Oliver Ames Football Looks to Rise to High Expectations
After a historic 2011 season, the Tigers take on Medfield Saturday to kick off the 2012 campaign. Kickoff is 4 p.m.
The 2011 season raised the bar for the Oliver Ames football program.
This year, Oliver Ames faces the challenge of living up to expectations while sporting a slew of new faces. The Tigers graduated 21 seniors last year.
For head coach Jim Artz, a solid offseason work ethic - led by OA's emerging seniors - and a renewed focus, will help drive his team.
"We’ve been very lucky so far that the seniors that we have this year have done an outstanding job in the preparation going back to the spring and summer, so I think the way they prepped has allowed us to do what we’re doing," he said. "I think we’re ahead of the game with how much stuff we learned early."
The Tigers will be led by a new group of captains. Defensive back Brandon Gagliardi, linebacker Sean Kelly, lineman/linebacker Danny Louko, lineman Sean McCarthy, wideout/defensiveback Mike McMillan and running back/defensive back St. Claire Ryan will lead the Tigers in the locker room and on the field.
Ryan, who was a key player in OA's defensive backfield last year, will move to a new role this year and take over at running back, replacing graduates Sam Langson and Carlton Williamson.
"[Ryan] can do some great, great things back there," Artz said. "Even though he’s a senior and he’s a captain, he didn’t play more than a handful of plays last year offensively, so, that’s going to allow him to be a big surprise for a lot of people."
Artz said junior Matt Berksza will also see action in the backfield.
"I said to Matty after the scrimmages, he’s not a '2', he’s not a '1A'," said Artz.
Ryan and Berksza will share the backfield with another fresh face. Junior Nick Cidado will take over as the Tigers' quarterback, replacing graduate Jared Schneider.
Cidado competed for the spot with junior Reid Star and sophomore John McMillan during the preseason.
"That made us better," Artz said. "Having three very talented kids at that position made us very good. I’ve been very happy with the quarterback position through all the scrimmages – they’ve done a great job."
Like the offense, the Tigers' defense was hit hard by graduation. But, as has been the case in recent years, Artz hopes to put a strong 'D' on the field.
"We did graduate a lot of kids, but we have a lot of kids coming back in big spots," Artz said.
In particular, senior captains Gagliardi and McMillan will anchor the defensive backfield while fellow captain Kelly will return to his linebacker position.
Senior Jordan Lapides and Junior Colin O’Hearne will further solidify the defensive backfield. Senior Linemen Sean McCarthy and Matt Walker will look to put pressure on the quarterback.
The new look Tigers will test their hand against Medfield at 4 p.m. Saturday.
Friday night home games were rescheduled to Saturday afternoon due to the threat of EEE in Easton. The first scheduled night game for the OA football team is Oct. 26 against division rival Stoughton.
"It’s out of our hands and you can’t worry about it," Artz said. "The board of health is trying to take care of everyone’s health in question. You’ve got to bow to their knowledge and expertise in that area and you’ve just got to deal with it."
Artz said all of OA's attention is on its first game against Medfield.
While the Warriors finished 2-9 last year, Artz said the option-oriented offense is dangerous.
"I told the kids that their skill kids are going to be as good as anyone we’ll see so for sure we’ve got to come ready to play," he said.
The Medfield game kicks off a schedule that the OA coach said is the hardest he's had since he took over in 2006.
In addition to the usual Hockomock gauntlet with a competitive Davenport Division and match-ups against Kelly-Rex schools King Philip, Franklin and (new addition) Taunton, the Tigers will play out-of-league games against North Quincy and Bedford.
OA will also face defending Patriot League Fisher Division Champs Pembroke in a rematch of last year's thrilling playoff clash.
"We’ve got a very tough 11 game schedule, so to me right now it’s nothing but Medfield," he said. "After the Medfield game, we’ll either celebrate or mourn that for 24 hours and then it’s North Quincy and we’ve got to keep that pattern all the way through. I just don’t think we’re at a point in the program where we can kind of say ‘yeah this is a big game and this one not so much.’ They’re all big. We want to win as many football games as we can and to do that we’ve got to approach it the right way."