Chieftains Football Get Ready to Go
By Jordana Bieze Foster
The scout team, mostly underclassmen, wears yellow pinafores for this drill. After a few snaps, head coach Jamie Tucker calls for a sub from the sidelines. The player scrambles, looking for a pinafore. The assistant coach on the sidelines takes him to task: You need to be ready. You need to take advantage of every opportunity; give coach a reason to notice you.
With more question marks than usual hanging over the Nashoba Regional football team as the first game of the season draws closer, those words could serve as a mantra not just for players on the bubble but for the team as a whole: Be ready. And get noticed.
At this time of year, with one full week of practice barely in the books, any football team has unanswered questions. Who will step up to replace the seniors who have graduated? Which unheralded players will surprise everyone? Which teams are best positioned to make the playoffs?
For the Chieftains, this season there are a few more unknowns. There’s Tucker, the new head coach, and a few new faces on the coaching staff. But perhaps more significantly, there are brand new division alignments that could intensify some Chieftain rivalries and a brand new playoff system that has every team’s schedule reconfigured so the last three opponents before Thanksgiving are listed as “TBA.”
Last fall, the MIAA approved new alignments and a new playoff system that would result in six state Super Bowl champions rather than region-specific Super Bowl champions. The Chieftains, who have won two consecutive Central Mass Division 2 Super Bowls, now will share a league with some former Division 1 teams, including St. John’s of Shrewsbury and defending Central Mass D1 Super Bowl champion Leominster. And after the first seven games of the season, power rankings will be used to determine which teams qualify for the three-week sectional tournament that will determine the Super Bowl matchups. All Super Bowl pairings will be determined before the Thanksgiving games are played.
All of the changes mean that nobody knows exactly how the season will play out. And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the Chieftains, Tucker said.
“Adjusting to that new system is going to be interesting, just seeing how it works,” he said. “But everyone’s in the same boat, so in some regard you’re all going through it together.”
Another scheduling quirk this year is that the regular season starts one week later than usual, on Thursday, September 12, at home against Westboro, which is fortuitous for a team with a new head coach who could use as much transition time as possible.
“We’ll be able to watch film of our scrimmages and see what we need to work on, especially during that last week, we can be trying some different things instead of getting ready for a game,” Tucker said. “I’m really looking forward to that week. It’s a bonus.”
The varsity roster hasn’t yet been determined, but the team’s makeup isn’t completely unknown. There is a strong corps of players returning from last year’s team that Tucker will be able to count on, including Stow senior co-captain Mike d’Entremont and senior co-captains Frankie Chiodo and Matt Curtin. Other returning Stow players include seniors Nick Tavis, Mike Sabourin, and Drew Korn, and juniors Greg Gothie, Jack Perkins, and Ben Hurley.
The names and faces are familiar, but many of the returning Chieftains, playing behind last year’s stars, may not yet have demonstrated their full potential.
“Some of our guys may not have the same star power as other guys in years past in terms of people knowing them, but that’s because they’ve had to wait their turn,” Tucker said. “We definitely have some star quality kids on this team.”
Speaking of last year’s team, there’s also that little matter of the Chieftains’ 26-game winning streak, which could be yet another distraction for this year’s players. But not necessarily.
“It’s in the back of all our minds, but we’re not thinking about it like it’s a present thing,” d’Entremont said. “We know it, and we remember it so that we don’t let it get the best of us. But this is a new season. We just need to execute and do what we always do – focus on one game at a time.”