By Matt Noonan | @MattyNoonz11
For Doug Kopsco, his first season as the head coach of the Needham High School football team seemed to go pretty well.
Kopsco’s Rockets posted a winning record of 7-4 last fall, which included a postseason win over Newton North in the quarterfinals of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) D1 South playoffs and an exciting one-point victory over archrival Wellesley on Thanksgiving Day.
Heading into his second season with his alma mater’s football program, Kopsco appears more relaxed. In fact, he seems to be enjoying his new role with the Rockets, who are expected to once again contend for a Bay State Conference (BSC) Herget title this fall.
“Really at the end of the day, it isn’t about x’s and o’s. It is about the culture, it is about the kids and it is about the family enviornment,” said Kopsco, who was previously a coordinator for the Rockets football program before taking over for coach Dave Duffy last season.
“It’s one thing to preach it and talk about it, but it is another thing to invite that environment and share that environment, and get the kids involved with creating that culture. And I think these guys did a great job of that this year.”
Kopsco says what has made this season’s preseason so much fun has been the competition – there seems to be multiple positions up for grabs due to some graduation losses, especially on the offense.
“We have a ton of competition this year,” said Kopsco.
“Last year, I think we knew (who our starters would be), and that’s both gratifying and exciting … but this year, all spots are open, so everyone is working hard, everyone is pushing each other and there is no kind of gimme spots.”
Needham’s 2019 Football Season Outlook
Needham’s 2018 Season: The Rockets enjoyed a successful first season under coach Doug Kopsco, winning five of seven regular-season contests along with one postseason game, too.
Their run toward an MIAA D1 South championship concluded in the semifinals with a 35-32 loss to Catholic Memorial, but Needham would close the season on a high note by defeating Wellesley, 14-13, on Thanksgiving Day.
Key Depatures: The Rockets graduated some key pieces from last year’s offense, including tight end Matt Smith, who will be competing for Duke University this fall.
Jack Murmes, who was also a tight end, will be playing for Assumption College this season, while quarterback Charlie Ogletree will be suiting up for Bentley University.
Players to Watch: Tyler Reid returns for his final season – the senior tri-captain will be spotted in the backfield at halfback and is someone Kopsco will certainly rely on this season.
Odahri Hibberts returns for his final season – he will be lining up in the slot and at cornerback on defense.
Ryan Villa is back for his final season with the Rockets and will be playing offensive tackle and guard.
Filling the holes on defense: With just two student-athletes returning on defense with starting experience, Kopsco and his staff will be looking for some new additions this fall to fill all three levels.
“We have on defense have two kids coming back that have starting experience, so it is all wide open,” said Kopsco, “but we have (had holes to fill on defense from previous seasons) and honestly, we ended up with some of our better defenses.”
Upcoming Scrimmage: Needham will compete against Wayland (the game will be held at Weston) on Friday, August 30th. Kopsco is excited for his team to compete against another squad prior to their initial game of the 2019 season on Friday, September 6th at Natick.
Said Kopsco, “They are always super well-prepared, great coaching staff, and it is a wonderful time to test out where we are at this point of the season … it is a wonderful opportunity to see how much we have taken in so far.”
A challenging opening month: Needham will certainly be tested in the first few weeks of the season when they compete against Natick (week one) and Tewksbury (week two) and Newton North (week three).
Tewksbury advanced to the MIAA D3 Super Bowl – they lost to Springfield Central at Gillette Stadium – but are expected to once again be a team to beat in Merrimack Valley Conference (MVC).
“We’re excited (about our upcoming games),” said Kopsco. “Natick’s awesome, great coaches and super-well prepared. This is going to be a super-competitive game. We won last year, but they won the year before, so I think it is a good chance to see how we can come out of the gates as a team and a family, and hopefully, we come out on top.
“(Tewksbury) is a great team. This is just a great team. They are very versatile on offense, they give you a lot of different looks, they can do a lot of different things to you, so we just need to (make sure) we’re prepared, ask good questions during the week and we need to make sure everyone knows their assignments.”
Coach Dave Duffy returns to the sidelines: After announcing his retirement last summer following a very impressive 19-years of coaching the Rockets, coach Dave Duffy has returned to Needham to help his former squad continue its recent success.
Kopsco is very excited to have his former coach back on the sidelines – he is certainly eager to learn more from him as the season progresses.
“We were very fortunate this year” to have coach Duffy back, explained Kopsco, who played fullback and linebacker for the Rockets before returning to the program as a defensive coordinator.
“I didn’t want to hound him too much, but I really always wanted to work with Roy Johan and Dave Duffy. I am still learning from both of them, (but) they are amazing coaches with 35 years of varsity experience between the two of them alone, so we’re really going to lean on them heavily this year to make sure we’re headed in the right direction.”
Needham’s 2019 Schedule
- Friday, September 6th – at Natick, 6 p.m.
- Friday, September 13th – vs. Tewksbury, 6 p.m.
- Friday, September 20th – vs. Newton North, 6 p.m.
- Friday, September 27th – at Weymouth, 7 p.m.
- Friday, October 4th – at Braintree, 7 p.m.
- Friday, October 18th – vs. Milton, 6 p.m.
- Friday, October 25th – vs. Walpole, 6 p.m.
- Thursday, November 28th – at Wellesley, 10 a.m.
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