Amid a lost year, the Narragansett High School football team still managed to find some things.
Injuries robbed a host of key players of game time, but freshmen seized the opportunity to gain experience and offer hope for the future. Numbers dipped, but those who stuck around formed a bond. And out of a season that was slipping away came a win in the Thanksgiving game and a springboard into this season.
“The freshmen got to play,” head coach Matt Blessing said. “That’s a good thing. Getting a win at Exeter-West Greenwich in the Thanksgiving Day game was a positive for the program. Overall, it’s a great group of kids. The seniors and juniors are doing a nice job. There’s a team attitude this year, which is nice. Our slogan is we, not me. If we’re going to be successful, it’s going to be about coming together as a team. Like any team, but especially at a small school like Narragansett.”
The Mariners hope the positives that emerged last year can lead into improvement this season. Numbers remain a challenge, with 35 players on the roster, due largely to a small junior class. The roster has eight seniors and just two juniors. The numbers are up in the underclass ranks, with a combined 25 freshmen and sophomores in the fold. While that makes depth an issue, there are some quality pieces in place.
“We have some really good seniors and some solid young guys coming up,” Blessing said. “It’s a good group. I think we can make a run at a playoff spot.”
The senior class is led by Brian Vaganek, who will continue his career at Holy Cross, where his father is an assistant coach. Vaganek was the player Narragansett missed most last season in its injury bug battles, as he was sidelined for much of the year. He’s healthy now and is set to anchor the defense at middle linebacker and the offensive line at left tackle.
Quarterback Eddie Blessing returns after handling a lot of snaps the last two seasons. The senior class also includes fullback and defensive end Atticus Duncan, wide receiver and linebacker Jimmy Fiorillo, offensive and defensive linemen Jayme Xaycosy and Eddie Tally, and tight end Wayne Labore.
The small junior class features Sam Duckworth, who will handle the interior of the lines at center and nose tackle.
From the big sophomore class, the Mariners have players with some experience and potential. B.J. Richards and Nick Nunez should be some of the top skill players on the offensive side, Anthony DiCicco can play all over the field and Colin Flynn is a key contributor on both lines after starting as a freshman.
“They’re sophomores but we feel they can give us at least junior-level performances,” Blessing said.
Assistant coaches Sam Fry, Chris DiCicco, Mike DiCicco, Ed Wnuk and Mike Jeffrey are back alongside Blessing. The staff is making some schematic changes to suit the Mariners’ personnel. Without much size up front but with lots of players who fit best at linebacker spots, Narragansett will play a 3-5-3 defense. On the offensive side, they’re making some tweaks.
“We’re going more to a Wing-T, Air-Raid style offense,” Blessing said. “A little bit of what you saw with the L.A. Rams – misdirection, spread it out and move fast. That’s our biggest thing. We’ve got to be able to move fast this year. If we can disorient teams, that’s going to help us a lot.”
The Mariners gave the new offense a test run in the Exeter-West Greenwich passing league and found big success, going 7-0 in the summer competition and winning the league over EWG, West Warwick and Smithfield.
“We went 7-0 in the passing league,” Blessing said. “We were playing a little loose with positions so that will change things, but we had a very good summer.”
The competition will increase in the fall, with Narragansett staying in Division III. It’s again a small league, different than the D-III of 2017. Many of those teams are now in D-IV, which didn’t exist in 2017.
“Size wise, we’re playing with some of the big city programs that are down to III to reboot,” Blessing said. “In some ways, when it was just D-III, it was better for us. We would have schools that are in D-IV now and that about half our schedule. But we’ll be able to compete. We’ve got a shot to make the playoffs if we stay healthy.”