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Underdogs No More

After 2012’s Sudden Turnaround, Royals Raise Expectations

  • Mascoma High sophomore Calvin Wilson can't hold a pass thrown his way during a preseason practice drill Thursday. Valley News - Tris Wykes

    Mascoma High sophomore Calvin Wilson can't hold a pass thrown his way during a preseason practice drill Thursday. Valley News - Tris Wykes Purchase photo reprints »

  • Mascoma High football coach Ray Kershaw addresses his gathered Royals during Thursday morning's preseason practice. Valley News - Tris Wykes<br/>

    Mascoma High football coach Ray Kershaw addresses his gathered Royals during Thursday morning's preseason practice. Valley News - Tris Wykes
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Mascoma High quarterback Justin Marsh demonstrates to his teammates how to grip the end of a football Thursday. The Royals held their second day of preseason practices with 30 candidates on the field. Valley News - Tris Wykes

    Mascoma High quarterback Justin Marsh demonstrates to his teammates how to grip the end of a football Thursday. The Royals held their second day of preseason practices with 30 candidates on the field. Valley News - Tris Wykes Purchase photo reprints »

  • Mascoma High sophomore Calvin Wilson can't hold a pass thrown his way during a preseason practice drill Thursday. Valley News - Tris Wykes
  • Mascoma High football coach Ray Kershaw addresses his gathered Royals during Thursday morning's preseason practice. Valley News - Tris Wykes<br/>
  • Mascoma High quarterback Justin Marsh demonstrates to his teammates how to grip the end of a football Thursday. The Royals held their second day of preseason practices with 30 candidates on the field. Valley News - Tris Wykes

West Canaan — Ray Kershaw constructs homes for a living. But his best building project may be the one he’s had underway for the past three years with the Mascoma High football team.

The Royals entered last season just 4-34 in their four-year varsity history and were 2-7 in 2011. That was a step up from 1-8 the year before, but no one in their right mind could have predicted last year’s 8-3 finish, which included a berth in the NHIAA Division VI finals. Using the packed-in, but effective, double-wing offense, Mascoma ran roughshod over teams that had previously used it as a chew toy.

“A lot of teams last year would come into the game thinking they were all set,” said Kershaw, who earlier this month coached New Hampshire to victory in the annual Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl all-star game. “Teams expected us to fold until at least midseason. This year, people know what Mascoma’s like, so that’s going to be a bigger challenge.”

The schedule has also been upgraded, courtesy of new division alignments. The likes of Stevens, Fall Mountain, Winnisquam, Inter-Lakes and Somersworth are now on the slate.

“No matter how much we beat other teams by, they were jerks about it and thought it was luck,” said senior Justin Marsh. “So we’ve got to do it again.”

Like last year, the Royals will go as far as their precise, offensive execution will take them. Mascoma may call 50 running plays and only a few passes per game, but operates out of a no-huddle set that often leaves opponents gasping. That’s why there was such an emphasis on conditioning early in Thursday’s practice.

At the base of a steep hill next to the practice field Thursday, line coach Josh Kershaw, Ray’s son, shouted commands as groups of three or four players sprinted and then bear-crawled their way up the grassy grade. By the time all 30 players had gone through the drill, four of them had quit, one of whom remained on his hands and knees and with his helmet’s crown planted in the grass for about a minute.

“You’ve got to be in shape and be mentally strong to run our offense,” mammoth senior Walt Hammond said. “We just wear people down.”

Said Ray Kershaw: “Some people say it’s boring and some people, especially linemen, absolutely love it. They all get to pull and go around the corner and hit somebody. Every single player is doing something to contribute to moving the ball down the field. That really helps us with the team and family values that we want to install.”

Over at a station where Royals were required to quickly step around blocking dummies, Ray Kershaw worked himself into such a lather that he swatted one player on the helmet with the sheaf of papers in his hand. Later in practice, he would do the same thing to an assistant coach, but this time with a smile. By that time, the troops had snapped out of their early morning stupor and were more precise and cohesive.

“We ran 21 different plays in 10 minutes today,” Ray Kershaw said. “Last year at this time we probably had five in at that caliber. That’s huge.”

Mascoma’s graduation losses included running backs Spencer Pierce and Mike Seiffert and linemen John Daly and Nick Farnsworth, but there are enough returnees that the Royals should still be strong. Marsh operated at quarterback on Thursday based on his prior experience, but Ray Kershaw would like to see him play receiver, where he can use his speed to the program’s full advantage.

Eddie Bianco, Kyle Kosiorek and Shane Pierce will likely be featured in the offensive backfield. Hammond can play tight end, and tackle/guard Noah Richer and center Sammy Jones will also help fortify that area.

“With our numbers this year, hopefully we can get a few kids playing on just one side of the ball,” Ray Kershaw said. “That would be a real help to us.”

When Kershaw first took the job, he found 15 players and a program the school administration was thinking of dropping back to jayvee status or even eliminating. Football players were viewed as losers by some at the school and the booster club had to raise a significant part of the team’s funding, which Kershaw estimated is $35,000 annually. The school has gradually taken over most of that burden and its inhabitants are much more supportive.

“A lot more people come to the games and not many of them give us crap anymore,” Hammond said.

The building project continues.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.