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Northeast 7v7: Billerica takes North title

Brendan C. Hall/ESPN

EXETER, N.H. -- Finishing last season with a 3-8 mark was not what head coach Duane Sigsbury had in mind when he took over the reins following a successful tenure at Boston Cathedral, in which he won a 4A Super Bowl crown in 2012.

But with any first year coach will attest, there are some growing pains to endure. With last season now a thing of the past, Sigsbury is hoping for a better sophomore year.

It certainly got off on the right foot after the Indians bested the competition to win the Under Armour 7 on 7 North Regional championship. Billerica outlasted Buckingham, Browne & Nichols 23-22 in the title tilt played at Eustis Field.

"This is great for the kids because they've been working their tails off ever since I got the job," said Sigsbury, in attendance to watch the Indians. "As a spectator to watch them play and have fun was awesome. I'm glad that they won it. Real football is in shoulder pads and helmets, but this was a good stepping stone for us today. We have athletes and great kids and when they are down here coaching themselves and running plays off of cards I can't be more excited for them."

The Indians were led by receiver Jacob Carlson, who caught a pair touchdowns vs. BB&N. They also received solid contributions from Jeff Trainor, Drew Laundry and quarterback Justin Beck.

"It was purely endurance today," said Carlson, who, along with his team, played a total of nine 20 minute contests throughout the day. "It takes a great team effort for something like this to happen."

Added Trainor, "Today was about team chemistry and making adjustments on the fly. Our in-game adjustments were huge today, especially defensively."

Said Beck, "We weren't intimidated at all. We kept proving to ourselves all day that we could play and compete with these other teams. Our coach is always motivating us and, as a team, we are in the weight room every day getting ready. Coach is committed to this team 24/7. The championship trophy is going to be great to take home with us but then we have to get back at it next weekend at Bishop Fenwick (during the East Regionals)."

Some other notes and observations from today's tournament:

Rotsko has them rolling at Marshwood

It appears wherever Alex Rotsko goes, success follows.

Ready to embark on his fourth season as head football coach at Marshwood High School in South Berwick, Maine, the longtime and highly-respected Rotsko is in the midst of building something special in this seacoast community.

Having brought his enriched football resume along with him from Massachusetts, Rotsko has quickly turned the Hawks into champions.

Last year, Marshwood ran the table winning all 12 of its games culminating in a Class B state championship triumph over Brunswick -- it's first title since 1989. In Rotsko inaugural season with the Hawks in 2012, he guided them to a state title appearance before losing a nail-biter to Mt. Blue.

"Last year was kind of expected by us," said RB/OLB Zach Doyon. "I felt like we had win because anything else would have been a disappointment. To accomplish what we did was sort of a relief because we had worked so hard."

Considered as one of the premier high school coaches to have ever walked the sidelines in Massachusetts, Rotsko is a no doubt bonafide winner. Having spent 19 years at the helm in Longmeadow, he took the Lancers to a state record 15 straight Super Bowls, winning 11. During his tenure at Longmeadow, Rotsko held an overall record of 184 wins and only 39 defeats. In his three seasons at Marshwood, the results have not changed, holding down a mark of 30-5.

"Last year was a great experience," said Rotsko, speaking Saturday while watching his Hawks partake in the Under Armour 7 on 7 North Regional. "We had a strong senior class. The kids worked hard and we had a great season and it was a lot of fun. A lot of those kids were there two years ago and it made a big difference.

"This year, we lost an outstanding senior class but we have some strong players coming back so we feel we'll be competitive again and be able to play with anybody in our league. To be able to have success right away and get to a state championship was an unbelievable experience. The battle is to get the kids to believe and play hard. If you can do those two things then you're going to have a good football team no matter the personnel you have."

Rotsko, 62, had purchased a summer home in York, Maine 10 years ago but the idea of moving from Longmeadow permanently hadn't crossed his mind until four years ago. It was then when then Marshwood head coach and long-time friend John Caverly reached out to Rotsko about coming on board at the front man in Marshwood. Caverly, who coached against Rotsko during his time as East Longmeadow head coach, could no longer handle the coaching duties at Marshwood after becoming school principal. Caverly spoke with Rotsko about the head job at Marshwood.

Ironically, it was Rotsko who recommended Caverly for the Hawks job several years prior.

"My wife and I have always loved this area and we were planning to come up here permanently," he said. "When John decided to step down, he called me and he knew that I loved the area very much and said why not do it now. It wasn't an easy decision because I truly enjoyed Longmeadow. I asked him why I should take the job and he said because you get to drive by the ocean everyday on the way to work. That's not too bad. I then decided to retire and sell our house in Longmeadow and it has worked out well for us ever since.

"As far as football, I knew it would be a challenge but I was also looking forward to that as well. At Longmeadow, the expectations were always there for the kids to get a Super Bowl ring. But at Marshwood, it had been 25 years since they last won a championship. So everything became new and exciting. Hopefully over the next few years we can continue to be successful and do here what we did at Longmeadow. For the things that I miss at Longmeadow, there are many things at Marshwood that I like and am looking forward to."

The development of the Hawks program has been on a steady incline since Rotsko's arrival. That first season, there were 43 players on the roster. That number has since jumped to over 70.

"I want to coach kids who want to win and want to be successful," Rotsko said. "At Longmeadow, because we won so often, you never wanted to be the team that lets everyone down and doesn't make it to the Super Bowl. Hopefully 5 or 6 years from now, you hope we have kids here who don't want to let the team down as well."

Rotsko is also a physical education teacher at Marshwood, a position he plans to hold onto for another couple of years. At Longmeadow, he was also the school's athletic director. As far as coaching is considered? He has no time table as to when he plans to step aside.

"We'll see what happens," he said. "If I still enjoy it the way I do now then I'll keep coaching. I don't really have any hobbies. Football is my hobby. I enjoy watching film more than I do playing golf."

An assistant football and baseball coach at Ithaca College in 1979, Rotsko was part of two national championships in both sports before taking over as head football coach at AIC where he brought that program to national prominence.

"One of things I talk about at clinics I attend in regards to that is it doesn't matter what level you play at," said Rotsko. "At Ithaca, we were a Division 3 school and winning national championships there or state championships here or at Longmeadow is the same as Ohio State winning a national championship or the same as the Patriots winning the Super Bowl. It may not necessarily be the same amount of time involved, but it is still the same commitment. It was just exciting for those kids to win it all as it was for the Patriots or Buckeyes."

It goes without saying that Rotsko's presence with his new club has been well-received. To a player, all were aware of his successful track record at Longmeadow and before. Needless to say, no one is disappointed by the hire.

"He's been great and knows everything there is about football," said senior Jack Spear, who will see time at QB, WR and OLB. "He's not in your face or screaming at you. He expects a lot from us and I think that helps us stay focused because we don't want to let him down. If you do what he says then you know that you'll be fine. When you have a resume like his, you know immediately that he knows what he is doing."

Adds Doyon, "Coach Rotsko means a lot to this team. He puts a lot of time studying film, probably more time then any other coach I have ever been around. He's is great at what he does. What he does in preparing us for games is truly unbelievable. He's just a great coach."

Windham looking to repeat

After bumping off St. Thomas Aquinas in last year's New Hampshire Division 2 State final, Windham has its sights on another title this season.

"The biggest thing now is that we've got that hunger and we know there is a big target on our backs," Jaguars head coach Bill Raycraft said. "The players have worked hard during the off season and are not going to settle on what happened last year because that is done with and we are now moving forward. The expectations here are high, if not higher, than last season."

Raycraft knows that he must replace some key personnel from last season -- most notably quarterback Brendan McInnis, and was hoping to get an early indication as his team took part in the 7 on 7 tournament. At present, Griffin Lippold looks to be the frontrunner to take over signal caller duties.

"Last year was a great experience for all us," senior Matt Shea said. "Throughout the year, we just seemed to keep things rolling and kept the momentum rolling as well. It was just a great thing to be apart of because everyone bought into the program. Once we were firing on all cylinders, no defense could hang with our offense.

"Teams would try to slow things down against us just so they could get on offense and make sure we weren't on offense. Once everyone on our team is involved it's like game over. That is our mindset. Now that we are a winning program, I think everyone in the program just wants to keep it rolling and build on the tradition here."

Raycraft says the start of last year's success began during the 7 on 7 tournament when the Jaguars defeated St. John's Prep.

"You saw the hunger in some of those guys after that," he said. "The kids made it clear where they wanted to ended up and, in turn, I felt it taught our younger guys what it takes to be successful."

Lauzon looks to build on last year

Jim Lauzon, just 25 years of age, is preparing for his second season as head coach at Londonderry High School. The former Manchester football/baseball standout served the same role at Manchester West High School beginning in 2010. But after then Lancers coach Jon Rich was not retained after the 2013 season, Lauzon applied for the position and was named the new coach of the Lancers.

"There were a lot of similarities and the players at both schools are very similar," said Lauzon, who also served as as assistant coach at St. Anselm College. "Londonderry is very supportive and the town is very supportive. The following is great. Those are the differences. I'm very prideful of Manchester West because that is where I went, but here, this reminds of the small town football you see down south. I found Londonderry to be an intriguing job. I went in for an interview and things went well. Everything has been good so far."

Last year, the Lancers finished 8-2, with both losses coming against Pinkerton Academy, the latter during the playoffs.

Londonderry lost 17 starters, including quarterback Eric Fairweather, from last year's squad but still has a plethora of weapons to choose from in its arsenal. The key components will be the receivers which include Cam Reddy, Brandon Radford, Jim Nee, Nick Donnelly and Cam McDonald. The Lancers also have a solid linebacking corps consisting of Nick Scarfo, Gary Richard and Zach Garside.

"We're just trying to build a great program here," Lauzon said. "Our numbers are good. We don't want to be just one of the best teams in the state. We want to be the best. The kids have bought in and we have some depth. We're on the cusp. You can't worry about the kids who left. We just focus on the kids who are coming through the program right now."

Degenhardt on the rise

It would be wise to keep tabs on Westford Academy junior quarterback Connor Degenhardt this upcoming fall. The 6-5, 185-pound signal caller has emerged as one of the best at his trade in Massachusetts beginning with a solid season a year ago for the Grey Ghosts. Degenhardt is considered a potential Division 1 prospect, with such schools as Duke, Virginia, Boston College, UMass, UConn and Syracuse taking notice.

"I learned to slow the game down last year," said Degenhardt. "The first couple of games it was like the game was moving 100 miles-per-hour for me. But once those first couple of games past I learned to get my feet under me and I learned to let my teammates help me and trust the system that we play in."

Degenhardt says with each snap there is a learning experience involved. He says needs to continue to make good decisions, put the ball where it is suppose to be, not to force passes and run a little more when the situation arises.

"I feel like I'm ready to go this year," he said. "We are going to win and lose as a team so the attention I have been receiving I don't think about. Winning and losing isn't going to fall solely on me. We're not going to get there just on me. We're going to get there as a whole family. In regards to the recruiting, it is a fun process and right now I'm just having fun with it. There's still a lot of time left. I just need to keep improving."

Gray to guide Blue Devils

The quarterback tradition at Leominster High School continues to prosper. Over the past several years, the position has seen the utmost talent in the likes of Garrett DelleChiaie and Neil O'Connor. At the start of last season, questions were raised as to who would take over for the departed O'Connor, who was stellar in leading the Blue Devils to a pair of Super Bowl titles.

The answer came quickly in the form of 6-foot-3 Noah Gray. Last year, Gray helped catapult the Blue Devils into the Central Mass. playoffs. This year, now a year older, wiser and stronger, expect Gray to be more of a catalyst at the position.

"I just try to be myself out there," said Gray, a junior. "The quarterbacks before me did a lot of great things but I just want to go out there and do my best and learn from what Coach (Dave) Palazzi has given me. Coach Palazzi has helped me a lot, especially with my reads. Last year since I was new, he pulled me off on the sideline to talk to me and make sure I was ready to go. I'm a lot more comfortable going into this year. Last year was more about learning, but this year I feel I am ready to go."

Gray credits the Blue Devils' shutdown defense as a reason for his success.

"I have such a good defense behind me that I know they are going to get a stop," he said. "My defense is probably the biggest factor as to where I am today because they work their butts off all off season. They give me a lot of short fields to work out of. They create a lot of turnovers which gives the offense great field position and they also keep the opposing teams back on their side of the field."