Fall sports preview: Low numbers won’t deter South Hadley football

  • Max Garvin, left, and Ryan Levrault work on blocking during practice at South Hadley High School, Aug. 23. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Hunter Carey carries the ball during practice at South Hadley High School, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Max Garvin, right, and Ryan Levrault work on blocking during practice at South Hadley High School, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Hunter Carey, front, runs a drill during practice at South Hadley High School, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ethan Murphy passes during practice at South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ethan Murphy passes during practice at South Hadley High School, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/6/2019 3:00:21 PM
Modified: 9/6/2019 3:00:09 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — Scott Taylor invoked the Spartans of Thermopylae when addressing the South Hadley football team after an early preseason practice.

There are only 39 Tigers out for football this season, the smallest number in Taylor’s tenure. South Hadley isn’t letting that be an excuse, much like the small Greek force immortalized in the comic series and film “300”.

“It’s the smallest it’s ever been. We didn’t replace everything we lost, ” Taylor said. “I’m excited to see how good they can become for themselves. We talk about ownership and accountability. It’s their team, and they understand what it’s going to take to get there.”

The Tigers ran their postseason streak to seven years last season and reached the Western Massachusetts championship game for the first time since 2012. Wahconah defeated South Hadley handily, and the Tigers haven’t forgotten.

“It’s the ever-present elephant in the room,” senior Ryan Levrault said. “We all know that didn’t go the way we wanted to last year. I think it’s going to be a great game if we have the luck to be in the situation we were last year.”

Though South Hadley graduated eight players last season, injuries throughout the campaign forced the Tigers to rotate younger athletes through to gain experience. The team will benefit from that seasoning as they battle for starting positions.

“It’s created a competitive environment but in no way a hostile one. Everyone’s fighting to be that next Hunter Borowski or that next Jacey Rondeau,” Levrault said. “No one’s doing it in a way that’s cutthroat or detrimental to the team.”

Quarterback

Ethan Murphy and Sean Mitchell are vying for the starting spot.

“The bottom line is we’re hoping one of them can take it. One has a better arm, one is a better runner,” Taylor said. “If we put them together, they’re the perfect quarterback.”

Taylor also isn’t opposed to using a two-quarterback system.

Whoever gets the job will have more responsibility and opportunity that previous Tigers quarterbacks. South Hadley will emphasize its passing game more in 2019.

“We need to have something that the other teams have to account for,” Taylor said. “They can’t just load the box against us because that’s when we get in trouble. We need to have an answer for third-and-12 when we get behind the chains.”

Running back

Running the ball will still be the Tigers’ bread and butter, though. They have four ball carriers in the backfield – including the quarterback – at all times. None are more dangerous than Hunter Carey. He ran for more than 800 yards last season and scored 16 touchdowns between running, receiving and returns.

“If he has the ball in his hands, he’s a ridiculous runner and teams have to account for him,” Taylor said. “If he doesn’t have the ball in his hands we can use him as a fake to try and get teams to over-commit.”

Tyrell Braithwaite, who filled in when then-senior Liam Dawson was injured last season, and James Couture, a backup fullback on last season’s team, will provide other options in the winged-T .

Wide receiver/tight end

The diversification of South Hadley’s offense is an exciting prospect for its wideouts. Austin Robinette, who is returning from a shoulder injury, Evan Paquette and Blaise Washington are competing for the top spot.

The Tigers will have a new starter at tight end but aren’t sure who it’s going to be. They could just use a sixth lineman and beef up the line, rotating in another wide receiver to stretch the field.

Marquise Fitzell, who previously played soccer, provides an intriguing option. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds during South Hadley’s testing.

Offensive/Defensive line

South Hadley boasts its biggest line during Taylor’s tenure both in number of players and bulk.

Levrault and Max Garvin, who has recovered from a torn meniscus, will anchor the group. Sophomore Jake Jackson will take over at center. Noah Will moved in to guard, and Doug Aiolupotea is getting looks at tackle. Tyler “Tank” Mayer and Ishmael Flores also provide depth for South Hadley’s rotation.

“They kept up on their nutrition over the summer, they were in the weight room,” Carey said. “It’s great to have big guys to run behind.”

The same group will compose the defensive line, and it’s up to the Tigers staff to rotate and keep them fresh.

Linebackers

Couture is starting for the third straight season. Alex Burns transferred back after moving to Virginia. Jack Haber, Kyle Johnson and Robinette give the Tigers options.

Secondary

The entire unit is back from last year: Carey, Braithwaite and Dylan Cousineau. Collin Mailhott played on junior varsity last year and had to battle ankle injuries but should contribute.

Special teams

Harrison Baptiste, another defector from the soccer team, regularly made 40-yard field goals during practice.

“That could be a real luxury for us,” Taylor said.

Carey and Cousineau are dangerous returners.

South Hadley

COACH: Scott Taylor, fifth year

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Suburban North/7

LAST YEAR’S RECORD:8-3

LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: 2018, lost 46-14 to Wahconah in Western Mass. semifinals

ROSTER: Seniors — Tyrell Braithwaite, RB/CB; Hunter Carey, FS/RB; Marquis Fitzell, RB/DB; Max Garvin, G/DT/DE; Ryan Levrault, OL/DL; Ethan Murphy, QB; Blaise Washington, CB/WR; Noah Will, DE/G; Juniors — Alex Burns, RB/DB; Anthony Cigal, G/DT; Reuel Colon Jr., MLB/TE; James Couture, RB/OLB/MLB; Caiden Duda, T/DT; Kyle Johnson, RB/OLB; Shawn Mitchell, QB/CB; Austin Robinette, TE/DE; John Sherwood, WR/CB; Sophomores — Doug Aiolupotea, T/DT; Harry Baptiste, WR/DB/K; Robert Bessone, OL/DL; Matt Brousseau, FB/MLB; Alex Chandler, WR/DB; Dylan Cottingham, RB/CB; Dylan Cousineau, DE/TE; Sam Desautels, TE/DB; Ishmael Flores, DT/G; Eric Gingras, RB/WR; Jack Haber, FB/MLB; Jake Jackson, C/DT; Collin Mailhott, RB; Mathew Mayer, DT/T; Tyler Mayer, OL/DL; Evan Piquette, WR/FS; Andrew Riopelle, T/DT; Danny Smith, OL/DL; Freshmen — Brock Fitzell, WR/OLB; Brayden Harper, OL/LB/TE; Justin McMannas, OL/DL; Justin Vanhoy, T/DT;

OUTLOOK: Playing in a revamped Suburban North will further prepare the Tigers for the postseason. South Hadley now has to contend with Amherst and Putnam along with Taconic and Pittsfield. Close-knit group will rely on chemistry and talent to try and return to sectional final. Carey is a dangerous weapon out of the backfield.




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