It may be a little over six months later than normal — thanks to COVID-19 — but the Andover High football season is finally underway.
The Golden Warriors opened practice on Feb 22, and will open their coronavirus-delayed regular season on March 12, traveling to Methuen High (6 p.m.)
“I’m super excited that we have the chance to play a season, even if it did come a little late,” said Tomas Loureiro, one of five Andover captains. “We worked so hard all year for a season, and now we finally get to see all that pay off. It’s definitely strange starting football in March, but it feels good just be able to play.”
Andover is set to play a six-game regular season schedule of entirely Merrimack Valley Conference foes. They’ll play their first home game on March 19, hosting Lowell (5 p.m.)
“Words don’t describe how excited I am to be playing football right now,” said lineman AJ Heidtke. “Six months late or not, it feels awesome to finally get this senior season. At first it definitely felt strange, but now that the season is rolling and we are really getting into it, it feels just like any regular season.”
Added captain Charlie Baillargeon: “We knew coming into this season it was going to be odd. To even have any season at this point is a blessing. It means a lot to everyone who’s put time in. It’s still taking some time to get used to, but I think eventually the team is going to develop well.”
Despite the long wait, Golden Warriors head coach E.J. Perry has no doubt his team will be ready.
“In this COVID/pandemic year, the Golden Warriors have maintained their edge,” said Perry. “We had a mini fall season, where 60 upperclassmen and 44 freshman participated in a rigorous weightlifting campaign that saw players at every level hit all-time highs.”
While Andover graduated a number of key players from last year’s 8-4 season (4-1 in the MVC Large), the Golden Warriors still return plenty of firepower.
“It’s hard to describe, but it’s a different feeling being out on the field,” said captain Matt Rigazio. “With the year we’ve had, especially for being a senior, I’m just really happy we got the thumbs up to play. I don’t care one bit about the six month delay, I’m just so happy that we are able to play. A lot of players, especially seniors, have put in too much work not to have a season.”
Leading the offense is sophomore quarterback Scotty Brown, who won the starting QB job as a freshman in the fall of 2019. The 5-foot-9, 150-pounder completed 58 of 100 passes for 810 yards and eight TDs.
A dual-threat QB, Brown also rushed 97 times for 545 yards and six touchdowns, the most dramatic a 44-yard game-winning TD run as time expired to beat Lowell, 19-14. He also ran for two touchdowns on Thanksgiving.
Another promising playmaker is running back Lincoln Beal. The sophomore ran for 314 yards and two touchdowns on just 44 carries, and caught 10 passes for 243 yards and two TDs. He ran for over 100 yards in two games as a freshman, including 123 yards in a win over perennial power Everett.
“Scotty Brown has improved immensely,” said Perry. “He’s gotten faster, and his release is phenomenal. Beal has put on 20 pounds and maintained his 4.6 (40-yard dash) speed.”
The receiving group is young, but looks very promising.
“Our entirely new receiving corps with guys like Jayronn Chevalier and PJ Reming are going to make a big impact,” said Loureiro.
Agreed Rigazio: “PJ Reming and Andrew Wetterwald are two receivers that I’m really excited to watch. I’m also very excited to see what Lincoln Beal and Scotty Brown have in store for their sophomore season.”
Hulking 6-foot-4, 290-pound Heidtke — a returning All-MVC player who will next play college football at Division 1 Brown — leads a strong offensive line. Also back are All-MVC pick Baillargeon, Ben Entner, who will play at St. Lawrence, and University of New Hampshire recruit Parker Rankin.
“Our biggest strengths this season are going to be our offensive and defensive lines,” said Baillargeon. “We’ve got a lot of seniors back, and our guys in the trenches have been working harder than ever to be the best there is in the MVC this year.”
On defense, the top returning tackler is defensive back Jonathan Davila, who made 33 tackles as a sophomore. Other defensive backs returning include Rigazio (22 tackles), Chevalier and Zayn Aruri, who the coaches are expecting big things from after a breakout basketball season.
Heidtke (18 tackles) also anchors the defensive line, along with the likes of Rankin (21 tackles), Baillargeon (11 tackles) and Entner.
At linebacker, Loureiro (24 tackles) lead the way. Other returners include Sean Ballou (14 tackles), Connor Sheehan and Beal.
“The team looks awesome,” said Heidtke. “There are so many amazing athletes on both sides of the ball, and everyone has great chemistry. I think the athleticism of our team and our size are going to be really great strengths for us. So, I definitely think we are going to shape up to be a great team.”
Now, the Golden Warriors are pumped to finally open the regular season.
“Emotions are going to be running high the first week,” said Rigazio. “Everyone’s been cooped up in their houses for too long and need to get out and play. It’ll be a lot of fun to hit the field for one last season with kids I’ve been playing with since fourth grade.”
ANDOVER SPRING 2021 FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
Date Opponent Time
March 12 vs. Methuen 3:30 p.m.
March 19 at Lowell TBA
March 26 vs. Haverhill 3:30 p.m.
April 2 at Lawrence TBA
April 9 Central Catholic 3:30 p.m.
April 16 at North Andover 3:30 p.m.