It’s not too soon to look ahead to Football 2019

Staff photo by TOM KING Nashua North's Curtis Harris (21), chased by Nashua South's Jason Compoh, will be in a huge spotlight as a junior next fall.

NASHUA – Nashua High School North football coach Dante Laurendi was in relative warmth in the Titans team room at Stellos Stadium Wednesday night, performing a usual end-of-season ritual: collecting player uniforms and equipment.

White pants, check. Helmet, check. Jersey, check. Practice sweats, check.

Future hopes for 2019 season? Like all high school football teams that have wrapped up a campaign that began in the summer heat and end in the November chill, let’s leave that one blank for now.

“There’s a lot of different elements you’re dealing with,” Laurendi said. “It’s tough.”

The big thing is participation. The numbers tell the story, and the numbers for both North and South, while adequate, weren’t overwhelming.

“I bet your numbers will still be down, or people hope to maintain their numbers if they are low,” Laurendi said. “You’re dealing with a lot of different things. I know for us it’s kind of been inconsistent. You get good numbers for one class, low numbers the next. Good numbers, low numbers. Hopefully we can retain some guys, grab some kids, and get some of those numbers up.”

Speaking of numbers, the Division I, II and III state champions were all undefeated this season. So the bar is set high. Here’s a look going into the off-season, if there really is one any more:

DIVISION I

The player to watch next season, obviously, will be Harris, who accounted for well over 2,000 yards of offense for the Titans running, throwing and returning the football. – as a sophomore.

He’s a well-mannered, focused player who says all the right things and makes sure he does all the right things not only on the field but in the classroom as a National Honor Society student. Thus you have to feel that the sky’s the limit.

“He had a phenomenal year,” Laurendi said. “Obviously that’s an understatement, as a sophomore, what he can do on both sides of the ball as he doesn’t come off the field for us.”

“Two more years, I’m anxious to see what they hold,” Harris said. “I have to work on getting in the weight room, getting a little bit bigger. Hopefully that will help me.”

North will need to surround the quarterback/tailback with some strength up front because the Titans lose some key linemen to graduation. As good as Harris was, beef up front on both sides of the ball was one of the big things that helped them get back to the playoffs and finish 7-4.

“We’ve got some other good young players coming up,” Laurendi said. “Hopefully they’ll learn from some of our seniors work ethic, continue to get better and improve and try take it to the next level.”

Take Nashua South, for example. The Panthers were really hit hard by injuries starting with a 14-0 loss at home to Merrimack, and suffered a four-game losing streak that derailed their season. In some spots, they were down to the third player on the depth chart, and that was usually an undersized freshman or sophomore.

“That’s where you need numbers to build depth, you need that next guy to step up,” Knight said. “And Bedford’s (this year’s Division I champion) has had that issue. In the past, they’ve always had great numbers.”

That will be the key for next year.

“I think so,” Knight said. “You saw some programs’ numbers down at the freshman level. We were about even to where we usually are. I thought we were maybe even a little bit better.”

But Knight is watching the perrenial powers, like a Bedford, or an Exeter (down year for the Blue Hawks), etc.

“Exter still had their 40, but they’re usually 60,” Knight said. “Some of that is going to have an effect. This year we had that concussion stuff (later start to the preseason practice, limited contact, etc.). So we’ll see where it goes.”

Where it’s going for South next year is still is a pretty good skill position group, led by the running back brother combo of Jason and Joshua Compoh, quarterback Dante Young, receiver Chris Keefe, etc. And the Panthers up front were, with a f ew exceptions, young, so that means bigger and more experience for next year.

What about the other local West Conference teams? Merrimack loses head coach Kip Jackson’s first four-year group; the key name returning will be receiver/defensive back Devin Wood. Like it was this year for Ben Eichman, it may be his team next season.

“It’s 52 weeks a year now,” Jackson said. “We have some other kids that have been in the program three years so hopefully we can continue to improve.” One of those is this year’s junior QB James Dowling. The Tomahawks did what they could up front, holding their own. But if you look at the roster, from numbers 57-99 (skipping a few, of course), where the beef is usually listed, there were only two seniors listed. That’s a good thing.

Keep an eye, too, on Bishop Guertin. The Cardinals won two games that they should have won, beating Keen and Manchester Memorial. They have a playmaker in quarterback Joey DaSilva, but after he got hurt another underclassman, Hayden Moses, grew by leaps and bounds in his place. Plus with the fast Joey Lupo and – keep this in mind – the return of Brett Anderson, who sat out the year due to injuries – head coach John Trisciani has some interesting toys to play with. What the Cards need is some beef to spring all that speed on both sides of the ball. In any event, locally, it could be the Wild West next season.

Elsewhere, other playoff teams like the Bulldogs, Goffstown and Pinkerton will be in the discussion once again. The Astros must be wondering what they need to do after being in the finals two straight years but coming up empty.

For a local interest, let’s see what the East (seacoast) Conference has, as that should be the scheduling cluster partner with the local West teams next season. Winnacunnet, which won it all a year ago, was the only playoff team coming out of the East and the Warriors are undergoing a coaching change as Ron Auffant has stepped down. You have to think that Exeter missing the playoffs this year was only a hiccup. It will be interesting so see if it’s a 3-1 or 2-2 East-West playoff split. If it’s 3-1, we’d say it would be in the West favor.

DIVISION II

Three local Divsion II teams (Alvirne, Milford, Souhegan) made the playoffs this season, and one (Hollis Brookline) just missed.

“Keep an eye on Souhegan, I think they’ll be here next year,” one onlooker said during championship day at UNH. “They’ve got some real talent back. The quarterback (graduating John Lohnes) won’t be there, but there’s a good core that’s been there the last couple of years and will be back.”

Younger players Trey Johnson and Luke Manning have speed to help the Sabers aggressive style installed by coach Robin Bowkett, who got Souhegan to the semis in his second year. Rival Milford has Gavin Urda back and also bruising back Junior Ughu returning for Keith Jones, who enjoyed a nice bounce back playoff season. The Cavaliers, who got in a year ago, are hoping that another year of the Quinten and Sander Wimmer twin combo will help them handle the loss of some 14 seniors.

And then there’s the Broncos. Last year, in his first season as head coach, Tarek Rothe committed to freshman quarterback Kyle Gora. A year later, the sophomore Gora was able to led the Broncos to the Division II finals and now they have two more years to enjoy him. Many criticized Alvirne’s move to Division II, but they have a different, positive feeling to their program.

“I just told the kids I fully expect to be back here (at UNH in the finals) next year,” Rothe said after the title game loss to Plymouth, in which his team led 18-15 at the half. “We’re in the right division. We have the chance to compete, and the kids believe in it.”

Ah, Plymouth. The Bobcats won the title by beating two locals (Souhegan in the semis). They lose 14 seniors from an undefeated team. But with them, it may not matter.

DIVISION III

The biggest thing for Campbell is that talented two-way player Keegan Mills will return, and in a league in which numbers are never super high, one player can sometimes make a world of difference. But how about two? Mills can combine with Conor Sweeney, who will be a senior, and that should help keep the Cougars in the title conversation. They just have to find a replacement for quarterback (senior) Adam Breton.

The question is whether newest rival Monadnock will be a contender. The Huskies lose their superb senior triumverate of QB Tim Santaw and backs Tim Hart/Chandler Matson, and that will be tough to replace.

“Mills is a junior, Conor’s a junior, there’s a bunch coming back,” first year Campbell head man Glen Costello said. “Mills will be in the final for Gatorade Player of the Year next year.”

So, as we say good-bye to a a memorable 2018 campaign, be prepared for a very competitive 2019 football season. There may be a few twists and turns between now and then, but that equipment will be handed out again before you know it.