Upbeat Vineyard gridders impress in preseason finale

MV hosts Carver in home opener on Sept. 8.

Vineyard QB Ivan Shepherd takes off on a run at practice last Friday. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Last Saturday’s high school preseason scrimmage qualified as as a “friendly” as the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) Vineyarders met the Lancers of Georgetown High School at Dan McCarthy Field in Oak Bluffs. That’s because former Super Bowl-winning MVRHS (class of 2003) standout Eric McCarthy was returning to the Island to scrimmage against his former team.

Third-year Lancers Coach McCarthy and first-year Vineyarder Coach Ryan Kent fielded a rambunctious bunch of high-intensity players who were fun to watch on a sunny and humid afternoon.

“It’s good to come back. I’ve played and coached here, actually coached some of these Vineyard kids when I’m back during the summer,” Mr. McCarthy said, following his team’s 15-8 win over a talented but thin Vineyarder squad. “We both have low numbers, but we have some talented skill players,” he said.

Both teams had about 30 players suited up on Saturday, with another six or seven Vineyarders on the bench with minor injuries. The Vineyarders will miss 2016 star Matteus Scheffer, recovering from a torn ACL that will sideline him for the season.

Mr. Kent liked a lot of what he saw on Saturday, including the team mindset. “Great effort. The kids tell me they’re having fun. I tell ’em to tell their friends. Team signup is still open,” he said following the scrimmage.

Martha’s Vineyard head coach Ryan Kent observes his charges during practice.

His lips to God’s ear. Before the contest, MVRHS athletic director Mark McCarthy said, “What you see is our entire football program, not just the varsity squad,” adding that the Vineyarders would not field a junior varsity team this season because of low numbers of players.

The young Vineyarders, coming off a 1-9 record in 2016, gave a good account of themselves on Saturday against an experienced Lancers squad, which qualified for the state playoffs in 2016.

If enthusiasm counts and the injury bug is dormant, the Vineyarders will be an exciting fan experience, based on Saturday’s performance. For one thing, the Vineyarders have two experienced quarterbacks.

Junior Ivan Shepherd features a big arm and the ability to scramble from the QB spot. Senior Zach Moreis is a four-year varsity veteran on both sides of the ball. Mr. Moreis is a strong, compact running back with a gun of his own, and led the Vineyarders with 31 yards on the ground on Saturday. “They definitely give us two different looks [at quarterback],” Mr. Kent said.

Zach Smith hauls in a pass during Friday’s practice.

After Georgetown scored on its opening drive, the Vineyarders responded with a 21-yard scoring toss from Mr. Shepherd to senior Jerry DaSilva, and added a two-point conversion. Georgetown used their passing game to score again in the first half, adding a two-point conversion that ended scoring for the day.

In all training camps, Pop Warner or NFL, line play is the last element to gel, and the Vineyarders showed inexperience during the first half against fairly sophisticated Georgetown offensive schemes, including four receiver sets featuring 6-foot, 4-inch Hunter Lane, who is drawing attention from Division 1 colleges, Mr. McCarthy noted.

The line responded in the second half, pitching a shutout against a high-octane offense, including fourth-quarter play when the Vineyarder underclassmen got extended playing time. “They got some reps [playing time] and had some fun,” Mr. Kent said, adding, “My job is to win, their job is to have fun doing it.”

The Vineyarders are young, with more freshmen (13) and sophomores (8) than seniors (7). They are led by senior co-captains John Morris, Cooper Bennett, Tristan Scheller, and Sam Rollins. Mr. Kent’s staff includes Jeff Trudel, Tim Millerick, Ryan Ruley, Sterling Bishop, Bobby Mansfield, and Tom Keller.

Senior defender Moreis and John Morris showed the way with four tackles apiece, and several Vineyarder sophomores showed they are ready for prime time, including Patrick Ribeiro, Hoffie Hearn, Joshua Pinto, and James Murray. Mr. Ribeiro, for example, forced a throwaway pass, and had a tackle for loss on consecutive plays.

Freshman wideout Oscar Shepherd had a highlight-reel play late in the fourth quarter when he leaped for a pass with a defender on him. The defender got a hand on the ball, deflecting it, but Mr. Shepherd kept his feet moving and his eye on the ball, taking two steps before diving to catch the tipped pass for a 15-yard gain.

That’s the beauty of football. Talent is great but heart is essential.

And if enthusiasm is contagious, the upbeat Mr. Kent provided plenty of it, dashing up and down the sidelines, encouraging and exhorting, throwing arms skyward after missed penalty calls. Told after the game that he reminds fans of a much taller version of Donald Herman, legendary retired Vineyarder coach, Mr. Kent said, “Just remember that Donald was as tall as me when he started out.”

The 2017 MVRHS varsity football team.

Asked about Vineyarder prospects this season in the Eastern Athletic Conference
(EAC), Mr. Kent said “Well, certainly you’ve got to fear the Irish [Bishop Feehan’s Shamrocks], but there has been a lot of change in the EAC, both coaches and players, so we’ll see.”

The good-vibe Vineyarders open the 2017 season on Sept. 8 against Carver High School at Dan McCarthy Field. Kickoff is at 6:30 pm.