For Andover senior Matt Sutliff, the toughest rival he has faced in his football career is the man he takes on just about every day in practice, teammate and close friend Ben Hartford.
“I’ve been playing against Ben since we were on different teams in the AJFL (Andover Junior Football League) when we were kids,” Sutliff said with a laugh.
“We are always matching up on the field and we are always competing and messing around. We’ll smack talk and call each other jerks, but we are good buddies.”
The two may enjoy a friendly rivalry on the practice field, but on game day it is opponents they are intimidating as the anchors of the Andover High front, with Sutliff the leader off the offensive line and Hartford the centerpiece of the defensive front.
The two massive linemen will lead Andover High into battle on Thanksgiving Day when the Golden Warriors travel to Lawrence Stadium to take on MVC and Division 1 North champion and archrival Central Catholic at 10:30 a.m.
“We’re ecstatic,” Hartford said. “This is the biggest game of the year for us and we are going to go out and give it 100 percent. We want to show that we are as good as any team in the playoffs.”
The blind side
Matt Sutliff may be trusted with protecting the blind side for Andover QBs Oliver Eberth and E.J. Perry IV, after doing the same for record-setting C.J. Scarpa a season ago, but the left tackle wasn’t always considered an elite offensive lineman.
In fact, as a middle-schooler, Sutliff was cut from the AJFL eighth-grade top travel team.
“I was put on the B team as an eighth-grader,” he said. “I was really disappointed. But I remember my dad saying to me, ‘Use this day to drive you for the rest of your football career. Remember this day and use it to become the best offensive lineman you can be.’ It has been motivation since then.”