SOUTH YARMOUTH, Mass. -- All of last week, the Dennis-Yarmouth Dolphins gathered with No. 1 Everett for a week's worth of practices at a campground in Brewster, tucked into the elbow of Cape Cod and bordered on the north by the Atlantic Ocean.
As usual when these two programs butt heads, it's a stroll down memory lane for Funk. In 2001, he left the Crimson Tide coaching staff to take over a program past the verge of collapse. D-Y wasn't just a program in disarray, with a mere six wins to its credit in the 1990's; it was a program so bad, it was relegated to exclusively junior varsity status, with the school even considering dropping the program altogether.
They say if you're not the lead dog, the view never changes. Safe to say a decade after nearly disbanding, the Dolphins are affirmatively in the front of the pack in not just the pecking order of the Cape's programs, but all of Division 2A.
Four seasons ago, it was Nick Montalto kick-starting the program, quarterbacking the Dolphins to a 10-1 campaign and a share of the Atlantic Coast League title (they missed out on the playoffs by virtue of a head-to-head matchup with Marshfield). Last season, after a few .500 seasons, it was Montalto's younger brother, Matt, amassing 37 touchdowns and nearly 2,500 yards of offense as the Dolphins claimed the ACL outright and punched their first postseason berth in school history.
All the intangibles are back again in 2011 to make them a favorite in the ACL again. But putting them over the top -- putting them in Super Bowl contention, in some circles -- is Matt Montalto, the spirited gun-slinger and baseball centerfielder praised as much for his decision-making as his toughness. And that's even after taking into his relative lack of size (Montalto stands just 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds).
"He's just a gamer, great kid, really good leader," Funk said. "He has put his heart and soul into the program. He's almost at 245 on hang clean, 265 on the bench press, he's like a big, strong kid. Even though he's not tall for kid at his position, he can run a 4.6.
"And on top of that, he's the most accurate passer I've ever seen and ever been around. You put those things together with the toughness and leadership qualities, and he's a kid that we're very fortunate to have."
Last fall, the Dolphins were most successful with Funk's read-option attack when Montalto was spreading the ball around to a handful of slot receivers on underneath routes, or hitting running backs Dylan Hodsdon and Joe Furness out of the backfield. Funk noted an improved arm strength over the offseason, adding that he'd put Montalto "up with any of them" in a deep quarterbacking class that includes Everett's Jonathan DiBiaso, Barnstable's D.J. Crook, North Andover's Brandon Walsh, Catholic Memorial's A.J. Doyle, Swampscott's Michael Walsh and Billerica golden boy Nick LaSpada.
That should bode well for arguably the Dolphins' most dangerous target. At 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, senior Damion Johnson is a mismatch and their best deep-ball threat, demonstrating quality body control on jump-balls and exhibiting elite burners in the open field that has touched the 4.5-4.4 range. He's probably in for a bigger season after racking up 728 receiving yards and nine total touchdowns last fall.
At free safety, Johnson was also the ACL's Defenisve Player of the Year, jumping routes to the tune of eight interceptions.
"He's good as a receiver and good on both sides of the ball," Funk said. "At safety, he comes up hard on run. I think he creates problems for teams."
Undoubtedly, the target is on the Dolphins' back, a position at once uncomfortable and enviable.
"That’s what happens when you start wininng games," Funk said. "That's what we wanted to do with this program. When we started from scratch, to where we are now, we still haven't gotten to where we need to be, there's stuff that didn't get finished last year, there's a lot of work be done to get to there. But this is what we hoped as a coaching staff would happen when we started this thing 10 years ago."
DENNIS-YARMOUTH AT A GLANCE
Coach: Paul Funk (11th season, 58-39-1)
Last Year: 10-2 (Lost to Duxbury in Division 2A playoffs)
Key Returnees: Matt Montalto, Sr. QB/DB (1,300 passing yards, 22 TD, 4 INT; 121 carries, 1,123 yards, 15 TD); Tommy Kennedy, Sr. OL/LB; Hunter Oppedisano, Sr. OL/DL; Dylan Hodsdon, Sr. RB/DB (11 TD receptions); Damion Johnson, Sr. WR/DB (704 receiving yards, 9 total TD; 8 INT); Arthur Hairston, Sr. OL/DL; Shane Lappen, Sr. OL/DL; Rufus Hamilton, Sr. RB/DB (6 rushing TD); Barry Dempsey, Sr. OL/DL; Spencer McCaffery, Jr. WR/DB; Joe Furness, Sr. FB/LB (11 rushing TD).
Strengths: Team speed, returning skill players.
Weaknesses: Depth at linebackers.
Outlook: The Dolphins climbed to unprecedented heights in 2010, and many of the integral pieces of the puzzle are back for one more go-around, making them one of several favorites in Division 2A. The most integral of them all, Montalto, could have an even bigger senior campaign after totaling 37 scores as a junior. Montalto made a name for himself across the state last year with his elusive 4.6-40 speed and accuracy in the short passing game, and all the familiar targets are back to shoot for an even bigger senior campaign. "Our offense isn’t one to pass the ball 35 times," Funk said. "We're very balanced, very evenly spread out, and Matt's the perfect guy for that in this offense." Without the greatest arm strength in the world, Montalto excelled in spreading the ball around underneath to guys like Hodsdon and McCaffery, and keeping the defense honest with handoffs up the middle to Furness, but Funk noted an improvement in arm strength this offseason. That should bode well for Johnson, who figures to emerge as one of the Cape's all-around most dangerous targets after a strong junior campaign; as should the offensive line, which loses mammoth 310-pound tackled Nate Crary but returns three speedy starters. Defensively, there are concerns of depth in the front seven with the graduation of linebackers Victor Andrade and T.J. Camel, but the secondary should buy the pass rush some time, with Montalto and Johnson manning the safety positions.