METHUEN — When the Methuen High football team takes the field on Sept. 8 against Concord-Carlisle, it will be the Rangers first chance to erase memories of last year’s winless season.
Fourth-year head coach Glen Gearin wants his young team to remember the past, but not focus on the adversity. He wants to use the harsh experience of last season as a positive learning tool.
“We don’t want to dwell on the negatives, but to say this is what we did wrong and this is where it went wrong. That’s the negative,” Gearin said. “Then you put a whole lot of positive on it. This is what it could have been and this is how it’s going to be.”
On their way to an 0-10 record last season, the Rangers let a few winnable games — specifically a 22-20 loss on Thanksgiving Day to archrival Dracut — slip away in the final minutes. According to Gearin, part of getting over that last little hump comes with commitment, desire and offseason training.
“A lot of the kids were part of last year’s team and they saw how close we were in a lot of those games. We were close but we weren’t there because of the small things,” Gearin said. “Some of those small things were because of the previous offseason.”
Gearin was impressed by the consistent turnout in the offseason conditioning program. He hopes the hours players spent in the weight room translates to the field.
“We’re hoping it turns into instead of losing six or seven heartbreaking games to winning a few of those,” Gearin said. “It really only takes a small thing here or there to make the difference.”
The first test comes Friday, Sept. 8, in a nonleague game against Concord-Carlisle at Methuen’s Nicholson Stadium. The kickoff is 7 p.m. The Rangers picked up another nonleague game on Saturday, Oct. 28, at Belchertown.
The Rangers take a week off after the opener before jumping into their league schedule with a game against defending MVC champ Billerica on Friday, Sept. 22, in Billerica.
Gearin sees Central Catholic, Chelmsford and Billerica as the top contenders for the league title with Tewksbury as a darkhorse that could surprise a few of these contenders.
And what does the Methuen coach expect of his Rangers?
“My goal is to have kids finish the games. We need to finish and we need to be more physical,” he said. “I truly expect them to try harder from start to finish, not looking at the scoreboard and hoping time runs out and just hoping we’re on top.”
While the Rangers were unable to experience finishing on top in any games last year, Gearin certainly knows what it takes to win in the MVC. Gearin, who graduated from Methuen High School in 1983, played on one of the better MHS football teams in recent years. The Rangers were 9-0-1 in Gearin’s senior season of 1982.
“I want the kids to be in a position where they say, ‘Listen, we’re up, we’re winning this game. If this game goes on forever we’re always going to be winning, I don’t want it to end,'” Gearin said. “I want them to have that killer instinct. I want them to have the mentality to finish a game on top.”
Gearin’s club is predominantly underclassmen, but he thinks that can only help.
“Our best players are in our junior and sophomore classes and they are going to force the seniors to step it up,” Gearin said. “In the last few years in our program if you were a senior, there was really no one behind you to push you. So, you played more or less by default. This year it appears we have a lot of talented kids that are now going to make those seniors better.”
One of those juniors is quarterback Matt Naylor, returning for his second season on the varsity squad. Naylor will direct the Rangers Wing-T offense, which is a scheme that’s making a comeback in popularity among high-school level football teams, especially if operated out of the shotgun.
“We are looking for Matt to maintain a leadership role. A quarterback is supposed to be a leader,” Gearin said. “I think he’s going to be much better this year. He’s going to have a better (offensive) line protecting him and he has a year behind him.”
Leadership is key when talking about any group sport and although the Rangers have not yet selected captains, three seniors — center Chris Gagne, wing back Ricky Silveria and halfback John Berube — have stepped up and taken on leadership roles within the young squad. Berube was a two-way starter at halfback and cornerback in last year’s Thanksgiving Day game against Dracut.
The coaching staff is trying to add the defensive end position to Gagne’s football résumé as the Rangers deploy a 50-front defensive scheme, which is similar to the 3-4 scheme that uses three defensive linemen and four linebackers.
But these Rangers are more than just football players.
“We’re the big brothers in the school,” Gagne said of his fellow senior teammates. “Methuen is a small community; news travels fast. We have to make sure the team is doing the right thing on and off the field.”
Silveria agreed and added his own thoughts on why it’s important to maintain being a good role model.
“No one wants to be around you if your a loser, getting into fights all the time or getting into trouble,” Silveria said. “If someone is doing something wrong, we need to stop them, not join in.”
Gearin added he feels fortunate to have a few seniors rise to the occasion and take leadership in stride.
“They are great citizens on the field and great citizens off the field,” Gearin said. “They are also great players on the field. Those are the types of players we need.”
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