NATICK, Mass. -- Few swan song seasons went as well as Tom Lamb's in 2009, what with an explosive offense that put up more than 35 points a game headed into their Division 2 Super Bowl shutout defeat at the hands of Reading.
The offensive-minded Lamb will be most known in his stints at Natick for his run with Doug and Darren Flutie in the early 1980's. But he always had a few tricks up his sleeve in his second run at Natick, and turned out quite a few players that went on to endure careers in the Division 1 ranks, from Billy Flutie to Reshaude Goodwyn to the McCummings brothers (Thad, Theo and current UConn freshman Scott).
A changing of the guard is in place. But while everything around the Natick locker room looks new, nothing's really changed.
Sure, new head coach Mark Mortarelli was the defensive yin to Lamb's offensive yang in his last 10 years as an assistant coach. But he seems to bring about the same encouraging calm that made Lamb such a respected coach in the community. It's still a bit surreal not seeing the ol' ball coach in the hallways -- "You're so used to hearing his voice in practice, it's a little weird," admitted tight end Andrew Siden -- but the machine isn't exactly broken. So Mortarelli's not making too many fixes.
"It's been easier than expected, because of the staff we have," Mortarelli said of the transition. "Everyone's coached with Tom, we've only got two new additions on the staff. But because Tom's still here...he's in the building, he's been a mentor to all of us, so he's always around if anyone has questions.
"But overall, I think the staff is so familiar with each other from over the years, that I don't feel like it's all on me. Everyone takes a piece of everything."
Meanwhile, the Red and Blue return just four starters -- two offensive (Siden, senior Liam Porter) and two defensive (Glen Duffy, Nick Parks) -- but they're four pretty good ones. Porter, a 6-foot-6, 300-pound road grater with deceivingly quality feet, holds a scholarship offer from Boston College (nothing new in Natick, eh?) and paved the way for Natick's stable of rushers to go off for nearly 2,800 yards a season ago.
"I think that he takes football very seriously," Mortarelli said. "He's not just a big mauler who wants to rely on just his size and speed. He really focuses alot on his technique."
Siden, at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, showed promise at the tight end spot in 2009 (257 receiving yards, four touchdowns) while playing through a hip injury, and will be a two-way presence this year at defensive end and h-back. Says Mortarelli, "He works out like a maniac."
Meanwhile, Glen Duffy, younger brother of leading tackler Kevin Duffy (123 tackles), is expected to be a rock at middle linebacker. "He's like another coach out there," Mortarelli said.
Last year's fateful ending, a 26-0 shutout in the snow at Gillette, hasn't been lost on these guys. "Even when I'm not in the weight room thinking about it, it's always on the back of my mind," Porter said. "It sits with you."
But to the rest of the team, Mortarelli suggests, it doesn't register quite as much, and perhaps it's to their benefit.
"I feel like we're almost starting so new now, that the kids are more into proving that we're not going to slide as a program," Mortarelli said. He added with a chuckle, "the coaching staff remembers, though."
At once, everything's new yet nothing's new around these parts.
NATICK AT A GLANCE
2009: 12-1 (11-0 Bay State), lost in Division 2 Super Bowl
Coach: Mark Mortarelli (first year, 0-0)
Players to watch: Glen Duffy, Sr., LB/RB, 5-10, 185 lbs. (54 tackles); Erik Swanson, Sr., TE/DE, 5-10, 185 lbs.; Liam Porter, Sr., OT/DT, 6-6, 300 lbs.; Andrew Siden, Sr., TE/DE, 6-4, 230 lbs. (10 catches, 257 yards, four touchdowns); James Smith, Jr., TB/DB, 5-9, 165 lbs.; Josh Cappadonna, Sr., DT, 6-0, 255 lbs.; Matt Manchester, Sr., FB/LB, 6-0, 200 lbs.; Nick Parks, Sr., NG/FB, 6-0, 205 lbs.; Faisal Kanaan, Jr., QB/DB, 6-0, 185 lbs.; Tim Dunn, Jr., OT/DT, 6-1, 235 lbs.; Nate Black, Sr., OG, 5-10, 200 lbs.
Strengths: Size on offensive and defensive lines, senior leadership.
Weaknesses: Experience at skill positions.
Outlook: With the graduation of a truly star-studded cast of skill players, and just four returning starters, the Red and Blue will be returning to a more traditional offense, running out of the I formation and utilizing Siden in an h-back role. "We're going to run the ball between the tackles, control the ball and not turn it over," Mortarelli said. Personnel notwithstanding, there are no dramatic scheme changes on the defensive side of the ball. They'll still switch around from 5-3 and 4-3 fronts, only it's the front seven, not back, that will catalyze the unit, led by Duffy at linebacker. "We expect Duffy to be the best linebacker in the league," Mortarelli said. "The kids all respect him so much." Kanaan figures to be the incumbent starter at quarterback, but watch out for freshman Troy Flutie -- the son of Darren is competing for varsity playing time, and could enter the season as the backup.