The moment has finally arrived.
From the state-of-the-art artificial turf stadiums to the already-dusty grass fields, the sound of quarterbacks calling out signals and shoulders pads crashing have arrived.
Football is back.
New Hampshire kicked off high school football preseason practices on Friday, returning to the traditional mid-August start a year after the season was delayed a month by COVID-19.
“Whenever football season ends, I start a countdown in my head waiting for football to come back,” said Salem’s Eagle-Tribune All-Star defensive back/receiver Kaleb Bates. “That countdown is finally over and double sessions have started. At this time last year we couldn’t say that. I couldn’t be more ecstatic that football is back.”
BLUE DEVILS TITLE CONTENDERS
Perhaps no team in New Hampshire features a more talented backfield than 2020 Division 1 semifinalist Salem High.
The Blue Devils return a pair of Eagle-Tribune All-Star running backs. Aidan McDonald (763 rushing yards, 9 TDs in 2020) and Dante Fernandes (717 yards, 10 TDs) were 1-2 in the area in rushing (including Mass. and N.H.).
McDonald also leads the defense. The linebacker made the game-saving tackle on the final play of the Blue Devils’ quarterfinal win over defending Division 1 champ Londonderry.
Defensive back Bates intercepted five passes last fall, three in the postseason, Defensive back Tommy Ahlers and Jack Dailey were also All-NH Division 1 South.
“I’m very excited for a full season this year,” said McDonald. “We can’t wait for our Week 1 game against Nashua South (Sept. 3). We have a lot of returning starters and some talented underclassmen stepping up.”
PINKERTON MOVES PAST LOST SEASON
Pinkerton is ready to roll after its 2020 season was cancelled after three games due to COVID-19 concerns unrelated to the football team.
“After our season last year was cancelled only after three games, I think we all have some extra motivation going into this season,” said Pinkerton All-Conference running back/defensive back Jacob Albert. “We can’t wait.”
Albert was on the verge of a breakthrough last fall, having run for 271 yards on just 30 carries in three games.
Cole Yennaco is already an All-Conference standout at linebacker and kick returner, and he should see more time at running back on offense. Top linebacker Jack Mackiernan is also back.
TIMBERLANE LOOKS TO BUILD ON SUCCESS
After going from winless in 2019 to the state semifinals in 2020 after moving to Division 2, Timberlane is ready to keep winning.
“We’re all very excited because we feel we have a great group of guys who are ready to compete,” said Eagle-Tribune All-Star lineman Cooper Kelley. “In years past, our teams have been young. Now we’re more experienced and feel like we can contend.”
All-Conference receiver-turned-QB Ethan Stewart (321 rushing yards, 5 TDs) should make plays at whatever position he plays. Dom Pallaria (team-high 537 rushing yards, 9 TDs) returns as the top back.
“We all know we have a lot of talent and we’re excited to see that play out,” said Stewart. “We can’t wait for the regular season to get underway. I believe that we have one goal as a team, to win a state championship.”
WINDHAM READY TO BOUNCE BACK
Windham went winless (0-4) in 2020, but trailed by just one score in the fourth quarter of three of those four losses.
“I think we all know that we’re not seen as a top team in our division,” said linebacker/running back Keegan Parke. “But I’m very excited to see what we can do. We’re planning on showing a lot of teams that we aren’t a team that can be overlooked.”
Added receiver/defensive back A.J. Fox: “My hope is that this season will improve the program one way or another, whether it’s winning a championship or helping the underclassmen grow so that they could win a championship one day. I’m just excited to get out on the field with boys again.”
Fellow Division 2 competitor Sanborn will look to bounce back after a winless 2020.
PELHAM A FAVORITE AGAIN
Pelham rolled to a perfect season and the Division 3 state title last fall, outscoring opponents 256-23.
The Pythons graduated plenty of talent, but return a strong roster, including fullback/linebacker Ethan Demmons (455 rushing yards, 7 TDs), running back/defensive back Kevin Bodenrader (292 rushing yards, 6 TDs) and all-conference lineman Noah Coppinger.