By Kevin J. Stone, Contributing Writer
GRAFTON – Head coach Chris McMahon is entering his eighth year at the helm of the Grafton football program. But he can’t remember a time that there’s ever been this much anticipation and excitement surrounding a season.
“Last year, not having the offseason programs, not having the ability to come together as a team, the guys missed that,” McMahon said in a recent phone interview. “To have the opportunity after Fall II last season to get back in the weight room and work with the kids all summer, it’s created a tremendous sense of anticipation and excitement for this season that I’m not sure has been matched in a long time, that’s for sure.”
The Gators went 3-2 during their abbreviated schedule earlier this year. But it’s the lessons taken from that strange slate of games that McMahon is happiest about.
“That Fall II season was like a passing league but better,” he said. “When we started working out together as a team after April vacation [this year] and we worked out all summer, honestly I said to one of my coaches yesterday, ‘even though we’ve only been out here a couple of weeks, we’re a lot further ahead than we were in years past, so that schedule definitely helped.’”
“I don’t know if it’s a function of doing this in the spring or the kids are just getting things quicker, but that Fall II season was definitely helpful heading into this year,” he continued.
Of course, COVID-19 isn’t completely gone and the Gators are remaining careful.
“You always have to be cautious of it,” added McMahon. “We tell the kids all the time, ‘It’s still out there and a major concern. It only takes one incident for us to be potentially paused until it’s resolved.’”
“When we’re in the weight room, we’re wearing masks; we still aren’t using locker rooms and we spent the summer working out outside, so it’s definitely not being brushed aside by any means,” he said.
As for returning guys that McMahon and the staff are relying on, there are quite a few.
Senior quarterback, captain and three-year starter Tyler Dimond is the biggest name returning after he had a fantastic Fall II campaign. Classmate and captain Doug Landry will line up at fullback and linebacker. Captain Charlie McMahon will anchor the offensive and defensive lines alongside Ricky Leach and Nick Flores. Captain Matt Bittel will play wide receiver and running back. Adam Hillerstrom and Wayne Donagher will take on wide receiver and defensive back duties. Cooper Berube at middle linebacker/guard, John Himawi at defensive end and freshman Tyson Thomas are all also turning heads.
“Those are just some of the guys that we’re excited about,” McMahon said.
Grafton has established itself for years now as a perennial league title contender. McMahon expects nothing different this year, although a new state format for the playoffs will make things more interesting.
“We always try to be competitive,” he said. “We talk about our goals as a team and we need to win games within our division. This year we’re fortunate enough to have several competitive games with Marlborough, Tantasqua, Nashoba and those are big games for us.”
“We understand the importance of every game with the new statewide format, so all games have added significance to them this season,” he continued. “We know we’ve got to win league games to eventually try to get where we want to be.”