The third week of preseason football practice offers high school coaches and players a chance to narrow their focus.
“This is more like a regular week in the season,” Woonsocket coach Carnell Henderson admitted on Monday. “By the third week, you are trying to get your team into a game mode. We have an Injury Fund scrimmage on Thursday. Scrimmages give your players a chance to get ready for game speed. They don’t have coaches in the huddle with them. In scrimmages, the players must make their own checks (audible calls, line blocking, etc.). The defense has to call its own audibles. The scrimmage becomes a chess match for the kids.”
Woonsocket, which has won the last two Division II Super Bowls, will face Division III contender Lincoln High in an 8 p.m. Injury Fund scrimmage on Thursday at the Lions’ Ferguson Field. Two other scrimmages are scheduled at the same location. Division II’s Shea High will meet D-IV Central Falls at 6 p.m. and then Tolman will battle Cumberland at 7 p.m. in a duel between D-II contenders.
Tolman coach Dave Caito, whose 2010 team lost the D-II Super Bowl to Woonsocket, is bringing his team along at a steady pace during preseason drills.
“We’re just trying to fine-tune things (in the third week),” he said. “Now that school is ready to begin (on Wednesday), we’ll have the kids every day. They’ve been working hard. We don’t really consider our (multiple) offense complicated. But there is a lot of misdirection and our players need to get (repetitions) in practice before they get it down. It’s pretty easy to run into our motion guy if someone doesn’t know where he’s supposed to be.”
Tolman returns seven starters on defense, including Seny Samb, Daniel Stubbs, Dion Rubio, Andre Gilbert, Sammy Shalom and Mahmoud Samb. Many of those same players will see action on offense.
“We have Luis Rodrigues and Danny Chika at quarterback,” Caito said. “Luis was our starting quarterback last season until he got hurt. Elvis George is our lead running back. Stubbs and Samb are working at fullback. Mory Chika is also working hard in the backfield for us.”
Woonsocket and Tolman battled for first place in II-B all last season. Tolman won the regular season game between the two schools 6-0 in early September before Woonsocket turned the tables in the Super Bowl, taking a 14-0 lead at halftime and coasting to a 28-14 victory.
“We didn’t come to play,” Caito said, reflecting on the Super Bowl loss. “I don’t want to take anything away from Woonsocket. They beat us. We did a lot of things right last season. We just didn’t play well in the Super Bowl.”
Woonsocket returns explosive junior running back Jalen Evans, who rushed for over 1,000 yards as a sophomore. The Villa Novans graduated a slew of senior leaders – Super Bowl MVP Geo Heredia, tackle Manny Heredia, center Desmond Gray, quarterback Kevin Reyes, wide receivers Jessie Charette and Jarome Robinson … the list is pretty long.
“We have a young group,” Henderson admitted. “We do have some key players returning. They all need game reps. You can’t simulate in practice the speed of an actual game.”
Henderson hasn’t been able to see his team practice this season after undergoing surgery in July to repair a torn leg tendon.
“The doctor told me it would be three months from the time of the surgery to when I can get rid of the crutches,” said the fourth-year head coach. “Our coaching staff has done all the work. They’re working by committee. Coach (George) Nasuti is the voice of the program. Tadji Chattman runs the offense. Derek Crinkin takes care of the defense. Coach (John) Marsella is very important to the staff and the program. We’ve added Brian Bouley to the staff. All of the coaches on the staff have really worked hard.
“When my injury occurred,” Henderson said, “I didn’t know if I should step down or not. This is a tough injury for me. It’s the tendon behind the knee that connects to the quad muscle. Right now, I am hoping my doctor will give me clearance to attend practice. I could get around in a golf cart. I really want to be around the kids.”
Dave Caito, when pressed to list a couple of Division II Super Bowl contenders, goes with Mount Hope and Woonsocket.
“They’ve been there before,” he said. “You always have to give Woonsocket respect. They have won the last two Super Bowls. I can’t really talk about anyone else because you just don’t know much about the other teams at this point in the season.”
Modesty prevents Caito from tooting his own team’s horn. There’s really no need. Tolman has also been a consistent playoff contender in recent years. The Tigers are getting to the point where they reload every season instead of having to rebuild. Caito and his staff have hit upon a winning formula of team speed, aggressive defense and a deceptive offense to baffle opponents.
Tolman, like Woonsocket, can’t sneak up on opponents anymore. Everyone is gunning for last year’s Super Bowl participants, even if many of the players from those teams have graduated.
After this week’s scrimmages, the regular season opens with a non-league slate of games on Sept. 9-10. The regular season begins the following week. And if you’re looking ahead, Tolman will visit Woonsocket on Saturday, Sept. 24, for a 1:30 p.m. game at Barry Field.