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Summer Sweat Pays Off in Fall

August 21, 2018

Lowell High football coach John Florence, right, is excited to see the development of seniors, from left, Rashawn Settles, Justin Villanueva and Brian Callery. The Red Raiders open their season Sept. 7 against Billerica. SUN/CARMINE FRONGILLO Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

LOWELL -- High school football has returned in Massachusetts and with it the enthusiasm that accompanies a new season.

Beginning last Friday, when the first of three conditioning practices with no pads was held by schools throughout the Commonwealth, the dreams of the local Boys of Autumn were born anew.

It doesn’t matter that Labor Day is still under two weeks away. Lowell High School’s football team is spending these dog days of August laboring through pre-season drills with an eye toward its season-opening tilt at Billerica on Friday, Sept. 7.

“It’s always good to get back out here,” said Lowell High coach John Florence, a former LHS standout who is beginning his eighth season as the head man in the Red Raiders’ program. “It’s still as exciting now as when I played. You wait all year for this. There’s only limited football stuff you can do in the off-season, in terms of being on the field. So it’s such a good feeling just being back out here practicing as a team.”

Lowell will have some new faces in the lineup this fall, but the Red Raiders don’t see this as a rebuilding season. After going 5-6 and qualifying for the MIAA Division 1 North Sectional playoffs last year while playing one of the toughest schedules in Division 1, which included games against perennial state powers, Everett, Central Catholic and St. John’s Prep, the Red Raiders have several players back who know the type of commitment it takes to have success in the always rugged MVC Division 1.

“It’s amazing to be back,” said senior Justin Villanueva, a two-way force at linebacker and running back. “I love the energy the guys have going at practice. We did plenty of lifting this summer and a lot of conditioning, so we’re ready.”

“It’s very obvious when we’re doing the conditioning of who paid the price during the summer,” said Florence. “Those who did not are not happy with the conditioning. There’s no place for them to hide. But the guys who were in the weight room and put in the work, it’s not too bad for them.”

Fortunately, this resurgent group of Red Raiders is smiling through the pain that comes with dealing with the rigors of training camp, along with the heat, humidity and thunderstorms Mother Nature threw their way the first two days of practice.

“It’s been a grind,” said Villanueva. “We’re battling the heat. The coaches are working us good. Everything is a full-out effort. It’s hard work, but the goal is to be ready for the opening game.”

Lowell will finally go out in full pads on Friday. The Red Raiders are scheduled to scrimmage Dracut on Saturday at 11 a.m. at Cawley Stadium.

“I can’t wait for this first scrimmage, to get the pads on and start hitting,” said Brian Callery, a 6-foot-1, 285-pound two-way starting lineman. “Really, I’ve been waiting for this since the day after Thanksgiving. Once we beat Haverhill (on Turkey Day) to end the season, I couldn’t wait to get back out here.

“It’s a new beginning. Once school was over, the whole summer has been football, 24-7.”

Lowell’s retooled offense will feature Villanueva, Aidan Foyle (QB) and Brendan Tighe (WR, 56 receptions, 8 TDs in 2017). Defensively, Villanueva, Callery, Rashawn Settles (LB/DE, 12 sacks in 2017) and Tighe (DB) are big play performers.

“We definitely have some key players back,” said Florence. “But we also have a lot of kids who don’t have a lot of experience. This pre-season is big for them. Fortunately, those kids we need to step up are a lot of the kids who worked hard in the weight room. The pre-season is all about preparing them to be ready for Friday nights.”

Follow Carmine Frongillo on Twitter @cwfrongi

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