The weekly routine becomes pretty standard for any high school football team.
Game day. Recovery. Film study. Preparation for the next opponent. Then on to the next game.
For the first game of each season, though, that routine changes. And while the extended preparation of the preseason can often help a team in the first week of each season, Week 1 also offers its share of challenges.
At the top of that list is lack of familiarity, which the Manchester Essex football team will look to overcome when it travels to Amesbury’s Landry Stadium to open its season tonight (7:00 p.m.).
Hornets coach Mike Athanas has taken strides to familiarize himself with the Indians, having attended their final scrimmage against Whittier Tech last week. But with just one tape to study — against a Whittier Tech team that runs a very unusual offense — Athanas admitted that it’s tough to know just what to expect when the Hornets take the field.
“It’s hard,” Athanas said. “We were up and watched them scrimmage, but just exchanging one tape, you don’t get many tendencies and things like that. The first game’s a little harder to prepare for, but with what we have and who we have coming back from last year, we’re ready to go.”
To make matters worse, Amesbury has evolved its Wing-T offense since the 28-7 beating they put on the Hornets last season. The Indians will still line up in the Wing-T — which relies on misdirection and speed and can often leave defenses spinning — but this season they’ll be running it out of the shotgun, likely further opening up the passing game.
And with an experienced senior quarterback in Matt Talbot running the show for Amesbury, which went 4-7 last season in Tier 3 of the NEC/CAL, Manchester Essex appears to be in for a tough matchup.
“We’ve just got to go out there and try and make some stops,” senior defensive back and co-captain John Beardsley said. “We’ve got to keep them from breaking anything to the outside.”
That may be easier said than done for the Hornets, though, as the traditionally-strong Indians will trot out a talented and veteran-laden squad tonight.
“They’re big and physical up front, they’ve got a good quarterback, they’ve got a lot of kids coming back,” Athanas said, “so it’s going to be a tough game and a good battle.”
But while a win tonight would be an impressive start to the season for the Hornets — on the road against a bigger school — their expectations of a win haven’t wavered.
The Indians may have experience and explosiveness on offense. Manchester Essex, though, should be able to match it.
Senior Cory Burnham returns under center, bringing a dual-threat style to the field. Senior running back Jake Fitzgerald, who ran for 756 yards and seven touchdowns last year, will join Burnham in the backfield. A plethora of talent and experience will join them on the offensive side.
And having already scrimmaged a powerhouse in St. John’s Prep, the Hornets shouldn’t be intimidated by either Amesbury or the challenge of a road game.
“We did a lot of good things in the preseason,” said Burnham, who will be the centerpiece of the offense this season. “I think we’ve got some good momentum heading into Friday.”
In order to maintain that momentum, the Hornets will look to hold Amesbury down early and establish a rhythm as they look to compete for a playoff spot in Tier 4 of the NEC/CAL.
“They’re a pretty good team, so we’re just looking to try to keep them contained,” Beardsley said. “Not let them get too riled up, don’t let them get any big plays early.”
More than that, though, Athanas is looking to establish discipline in his team’s season-opener. And with a tough opponent in Amesbury, the outcome could very well be decided by which team can best limit the mistakes that so often stem from early-season jitters.
“Our goal in every game is to play physical, control the ball and the line of scrimmage, and don’t make many mistakes,” Athanas said. “Last year, we lost a few close games and it was because of a mistake here, a mistake there, an offside or a penalty, all things we can control. If we can control those things, we’re pretty confident in our ability and how we’re going to play.”