This time last year, North Kingstown was coming off a championship with key players back and big holes to fill.
Another championship. The Skippers followed up their Division II crown with the D-I title.
More hardware isn’t part of the discussion these days, but the Skippers find themselves in a similar spot.
“We have some really good pieces, some really good players back from last year that we expect a lot from,” head coach Joe Gilmartin said. “It’s how we fill all those gaps.”
The missing pieces include Gatorade Player of the Year Dylan Poirier, a foundational player in the program’s rebuild who anchored the offensive and defensive lines for three years. Linemates Nick Iden and Ephraim Graham also graduated, and with line play as a cornerstone for the team’s success, those losses are among the biggest.
“It’s hard to replace that kind of leadership and confidence that we had in the front line,” Gilmartin said.
The graduating class also included standout running backs Gabe Sloat and Tyler Khalfayan, wide receiver and cornerback Andrew Zarrella and wide receiver James McGovern.
But depth and numbers mean the Skippers aren’t likely to fall into rebuilding mode any time soon. Back to lead the way are quarterback James Osmanski, the title game MVP, wide receiver Tyler Pezza, defensive linemen Mike Ciarniello and Isaiah Proffitt, and linebackers Ben Gilmartin and Tom Panos.
“With the pieces that we have and the numbers that we have, if we can get number two and number three in each group to push the top guys – to not only make them better, but make our club better – then I think we’ll have a pretty good season,” Gilmartin said.
Osmanski took over for record-setting quarterback Joe Gilmartin, the coach’s son, last year and delivered his own star turn. He excelled as a dual threat, particularly in the playoffs. He rushed for two touchdowns and threw for 142 yards in the championship game.
Finding a supporting cast in the backfield is next on the agenda.
“He’s a real weapon,” Gilmartin said. “You lose Tyler Khalfayan. You lose Gabe Sloat. Those are pretty good guys to hand the ball to. That takes a lot of pressure off. The approach for those young guys is if you can keep us on schedule, I’ll give you the ball again. If they can keep us on schedule, we’ve got some good playmakers on the perimeter, we’ve got James who can make plays. If they do that, I think we’ll be fine, because I know we’ll make some big plays.”
Junior Donovan Carr is a strong backup to Osmanski.
Senior Nolan Bush has the most experience among the running back corps and will get a lot of carries. Ben Gilmartin and Panos are also primed for opportunities. Newcomer Eddie Cardarelli – a track star as a sprinter – has switched his fall sport from soccer to football and is expected to make an impact.
The receiving corps features Pezza, who burst onto the scene as a sophomore, alongside senior Matt Reilly and senior Shane Kenyon.
“If you spread out to zone them, then you’ve got James in the middle with blockers,” Gilmartin said. “I think we can cause some problems for people when we get everybody healthy and everybody going.”
Ciarniello, Teddy Girard and Billy Horlbogen are leading the offensive line.
On the defensive side, Ciarniello and Proffitt are heading into their third year as standouts in the interior of the defensive line. Horlbogen, who waited in the wings behind Poirier and Graham last year, is primed for big things at defensive end.
Last year’s strong defensive front helped ease a young linebacker group into the swing of things. The roles are reversed this year, with Ben Gilmartin and Panos back at linebacker spots. The Skippers also have Liam Robenhymer, Adam Bandilli, Dave Kirby and Jaiden Tucker ready to go. Kenyon, Pezza and Reilly lead the secondary.
“If we run to the ball, we’ll be OK,” Gilmartin said.
While personnel is still being sorted out, one thing the Skippers don’t have to worry about is the program’s culture. It’s in a good place, and it’s somehow getting even better.
“It’s the best culture we’ve ever had,” Gilmartin said. “We’re going to have fun coaching these kids. The way they take care of the young kids, the way they pick each other up is unbelievable. Even if we lose every game, we’re going to have fun. It’s just a good group. And I’ve got a feeling we’re going to win a couple.”