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Home knocks: Rockets ready for liftoff

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By Michael Flanagan
Hometown Weekly Sports Editor

Coming off a 6-5 campaign that saw a 25-6 playoff defeat to Catholic Memorial and a 34-14 loss on Thanksgiving to arch rival Wellesley, the Needham High School varsity football team is hoping for a bounce back season in 2017, and with changes made to the scheme and tempo of their offense, there is much reason for optimism. Leading this band of Rockets into battle this season will be a trio of senior captains in quarterback Charlie Sumner, versatile 5’9”, 155 Ibs speedster John Andre, and defensive utility man and special teams weapon Connor Hickey.

As always, legendary head coach David Duffy returns for another season at Needham, entering his 34th year at the helm. However, Duffy says that 2017 could be the beginning of a new era in the way Needham operates its offense, all while expectations amongst he and his team are as high as ever.

“We have a lot of speed, something that we don’t always have every year,” said Duffy. “We’ll see how that works, as there’s a lot of new stuff we’re trying to work into the offense. Defensively, we should be fine, and our kicking game should be excellent, so we’re excited. We have a tough schedule. We got Natick, Walpole, some tough none league games, Wellesley, the rest of the Carey [Division] and the Division I playoffs.”

Duffy also says that while senior captain John Andre will remain a focal point of Needham’s offense this season like he was in 2016 thanks to his speed and versatility, the Rockets have several other speedsters that they are hoping to utilize and take advantage of.

“We hope to get [Andre] the ball in space, that’s definitely the plan,” said Duffy. “But, he’s not the only fast guy we got either; we got more speed than normal. Some years in the past we didn’t have much speed at all, but having more than a few kids with speed is definitely helpful. Our MO over the last 30 years has been I-formation, running the ball, pounding it, but this year might be a little different. We’ll see. We’re looking forward to it. Change is good.”

John Andre agrees with his coach’s assessment, and says he is looking forward to taking on a leadership role while being part of an offense that can utilize his abilities.

“We’re looking pretty good. We’re not the biggest team but we’re super-athletic,” said Andre. “We have me and Odahri [Hibberts] in the slots and then Jack [Murmes] and Matt [Smith] out wide, two big guys. I think we’re going to have some really good games down the field and we’re going to be switching it up a little bit, focusing more on the spread rather than all I [formation].”

Charlie Sumner says that he, his fellow captains, and the entire Rocket team are making sure to keep one another focused, all while doing everything they can to prepare the right way and achieve as much as possible in 2017.

“Our thoughts are really just to have the best season possible,” said Sumner. “Beat Wellesley, have a winning season. After going out there last year and getting whooped on our home turf by Wellesley, I don’t know if there’s any more motivation than that. Last year we kind of had the feeling that we let the whole town down losing to Wellesley after beating them at Fenway the year before, so we’re all thinking that we got to come back and make sure we have a great season. We’ve just been having a good attitude and making sure everyone is focused, because if we don’t do that then the team won’t play to its full potential. We’re not trying to have a crap year.”

As far as potential changes to Needham’s offensive approach, Sumner is all for it. Sumner also says that he can’t wait to see what this offense is capable of, especially with such potent weapons to utilize like Andre, junior wideout Matt Smith, junior tight end Jack Murmes, and sophomore speedster Odahri Hibbert out of the slot.

“It opens up a lot more both receiving and running wise,” said Sumner. “We’re bringing in new stuff after doing the same thing for like 20 years. Even though all of the old stuff we used to do worked, it’s good to change it up and mess with our opponents like Walpole and Newton North who maybe had us down and knew what was coming at them. Odahri [Hibberts] and [John] Andre in the slots, and then Matt Smith and Jack Murmes on the outside, that’s awesome having those guys,” said Sumner. “Just having two seconds to throw the ball to [Smith or Murmes] and give them a chance to make a play or dump it off to Odahri or Andre in the slots, it’ll be amazing.”

Connor Hickey emphasizes that he and his teammates need to keep preparing as much as they can during the preseason and summer workouts so that they can enter their first regular season game confident and ready to go, something Hickey believes the Rockets may have lacked to a degree over the last several years.

“We’ve came out slow the last couple of years,” said Hickey. “We’ve always been hyped going into the first game and it’s always been us wanting to start off on that strong note. But, we’ve never really been prepared enough or come out strong enough. So, I think something that we really need to take seriously this year is the preseason, focusing on that before we get experience in the games. Before we go into that first game we really need to be prepared to come out on a strong foot this year.

Defensively, Hickey says that he’s ready and willing to do whatever he is asked to do as the team’s safety and primary kickoff return man.

“I just help out wherever I’m needed and wherever I best fit in,” said Hickey. “I just want to do whatever I can to help the team win. Safety is usually my primary position and it’s something I love doing. I think we have a great defense with a great set of defensive backs, so hopefully, we can carry that over into the regular season and have some success while snagging a few picks.”

Offensively, Hickey again believes firmly in doing whatever he can to help his team win, and that he’s willing and able to line up and do whatever job his coaches tell him.

“We have a lot of depth at receiver this year, but I think we also might be running a lot of spread and passing plays because of that depth that we have, so if I’m needed out there at receiver then I’ll go help out. If I’m not, defense, and I’m totally fine with that.”

The Rockets will play a pair of preseason scrimmages before opening up the regular season on September 8 at Bay State Conference rival Natick at 7 p.m., followed by their home opener with Walpole on September 15.

For funny and incisive sports analysis, follow Mike Flanagan on his personal Twitter at @fLAno0, or read his blog at

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