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South Kingstown quarterback Cameron Holland looks for an open receiver during the Thanksgiving Day game against North Kingstown at Meade Stadium.

If you drove past the Narragansett Community Athletic Complex in recent weeks, you might have noticed a football team in blue practicing late into the night.

It was the South Kingstown Rebels, taking advantage of their neighbor’s turf field and doing whatever it took to prep for a long-awaited season.

“You name it, we’ve had it,” head coach Gerry Zannella said. “It’s been cold. Today it was hot. We scrimmaged in the pouring rain. We’ve gone after school in the daylight. We’ve been late at night at Narragansett. We’ve been in the gym. But there’s no place I’d rather be than on the field with those guys on a daily basis.”

That perspective has set the tone for a South Kingstown team that is ready to take a step forward this season. The Rebels went 2-5 with a young group in 2019 and missed the playoffs. They’re feeling good about their chances for a return this year.

“It’s a real interesting group,” Zannella said. “We come back with a good number of seniors that have varsity experience. We picked up a couple of new guys and we have some younger guys who have really stepped up. They’ve really answered the call. The work that they’ve done in the offseason is evident in their performance thus far. We’re optimistic about where this group can go and how successful we can be.”

Experience up front should help pave the way. Luke Palazzetti and Tyler Pearce return to lead the offensive line, with both also spearheading the defense from linebacker spots. Senior Jacob Dussinger also returns on the offensive line.

Senior Rory Hazard will run behind them after a great junior season. Highlights included a 187-yard, three-touchdown day against Moses Brown. His younger brother, Ryan, can also contribute in the backfield, though his primary role in the past has been as the anchor of the defensive line.

Seniors Chris Nhem and Trey Young are multi-year starters in the secondary who can also contribute on the offensive side of the ball. Senior Colin McNamara also has experience. Junior Cade Birrell emerged as a key player last year, while classmate Nate Ambrad started on both sides of the ball.

“The numbers have been pretty good,” Zannella said. “We would certainly like to see some more younger guys, but I’m anticipating come the fall, with a new freshman class and potentially some sophomores who may think about joining us. We’re really happy with the guys that we have. They come to work every day and they work hard. They’re an intelligent group, too.”

A good sophomore class is headed by receiver and defensive back Isiah Carter, linebacker Aidan Jones and quarterback Cameron Holland, who took over the starting job as a freshman in 2019.

“His awareness and his drive to be successful and to do well is evident in his growth and maturity from the end of last season to present,” Zannella said of Holland.

A few upperclassmen have joined the program for the first time and are providing a boost to numbers and athleticism.

“We’ve got some new first-year guys, guys from the basketball team and other sports,” Zannella said. “We’re just asking them to be athletic and make some plays.”

The Rebels remained a D-I team in RIIL realignment, though the system is a bit different with top contenders in the new Power Four grouping. Any concerns are taking a backseat to simply getting back on the field. The Rebels will do it Saturday when they visit North Kingstown at 11 a.m.

“The people we’re playing are the people we’ve played in the past. I’m just glad we’re playing,” Zannella said. “I don’t care who we’re playing. I’m glad we’re out there, working hard to get better and on Friday and Saturday nights, we’re out there competing. When football didn’t come up in the fall, I know myself and the seniors and the coaches, we were all pretty down. This has given us a new life. We’re really excited about getting after it.”

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