Patience with struggling local programs
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We live in the age of immediacy.
Something happens, thanks to all the social media outlets, we all know about it. Right away.
For sports fans, the same mentality goes with their teams. They want them to win now.
It’s not that easy, especially in the world of high school football.
Thus, the plea here is to be patient, fans. It’s not easy to build a program. It is easy to get caught in the wheel that just spins around and around.
Merrimack High School has found that out. Some 25-30 years ago, the Tomahawks had a proud tradition. Joe Raycraft had built a program that produced behemoths up front, and some speedy types on the edges.
Then other schools caught up. Things changed. Kids didn’t want to hit the weight room any more, they had other things to do. And the Tomahawks fell off.
While Merrimack has tried to get its winning tradition back, Alvirne have been struggling to establish one in the first place. They may have the perfect guy in Tim Walsh, who has brought his share of programs back from the dead in Massachusetts.
Merrimack has gone through a succession of coaches, but has a football realist in the name of Dante Laurendi at the helm. Laurendi is an offensive guru who took a slumbering offense and revived it into a team that for the most part had no problem putting points on the board.
But his team lacked depth last season, and once its best defensive player, linebacker Joe Giampietro, went down with his second season-ending knee injury in three years, the domino effect handed the opposition a ton of points, to the tune of over 40 a game.
OK, we’ll get ‘em next year, you say. But the Tomahawks have a very inexperienced line on both sides of the ball, a sophomore starting at quarterback, and play in the same conference as powerful Pinkerton Academy. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Merrimack football won’t in just one year-plus.
The numbers aren’t bad, as the total three-team roster (freshman, JV and varsity) is at about 75.
“Our problem is,” Laurendi said, “we only have about six kids in the junior class. So we need to mainatin the freshman-sophomore classes.”
That – missing a class – was a problem Laurendi’s predecessor, Joe Battista, constantly endured. Just think about it – six student athletes in one class playing football, that’s it.
So don’t expect miracles here.
“I’m hoping the sooner the better,” Laurendi said. “That will happen when we put the product out on the field. Obviously I think every coach wants to be talked about in the same light as an Exeter or a Pinkerton around the state. That’s a reflection of what we can do and how fast we can do it.”
It’s establishing a proper mentality, but Laurendi says that mentality extends beyond wins and losses, and he’s right.
“We’re not really worried about that,” he said. “Obviously we have a goal like everybody else, to win football games. You want to look at the progression. We talk to our guys and our staff about doing the right things to get there. The other stuff will take care of itself.
“How our weight room attendance is, how we practice, how the kids carry themselves. The feedback has been positive. The games early in the year were exciting. But we hear good things about how the kids carry themselves. If we can do those things, continue with that, the other stuff will carry over.”
As for the numbers, Laurendi knows it’s an issue that needs to be dealt with.
“I think we have to draw some athletes from other sports, and help convince them that’s not the only sport for them, that football can help them in the other sports,” Laurendi said. “We have a few guys who decided to come out, we need more of those. Our sophomore class, we have a ton of kids who played baseball and basketball. We need even more of those kids.”
That’s why Walsh, in talking about his team, was glowing about a couple of players he has on his roster that gained valuable athletic experience playing other sports. He’s doing a lot of things, too, to develop a good feeling around the program. He’s instituted a “Big Brother” program where an upperclassman takes a freshman under his wing.
Patience, fans. There are programs, like Alvirne and Merrimack, that are trying to create a winning feeling and attract athletes while they learn how to win.
“Part of it is helping them feel like they’re helping to build something,” Laurendi said. “It’s not a bad thing to play football.”
Tom King can be reached at 594-6468 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, follow King on Twitter (@Telegraph_TomK).