Many people watched with baited breath to see what the final outcome would be earlier this year when it was announced that Londonderry High football coach Jon Rich wouldn’t be brought back for the 2014 season.
Many of Rich’s former players and their parents and members of the LHS community reacted angrily and made it plain to Londonderry school superintendent Nate Greenberg that they wanted Rich reinstated.
Now, months down the road after Greenberg refused to alter his stance regarding the move, Rich is an assistant coach at Salem High School and his former program has been taken over by ex-Manchester West High gridiron standout and head coach Jimmy Lauzon, a 2011 New England College graduate and, like his predecessor, a former Saint Anselm College football assistant.
Lauzon is moving the Lancers from what has been an, at times, controversial offensive set within which the defense never quite knew to whom the ball was going to be snapped from center, to a more standard, quarterback-under-center formation with former standout running back Eric Fairweather serving as the signal-caller.
Fairweather did some dynamic things at back last fall before suffering a season-ending injury, and matching those explosive running skills with a strong arm will no doubt make him a potential weapon in his new spot.
“As a whole I think the players are excited for the season,” said Lauzon. “With changes a lot of times comes hope, definitely uncertainty, and of course anticipation. I think the players have started to figure me out throughout the past five or six months, and they understand that I want a team that will play with a lot of energy and that will play hard.”
The new LHS mentor added, “Weakness, in my opinion, is the challenge of learning a new offense, defense, and special teams in a short amount of time. Some of the teams we are going up against have been running the same type of offense and defense for a long, long time, and that gives them an advantage going into the season. It is easier to install everything when you already know the basis of the scheme. Our guys have had to learn a whole new style of blocking, their stances, their routes. It’s all brand new to them.”
But after these months of watching his new Lancer charges, Lauzon sees that he has some key, battle-tested veterans who will help to make the challenging processes easier for their teammates and the squad as a whole.
“A strength of ours should be experience,” he said. “A lot of our kids have played varsity football before, and I think six or seven of our seniors played varsity when they were sophomores, which gives them two years of experience at the varsity level. When you play as a junior, the game seems so fast but then your senior year it seems to slow down drastically.”
The players who played most impressively for Lauzon during camp and the pre-season have been linebackers Matt Rimol and (defensive captain) Chris Bedell, defensive back Dave Wiedenfeld, and defensive tackle Josh Brathwaite.
Offensively, quarterback Fairweather, veteran running back Dennis Bishop, and slot-back Kyle Byrd have shone and are expected to play major roles for Londonderry.
“We think we have some good boys up front, but they haven’t been together for very long and we’ve switched some things around, so we hope they continue to grow and get better as a unit,” said the coach.
Additionally, sophomore Cameron Reddy and transfer student Zach Caplette have, in Lauzon’s words, “pleased the coaching staff throughout camp as well. They could contribute to the team a lot. Cam is young and has a ton of potential, Zach is new to the program and is currently a little banged up, but we’re hoping the two of them can play big roles for us.”
Lauzon is aware that many folks are excited to see what the Lancers look like with the football in their possession. But he’s looking beyond that to things that may be even more pivotal to the team’s success in 2014.
“Everyone is excited for a different offense, but to be honest our main focus as a team has been defense and special teams,” he said. “I felt those two-thirds of the game needed to be addressed first. Offensively, we’ll give it our best to put the ball in the end zone, but as a coach I don’t care if it’s the spread, the single-wing, the wing-T, or the I-formation that gets us there. You win big games with defense and special teams.”
Lauzon’s first official game as the LHS coach will take place Friday night in Londonderry, and it would be pressure-packed due to that fact alone. But it’s especially exciting because Lauzon and his bunch will be facing off against the Bishop Guertin Cardinals from Nashua.
“The BG coach, Travis Cote, was my high school coach when I played quarterback at West. He’s also a mentor of mine since I’ve started coaching. He knows me very well and I know him, so it should be interesting because there are a lot of ties there,” said Lauzon.
When he looks at his new team’s schedule, Lauzon knows that he will insist every step of the way that his charges not look even an inch past anybody, be they those arch-rivals from Pinkerton Academy or the Merrimack Tomahawks or the Salem High Blue Devils.
“There are no cupcakes on the schedule,” he said. “Every week will be a battle, and every week needs our complete focus. There is no looking forward to future weeks.”
When it comes down to the bottom line of what he’s demanding from his Lancers, Lauzon insists that his philosophy is a time and battle-tested one.
“It’s nothing new to football. We just want to play to the whistle and be disciplined. That’s how it starts, and we’ll keep building from there,” said the new Lancer leader.