Cape Tech football coach Chris Leonard remembers when Joe Small joined the team as a freshman and how he immediately sprung into varsity action – a somewhat common occurrence for teams like the Crusaders, who have a limited number of players due to a smaller enrollment than many of their opponents.
Leonard’s heart broke for a variety of reasons when the fall football season was canceled due to an uptick of COVID-19 cases. He was saddened there wouldn’t be a season, but he especially felt for his seniors, particularly Small, a lineman who’s been a key figure for Cape Tech’s football program since enrolling at the school.
Given his connection with the senior, it makes perfect sense for Leonard to point out how happy he is that Small and the other seniors will have a chance to play during the first-of-its-kind Fall II season, which is set to begin for the Crusaders at 4 p.m. Friday when they visit Blue Hills Regional Tech in Canton.
“Sometimes at these small schools, you’ll have kids who come in and play varsity right off the bat,” said Leonard. “Joe Small stepped in as freshman – I remember his first game against Bristol-Plymouth – and now he’s here as a senior. I was heartbroken when I thought we weren’t going to be able to give him a season.”
Leonard was quick to point that out the school’s superintendent, Bob Sanborn, set the tone for the return of play. Cape Tech opted to not offer sports in the fall and winter, so this Fall II season serves as its introduction to Mayflower Conference competition for the 2020-21 school year.
“Credit to Mr. Sanborn, our superintendent,” the coach said. “He was one of the first superintendents in our area or our league to step forward and say we were going to have football, which was really exciting because after Christmas it seemed like there might not be an end to COVID.”
The Crusaders will have eight seniors and six juniors on this year’s squad, giving the team a veteran presence after it finished the 2019 season with a 3-8 mark. Although it’s been different getting used to playing football while wearing a medical facemask under their helmet’s facemask, the players said they’re just happy to be playing again.
A few, including senior quarterback Leon Lopes, admitted they previously thought football might not be in the equation for their final year of high school.
“Honestly, I didn’t think we were going to have a season because of COVID and everything,” said Lopes, a West Yarmouth resident. “But now that we’re having a season, I’m just so grateful for it. I’m so glad that we can all get back on the field and show what we’ve got.”
“It’s some sense of normalcy,” added Small, a South Dennis resident who plays guard on the offensive line. “I was really glad to hear we got our season back this year. Especially being a senior, it’s my last year probably playing football. I’m loving that everyone is coming out here for one cause and that’s to win.”
Small went on to add “it’s a little different with the masks.”
“It’s starting to become a normal thing,” he continued. “It’s been a year now that we’ve been in this pandemic. The mask will always be a little bit of a setback, but as long as we can play football, that’s all that matters.”
Joining Lopes and Small in the senior class are Claodio Senat, Quintaras Pigo-Cronin, Robin Crawford, Luke Pineo, Brian Meritus and Jason West. The group has formed a tight-knit bond over the years, particularly this past year when they all thought they were going to miss their last chance to play together.
Lopes said the team will try to really tap into its bond and hopes its connectivity will translate onto the field once the season kicks off.
“Family is key,” Lopes said. “If you don’t have the bond between you and your teammates, then it’s not going to work out. You have to be able to talk to your teammates, have good chemistry with them and a good relationship with them so you can bring that to the field.”
Given that the Fall II season will offer a condensed season, Leonard said he intends to really focus on his seniors in an effort to provide them with a few more football memories.
“That’s the big focus,” the coach said. “For the juniors, sophomores and freshmen, they’ve got one, two and three more seasons left in their careers. We’ve got such a great group of seniors and I’m really excited to have a season with these guys.”
Email Brad Joyal at email@example.com