NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH, Mass. – The Red Rocketeers are never usually the biggest players on the field. They are fast, but they might not always be the fastest. There’s just something about North Attleborough that year-in and year-out allows its football team to hang around the top of the standings in the ultra-competitive Hockomock League.
“I think there are more good teams every year in the Hockomock than almost any league out there,” Red Rocketeers second-year head coach Don Johnson said. “King Philip has a lot of quality players coming back. Mansfield always has a great team. Franklin lost a lot from last year’s team, but they always work hard and come to play. You can go on and on down the line.”
That crowded house will be more cramped this year as Thanksgiving rival Attleboro enters the fray in The Hock. But there is one reason why the Red Rocketeers — ranked No. 23 in ESPNBoston.com High Schools preseason MIAA Top 25 poll — remain strong through the years.
In not so many words, they are football players.
Take for instance, defensive lineman, offensive lineman, tight end, fullback, et cetera, et cetera, Bob Richman.
The 6-foot, 250-pound senior is something of a Dan Klecko-sort: a bruising running back living in a lineman’s frame. Johnson knows that Richman’s skill and versatility are the keys to his 4-3 defense up front. Richman can play anywhere along the line and play well. He had three sacks last year, a number that wasn’t so accurate to his level of play. Richman was battling a knee injury all season long and missed four games, but still earned All-Hockomock honors.
This year, Richman will also play on offense, most likely at tackle, because of North Attleborough’s inexperience on the line. The Red Rocketeers lost 13 lettermen to graduation from last year’s squad.
“I like playing defense better,” said Richman, who played some at running back in his freshman year. “I really enjoy getting after the quarterback. But I’ll do whatever I need to do to help the team win. We lost so many guys from last year, I need to be more of a leader to the line.
“Anyone can say they want to touch the ball, but I know where I belong.”
Richman has been looking at schools like Bryant University, whose coaching staff sees him a potential fullback.
“I know he loves the idea of that,” Johnson said.
But, for the time being, he’s looking around, weighing his options. He’s considered the military academies. For sure, someone’s going to end up with a good football player, another in the Long Red Line, which in recent years has yielded talents such as Robbie Vaughn and Anthony Sherman.
“He does everything for us,” Johnson said of Richman.
He’s a football player.
NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH AT A GLANCE
2009 record: 8-3 (5-3 Hockomock)
Head Coach: Don Johnson (second year, 8-3)
Players to watch: Ryan Flannery, Sr., SE/DB, 6-3, 185 lbs.; Bob Richman, Sr., OL/DL, 6-0, 250 lbs.; Paul McCarthy, Sr., QB/DB, 6-0, 160 lbs.; Dan Johnson, Sr., RB/DB 6-1, 163 lbs.; Brady Shorey, Sr., RB/DB, 5-7, 168 lbs.
Strengths: Overall team speed, depth at running back.
Weaknesses: For whatever “Big Red” might lack in stature, the Red Rocketeers make up in speed. Dan Johnson will lead the rushing attack, but opponents will get a healthy dose of traps and counter runs from tailback Brady Shorey, who operates out of North Attleborough’s shotgun sets. Under center, Paul McCarthy takes over for Joe Kummer and is equally adept with the pass as he is running the ball. McCarthy’s primary target will be a big one in Ryan Flannery (7 touchdowns in ’09). “He’s tough to defend because he has height (6-3) and has a great pair of hands,” Johnson said. The areas for concern on defense are evident and Johnson is hoping that several from a group of senior linebackers, including Joe DeGirolamo, will step up to fill the voids in the second tier of his 4-3 defense. However, the Red Rocketeers will also throw in a steady mix of Cover-2 and Cover-4 looks. “Overall, we’re going to have to show that we can move the football, and can control the game and control the line of scrimmage,” Johnson said. “We’ll also have to prove we can stop the power run game.”