How, pray tell, can Our Lady of Lourdes possibly expect to do as well it did last season?
Given the list of big names — record-setting-all-time-great big names — that graduated after leading last year’s squad to the state Class A final, what makes this group so certain that it can match those achievements?
Of course, confidence typically beams from a group that has known only success. And we’re still in search of a high school football team that has ever called itself weak, especially on its first day of practice.
But the word Lourdes used continually on Monday, during its practice, was “growth.”
“We’ve shown a lot of growth as a group and that’s really encouraging,” running back Joe Scaglione said. “We’ve definitely grown together as a group.”
Right tackle Anthony D’Urso insisted this team is “bigger and badder” than ever.
See, it turns out that they didn’t just mean “growth” in the figurative sense. They meant it literally, too. As in growth spurts.
Lest we forget, these are teenage boys. And a number of them are considerably taller than they were a year ago.
D’Urso himself has grown two inches since last season and is almost 6-foot-4 now. Wide receiver Corey Mullaly shot up three inches to 6-2. Scaglione bulked up 20 pounds to 175 and, according to teammates, he is “pound-for-pound” the strongest member of the team. Scaglione emerged late last season and had breakout games in the playoffs. Now he will be looked to as a workhorse in the backfield.
“The advantage of getting bigger, at his position, is it gives him a little more leverage and he’s better able to position himself when catching the ball and have leverage in blocking people,” Lourdes coach Brian Walsh said of Mullaly, who was a Journal All-Star as a junior in football and boys lacrosse. “As long as his speed isn’t sacrificed, which it hasn’t been, it’s definitely a plus.”
For Mullaly, the growth comes at an ideal time. The senior will likely be relied upon as the go-to target at receiver, replacing 6-foot-5 Luke Timm. Defensively, he will shift from cornerback to linebacker in a new hybrid 4-2-5 alignment.
“The adjustment is going well,” he said. “I’ve always been more of a physical defensive back and I don’t mind playing down and tackling.”
With several of their standout skill position players gone, Walsh said, the onus will now be on the offensive line to provide adequate protection for a first-time starter at quarterback (whomever it will be) and clear running lanes for Scaglione to operate.
“We have to play with grit,” D’Urso said. “And our goal is to blow teams off the line of scrimmage.”
They’ve added talent to that group as Nick Scalise returns from a torn ACL, and Kevin Johansen has potential. That, plus the returning anchors, including tackle Cameron Jones, give the Warriors confidence that they can own the trenches. As well, fullbacks Kerry McKenzie and Sean McDowell said they spent the offseason training, shedding weight and adding muscle.
“The offensive line could be stronger than last year,” Walsh said. “And, unlike last year, the running game could be setting up the passing game.”
And it might have to.
For years, Walsh had the comfort of knowing there would be no concerns at quarterback and it allowed the coach to continually expand his offensive playbook. Not so anymore, with superstar Dean Rotger having graduated. Lourdes now has an open three-way competition for starting quarterback between senior Paul Holze, the backup last season, promising sophomore Tylen Scott, and Nick Gastin, an athletic senior transfer from Arlington by way of John F. Kennedy Catholic in Somers last year
Without an inexperienced signal-caller, Walsh said, the playbook will be paired down as to not overwhelm the new quarterback.
“We don’t expect them to do what Dean did; he’s irreplaceable,” Walsh said. “But they do have to execute the offense and make good decisions.”
Stephen Haynes: firstname.lastname@example.org, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4