Old, new faces primed to lead gridiron Eagles

by Jeff Lajoie
Sports Reporter

Senior Beck Stecher will help anchor a veteran core at the skill positions offensively for the Gilford football team this fall. The Eagles open the regular season on Saturday at Franklin (1 p.m.). File Photo. (click for larger version)
September 08, 2014
GILFORD There's unfinished business at hand for the Gilford High School football team this fall.

One year removed from a disappointing loss in the Division III North Conference championship game at home against Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough, the Golden Eagles enter the 2014 season with a mix of old and new. First-year head coach Shawn Garrett steps into the fray, though he's hardly a stranger to the program after coaching the JV team a year ago. Still, Gilford will enter the season with its fourth different head coach in four years.

"It's definitely been hard in some adjustments," said Garrett, whose team kicks off the regular season on Saturday afternoon at Franklin (1 p.m.). "I've done what I can to keep the terminology the same. I've tweaked some things but at the same time, I didn't want them to have to learn a whole new system. And I've been in contact with the captains throughout the summer, trying to get them to buy into what we do. So much credit goes to the coaches last year though... they set the table and we're just trying to maybe change the menu a little bit."

There will be plenty of returning faces to help ease the transition and keep the Eagles competitive this season. Offensively, Gilford returns several key skill position players in seniors Max Troiano (tailback), Kyle Gaudet (wide receiver), Dave MacDonald (fullback) and Beck Stecher (receiver/running back). Troiano led the team in rushing yards a year ago, and both he and Gaudet were All-Conference selections. MacDonald missed the end of the season with an injury, though Andrews said he's been very impressive during the preseason.

"All of those guys were heavily into the weight room and they've had a steady routine throughout the year," said Garrett. "The good news is that we have a little more depth and that's going to help us not have to play guys both ways as much as in the past."

Junior Braedon Lacroix will step right into the Gilford offense at wide receiver, and Garrett said he's been pushing Gaudet for the top slot.

"I expect him to get a lot of touches," the coach said of Lacroix. "If teams want to double up Kyle, let them."

There will certainly be some big holes to fill offensively however, as veteran signal caller Jack Athanas and center Drake Parker both graduated after fine careers. The pair played in the Shrine Game last month in addition to being All-Conference selections in 2013.

"We definitely knew that replacing quarterback and offensive line was going to be huge," admitted Garrett. "That's where it all starts."

Stepping into Athanas' role as signal caller will be junior Carter Mercer. Garrett said he's been impressed with what he's seen from the new QB, and his expectations are high for what he'll be able to do under center.

"Luckily we have a great athlete in Carter Mercer he went into the offseason knowing he was fighting for the role," Garrett said. "He spent a lot of time improving and he's a kid with a lot of poise. He's not afraid to be hit and he steps up, calm and collected. He doesn't have Jack's experience yet but I think he'll be able to fit into Jack's role pretty well because he doesn't get rattled back there."

Along the offensive line in front of Mercer, familiar faces in junior Shane Podmore and senior Ryan Waite return. Senior Mike Madore is also back after suffering through injuries the last few seasons, while senior Tim Baker slides into the center slot. Junior Oliver Roy hasn't played in a few years but will make an impact at tackle.

The defensive side of the ball will look for improvements over last year, with many familiar faces back. Stecher returns to linebacker while players like Jamie Gill (CB/S) will also be called upon to play a big role. Sophomore Dom Troiano has stepped up and should shine at a cornerback slot, while senior Tommy Hart has looked good in practice at linebacker. Senior Zach Poisson was an All-Conference linebacker in 2013.

"We have a lot of speed on that side of the ball," said Garrett of his defense. "My goal is to play an aggressive style and really dictate what the offenses are going to run. The defense itself won't look a whole lot different from last year but I expect to see big results."

One big change this year is that Belmont High School has joined the program, though Red Raider athletes will not be able to participate on the varsity team for two seasons. Still, the influx of players has paid immediate dividends on the JV squad.

"With the addition of Belmont players, we can have devoted practices for JV players," explained Garrett. "This will really help in their development and takes away the fear factor that many freshman and young sophomores often have when having to line up against upperclassmen in practices."

Gilford will remain in the D-III North Conference this season, though the landscape will look a bit differently. Instead of four conferences, there will just be two (North and South) with eight schools in each. The Eagles are joined by local teams Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough, Newfound and Franklin as well as Fall Mountain, Mascoma Valley, Newport and Stevens.

"I think every game on our schedule is going to be a tough game," began Garrett. "We can't look past anybody. This is going to be a conference where a team could win it at 5-3 and it might come down to tiebreakers. We've got some tough teams... a team like Stevens made the state championship last year and we play them."

The Eagles will play an eight-game regular season schedule seven against North foes and one crossover tilt against South Conference squad Somersworth. The home games on the docket are Somersworth (Sept. 20), Newport (Sept. 27), Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough (Oct. 18) and Newfound (Oct. 25).

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