GLOUCESTER, Mass. -- How things can change in just one year.
Last year, the Gloucester Fishermen coasted to another undefeated season (13-0) while taking their third Eastern Mass. Super Bowl title in the last four seasons.
Yet, when the No. 24 Fishermen open the 2011 season with a trip to the Manning Bowl against Lynn English on Sept. 9, they will bear little resemblance to the team that walked off the Gillette Stadium field victorious last December. Legendary head coach Paul Ingram retired in January and his subsequent announcement in February that he had esophageal cancer sent shockwaves through the seaside community. Gloucester also graduated 19 seniors from the 2010 squad; a group that blazed a path with three titles and a combined 50-2 record in their collective high school careers.
As much as things change, however, they often stay the same.
Ingram is recovering from cancer treatment and trying to regain his appetite. He aims to return to his teaching post at the high school this fall. And, although Ingram is no longer at the helm, the new skipper at the Fishermen's wheel came from within. Tony Zerilli, a 1998 graduate who played under Terry Silva as a tight end and defensive end, earned the promotion from defensive coordinator to head coach.
"When you play for somebody and then you come and coach under them, naturally, you’re going to take a lot from them," Zerilli said of Ingram's influence on his coaching style. "We’re both very organized, very structured people … Mostly, it’s how to treat people with respect. He ran a tight ship and that’s what I’m trying to do."
Zerilli played for Ingram while at Gloucester, when Ingram was offensive coordinator under Silva. That master-pupil relationship has evolved over the years and Ingram has seen firsthand the work Zerilli's put into preparing his teams.
"He's very analytical," Ingram said of Zerilli, who's full-time job is at an engineering and consulting firm in Peabody. "The way he'd go about breaking down offenses and, more importantly, he's a good teacher, those are his strengths. He presents the material to the kids so that they would buy into it and really get it. He doesn't take shortcuts."
Zerilli's not about to make any brash departures from the Gloucester way. The Fishermen will still come flying out of the Wing T. While the players running those formations may change, the methodology behind Gloucester's recent success isn't about to go away -- even as hard as it may be to replace a duo like last year's 1-2 combo of Jordan Shairs and Gilbert Brown.
“That senior class last year, every one of them was a leader," said Zerilli, 31. "Were they a special group? Absolutely, how often do you have a group like that? Most of them went to college and about half of them are playing football in college and that’s special. But you’ll see in this group that there are leaders as well. We move on, every year and we plug in players. We try to find the best fit at every position.
"We have kids that can play but haven’t really had a chance to play because of those seniors ahead of them last year. They’re getting that chance now and they’ve been working hard all summer."
It's now time for a new generation of Fishermen to head the call.
"It's a tradition that gets handed down," senior captain Chris Burke said.
That's a tradition that's forged in bumps and bruises, taking the lumps from last year's seniors on the practice field. Those black and blue marks, after all, are the hallmark of Gloucester football.
"Playing with those guys last year, it made us better,"senior captain Kyle Lucido said. "We’d be going at it full speed in practice with those guys hitting us and that made us tougher, especially now that we’re stepping into their shoes."
GLOUCESTER AT A GLANCE
Head Coach: Tony Zerilli (1st season)
Last Year: 13-0 (Div. 1A Eastern Mass Super Bowl Champions)
Key Returnees: Chris Burke, Sr. TE/LB, 6-2, 205 lbs; Kyle Lucido, Sr. RB/LB, 5-9, 180; Matt Taormina, Sr. DE/T, 6-1, 175; Joe Harmon, Sr. RB/LB, 5-7, 145; Danny Gonzales, Sr. T/DE, 6-0, 190.
Strengths: Athleticism, quickness, toughness.
Weaknesses: Game experience.
Outlook: While the Fishermen's talented senior nucleus was finishing up their run, that didn't leave much playing time for younger player -- save for mop-up duty at the end of games. So the team that Zerilli inherits is pretty green in terms of game experience. Only Burke and Taormina were regular starters with a few others (Gonzales, Harmon) seeing occasion snaps. Early season snaps will be particularly important for this developing group, which boats a deep and athletic junior class that Zerilli is excited about. “We have a lot of kids who haven’t played a full varsity game, let alone 11," Zerilli said. "And we’re hoping to play more than 11 games.” Shairs and Brown leave a glaring hole in the backfield, but Gloucester should have the athletes between Lucido, Harmon and junior Santi Parisi to run the ball with ease, thanks to an athletic offensive line that's led by Burke -- an All-State selection who's poised for a breakout season on both sides of the ball. Juniors Liam McCarthy and Lenny Taormina will battle for the starting quarterback position in preseason scrimmages. “We’re small, but we’re very athletic," Burke said of the team on both sides of the ball. "Our team fits our system well." To which Matt Taormina added, “I’d say gritty would be a good way to describe it.” “If we work as hard as those teams worked in the past, we’ll be fine.”