Williston football aiming to improve in 2018

  • The Williston Northampton football team performs push ups as part of a pre-practice stretching routine Thursday in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • The Williston Northamton football team stretches before practice Thursday in Easthampton. The Wildcats open their season Saturday against Kent. STAFF PHOTO / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Williston Northampton senior defensive lineman Christian Anzeveno, left, works on offensive line drills Thursday at the Wildcats’ practice in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • A Williston Northampton football helmet on the ground Thursday at practice in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Williston Northampton tight end Thomas Thibault practices catching during punt drills at Williston’s Thursday practice in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO / KYLE GRABOWSKI

@kylegrbwsk
Published: 9/20/2018 9:27:16 PM

EASTHAMPTON — Sub-.500 seasons like last year stand out for the Williston Northampton football team.

The Wildcats went 3-5 in 2017 and 1-7 the year before under coach Tom Beaton, aberrations after Mark Conroy’s 16-year run of winning seasons. Williston’s current athletic director went 84-47, and the Wildcats made three New England prep bowl appearances before Beaton took over in 2016.

Williston played the past two years in the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council Class A division, moving up from Class B when Beaton took over. The level of competition has taken some getting used to.

“We’ve taken our lumps a little bit,” Beaton said. “The big thing for us is getting a little tougher. We play some big, physical teams, and we need to match that toughness. Not just physical, but mental toughness as well.”

The Wildcats are the youngest team in the Erickson League, Beaton said. They have 12 freshmen and seven sophomores on the roster.

“We try to get as many young guys in the program as we can to build over a number of years,” Beaton said. “We are asking a lot of those guys to play right away, that’s for sure.”

He expects four or five freshmen to see time against Kent in the Wildcats’ season opener Saturday in Connecticut. Williston will play its first home game Sept. 29 against Taft.

“We don’t have a weak team on our schedule this year,” Beaton said.

Despite Williston’s youth, the Wildcats possess talent. The team brought in three postgraduate wide receivers that have impressed in practices and scrimmages.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh Ofili, who committed to Brown, and Cole Drugotch will get plenty of opportunities in Williston’s spread offense. Tight end Thomas Thibault, who Beaton called one of the best in the league, will provide another receiving threat for quarterback Henri Bourque.

Bourque started four games last season and will be backed up by Northampton’s Dallas Elliott.

Bourque’s “a heck of an athlete and really got better as a quarterback last season,” Beaton said.

The running game will lean on former Mount Greylock back Cal Messina, a shifty player who will also see time at linebacker.

Because of the size of Williston’s roster at 41 players, the Wildcats will rely on many two-way players.

“Everyone at least has a position on the other side,” Beaton said. “We want to put them in the best position to succeed, but we also don’t want to kill them.”

The Wildcats will play four down lineman in their defensive front. Christian Anzeveno will lead the unit as a senior captain.

How Williston’s talent meshes will determine its ceiling in 2018.

“It’s on new guys, who are definitely all ballers individually, but it’s the whole chemistry thing,” Thibault said.

That’s where Williston has focused its early effort along with toughness. The Wildcats want to work together to improve their record from last year.

“We’re excited to prove people wrong,” Anzeveno said. “We want to have a winning record to show that the football team is where it should be.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com.

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