Ethan Borchelt remembers his first experience in pads at this summer’s Hog Works Offensive Line Camp, at Holy Name High.
It did not go well.
“At the end of the first day, when we lined up to the board drill, I had no idea what I was gonna (do),” said the 6-foot-6, 250-pounder from Sterling, who just came out for St. John’s (Shrewsbury) his senior year having never played organized football before. “(I thought) ‘I’m just going to try and hit him, push him down.’ He was a smaller kid than me, so I just thought he was automatically going to win. But he definitely got lower than me and pushed me over the first time.
“Something just clicked in my head the rest of that camp to kind of step it up and do better and learn a lot. I definitely was able to stand out among the camp. I got an MVP award, I think. ... I think it was ‘Most Improved.’”
His coach, John Andreoli, said his performance didn’t go unnoticed.
“He went to a couple of camps this summer and I got a lot of phone calls from a lot of the coaches that were there and just said, he’s really impressive," Andreoli said. "He had never put pads on before and he went to two or three camps and just got better. And we’ve seen him progress this week, so. He’s just getting more confidence every day.”
Borchelt -- who comes from a strong rowing background, and competes in that sport and basketball for the Pioneers -- will line up at starting left tackle next to captain Ryan Anger, who hails from the Burncoat section of Worcester. The two have been in the same homeroom since freshman year.
“He works really hard in basketball and crew. You can see that,” said Anger, a 6-1, 270-pound guard who is one of just two returning starters on the offensive line. “He’s a really good friend. I tried to get him out last year but he couldn’t. I love playing next to him, though.
“We have stuff that we call it to help each other. Sometimes I’ll have him yell it just to make sure he knows the plays and stuff. And he’s picked up really quick.”
Borchelt comes from good rowing stock. His father, Fred, earned a silver medal in the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games in eight-oared crew while also competing in the 1976 Games in Montreal and was part of the 1980 team that didn’t compete in the Moscow Games. His mother, Beth, has competed in the World Championships and his older sister, Sarah, is a senior now at the University of Virginia, which won the national championship her sophomore year.
That experience in such a high-endurance sport helped Borchelt lead the offensive linemen in the team’s 880-yard conditioning test, clocking in at 3:19.
“It’s definitely a different sport. It’s a lot like track, just the racing feeling,” said Borchelt, who helped the Pioneers finish fifth in New England at the Head of the Charles. “It’s not fun like basketball with the crowds like that. It’s just the adrenaline of racing. It’s definitely a lot of fun.”
Although Borchelt says he will probably row crew in college and has narrowed his choices down to Northeastern, Brown and the University of Washington, he is having fun with what may be his only year of football.
“We were kind of kidding with him this week,” Andreoli said after last Saturday’s scrimmage against Brockton. “We had a ball batted down on a screen pass and it came and he caught it and he kind of handed it off like a pick-and-roll to our tailback. He took off down the sideline and we said that’s a pretty good play. We might want to put that in.”
Not bad for someone who lost his first board drill.
ST. JOHN'S AT A GLANCE
Coach: John Andreoli (8th year, 66-18)
Last year’s record: 12-1, CMass Division 1A Super Bowl champions
Key returnees: Ryan Anger Sr., LG/DT, 6-1, 270; Brendan Melanson, Sr., C/MLB, 6-2, 240; Efrain Montalvo, Sr., WR, 5-8, 175; Drew Ortone, WR, 6-1, 185, Sr.; Barron Dandridge, OLB, 6-1, 180, Jr.
Strengths: Offensive line, running back depth.
Weaknesses: Inexperience at quarterback and on defense, loss of Richard Rodgers and Dan Light.
Outlook: With Dandridge the only returning starter on defense and just four starters back on offense, this is a young and inexperienced group. But there is no shortage of talent despite the loss of Rodgers - now out at the University of California on a full boat - an athletic freak who played wide receiver, tight end, defensive end and kicker. Light, a bruising runner from the quarterback position and also a defensive end, will also be hard to replace. Anger and Melanson are joined by Borchelt and juniors Brendan O’Neill (6-0, 250) and Mike Marfo (6-3, 280) on the offensive line, which will open holes for a more run-oriented attack to take advantage of the team’s depth at the running back position and help inexperienced quarterbacks. Montalvo is a speedy option who lines up in the slot of the Pioneers’ one-back, four-wide set and can catch and make moves in the open field or take off on a jet sweep. The two-quarterback derby is still up in the air between junior Connor Kurtz (5-10, 175) and sophomore Andrew Smiley (6-1, 170). The defense is a work in progress; Andreoli said watching film of his players in a scrimmage against Brockton, “Like watching birds hatching on National Geographic.” The opener against a physical Holy Name team will also include non-league tests against Catholic Conference powers Catholic Memorial, St. John’s Prep and Xaverian