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Football team hoping to overcome graduation losses, inexperience (Times)

Posted Tuesday, September 07, 2010 by Freshman VPs
 By Jared Keene/Daily News correspondent
Posted Sep 07, 2010 @ 02:06 AM

The Needham football team went 7-4 last season, winning the Bay State Conference Carey Division before losing to Bridgewater-Raynham 28-0 in the Division 1A playoffs.

The Rockets, however, started the season off undefeated at 7-0 before being thrashed by Natick (35-0) and Walpole (41-7) and losing back-to-back heartbreakers to Framingham (30-29 in the final week of the regular season) and Wellesley (28-27 on Thanksgiving).

Needham graduated 25 seniors from last year's team. Normally, graduating 25 seniors would hurt a team, but this year's squad contains 26, a number that excites Rocket coach Dave Duffy.

"We kind of do that every year,'' said Duffy, whose team opens up its season Saturday at Milton (7.p.m.). "We'll always graduate a bunch of seniors, but then have a lot on the following season's team.''

According to Duffy, however, while the senior personnel numbers are there, one thing about them lacks.

"They don't have a lot of starting experience,'' he said. "I mean, we're pretty inexperienced overall. We're still working on getting guys in different positions. Basically, we're learning on the fly.''

The Rockets' inexperience this season, especially at wide receiver, will be one of the team's few weaknesses. Needham graduated five wideouts, all of whom, according to Duffy, contributed in one way or another. Duffy also mentioned defensive back as another position at which the team lacks experience.

"We'll see how they develop over the course of the next couple of weeks,'' Duffy said of his new starters. "Hopefully they can learn from any mistakes they might make.''

On the flipside, the Rockets are deep at two key offensive positions: quarterback and running back. Senior captain Kevin Brennan, who Duffy calls ``our most experienced offensive player,'' will be the starting quarterback for the second straight year. Backing up Brennan will be junior Danny Pierce, whom Duffy said ``won't be playing quarterback this year, unless we absolutely need him to, but there will be a spot for him somewhere else.''

"The experience of Brennan really helps,'' Duffy added. "Pierce can be a solid backup.''

Junior Mike Vespa will get the bulk of the carries at running back this year, but he won't be the only one seeing time. Seniors Ryan DiNatale, Jay Sheehan and Ian Riley will provide depth at tailback, while senior captain/fullback Sam Nickles makes Needham's backfield that much stronger.

The offensive line, which will be led by senior captains Rob Timmerman (center) and Will Stenberg (guard), is another area that Duffy sees as a strength, saying that the front "should be able to create some holes to open up our running game.''

Brennan, Vespa and Co. will be able to showcase their talents in the Rockets mix of two main offensive formations: the I, more tailored for running the ball, and the Spread, a shotgun-based look that allows teams to show variety because it's effective as a passing or running offense.

"We run a little bit of both to try and take advantage of defensive lapses/mistakes,'' Duffy said. "Whatever works, we'll go with. We ran the Spread a lot last year because we lacked size. This year, we have a bit more size, so we're going to try and pound it at teams and get first downs.''

Defensively, Needham will be running something new this season: the 4-3. The Rockets ran a 3-4 last year, but first-year defensive coordinator Doug Kopsco implemented the 4-3 because he felt it was more similar to the 4-4 defense that Needham ran from 1926-2008. Stenberg is expected to lead the defense at middle linebacker.

"He (Stenberg) is an impact player that makes big plays.'' said Duffy.

"We're excited to get the season going,'' Duffy said. "We've got some inexperience, but if we can stay away from injuries and penalties, then I'm hoping we can play with anybody in the league on any given night.''

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