By Michael Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor
Obviously, a 46-12 loss on Thanksgiving to arch rival Holliston and a 28-6 defeat at Falmouth to end their playoff run was not what the Westwood Wolverines had in my mind last fall after winning five in a row during the middle weeks of their season. However, after a 7-4 campaign that saw a 36-34 regular season win over Holliston and an 8-0 win over Somerset Berkley in the first round of the Division II playoffs, there are definitely some positives to take away from 2016 and things to feel confident about moving forward. Now, with 2017 season looming, the Wolverines return to the gridiron with high expectations both within and outside of the TVL.
Quarterback Reed Wilson returns for his senior season and will be a centerpiece of both Westwood’s offense as well as their defense, where he shall serve as a starting defensive back.
“We all want to win as many games as possible,” said Wilson. “We want to make a long playoff run, and the TVL title would be nice, too.”
Another key piece for Westwood on both sides of the ball this season will be the speedy and versatile Providence College lacrosse commit, Jake Antonucci, who will be featured as the team’s No. 1 wide out while also seeing time in the backfield, as well as lining up across from Wilson as one of the team’s top-two defensive backs.
With last season’s captains (Robbie Antonucci, Dylan Linehan, and Paul McCarron) all now graduated, the Wolverines will turn to four new senior leaders to captain the ship this season in Wilson, J. Antonucci, Brian Murray, and Connor Powers.
Wilson says that he along with the other three captains have been doing everything they can to keep everybody on the team motivated and focused, and by doing so, hopefully making 2017 the most fun it can possibly be.
“We have been trying to up the intensity every single day,” said Wilson. “We want our team to have a sense of urgency but not rush things. We all started playing this game because we thought it was fun, so we want to make this season as fun as possible.”
Murray should see big minutes as the team’s starting free safety on defense, and should be one of Wilson’s favorite targets while lining up out wide opposite Antonucci, especially with Paul McCarron now departed.
Connor Powers, meanwhile, will anchor Westwood’s front seven, where he will serve as a defensive end. At 6’2,” 225 Ibs, Powers has the potential to be one of the most dominant and feared pass-rushers in the TVL this season. He will also be a centerpiece of the Westwood offensive line as the team’s starting right tackle. Joining Powers in the protection of Wilson will be senior left guard James Dawson and sophomore right guard Alex Tsolias.
Wilson also says he believes the Wolverines hold a ton of talent, and that he is confident in every member of the team being able to step up and make contributions this season, but the only way to find out for sure will come in week one against Pembroke.
“We have a lot of players that are willing to step up and have a big impact this season,” said Wilson. “We will have to wait and see for the first game to see who really steps into a big role.”
Outside of losing a deep and experienced group of seniors from last season, another bit of adversity Westwood will need to overcome in 2017 is the loss of their head coach Ed Mantie, who stepped down to take the head-coaching job at Framingham High this past spring. Losing a coach who led the program to six straight winning seasons and six trips to the postseason, as well as being named the 2016 TVL Coach of the Year, is never easy. However, Westwood appears to have found the right man for the job in new coach Brad Pindel. A graduate of Westwood High in 1989 and an 11-year veteran of the Westwood Police Department, Pindel has served as head at Dover-Sherborn for the past three seasons, and before that, he served as an assistant and offensive coordinator at Westwood for 13 years in the early 2000’s.
Wilson says that even with a new head coach, Westwood’s offense should remain similar to what it was under Mantie, which featured a mix of speed and power runs to the outside while being aggressive on fourth down conversions and two-point tries. Wilson also believes that Coach Pindel’s newly-implemented defensive philosophies should create more opportunities for the Wolverines to get more pressure on the opposing quarterback, and possibly create more turnovers.
“The defenses are relatively the same schemes,” said Wilson. “This year, we’re really emphasizing high-risk, high-reward.”
Like any new head coach, Pindel is going to have his work cut out for him. However, the talent he is being provided in the arm of Wilson and the legs of players such as Jake Antonucci and Brian Murray, combined with Connor Powers and James Dawson providing some nastiness in the trenches, should make for a smooth transition in this new era of Westwood High football. The Wolverines kick off their season at home under the lights on Friday night against Pembroke at 7 p.m.
For funny and incisive sports analysis, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter at @fLAno0, or read his blog at www.flannylive.wordpress.com.