HUDSON, Mass. -- Last Friday, per an annual tradition, Hudson's seniors gathered with the coaching staff at the base of Wachusett Mountain and embarked on a climb.
Some guys, like linebacker Bobby Donahue, nearly sprinted; others jogged. Still others, like some of the aging coaches, walked it up. When they all met at the top some 35 minutes later, with the Boston skyline to the east and the Berkshires to the west, they discussed their goals.
"It's one of those things where, they get to look at each other as a senior group for the first time, and say 'Hey, look, this is us, this is who we are, this is the tone we're setting'," head coach Dan McAnespie said.
Players and coaches said nothing really deviated for their "three in 10 days" goal of last year -- beat archrival Marlborough on Thanksgiving, win a Tuesday night playoff game, and win the Super Bowl the following Saturday. Many of the key cogs from last season's breakout campaign are back in the fold, including Bryant-bound running back/cornerback Karl Sery and quarterback Jake Wardwell.
Externally, however, a lot has changed on Brigham Street. Much of the youthful personnel that sputtered to a combined six wins in the 2008 and '09 seasons served as the catalysts to a 10-win season in 2010, culminating with a loss in the Division 3 Central Mass Super Bowl victory to familiar nemesis Clinton.
And with it, two seasons after being thrown into the fire as green sophomores, the Hawks' senior class isn't sneaking up on anybody, even as the team is handed a much tougher schedule with the latest divisional realignment. Gone are the Murdocks and Ayers of the world, replaced by familiar Mid-Wach League foes like Nashoba, Shrewsbury, Leominster, Westborough and Gardner. Within the new Division 3 alignment, the Hawks will also have to look out for No. 13 Auburn, owners of the state's longest active winning streak at 36 games.
"It'd be crazy to say what kind of a record we'll have now, with the schedule we're playing," McAnespie said. "I could never guess. With the caliber of teams we're playing now, it's going to be a fun season, but it's also going to be a wearing season because of the size of the kids we're playing now."
But in Sery, who committed to Bryant University as a defensive back two weeks ago, the Hawks might have one of the best backfield threats outside of the I-495 loop. He's been timed as fast as 4.55 seconds in the 40-yard dash, and says he's been told by the Bulldgos' staff there's a chance he could see time on offense "but I'm not too worried about that". College recruiters liked him for his versatility both playing aggressive in a cover-2 as well as being able to take good angles playing off the line of scrimmage.
Already with an impressive build, Sery comes into camp this season slimmer, but with noticeably more solid muscle definition, topping out at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds. He attributes it to the work he's done at many camps this offseason (he says he went to roughly 10) as well as the twice-a-week speed drills he performed with Donahue, at the team's home stadium, under the watch of athletic trainer Courtney Cray. The other three days a week, he was in the weight room bright and early, where every now and then he was thrown for a curve.
"Friday mornings, we'd be out dragging tires, pushing sleds," said Sery, one of three four-year starters along with Donahue and two-way lineman Ryan Wardwell. "I mean, all of this comes into our speed, our agility, one goal."
Used primarily as an H-back in McAnespie's read-option attack, Sery put together one of the region's most impressive seasons, averaging 7.2 yards per carry as he ran for 1,430 yards and 18 touchdowns. Look for him to be used in a similar role this season; and as usual, look for the coaching staff to have some fun as they tinker with his many exploits.
"It is fun. Between him and [quarterback] Jake Wardwell, running option football it's great," McAnespie said. "It's one of those things too, that if Karl doesn't have it, Jake's got it, and that's a good combination there. It's fun defensively, too, for [defensive coordinator] Joe Lentino, you can cheat a little bit when you've got player like Karl too. We're really looking forward to it."
Same as it ever was.
HUDSON AT A GLANCE
Coach: Dan McAnespie (14th season, 85-60)
Last year: 10-3 (Lost to Clinton in Div. 3 CMass Super Bowl)
Key Returnees: Karl Sery, Sr. RB/DB, 5-10, 190 lbs (1,430 rushing yards, 18 TD; 32 tackles, 3 INT); Jake Wardwell, Sr. QB, 5-9, 170 lbs (1,021 passing yards, 1,008 rushing yards, 20 total TD); Bobby Donahue, Sr. LB, 5-7, 180 lbs (79 tackles); Dave Meuse, Sr. WR/DB, 5-7, 185 lbs (3 INT); Darnell Butler, Jr. WR/DB, 6-1, 190 lbs (53 tackles); Dan Mitchell, Sr. OT/DT, 6-1, 240 lbs; Ryan Wardwell, Sr. OG/LB, 6-0, 215 lbs (126 tackles, 2 forced fumbles); Randy Karlson, Sr. C/DT, 6-3, 265 lbs; Jeff Pike, Sr. DE, 6-1, 190 lbs (44 tackles).
Strengths: Speed, senior leadership.
Weaknesses: Depth at offensive and defensive lines.
Outlook: With two returning 1,000-yard rushers in Sery and Jake Wardwell, expect the Hawks to excel at the running game once again, behind a read option-based spread attack. McAnespie will once again utilize the speedy but sturdy Sery in a "Super Back" role, lining up inside the hashes but being used in all three facets -- rushing, receiving, and picking up the blitz. Defensively, the Hawks will fluctuate between four and five-man fronts, and will be flexible in the back with one of the region's better pressing secondaries with Sery, Meuse and Butler. Depth is thin in the trenches, but strong at the top with Karlson, Mitchell and Jake Wardwell's twin brother Ryan. Realignment has brought the Hawks a significantly tougher schedule, but the general consensus is that these guys can hang week to week. How that will stretch out over the season remains to be seen, however.