HARWICH – One by one, the players on the Monomoy Regional High School football team filed onto the field. They were carrying their shoulder pads and helmets, as well as gym bags and extra sweatshirts – an article of clothing that has become a necessary piece of equipment to battle the harsh bite of the March cold.
Make no mistake about it: There are challenges associated with playing football during a global pandemic. However, the Sharks are taking them in stride as they prepare for the first-of-its-kind Fall II season, which was created in an effort to bring high school football back to the state for an abbreviated season after an increase in COVID-19 cases led to a statewide cancellation of the sport in the fall.
“The biggest concern is the kids that haven’t had an opportunity to really condition,” Monomoy coach Larry Souza said before Friday’s practice. “They haven’t been able to lift weights or use the locker rooms and they’re changing out here on the field. These are all challenges, but I think they’re challenges all the teams are dealing with. We’re all dealing with COVID and with the season being different than we’re used to – we’re all rowing in the same canoe.”
The Sharks posted a 3-7 record in 2019, capping off the season with a 19-6 victory over St. John Paul II in the school’s new Thanksgiving series, which is tied at one game after SJP II won the first meeting, 12-6, in 2018.
There are familiar faces on the team, beginning with the senior co-captains, Tyler Potter, Justin Sneed and Ben Rounseville, as well as junior co-captain Shaw Schuyler. Potter splits duties as a running back on offense and cornerback on defense, while Schuyler plays running back and linebacker and Sneed anchors the team’s group of linemen.
Rounseville is unable to play this season due to sustaining multiple concussions during his career, though he was at Friday’s practice and continues to stay around the team to provide support throughout the year.
“I’ve just been trying to make the best of it and help the younger guys get ahold of the game,” said Rounseville, a Harwich resident. “I’m glad we got a chance to have a season.”
That line of thinking—“glad there’s a season”—was commonplace among the players.
“I think we’re all grateful to be having a season,” said Potter, another Harwich resident. “It’s different. The weather is different, obviously, but other than that, it’s still football.”
“It’s pretty odd,” admitted Sneed, a nose tackle and left tackle from Harwich, when asked about playing in March. “Everybody is pretty excited to be out here because for a long period of time, we didn’t know if we were going to be playing.”
One benefit to come from the Fall II season is it’s allowed kids who typically play other fall sports, such as soccer, to try football. Souza said the team has about a half dozen kids who fall into that category, including a few seniors who could make an immediate impact.
Among them is Harwich resident Asa Kline, who’s getting his first taste of football as a senior.
“Typically, in the fall I play on a fall ball baseball team and I’m busy with that,” said Kline, who will play some running back, tight end and defensive end. “This has been nice being able to have some open time. This is brand new for me—I knew absolutely nothing. It’s been a great team and it’s awesome being out here.”
Although Monomoy is rich in senior leadership, the team will be led in the huddle by a newcomer, as freshman Jake Vagenas will start the season at quarterback.
“We’re going to see how it goes, but I have confidence in myself,” said Vagenas, a Harwich resident. “I’m just going to try to play the best I can and lead the team on the field.”
The Cape and Islands League’s Fall II football season will feature a six-game schedule with no postseason games. Monomoy is set to host Martha’s Vineyard in its season opener at 11:30 a.m. March 20, and is scheduled to close out its campaign against St. John Paul at home April 23.
As different as the circumstances surrounding the season might be, the Sharks players are optimistic about what they can accomplish once the ball is kicked off. Schuyler said the addition of the first-year players might be enough to help Monomoy turn in a special season.
“While this year might be a little different due to COVID and it being winter, this has been one of the best years we’ve had so far in terms of skill and brotherhood,” said the Harwich resident. “I know a lot of these guys have wanted to play for a long time but they couldn’t do it because they played soccer. It’s pretty cool because a lot of them have a lot of skill and it’s like, ‘Where have you been this whole time?’”
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