READING, Mass. -- Who ever said offensive linemen aren’t athletes?
Reading tackle Matt Comerford isn’t your typical 6-foot-4, 280-pound lineman. A multi-disciplined athlete, who played baseball, lacrosse and hockey, his body simply grew into the position.
The senior’s athleticism is on display every spring, when he’s between the pipes for the Rockets lacrosse team. An imposing figure who takes up plenty of the cage, Comerford isn’t that type of goaltender though -- one who would be lampooned in a Disney movie and simply relies on his size to make stops. Quick reflexes and nifty footwork are strengths. He even has some skill with the stick.
But football came late to the potential Division 1 college recruit. He didn’t play until freshman year.
That too, was a function of his size.
“I couldn’t play Pop Warner,” Comerford said after a recent practice, “I was always too big.”
Comerford has heard from a smattering of FBS and FCS schools, but is putting off his college intentions until the football season is through.
This season, Comerford will anchor a line that features varying degrees of game experience. He along with Peter Fodera are the elder statesmen with Andrew Bourque (6-2, 330), Brian Callahan (6-2, 250) and John Donnellan (6-1, 210) expected to fill greater roles.
“We want to develop strength between the tackles on both side of the ball,” Rockets head coach John Fiore said. “I’m pleased with the way the entire team has worked in the offseason. They’ve really worked hard. But, like the rest of our team, our goal is to improve every day.”
Comerford said the lingering memory of last year’s playoff defeat to Tewksbury has set the tone for the team’s offseason preparations. And there are lofty goals surrounding the Rockets, who look to represent the Middlesex League in a playoff game for the fifth straight year.
But there’s yet another objective put ahead of Comerford this season.
There’s the potential he see snaps on the defensive side of the ball as well.
“I think he could relish that,” Fiore said. “He’s a physical kid.”
But as someone who’s contributed in so many ways in so many different sports, Comerford was very vanilla about it all.
“I go out there and do what I’m told,” he said. “That’s the expectation here.”
READING AT A GLANCE
2011: 8-4 (Lost to Tewksbury in Div. 2 playoff game)
Coach: John Fiore (8th season, 63-28)
Key Returnees: Greg Connery, Sr. RB/FS, 6-1, 175 lbs.; Matt Comerford, Sr. OT/DT, 6-4, 270 lbs.; Alex Valente, Sr. WR/CB, 5-6, 170; Ryan Maney, Sr., E/DB, 6-2, 210; Drew Belcher, Jr. QB, 6-3, 215 lbs.; Peter Fodera, Sr., OL/DL, 5-10, 230; Jared Barros, Sr. E/DB, 5-9, 190; Andrew Bourque, Jr. OL/DL, 6-2, 330.
Strengths: Quarterback play and receiving corps; play along the lines.
Weaknesses: Inexperience in the running game.
Outlook: For a program that’s set bar so high for itself in recent memory, Fiore took the ending to last season in stride, saying “I’m sure there are a couple hundred teams out there that would’ve loved to switch places with us, being able to play past Thanksgiving Day.” The talent is there for the Rockets once again to play into December, and much of that is tied to Belcher’s development as a quarterback, entering his second season as starter. If last year’s stretch run proved anything it’s that the junior signal-caller has a top-flight target in senior wide out Ryan Maney, making a host of high-difficulty-grade catches in the final weeks of the season. If Belcher maintains consistency, the Rockets’ aerial attack has the chance to be among the most prolific in Massachusetts. “I think he’s worked very hard,” Fiore said of Belcher. “Time will tell when the games are for real and he’s getting hit, but I’m pleased with how the whole team is working, and he’s a big part of that.”