ANDOVER, Mass. – First-year head coach E.J. Perry is gaining praise from his players at Andover High School. And Perry knows that with a player like Brian Miller, an aggressive defense and plenty of team chemistry — anything is possible.
“When you get an athlete of [Miller’s] caliber — and he’s ranked in the top eight tight ends in the country,” Perry said. “You definitely have a good starting point.”
Perry installed a new playbook in the offseason and is moving Miller from tight end to wide receiver in order to take advantage of his receiving talents and physicality. Miller, who committed to play tight end at Boston College next year, is up to the task and agrees that his coach is doing the right thing.
“I haven’t had Coach Perry around me for a long time,” said the 6-foot-4, 235-pound senior. “But I can already tell that he’s been a great influence on me.”
No matter where he’s lined up, Miller is simply a playmaker. He returns kicks, plays defensive end and punts. And beware of the fake punt because this summer he was clocked running a 4.65 40-yard dash.
“I’m not worried about what other people think,” said Miller. “I’m just going to go out there and play the best that I can.”
However, the senior co-captain is not alone. He is surrounded on defense by a smart, sturdy group of athletes.
Most teams will look past the defense because of its inexperience. However, it could one of the best units in the Merrimack Valley Conference.
Opposite Miller at defensive end for the Warriors is senior co-captain Lyle Baker, who is listed at 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, and has 4.8 speed. In the middle of the recently installed 4-3 scheme is yet another senior co-captain, Ned Deane, who also ran the 40 in under 5 seconds.
The rest of the defense is a talented group of knowledgeable players that are bonded together by Perry’s coaching techniques, which stress unity, discipline and execution.
“This year we’re one team,” said Deane. “A lot of that has to do with Coach Perry, but it also is due to a lot of the good character kids on this team.
“There’s no fooling around in practice,” said Baker. “We keep it fun, but we want to get something done as well.”
With the Perry era underway, the Warriors might realize their goals sooner rather than later.
ANDOVER AT A GLANCE
2009 record: 6-5
Coach: E.J. Perry (first year, 0-0)
Players to watch: Connor Clancy, Sr., C/NG, 6-2, 250 lbs.; Lyle Baker, Sr., LT/DE, 6-2, 230 lbs.; Ned Deane, Sr., LB/TE, 6-1, 195 lbs.; Brian Miller, Sr., WR/DE, 6-4, 235 lbs.; Matt Crush, Jr., RG/LB; Andy Coke, Jr., QB/LB; Tommy Dempsey, Sr., QB; William Keller; Sr., LB
Strengths: Run defense, passing game
Weaknesses: Running back experience/depth, size in secondary
Outlook: The Warriors could use more speed on the outside, but have plenty of power between the hashes. A fierce quarterback competition between a few players is starting to settle, and it looks as though senior Tommy Dempsey and transfer Andy Coke are the favorites. Nevertheless, whoever is quarterbacking Andover will put up monster numbers with Miller. This year’s offense is more wide-open than years past, but will still hinge on the zone-read. The Warrior’s defense will surprise. Defensive front sevens don’t come much more balanced than this. With speed, power, size and smarts, this group has it all.
Neil Carroll is an intern for ESPNBoston.com High Schools and a senior journalism major at UMass Amherst, where he was the sports director of WMUA 91.1-FM for three years and covered UMass teams with The Daily Collegian. He has also written on Western Mass high school football for The Springfield Republican. A graduate of Longmeadow High School, Carroll played center and won two Division 1 MIAA Super Bowls with the Lancers.