during a blocking drill, Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019 at Frontier Regional High School. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Frontier coach Don Gordon talks to his team during practice, Thursday, Aug. 22 2019 at the school. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Frontier varsity football players run conditioning drills during their first practice of the season Friday afternoon in South Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier varsity football players run though handoff drills during their first practice of the season Friday afternoon in South Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier Regional head coach Don Gordon runs conditioning drills during their first practice of the season in South Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier varsity football head coach Don Gordon explains a drill to his team during their first practice of the season Friday afternoon in South Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 9/6/2019 9:00:22 AM
Modified: 9/6/2019 9:00:10 AM

SOUTH DEERFIELD — Consistency has been the calling card of the Frontier Regional football program the past half decade. The team has won at least six games and qualified for the postseason every year since 2014.

In fact, the Red Hawks have alternated campaigns of six and nine wins over the last five years. They won six games and reached the Western Massachusetts Division 7 semifinals last year. The vast majority of that team is back after only six seniors graduated.

“We have a good foundation in that we’re not doing anything new. They remember things we’ve done last year,” Frontier coach Don Gordon said. “We’re just building on that. We’re solid, we’ve got good experience.”

Staying healthy will go a long way toward continuing Frontier’s postseason streak. The Red Hawks suffered key injuries down the stretch that hurt their campaign. An overtime loss to Turners Falls and a tight loss to Easthampton potentially cost Frontier a home playoff game.

The Red Hawks lost to South Hadley in the Division 7 semifinals on the road after defeating them in South Deerfield the year before.

“It’s not just last year. I’ve been playing since I was in second grade and there’s still losses I think about in the junior program that power me through,” senior captain Garrett DeForest said. “The mindset for everyone this year is to keep everything that happened in previous years and put it all up there and crush it for our senior season.”

Quarterback

DeForest will move behind center after running for 1,368 yards and double-digit touchdowns as a wing back last year. That doesn’t mean he’s done carrying the ball, though.

“I don’t want to give away too much yet, but hopefully I’ll be able to get the same touches I had last year,” DeForest said.

Ends

In Frontier’s open-wing offense, skill position players aren’t separated into distinct rushing or receiving positions. They’re all “ends” and can carry or catch the ball.

Alex Kirkendall will be a reliable fullback at 5-foot-9, 210 pounds.

“He’s a plugger,” Gordon said.

Ito McMillan was injured last year but is poised for a breakout senior season. Josh Semaski started as a freshman last year as the season progressed.

“He’s tough, he’s fast,” Gordon said.

Jack Vecellio and Jake Dodge round out the group.

“We’ve got some new weapons out, some speed,” Gordon said. “It’s going to make a difference.”

Offensive/defensive line

The Red Hawks’ front will average between 220 and 230 pounds among a group that will play both sides of the line of scrimmage.

“I don’t know what’s in the water in the district here, but everybody seems to be like 6-2, 200-something,” Gordon said. “Most of them played last year. We’re picking up right where we left off.”

Jackie Phong will anchor the line and is a sectional wrestling champion. John Semaski is the line’s biggest presence, while freshman AJ Michalak has impressed along with Gavin Trapp.

Linebackers

DeForest will also be at the heart of Frontier’s famously ferocious defense. Evan Dunigan, Kirkendall and Dodge should factor into the defensive backfield, as well.

Secondary

Gordon has a lot of trust in a senior-laden group. McMillan and Sam Hebert should be the cornerstones.

Special teams

On the rare occasions Frontier kicks the ball, DeForest will handle those duties.

“I hate punting,” Gordon said. “But you have to be prepared.”

Frontier Regional

COACH: Don Gordon, seventh year

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Intercounty North/7

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 6-5

LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: 2018, lost 44-13 to South Hadley in WMass semifinals

RETURNING STARTERS: Seniors — Dylan Apanell, OL/DL; Garrett DeForest, QB/LB; Sam Hebert, WR/DB; Ito McMillan RB/DB; Juniors — Jacob Bryant OL/LB; Alex Kirkendall, FB/LB: Jackie Phong, OL/DL; Sophomores — John Semanski, OL/DL; Josh Semanski, RB/LB;

RETURNING PLAYERS: Senior — Jeff Stiles, OL/DL; Juniors — Ethan Machon, WR/DB; Ken Moulton, OL/DL; Ethan Russell, OL/DL; Sophomores — Mekai Anthony, OL/DL; Dan Diemand, TE/LB; Ben Lizotte, RB/DB; Sam Schreiber, QB/DB; Gavin Trott, OL/DL;

NEWCOMERS: Senior — Hunter Wolfson, OL/DL; Junior — Jake Dodge, RB/LB; Sophomores — Brooke Pierce, DB/WR; Iain Spearance, FB/LB; Jack Vecellio, RB/DB; Freshmen — Kyle Baker, RB/DB; Ethan Bryant, OL/DL; Conner Hoffman, OL/LB; Sean Kirkendall, RB/DB; AJ Michalak, OL/DL; Aiden West, RB/DB;

OUTLOOK: Experienced group returns after its fifth straight postseason berth. Poised for a big year behind bigger offensive line and more depth at the skill positions. Moving DeForest form running back to quarterback shouldn’t slow the offense.




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