By Matt Noonan | @MattyNoonz11
Months after concluding their 2018 campaign with a 26-6 setback to rival Dedham High School, the Norwood High School football team returned to campus last month eager to start a new chapter of the program under first-year coach Manny Lopes.
Lopes, who competed and won a Super Bowl as a student-athlete with Norwood in 2000, is excited for his initial season with the Mustangs, who will visit Walpole High School on Friday, September 6th for a 7 p.m. kick-off.
“It’s exciting,” said Lopes of his team’s first contest of the 2019 season. “Its a respectful rivalry, but we have lost to them long enough, so it will be nice to put some teams out there to compete with them, and we’re excited to get out there (this Friday).”
Walpole topped Norwood, 27-0, last fall, which provided coach Chris Sullivan, a former assistant, and student-athlete with the Rebels with his initial win as the program’s head coach.
Lopes says he is excited to start his “own little rivalry” with Sullivan, who he described as a “great guy.”
Similar to Lopes, his players, including quarterback Jason Denehy are excited for their first game against the Rebels – the Mustangs’ signal-caller says he “takes pride in being a part of” the Norwood-Walpole rivalry.
“It goes back a long time and it means a lot to me from youth and especially now in high school,” said Denehy, who is eager to guide the Mustangs’ offense up and down the field this fall.
Denehy considers Walpole “one of the (stronger) opponents” Norwood will face this fall, so scoring an opening day win over the Rebels would certainly provide the squad with some momentum heading into their second season in the Tri-Valley League (TVL).
Norwood concluded its first season in the TVL with a 2-9 mark – their lone conference win came against Medfield High School last October – but from speaking with a few players last Friday during the squad’s ‘Media Day,’ they certainly seem prepared to face the conference’s large divisional foes again this season.
Said senior tri-captain Aidan Prior, “A lot of these Tri-Valley League teams I never played before (until last season), but there were two teams we have been playing for years (growing up through youth sports) in Dedham and Westwood, so it is good to know coming back a second year what these teams are all about.”
The Mustangs will play two conference games this month against Medway and Westwood before visiting Hopkinton and Holliston in the first two weeks of October. Medfield and Ashland will visit Norwood during the final two weeks of October before the Mustangs compete in either a postseason or non-postseason clash.
Norwood will conclude November with a visit to Dedham on Thanksgiving Day with kickoff scheduled for 10 a.m.
Getting to Know the 2019 Norwood High School Mustangs
Norwood’s first season in the Tri-Valley League (TVL): The Mustangs concluded their initial season in the Tri-Valley League with a 2-9 record. Their lone conference win came against Medfield when the Mustangs defeated the Warriors last October by a score of 21-2.
Familiar Foes: Norwood will see the same seven teams they competed against last season, including all six conference foes. They were competitive against Medway and Westwood but struggled against Ashland, Holliston, and Hopkinton.
But as senior tri-captain Teddy Willet said, “We got to watch these teams on film but never saw them on the field, we never played with them before, but the way I look at it is they have never seen us before and they have to come to stop us.”
Norwood’s first conference game is Saturday, September 21st against Medway, which defeated the Mustangs last fall, 34-18.
A new potential rival for Norwood: While Norwood will continue its rivalry with Dedham and Walpole this fall – the Marauders are also part of the Tri-Valley League, too – it seems a new rivalry is taking shape with its next-door neighbors.
Norwood and Westwood are slowly becoming rivals – the two towns don’t have the same history as Norwood-Dedham or Norwood-Walpole, but as coach Manny Lopes said, “Westwood is starting to be a little rivalry.”
One of Lopes’ coordinators said he considers Norwood-Westwood a “great rivalry,” especially after last year’s contest, which saw the Wolverines edge the Mustangs, 7-6.
Said Lopes, “Walpole and Dedham are the big ones. The Westwood one is growing, there have been some close games in the past couple of years, but it is really Walpole and Dedham.”
Norwood and Westwood will square-off Saturday, September 28th at 1 p.m.
Norwood’s Captains: The Mustangs named three student-athletes captains this season: Teddy Willett, who will play halfback and outside linebacker, Aidan Prior, who will be spotted at offensive guard and defensive tackle, and Connor Sheehan, who will play offensive guard and middle linebacker.
The offensive plan: Lopes said he and his staff have implemented a new offense for the upcoming season, which will be a mix of run-pass. Lopes seems eager to watch Denehy quarterback an offense that may not feature too many designed plays but will allow the junior signal-caller to run the ball, too.
Norwood returns three starters on the offensive line, according to Lopes, including Prior and Sheehan.
Getting to know Norwood’s defense: While Prior, Sheehan, and Willett will be tasked with leading the Mustangs’ defense, there are some holes Lopes and his staff must fill heading into their first game on Friday.
Lopes doesn’t seem too concerned about filling the graduation gaps – he has faith in his seniors to step-up and make plays. “We’ll be fine,” said Lopes.
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