Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Dexter hanging hat on towering bookends
By Bob McGovern
The 2013 season is going to be a big one for the Dexter School — on a number of levels.
Casey Day's team is anchored by seniors James Hendren and Dan DiNicola, two of the best offensive linemen in New England. Both have already verbally committed to Division I colleges: Hendren is heading to Boston College, while DiNicola plans on attending the University of Massachusetts.
Dexter's big boys have had a busy 12 months. Between school and the grueling recruiting process, Hendren and DiNicola have spent hours honing their skills against each other. Both athletes are 6-foot-7 and nearly 300 pounds, so in order to get better, they have to pick on someone their own size.
“Both guys have come into the season in tremendous shape,” Day said, adding that Hendren is down to 280 pounds after tipping the scales at 310 last year. “Both of them really work well with each other in different situations. They work together, one-on-one, on different skills and fundamentals. It's paid off, and both have really improved.”
Hendren and DiNicola will buy time for Dexter's stable of speedy skill players, who are getting more accustomed to Day's spread offense, which is now in year two of its implementation.
“We'll line up in different personnel packages, but we're pretty much in a full-blown spread attack,” Day said. “We will come out in a traditional spread with one back, or we'll line up in the Pistol package with two backs and a tight end. We feel like it's the best approach for our skill guys.”
Dexter's spread is specifically designed for starting quarterback Luke Cuneo. At 5-foot-7, Cuneo looks tiny behind his towering tackles, but his diminutive size hasn't held him back. A three-time captain, Cuneo had more than 1,500 total yards and 20 touchdowns last year. While he has good speed, Cuneo also has a “real live arm,” which he has honed as a varsity baseball player.
“He's another kid who has made huge improvements over the years,” Day said. “Considering his size, he takes people by surprise when they see him throw the ball. He can really air the ball out pretty well.”
Cuneo's main target is C.J. Okafor, a speedy receiver who has drawn interest from the University of New Hampshire and Monmouth University. He had 600 receiving yards and eight touchdowns last year for Dexter – including three game-winning catches.
“He kind of has a knack for making the big plays in the big situations. He's got explosive speed and great ball skills. We're going to need him to get down the field for us and stretch the field,” Day said. “He's been just tremendous for us.”
Day is also looking forward to watching Colin O'Brien, a senior transfer from Milton High School. O'Brien doesn't have a defined position, but it Day thinks he can cause damage as a receiver or on the ground.
Defensively, Dexter's base is a 3-3 stack, but Day indicated that his team will jump into a 4-3 on passing downs. The defense, much like Dexter's offense, is based on the play of DiNicola and Hendren in the trenches. Day said he likes to “move them around a little bit” based on the opposing offense and will play them either inside or outside to cause mismatches.
“College-wise, they're offensive linemen, but in high school, at this level, they are really good defensive linemen,” Day said.
Day, who is in his fourth year with Dexter, knows the 2013 campaign is particularly important. Large portions of his 16-member senior class have been starting since they were freshman and have gone through a trial-by-fire growing process.
“We've been on the verge, but we just haven't been able to get over the top,” Day said. “This is the biggest senior class in school history, and they're a tight group of kids. We also got a few seniors who haven't been around to come out, and that should give us some added depth.”
THE DEXTER SCHOOL AT A GLANCE Coach: Casey Day (4th season, 10-14)
Last season: 4-4
Returning Starters: 19
Key Returnees: Sr. OL/DL James Hendren, Sr. OL/DL Dan DiNicola, Sr. QB Luke Cuneo, Sr. CB/WR C.J. Okafor, Sr. ATH Colin O'Brien.
Strengths: Senior leadership, veteran playmakers, offensive/defensive line.
Weaknesses: Depth on offensive/defensive line.
Overview: Division I linemen don't come around very often at schools with less than 500 boys. So, it's quite the anomaly for the Dexter School to have two FBS-level tackles. Both Hendren and DiNicola have greatly improved during the past two years and will be asked to carry Dexter to what could be its best season, ever. The big fellas' aren't alone – Dexter has 19 returning starters and bring in a big-time transfer in Colin O'Brien, a kid who Day sees as a FCS-level talent. Okafor is still fighting for a verbal offer and will look to turn some heads during his final year. Pair that with do-everything Luke Cuneo, and Dexter should have no problem putting points on the board. Day's defense will be stout up front, and he will need a linebacker to step up to solidify the middle of the field. Okafor, a spectacular receiver, can also make opposing offenses pay from the cornerback spot. 2013 should be Dexter's year to jump above the .500 mark. It won't be an easy ride, but with nearly 600 pounds of Division I linemen in the trenches, Dexter won't be pushed around.