Last season, Jim Tighes final year as head coach with Norwood, the Mustangs had a rather disappointing season in terms of wins and losses, going 2-9. This fall, Manny Lopes takes over the Norwood reigns and is looking for improvement right away, despite having new athletes throughout the roster.
“We have a lot of new faces on the team this year, including a couple who took a few years off and are retuning,” Lopes said. “I firmly believe that we can win right now. We have enough talent in the building to put a successful team on the field and be competitive each week.”
Although Lopes is guiding his first-year varsity team, he has been on Tighes staff and already knows the players, but will still be looking for his tri-captains for help. Aidan Prior, an offensive and defensive lineman; tailback Ted Willett, and Conor Sheehan, offensive line and inside linebacker, will be instrumental to leading the team in the schemes Lopes and his staff draw up this fall.
Willett tore his ACL as a sophomore and was a little hesitant last season, and although he had a decent year, Lopes is looking for much bigger things from his tailback.
“All three are great leaders and have shown that throughout the off-season as well as camp,” Lopes said. “Conor and Ted are the vocal ones, while Aidan is a lead by example guy and probably one of the best linemen in the league.”
Two athletes that played for the Mustangs during their freshman year and then pursued other sports the last two seasons are coming back for their senior campaign. Jack Kelley has stepped right into a wide receiver role, while Ryan Mahoney will see action as an inside receiver and linebacker this fall.
Last year’s back-up quarterback, junior Jason Denehy, has been handed the keys and will be Norwood’s field general this season. Denehy saw some late season snaps and brings some experience to the position.
“I’m really excited about what he can do,” Lopes said. “He has stepped right in and as a junior has complete command of the huddle. He never gives up; when everyone is tired he’s the one who gets them through it.”
Another offensive asset will be running back Robbie Wladkowski. As a freshman, he found himself in a couple of games, but during the first quarter of the first game of his sophomore season he dislocated his elbow and was lost for the season. Wladkowski has worked extremely hard to get back on the field, and according to Lopes, he is ready to get back to the grind. Along with Willett, the two will be part of the Mustangs two-back shotgun set.
On the other side of the ball, junior inside linebacker Dan Oloyede will be the anchor and a huge part of the Mustangs defense. Oloyede spent the entire off-season in the weight room and it shows with his actions on the field.
Lopes believes that this year’s squad is ready to make some noise in the Tri-Valley League.
“We’re a team that over the past few years has been overlooked,” Lopes said. “This year, we’re going to prove some teams wrong and we’ll be right up there.”
While the new coach is confident on his team’s abilities, he’s unsure of the team continuing onto tournament play.
“With the new playoff system, who knows what the post-season will look like this year,” Lopes said. “Post-season or not, the biggest thing for us is having the kids buy into the program, and so far they have while continuing to work hard.
Norwood opened the season with a trip to neighboring Walpole, a team they hadn’t beat in some 15 years. Unfortunately, the Rebels continued the streak and defeated the Mustangs 28-12 in the season opener.