Temperatures are dropping and pads are coming on.
It’s high school football season.
All four local teams are on the rise coming into this season. How far will each program go?
Keene is coming off its best season in decades, Monadnock is hungry to be back in the playoff conversation, Fall Mountain is moving up to Division III after a run to the state championship game in D-IV last year, and ConVal brings in a new coach with a young roster to start building the program back up.
Here’s your in-depth look at each of the local teams:
The Blackbirds were right there last year.
A 5-4 season in 2021 put Keene right on the doorstep of the playoff spot, and head coach Linwood Patnode thinks the team can take that next step this season. Behind junior quarterback Aiden Tarr and juniors Wyatt Avery and Seamus Howard in the backfield, Keene will try to picked up right where it left off in the run game, and maybe even exceed last year’s total yardage.
The key to making that happen will be the offensive line. The line is relatively inexperienced as Keene graduated five of their seven linemen from last season, but senior Emery Ray will anchor both the offensive and defensive lines, and he said the units are meshing well together in preseason. We’ll see how that translates on the gridiron come Saturday afternoon.
Keene lost its two top rushers from last season — Jarrod Rokes and Austin Morris — and lose some size in the backfield with Avery and Howard, but if the offensive line does its job and the team buys into Patnode’s offensive system, the two juniors in the backfield should pick up right where Rokes and Morris left off.
And maybe take the Blackbirds to the postseason.
Last year: 5-4, 2nd in West Division, missed playoffs
Key losses: Tanner Payne, Jarrod Rokes, Marcus Rokes, Brennan Lilly, Austin Morris
Key returners: Junior Aiden Tarr, junior Seamus Howard, senior, Emery Ray, senior Troy Rabold, senior Johnny Griffin, junior Wyatt Avery, senior Ryan Greenlee, sophomore Evan Ray
Newcomers to watch: Junior Dylan Cushman, junior Owen Hope, junior Parker LaClair, sophomore Aiden Ioannou
First game: Sept. 3 at Goffstown, 2 p.m.
Home opener: Sept. 9 vs. Concord, 6:30 p.m.
Game to watch: Oct. 21 vs. Bedford
Head coach: Linwood Patnode (4th year)
“The important thing is that I like these guys. And I say that pretty seriously because sometimes there’s a group that’s hard to coach, whether they’re just set in their ways or they’re just the type of kids that want to question everything. Or they get in trouble or they’re academically a challenge. I don’t see a lot of troublemakers here. I see more kids that want to do it right than kids that want to do it wrong. … This team is coachable.”
“Physicality is front and center on my radar. They have to want to be physical for us to be any good. We got over that hurdle last year, and I’m hoping that’s one trait that hung over. Usually when you establish that, the group behind the guys that graduated, they got it. They saw it. They know what we want.”
“There’s some stuff there to build around. It’s going to be all about the offensive and defensive lines. We’ve got some new guys trying to work in there and we’ve got some guys that are trying to work into a spot on those two lines who are going to be seniors who have never played football.”
“The long and short of it is that this is a good group of kids. They’re going to try hard. If everything comes together, they can be respectable. If everything really comes together — and no injuries — we’d like to be a playoff team. We were right there last year.”
Last year was weird.
With COVID regulations in place, Monadnock ended up missing two games off its schedule and was out of a playoff spot by a hair. But that’s not why the Huskies missed the playoffs, at the end of the day. They had their opportunities to win games down the stretch that would’ve put them in the better position to reach the top four, and they didn’t.
This year’s group wants to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
There is a “playoff or bust” mindset in Swanzey coming into the season. Led by senior captains Jack Lorenz and Joe Lotito, the Huskies seem to understand the urgency of making the playoffs this year. Seniors Ethan Brown and Ethan Jarvis will be in the backfield for Monadnock this year, with sophomore Brandon Bernard filling the fullback position.
Sophomore Kaden Smith — last year’s JV starter — will be lined up behind an offensive line that brings back four of its five members from last season — including a 6-foot-3, 215-pound guard in Lorenz and Lotito at center, as well as 6-foot-5, 255-pound senior Gabe Sanchez. It’ll be Smith’s first real varsity experience under center, replacing second-team All-State quarterback Carson Shanks.
The Huskies open up with Fall Mountain on Sept. 2 — a new addition to Division III — and will host Trinity Sept. 24. Circle both of those matchups on your calendar.
Last year: 4-3, missed playoffs
Key losses: Carson Shanks, Hayden Haddock, Kevin Putnam
Key returners: Senior Jack Lorenz, senior Joe Lotito, senior Luke Weston, senior Gabe Sanchez, senior Zach Phillips, junior Ben Dean, senior Ethan Jarvis, senior Ethan Brown, sophomore Brandon Bernard
Newcomers to watch: Sophomore Kaden Smith
First game: Sept. 2 vs. Fall Mountain, 6:30 p.m.
Home opener: Sept. 2 vs. Fall Mountain, 6:30 p.m.
Game to watch: Sept. 24 vs. Trinity
Head coach: Rob Lotito (2nd year)
”I’m feeling good about it. Our goal is to get to the playoffs. Last year we missed it because we didn’t play well enough — forget the COVID and stuff. We had a couple chances, and we didn’t win the game we had to win. I think we’re working hard. We have a good nucleus coming back.”
“Overall, we want to get back to basics. We want to run the ball the way we run the ball here at Monadnock. … That’s our goal is to run our base power offense and run everything else off that.”
“We’re hoping some of the younger guys can jump in. So, we’ll see.”
“We have to get to the playoffs this year, nothing less. If we can get to the championship game, that’d be great. We play to win. Nothing but playoffs has got to be on our mind this year. We didn’t make it last year and that’s the urgency. They know it. They want to make the playoffs. … They want to win. This senior class wants to win. They’re working hard, so we’re happy about that.”
ConVal fields a young team and will have eight or nine sophomores on the field on any given, said first-year head coach Matt Harris. There are only six seniors on the roster.
The bad news: inexperience. The good news: Harris has an opportunity to start implementing his own system with the younger group of guys. ConVal also brought back its middle school program — coached by Brian Shaw — which is a crucial part of building back any program.
There will be a quarterback battle at the start of the season between senior Gabriel Fret and sophomore Bradley Brunelle. Harris said Fret will get the start in the season opener against Kearsarge Friday night, but Brunelle will be getting snaps as well.
It may be a stretch to expect the Cougars to compete for a playoff spot in a tough Division III this season, but ConVal fans should certainly have optimism for the future with a young core, a new coach, and a feeder program that in a few years could start to provide more talent to the gridiron in Peterborough.
Last year: 1-8, missed playoffs
Key losses: Caleb Sanborn, Jaxon Salamy, Alex Heck, Collin Beauchemin, Gareth Armstrong, Harrison Clark, Wyatt Hutchinson
Key returners: Junior Eric McGrath, senior Everett Benham, senior Caleb Cloutier, senior Gabriel Fret, junior Jayden Hendrickson
Newcomers to watch: Sophomore Kendrick Edwards, sophomore Roman Cadwallader, sophomore Kai Reitnauer, freshman Sammy Davis
First game: Sept. 2 vs. Kearsarge, 6:30 p.m.
Home opener: Sept. 2 vs. Kearsarge, 6:30 p.m.
Game to watch: Oct. 14 vs. Campbell
Head coach: Matt Harris (1st year)
“We’re extremely young. On any given play, running with first team, we could have anywhere between eight to nine sophomores out there. Which is good, especially with me in my first year trying to implement my offense. … We’re young, and what’s really good is a lot of these kids are sponges. They want to learn, and they want to get better at football.”
“I think this year we’ll be able to compete. We’ll be able to put a competitive team out there on the field. I know in Division III, your Trinity’s and Campbell’s are going basically challenge everybody. They’re going to be the powerhouse.”
“Looking forward to the season. I keep telling the boys, ‘We have something special brewing. It’s going to be baby steps.’ The city of Rome wasn’t built overnight. We aren’t going to have perfection overnight, but the more and more we work at it, we’re going to start finetuning things.”
For the first time since head coach Orion Binney took charge of the program back in 2016, Fall Mountain will be playing in Division III, one year after making the championship game in Division IV.
The Wildcats are ready for the jump back up, Binney said. The last time Fall Mountain played in D-III, it “wasn’t pretty,” to quote Binney, but this time is lining up to be different. Despite losing some big-name players, Fall Mountain brings back a lot of starters from last year — particularly on the defense — and will rely on some new faces on offense to get some points on the board.
Senior Zach Patch is lined up to replace first-team All-State quarterback Luke Gay under center this season — a role doesn’t have a ton of experience in (minus a couple of weeks his freshman year). It may take Patch a little while to get settled in the new role, but Binney has nothing but confidence in his new quarterback.
The defense looks to be in good shape already, Binney said, and once the offense gels together, Binney expects the Wildcats to be competing for a playoff spot with the Trinitys, Campbells, Kearsarges and Monadnocks of D-III.
Last year: 5-3, lost to Somersworth in Division IV championship game
Key losses: Luke Gay, Quinn Healy, Brady Elliott, Ben Robinson
Key returners: Senior Max Vogel, senior Zach Patch, senior Vince Rende, senior Danny Farnham, junior Josh DeVore
Newcomers to watch: Junior Owen Riendeau, sophomore Evan West, junior Jacob Hearne, junior Murray Spaulding, junior Owen Waysville
First game: Sept. 2 at Monadnock, 6:30 p.m.
Home opener: Sept. 16 vs. Epping, 7 p.m.
Game to watch: Sept. 9 at Kearsarge
Head coach: Orion Binney (6th year)
“I feel pretty good about the team. We’ve been doing a nice job for the first couple weeks figuring things out. Defensively we’ll be really good from the start just because we return a lot of guys from our defense and a lot of the new guys are used to the contact. I think our offense might take a little bit longer to come together. But we’ve got a really talented roster and I think we should be able to compete for a playoff spot.”
“We open up with Monadnock, and they’re always tough. That’ll be a tough matchup, but it’ll be a good barometer to see where we are in the pecking order, so to speak.”
“Just like with last year, having so much turnover, it’s just going to take some time for the guys to get comfortable together.”
“I think they’ll do a really good job [in Division III]. With the way our numbers have been, they seem really motivated to prove to people that they can play at this level. We won’t have those games where we’re playing the JVs at halftime — these schools are too good and there’s too much talent, they’re too well-coached. Not to say anything against the D-IV school or anything like that — those coaches do a really nice job as well. With the schools we’re playing now, they have traditional programs, and these kids know how to play football. … It’s just about staying focused and playing four quarters of football every game, because if we don’t do that we’re giving these other schools and opportunity to get up on us quick, and we don’t want to do that.”
“Excited to get started and get after it.”