NORTH EASTHAM – Jesse Peno is a familiar face for the Nauset football program. The 1999 Nauset graduate was a freshman when the school introduced football in 1995 and was one of the first four-year players to go through the program.
After playing four years at Assumption College in Worcester, Peno returned to Nauset and coached his former team as an assistant, most recently under Mike Sherman and Bruce Strunk, who led the team from 2017 until last fall.
Now Peno is manning Nauset’s sideline in a new role: the program’s rookie head coach.
“It’s a little surreal to sit here and be like, ‘I started playing here when I was 14 years old and here I am at 40,’” said Peno, a physical education teacher at the school who also serves as the varsity boys lacrosse coach.
The Warriors won one game during the “Fall II” spring season that took place in the spring of 2021 and then went 0-9 last season. Still, there is excitement around the team, which brings back starters at key positions on both sides of the ball.
“We have a lot of guys coming back,” Peno said Friday after the team’s first practice. “I want to say last year’s team only graduated two or three kids, so there will be a lot of experience coming back, and a lot of kids played last year before they were really ready – they were younger kids, some freshmen and sophomores made it onto the field.”
The first-year coach said the players’ experience and toughness was on display during last year’s Thanksgiving game, a 14-0 loss to Dennis-Yarmouth in North Eastham.
“We have some experienced football players,” Peno said. “They fought through a tough year and finished on a pretty strong note with the Thanksgiving game. They didn’t quit and played hard and kind of carried that over. They’re really enthusiastic and happy to be out here.”
The Warriors’ offensive line will bring back four seniors among its five returning players, with tackle Alex Leighton, guard Raven Bennett and center Nick Voll leading the group that will look to keep returning senior quarterback Dillon White upright.
Junior Logan Daniels Julien is back at running back and wide receiver, and senior Duncan Lowery and Corey Vendetti will be key contributors as fullback and linebackers, according to Peno.
Like the roster, Nauset’s coaching staff has plenty of continuity.
Brian Lavery, Tommy Betsch, Brian White, Paul Bentley and Michael Negron will serve as Peno’s assistant coaches, and all have experience within the program.
Although the players know Peno and the coaching staff, they said he still brings a new energy to the program.
“With Jesse, I feel like he’s got a fresh energy,” said Bennett, a Truro resident. “He hasn’t been the head coach here before and he kind of has something to prove on his own. With him needing to prove something, I feel like that makes us want to prove something for him. That gives us a little motive to work a little harder.”
Dillon White said he’s looking forward to leading the team’s new spread offense that Peno noted will highlight the Warriors’ depth at the skilled positions. The signal-caller said the unit was able to work together and continue to build on its chemistry throughout the summer, including drilling on 7-on-7 passing drills.“
Last year we were a young team and that was kind of our year to get activated,” White said. “Now we’re back here after working all summer and doing the 7-on-7 stuff and getting our chemistry right.”
Nauset will open its season with road trip to Norwell at 6 p.m. Sept. 9.
Email Brad Joyal at Brad@capecodchronicle.com. Twitter: @BradJoyal