New Stars Will Emerge for Fitchburg Football Team
FITCHBURG -- Forget about last year.
With 36 players turning their tassels at Crocker Field back in June, the Fitchburg High football team is practically brand new in head coach Tom DiGeronimo’s second season at the helm.
But there will be some elements of last year’s team -- which missed the postseason by mere percentage points, beat Leominster on Thanksgiving for the first time in nearly a decade, and had a historic rushing season out of Sal Figueroa (1,974 yards rushing, Central Mass-high seven TDs in one game) -- still in play when the Red Raiders make the short drive to the foot of Tar Hill Friday night.
Fitchburg will take on inter-city rival St. Bernard’s at the Bernardian Bowl on Friday at 7 p.m.
“People don’t realize, we have five offensive players coming back. Our fullback’s gone, our tailback’s gone. We’re replacing a lot of kids,” DiGeronimo said Tuesday afternoon in the Crocker Field clubhouse. “We have some kids that are coming along who are capable, and we’re pretty happy with what we’re getting out of our running backs up to this point.
“We’re a different team than we were last year.”
Andrew Brooks returns to lead the Red Raiders for his second season in Fitchburg’s Multiple offensive set.
“I think the fact we’ve settled in with what we’ve done offensively, so this will be Year 2 under our system,” DiGeronimo said. “That’s been the biggest improvement for him; it’s not a new offense. He’s played in Multiple offenses, so the concepts stay the same. He’s really got a grasp of what we want to do.
“Andrew’s a big weight room kid, and he threw a lot in the summer and the spring, so he put in a lot of work on his mechanics and to get stronger.”
DiGeronimo noted that Brooks is only one piece of the puzzle, and that it isn’t on the senior to do it all himself.
“I don’t want him to have the pressure on himself that he has to win every game, where he has to make every throw,” he said. “He has to go out and perform and relax and compete, that’s all. He has to make the correct reads and just manage the game.”
When Brooks drops back to pass, he’ll look for three familiar targets in Devin Deleon, Ozzy Guy and Caleb Smith, all three returning seniors.
Running the ball -- Fitchburg’s hallmark for years -- will see new young men rotating in after the graduation of Figueroa and fullback Mike Nowd. Junior Luis Aldarando, up from an impressive junior varsity season -- he also got plenty of time in the varsity against Worcester South at the end of the regular season last year -- is expected to get a good chunk of the carries, while sophomore Gabriel Rivera is also in the mix after an outstanding freshman campaign last fall.
Both have swift feet, with Aldarando being a rather shifty back.
“It could be by committee. We’ll go with the guy who has the hot hand,” DiGeronimo said of his run game.
Dan Dudek returns to anchor the offensive line, which, outside of him, will all see new players moving in.
″(Dudek) is a year older, a year stronger. He’s prepared in the offseason in the weight room. He’s the glue that keeps the O-line together, and that’s such a pivotal position, the center. He has to make a lot of calls,” DiGeronimo said.
A combination of Peter Rivera, Will Vargo, Gio Marrone, Jacob Walker, Ryan Justin, John Shaw and Sam Faulkner will see time in the trenches.
“We played a lot of kids in our scrimmages,” DiGeronimo said, “and that was the thing: we did a lot of mixing and matching to get kids on the field and hopefully get them game ready for week one.”
There will be plenty of new faces on the defensive side of the ball, as Fitchburg graduated all three starters on the defensive line, as well as three of the four players in the secondary.
DiGeronimo said that Vargo -- who transferred in from Leominster a year ago -- Tyreek Danger, Kendre White, Sammy Robichaud, Nik Irizzarry, Mazz Newton and Gabriel Escadero are in the mix for the defensive line, while the linebacking corps from a year ago return: Angel Santiago and Dylan Araujo are the outside backers, with Marrone and Rocco Arciprete inside.
Trey Winters is the lone returner in the secondary.
“It’s unique that we’ve created a lot of competition and built some depth, and that’s important. We’ve mixed and matched a lot of kids together, and really hadn’t settled anything yet going into our last scrimmage,” DiGeronimo said.
And of course, no one can forget the big boot of senior Damien Saavedra knocking PATs to River Street.
And his leg has just gotten stronger.
“His foot is solid,” DiGeronimo said. “He missed maybe two extra points last year. So it’s a good weapon to have.”