Barnstable isn't going to sneak up teams this fall like they did a year ago. With 12 returning starters and a wealth of additional experienced players from last year's playoff team, the bullseye now found on the backs of their jerseys won't cause the Red Raiders any extra discomfort.
Barnstable stunned Bridgewater-Raynham in overtime late last season to claim the Old Colony League title, and advance to the state semifinals for the first time since 2002.
Experience and team chemistry will go a long way toward helping the Red Raiders take it a step further and accomplish something they haven't done since youth football -- win a Super Bowl trophy.
"Our core group of kids has been playing together since they were in the youth program," Whidden recalled. "I think it's the 2008 Super Bowl championship trophy that the kids have from the youth program. There's fourteen names on that trophy that are still playing for our varsity program. They're striving to get themselves back to that level and get a trophy where the little plastic guy on top doesn't twist and fall off."
It all starts with the offense, led by senior quarterback Nick Peabody. Peabody earned Old Colony All-Star honors as a wide receiver last season but started every league game under center while record-setting D.J. Crook was injured.
The 6-foot-3, 225-pounder has a fleet of talented wide receivers to throw to, led by big-play threats Tedaro France and Dylan Morris. Look for senior James Burke to emerge as a big part of the passing game and fellow senior Manny Perry to provide depth.
Much of Peabody's offseason work focused on speed and agility, morphing an already dangerous passer into a terrific dual-threat weapon. He'll team up with Barnstable's version of 'Thunder & Lightning' in the backfield with speedy Hayden Murphy and downhill runner Terrence Mudie. Tommy Grimmer, one of five team captains, anchors the offensive line from the center position along with brother and guard Billy Grimmer.
On defense, Whidden hopes that a younger front line will eat up enough blocks to allow an experienced group of linebackers to wreak havoc. Andrew Ellis and Bryan Hardy return as inside backers while Robby Stewart steps into a starting role on the outside.
Returning OCL All-Star Jason Frieh is a menacing presence from his defensive end spot. Tommy Grimmer played primarily on the offensive line last season but is expected to add an additional presence to the middle of the 'D' line this year.
By the end of last season, Barnstable experienced the greatest amount of growth in the secondary, a spot that should be another strength in 2012 as Kevin Hardy and Derek Estes both return to lock down the corner spots. Versatile Ryan Litchman will split time between outside linebacker and free safety, depending on matchups.
"The one thing that I expect from this group, knowing what they've done since last season ended, is that whatever the potential they have, they are going to reach that potential," proclaimed Whidden. "They're going to get themselves to that point. I don't doubt that and I'm curious to see how far that potential can take them."
BARNSTABLE AT A GLANCE
2011: 7-5 (3-0 Old Colony), lost in Division 1A Playoffs
Coach: Chris Whidden (Second year, 7-5)
Key Returnees: Nick Peabody, Sr. QB, 6-3, 225; Tedaro France, Sr. WR/DB, 5-10, 175 lbs.; Tommy Grimmer, Sr. C/DL, 5-11, 235 lbs.; Andrew Ellis, Sr. LB, 5-11, 215 lbs.; Ryan Litchman, Sr. OLB/FS, 5-9, 170 lbs.; Bryan Hardy, Sr. LB, 6-1, 215 lbs.; Dylan Morris, Sr. WR, 6-0, 170 lbs.; Jason Frieh, Sr. DE, 5-8, 180 lbs.; Terrence Mudie, Sr. RB/LB, 5-10, 185 lbs.; Kevin Hardy, Jr. DB, 5-9, 160 lbs.; Billy Grimmer, Jr. OG, 6-0, 225 lbs.; Hayden Murphy, Jr. RB, 6-1, 185 lbs.
Strengths: Passing game, linebackers, secondary, experience, leadership.
Weakness: Youth on defensive line.
Outlook: Reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2002 gave the Red Raiders a taste of success that they want more of. Although the OCL is down to three teams, all three are postseason contenders with Barnstable-Raynham annually among the state's best and Dartmouth expecting a major resurgence. Peabody should finish as one of the state's best quarterbacks and his group of receivers should receive similar accolades. On defense, Litchman may be the key to whole operation, a player of whom Whidden says, "We dictate what we do defensively based on getting him around the ball."