Woonsocket High head coach Carnell Henderson believes it, and so does Shea mentor Dino Campopiano.
Both understand that those teams that make up the state’s Division I is still superior in talent, but that the league in which they compete is the toughest from top to bottom.
Really, who can argue? This season, the Villa Novans will face in their II-A bracket the likes of Coventry, Chariho, Johnston and Mount Hope, while Campopiano’s Raiders will have the task of battling defending league champion Cumberland, St. Raphael, North Kingstown, Central and Rogers in II-B.
“It’s so competitive and so deep, it’s really hard to do well,” Campopiano stated at a recent practice at Max Read Field. “Obviously, Division I is still the cream of the crop, but D-II, I believe, is the most competitive because that’s where most of the teams fit.
“Of course, I’m talking about most of the boys’ sports,” he added with a grin. “I can’t speak for the females.”
Likewise, most teams in the Blackstone Valley area (five) belong to that second tier, and all of them will begin action tonight and Saturday. How they fare should indicate how well they’re conditioned and prepared for the task at hand.
To discover more about your squad of choice and what it may deliver this fall, these thumbnail sketches on each should help.
Head coach: Chris Skurka
2012 results: 12-1 overall, 8-0 Division II
Key players: Chris Hayes, senior, TE/LB; Josh Pizzarelli, senior, OG/DE; Kyle Masse, senior, WR/CB; Joe Fine, junior, FB/LB; Tyler Calabro, junior, QB/FS; John Sikie, senior, OT/DE; Jared Talbert, junior, RB.
Outlook: Skurka explained he has five offensive returning starters and six defensively from a team that raked all D-II foes and compiled an amazing 12-1 overall mark (the lone defeat a 7-6 verdict to Cranston West in its non-league opener. His 2012 Clippers also crushed Westerly (41-6) and West Warwick (48-12) in two playoff tilts before trouncing Thanksgiving Day rival Woonsocket (again), 49-0, in the Super Bowl last December. His club outscored its opponents, on average, 36-6.
Coach Skurka’s take: “The season we had, I think it was good for the town. The kids who won that championship worked so hard, and I was more pleased for them. We had set the goal the year before to win the title, especially after losing the semifinal to Chariho, 14-7. (The seniors’) goal as juniors was to get back to the semis, and then go from there. This time, it’s going to take the kids taking it one game at a time, just like last season. You can’t look ahead. You’ve got to stay healthy; last year, we were blessed with very few injuries, and we’re going to need the same luck this time.”
Head coach: Wes Pennington
2012 results: 6-2, Division IV (Lost to Mount Pleasant in semifinals, 31-0)
Key players: Peter Keenan, Senior WR/DE; Adam Souza, Senior OL; Michael Cicerone, Sr. QB; Jake DeMarie, Senior CB; Ross Topik, Junior LB; Mark Keenan, Junior TE.
Outlook: The first chapter of Northmen football under Pennington’s watch is now history. Though the next chapter begins without the services of several stalwarts that helped take the program from the bottom rungs of the league to contending status, North Smithfield will not be starting completely from scratch. … The Northmen will feature six new starters on offense and four on the defensive side of the ball. … Now entering his third year as a starter, Keenan figures to emerge as one of the top two-way threats in Div. IV. … As this time last year, Cicerone was the No. 2 QB on the depth chart. He took over midway through the season in an effort to bolster North Smithfield’s vertical attack. Pennington noted that Cicerone’s arm strength and football IQ have grown substantially in the past year. … The Keenan brothers and senior Matt Lachance are all taller than six feet, which should allow for Cicerone to stretch the field. … Pennington plans to hold off from entrenching someone as the primary running back. Vying for the honor is senior Dylan Narodowy – a first-year player and ex-soccer contributor who will also handle the kicking duties – and junior Nick Cicerone. … Now in his fifth year at N.S., Pennington shared that he has 43 players on board, by far the most in his tenure.
Coach Pennington’s take: “Our approach to coaching the team, it’s more job based. Last year, we could kind of get away with a few mistakes. This year, everyone has to know and do their job in order for us to be successful. The thing is, we do have some first-time varsity players, but they’re older kids. It’s not like they’ve never played football before, but usually with those kids, it’s just a matter of waiting for them to catch on to the speed and the level of competition. At the end, you usually end up with a pretty decent football player.”
Nickname: Villa Novans
Head coach: Carnell Henderson
2012 results: 5-2, Division II-A (Defeated St. Raphael in quarterfinals, 29-28; defeated Central in semifinals, 27-0; lost to Cumberland in Super Bowl, 49-0)
Key players: Will Andino, Senior RB/DB; D’Andre Thomas, Senior WR/DB; Josh Trinidad, Senior WR/DB; Andrew Gaulin, Senior OL/DL; Jaston Robinson, Junior RB/LB; Shawn Ingram, Junior OL/DL; Nicholas Fernandes, Junior OL/DL
Overview: One of the hallmarks of Henderson’s Woonsocket squads is the presence of multiple skill position threats, ones who can take off for the end zone at a moment’s notice. This year’s talent pool includes Andino, Thomas and Robinson. … Thomas returns from a broken leg while Robinson underwent knee surgery. … Junior Miguel Raymond takes over for the graduated Brett Bouchard at quarterback. Henderson noted that Raymond is familiar with the system and is chomping at the bit to direct the Novans’ attack. … Trinidad leads the Novans’ receiving corps, though senior Victor Hunt, Thomas and Andino figure to be heard from. … The 6-foot-2 Ingram opened eyes with the contributions he made a sophomore. Now he’s being asked to take on even more responsibilities and wreak even more havoc on the defensive line.
Coach Henderson’s take: “If we can stay healthy, I think we can be very competitive. We have a very good group of guys that we’re counting on. Our number one priority is to get better every single week. Every team that gets started in August has the goal to play for a championship in December. If that’s not your goal, then you’re shortchanging yourself.”
Head coach: Dave Waycott
2012 results: 0-8, Division III
Key players: Tyge Joyce, Senior OL/DB; Cory Gaskell, Senior RB/LB; Giovanni Gray, Senior OL/DL; Joshua Etienne, Senior OL/DL; Daniel Escobar, Senior QB/DB; Michael Morra, Junior RB/LB.
Outlook: Saying that the past two seasons have been a struggle for the Lions would be an understatement – one win in 16 league chances and zero wins at Ferguson Field. What happened in the past stays in the past, as Waycott is cautiously optimistic that this year’s squad possesses the necessary ingredients to be competitive week in and week out. … One player to keep an eye on his sophomore Thaddeus Moss, whose father is former NFL receiving great Randy Moss. Listed at 6-foot-4, Thaddeus enrolled at Lincoln High late last spring and will factor prominently on both sides of the ball. He’s listed a tight end and defensive end. … Waycott noted that he has a stable of running backs, which in turn could lead to some interesting formations. … The offensive line will return three starters with fresh faces at both guard spots and center. … Numbers wise, Waycott reports that he has close to 80 kids between the varsity and junior varsity. There are 29 sophomores in the program. … Waycott’s staff is comprised of five new assistant coaches.
Coach Waycott’s take: “They’re tired of getting stomped on. They’re ready. I say that, but we still have a lot of evaluating to do. Everything is there, however. Right now, I’m very happy with the way things have evolved.”
Head coach: Gennaro Ferraro
2012 results: 1-7, Division III
Key players: Jonathan Thornhill, Senior RB/DB; Andrew Carlson, Senior OL/DL; Isaiah DaSilva, Junior QB; Justin Deschamps, Junior OL/DT; Jake Wilson, Junior DE/WR; Jacob Wall, Junior DE/OT
Outlook: Last week’s Injury Fund contest against Smithfield saw the Broncos start 17 different players. Such a high sum speaks volumes to the level of competition that Ferraro and his assistant coaches observed during preseason camp. The head coach noted that the Broncos plan to trot out 18 different starters for Saturday’s season opener against Scituate. … How many points the Broncos generate will largely depend on Thornhill’s ability to move the chains on a regular basis. He and fellow 12th grader Andrew Carlson were appointed team captains. … DaSilva enters his second year as the Broncos’ signal caller. According to Ferraro, his confidence has grown tenfold along with his ability to serve as a game manager. … DaSilva’s top receiving targets are juniors William Pollard and David Gariepy along with sophomore Riley Tupper. … In Carlson, Deschamps and Wall, the Broncos’ defensive line features plenty of experience, which Ferraro hopes will offset the fresh faces at linebacker and in the secondary. … Mark your calendars as “Friday Night Lights” comes to Alumni Field for Burrillville’s Sept. 27 contest against Mount Pleasant. Ferraro said that the lights were donated and will be featured prominently as part of a celebration that pays homage to the program’s undefeated 2003 Division III Super Bowl season along with the Burrillville Patriots’ youth football and cheerleading organization. … The Broncos hope to turn things around after winning just two league games over the past two seasons.
Coach Ferraro’s take: “I love coaching these kids. They’re a tight group that works hard and accepts challenges. I think we have a nice blend of older and younger guys. So far, they’ve all been great teammates.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03