Don Herman begins his 28th and final season as head coach of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School football team with a squad long on talent but short on numbers.
“I feel really good about this team. We have very good skill-position players. We just have to work hard to get better every day, and we have to stay healthy,” he said Monday. “We’ve got 24 or 25 varsity players, and we need some of the younger kids to step up and play.”
Mr. Herman said that many of his players will have to play both offense and defense, and that the team needs its 17 underclassmen to spell the veterans. “We run an uptempo offense, and it’s hard to be uptempo when you are on the field for 80 plays in a row,” he said.
Senior quarterback Tucker McNeely has a quartet of talented backs and receivers, including seniors Jacob Cardoza, Austin Chandler, and Ben Clark, who generated much of the Vineyarder offense in 2014, a comeback season in which the 5-5 Vineyarders won four of their last five games, including the coveted Island Cup over a favored Nantucket squad.
The kicking game can be sketchy in high school, but wide receiver James Sashin doubled as punter and kicker last season with some excellent results that appeared to translate to the next level.
“James has some work to do, but he can be a very good one, no question,” Mr. Herman said.
Last weekend, the Vineyarders participated in a quad scrimmage with Hull, Bristol-Plymouth, and South Shore vocational high schools.
“I liked what I saw. We competed well and did some good things, particularly on offense. The question marks are on defense,” he said noting that the line is anchored by brothers Andy and Jimmy DiMattia, 2014 stalwarts who bring a combined 500 pounds to the line of scrimmage.
Big-man juniors Luke DeBettencourt and Pete Foster also figure to be two-way players, based on their sophomore season contributions, and Mr. Herman is looking to senior Crockett Cataloni, juniors Wilson Redfield and Andrei Bernier, and sophomore Curtis Fournier to help out on both the offensive and defensive lines.
Mr. Herman said the Vineyarder offense will be familiar to fans, using spread formations in an uptempo offense that served the team well, particularly in the Island Cup game last year against a bigger Nantucket squad.
Any surprises this year?
“Well, I have no reason to hold anything back,“ the coach chuckled.
Mr. Herman turned serious on the subject of Regional High School student participation in its athletic programs. “Our [football] numbers are very low. We have 42 kids total in varsity and junior varsity, the lowest number in more than 20 years,” he said.
“I don’t know if it’s a kid problem or a parent problem, but I firmly believe that, on balance, the benefits of participation in athletics outweigh the negatives. I sense that a successful football team helps the entire school year to begin well,” he said.
Mr. Herman added that he has seen a cyclical, bell-curve effect in participation. “When I first got here, our numbers were really low, then peaked at 75-85 players in the early 2000 seasons. They have been declining for the past seven years,” he said, noting that the low numbers seem to be an Island problem.
“At last weekend’s scrimmages, our opponents had big numbers. In fact, the Hull coaches told me they had such a turnout that they had to borrow helmets from other schools,” he said.
Mr. Herman’s views are based on a lot of football experience. The Savannah, Ga., native played linebacker at the Division 1 state champion Benedictine Cadets before playing baseball at what is now called Armstrong Atlantic University in Savannah. He began coaching high school football after graduation, and has 35 years of head-coaching experience, including his 28 years on-Island.
The Vineyarders will play another four-team scrimmage and a Saturday home scrimmage at noon against a Georgetown High School team coached by former Vineyarder Eric McCarthy, as the Vineyarders prepare for the season opener on Friday, Sept. 11, at 6:30 pm at McCarthy Field against the Carver High School crusaders.
“Three of our first four games are at home. We’re hoping that September will be kind and we’ll get off to a good start,” he said.
Massachusetts high schools complete their league play (Eastern Athletic Conference for the Vineyarders) early in the season, and the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association schedules the next three games as part of its playoff scheme.
The 2015 league schedule includes Bourne, Coyle & Cassidy, Bishop Feehan, Bishop Stang, and Somerset. The Vineyarders play their annual homecoming game on Friday, Oct. 16, against Brighton High School at 6:30 pm. The Island Cup game will be played Nov. 21 on Nantucket at 1:30 pm.