Mazzola Hoping Football Will Be In Medway’s FutureJul 30, 2020 09:57AM ● By KEN HAMWEY, Staff Sports Writer
Medway coach Anthony Mazzola with last year's captains, from left, Liam Hoye, Rome Banaitis and Drew Plunkett
EDITOR’S NOTE: At Local Town Pages deadline, neither Governor Baker nor the Department of Education had announced the status of interscholastic sports for the fall.
Anthony Mazzola led Medway High’s football team to a respectable 7-4 record last year in his first season as the Mustangs’ head coach, and he’d like to build on that success in 2020.
But, the Covid-19 pandemic could thwart his plans and the plans of a plethora of coaches throughout the state, no matter what sport they’re directing. The 42-year-old Mazzola, who led Tri County Vocational to three playoff berths in his nine years at the Franklin school, is eagerly awaiting a decision on whether schools will be able to proceed with their fall sports schedules.
“The summer has been like walking on eggshells,’’ Mazzola said. “The hardest part of dealing with the unknown is that we’re out of the decision-making process. It’s up to the governor and his task force. For us, our approach has been that a season will happen. We’ve got a plan and we can adjust it. We’re ready for Aug. 21 (opening of pre-season camps).’’
Mazzola, who’s been a special education teacher for 10 years at Tri County, is acutely aware that football is strictly part of the small picture. As the father of three sons, he’s been tuned in to the big picture from day one.
“What’s most important is the health and safety of our nation,’’ said Mazzola, who guided Tri County to a pair of vocational league Super Bowl appearances. “We don’t want to prolong the pandemic. Football is just a game but I love it and breathe it. No game should outweigh the health and safety of our country. That’s the top priority.’’
A native of Townsend, Mazzola’s emotions on whether football is on for the fall are at opposite ends of the spectrum.
“If it’s ‘no,’ I’ll be upset and devastated,’’ he noted. “But, I fully understand the severity of the situation. It’ll bother me, but we have to think of our family and our job. I’ll want to be there for my players to help them get through the adversity. If we get the okay to play, my first thought will be to win the Tri Valley League. Let’s go get it. I’ll be ecstatic for the kids and the community, even if we have to be socially distanced in the stands. I’d definitely have a hop in my step.’’
Although Medway graduated some dynamic gridders like quarterback Drew Plunkett, running back Nick Sheehan, linebacker Liam Hoye, safety Nick Volz, and defensive tackle Rome Banaitis, there’s a talented group of juniors on hand and some solid senior leaders.
“We’ve got depth and balance,’’ Mazzola said. “Our defense should be strong, and I like our technical skills and our football IQ. We’ve lost some key players, but we’ll strive to fill those gaps with a herd mentality. My goals are to win the TVL Small Division title, qualify for the playoffs, make a run in the playoffs and to beat the team next door (archrival Millis).’’
Currently, the Mustangs have two captains but another pair likely will be named during the pre-season. Seniors Reece Curran (league all-star) and Max Hundertmark get high marks from Mazzola who labels them as “great leaders.’’ Curran plays defensive end and Hundertmark competes at center and on the defensive line.
“Reece has a great skill-set,’’ Mazzola said. “He’s got the potential to be the best defensive end in the TVL Small Division. He’s tough, quick and strong. It’ll be difficult for opponents to run to his side. Max is a two-year starter who’s one of the most intelligent kids I’ve coached. He’s technically sound and has good instincts.’’
Four players headline a strong junior class. They include Connor Kewely (safety/receiver), Darius Banaitis (tackle/defensive end), Jack Applebaum (two-way tackle) and Eric Lindstrom (receiver/linebacker).
“Connor was an all-star as a sophomore and led the team in interceptions,’’ Mazzola said. “He’s athletic, fast, smart and has length. Darius started as a sophomore. He’s very athletic and has speed. He’s long and strong. Jack is big (6-4, 270), clogs the middle and has decent hands and feet. We expect big things from him. Eric is 6-3, 180 and probably our fastest player. He’s got good hands on defense, has speed and lots of athleticism.’’
Replacing Plunkett, an all-league QB, will not be easy but Mazzola says junior Sean Converse is capable. “Sean was a good back-up, and he played well at the jayvee level,’’ Mazzola said. “He’s got good mechanics, good length and a decent arm. His football IQ is high, and we’ve got confidence in him.’’
Mazzola’s style and his philosophy of coaching are assets that Medway can bank on. He’s all about building relationships, being approachable and communicative and making an impact on his players. And, he firmly believes that to be a high-caliber coach it’s imperative to be a teacher first.
“My philosophy has always been to be a teacher first,’’ he said. “I’ll strive to develop a winning attitude and focus on the importance of overcoming adversity. We want our players to be positive role models, not only on the field but also in the classroom and in the community. Valuable life lessons can be learned in athletics. And, I enjoy seeing players be disciplined, respectful, unselfish, able to handle adversity and knowing how to persevere.’’
Mazzola prefers that his squads be balanced but he doesn’t use that term the way other coaches do.
“Being balanced is really about adjusting and adapting when your opponent takes the lead or takes away what you do best,’’ he noted. “Balance isn’t about throwing 50 percent of the time or running 50 percent of the time. It’s about being resilient.’’
Mazzola played football at North Middlesex Regional and competed for a year at Fitchburg State where he was a running back and safety. He transferred to Westfield State where he graduated in 2001. He earned his masters degree in special education at Endicott College and has an advanced degree in educational leadership.
As the leader of Medway’s football program, Mazzola knows there’ll be new guidelines and rules for the sport. He knows there’ll be distancing issues, cleanliness regulations, new locker-room and weight-room protocols and sideline changes.
“Whatever guidelines come out, we’ll abide by them,’’ he emphasized. “Hopefully, they’ll be temporary. We’d like the chance to play football and we’ll adapt and overcome. For educators, there’s been no reference point or training for a pandemic. There’s no playbook, but it’s being written now. There’ll be mistakes, but we can learn from them.’’
If football gets the okay from the state, then the Mustangs will open their season at Westwood on Sept. 11. That game will be followed by two more non-league contests — home games against Norwood and Holliston. Two scrimmages have been scheduled against Medfield and Randolph.