When Mark Sanborn took over as coach of the Hopkinton High School football team two years ago, he said he would be lucky to see maybe 10 or 12 players show up during the offseason for strength training.
This past offseason, after an 8-3 campaign that included a win over rival Ashland on Thanksgiving Day, Sanborn said 30-40 Hillers regularly hit the weights. It’s part of a strong offseason that has Sanborn feeling good about where his program is heading.
“The older guys are showing the younger guys how things are done, and it’s a really good overall environment,” he said. “People understand the scheme and the expectations. I think we are in a good spot, and it’s only going to continue to get better.”
Hopkinton graduated a small but skilled senior class a season ago. This year, the Hillers have 17 seniors leading the way, and Sanborn said they all were committed both to getting in their reps in the weight room and to getting closer together as a group.
“They have led by example,” he said.
As with most teams, the success starts with the captains. The trio of Charlie Petruney, Jason Girard and Carlos Linton have been a big part of the team’s offseason work, and all will play a big role on the field this fall.
Petruney is part of a deep skill position group on offense as a wide receiver and also will play outside linebacker on defense. Girard is expected to help anchor both the offensive and defensive lines, and Linton will play linebacker and fullback.
“These guys really set the tone for us,” Sanborn said.
Sam Pantera will play wideout, and his coach called him a “big weapon” for the offense. Cooper Fossbender will get the ball at running back and play inside linebacker on defense. Jason Piccioli is another talented two-way lineman.
“All of these seniors have one if not two years of varsity experience,” Sanborn said. “We are excited about this senior group.”
Manning the helm of the offense will be junior Julian Rivard, who was the program’s junior varsity quarterback last fall.
“He got some snaps with the varsity last year when the situation arose,” Sanborn said. “He has been great so far. He is a smart player with a high football IQ.”
Rivard should have numerous options when it comes to moving the football down the field through the air and on the ground.
“We have a bunch of good wide receivers and skill positions guys,” Sanborn said. “We want to find ways to get them the ball and have them get out in space.”
Sanborn said practices and preseason scrimmages have been very competitive and, even as the regular season gets underway, there will be some spots on both sides of the ball where players will be battling for snaps.
“We want to see everybody and give everybody a fair shot,” the coach said. “But so far, each week has been better in terms of the discipline, playing together and being committed to the team.”
Hopkinton has another tough schedule this fall. While Sanborn said it can be difficult to tell which opponents will be the strongest due to roster turnover, he noted Holliston and the annual Turkey Day showdown with Ashland as games that stand out.
“We know the Tri-Valley League Large School Division is challenging week in and week out,” he said. “Every single week we have to show up and play our best football.”