ConVal starts with a clean slate

  • Senior linebacker Jake Phillips has become almost like a coach on the field, said ConVal football head coach Paul Landau. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Senior quarterback Dan Spezzaferri will lead the ConVal football team on offense this season. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • ConVal football Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, August 30, 2017 9:30PM

If the ConVal football team wants to extend their season this fall, they’ll need to have short memory.

“Honestly I think you have to forget about everything from last year, because it’s a new team,” said head coach Paul Landau, on the sidelines of a recent practice ahead of Friday’s season opener at Milford. “Right now, we have a good mix of some veteran leadership with some young guys that we’re excited about. They’ve been getting better every day and every week in our scrimmages and practices and that’s the most important thing for us.”

The offense will be centered around senior star quarterback Dan Spezzaferri.

The dual threat QB threw for 1,741 yards and 22 touchdowns in an injury-shortened season, and rushed for another 165 yards and 6 TDs. Of course, last year he was throwing to all-time receptions leader Liam Baldwin, lanky leaper Isaac Bacon and the underrated Jimmy Stewart, as well as backfield dynamo Danny Parker. Now, Spezzaferri and the Cougars will need to replace the 137 catches and 34 TDs that walked across the stage at graduation in June. ConVal’s returning players netted just nine catches and two touchdowns last season, and Spezz himself accounted for close to half of those on trick plays.

But even with the loss of all that production, the Cougars shouldn’t have to change much. Makeen Wilson is ready to slot into the No. 1 receiver role, senior Clayton Coons brings speed and size to the position, and Carter Hunt impressed in the preseason, making a beautiful toe-touch snag in the end zone during the Seacoast Jamboree last weekend.

“We’ve got a lot of competition at that spot, which is good,” Landau said, “and we’ll see who ends up winning out.”

The deceptively fast senior running back Scott Stanley should see the majority of the carries, along with Zach Obuchowski.

ConVal has a solid and experienced, if undersized, defense, with at least one core player at each level.

“We’ll probably be smaller than most of the teams we play, but for us that means that we’ve got to play with attitude, we’ve got to play fast and we’ve got to play physical,” Landau said. “We won’t make excuses about size.”

Quarterbacks and rushers are well acquainted with All-State senior defensive tackle Daniel Curran (85 tackles, 22 TFL, 8.5 sacks) who’s a disruptive dervish on the line. Behind him lurks sophomore hit machine Andrew Stockwell (69 tackles, 13 TFL) and senior linebacker Jake Phillips (60 tackles, 8 TFL), who anchors the defense.

“[Phillips] is another big piece who’s been around a while and seen a lot,” Landau said. “An outstanding linebacker for us who’s basically like a coach on the field.”

At corner is one of the division’s best, senior Hunter Gullage.

“He’s a great cover corner,” Landau said. “He’s just a really smart football player. He’s the best tackler in our program.”

Division II is home to stiff competition. Plymouth will look to make a run for a second straight title behind stud senior running back Garrett Macomber (2,373 yards, 26 TDs), the reigning Gatorade Player of the Year for New Hampshire. Teams like Windham, Milford and St. Thomas are always tough, and a rematch with growing rivals Hollis-Brookline (Oct. 6) is one to circle on the calendar.

But after going 6-3 last season and missing the playoffs by one game, Landau is making clear that every spot on the schedule is huge. He harkened back to last year’s winnable season opener at Milford, which ConVal dropped 41-35.

“That Milford game week one last year? If we won that game, that’s the difference between playoffs and not, and that’s week one,” Landau said. “So you can’t be looking ahead at all.”

Fittingly, ConVal will open once again on the road at Milford Friday night at 7 p.m.

“You’ve got to be ready to go against those guys,” Landau said, “because that’s a program that understands how to play and play the right way. It will be a huge test for sure.”