by Tom Pedulla–
First year coach Joseph McDermott looks to bring stability to a Hackley football program that has endured a series of unsettling changes.
The youthful McDermott, quick to point out that he turns 27 next month, is a former Hornets quarterback who graduated in 2014. He hopes to make up in enthusiasm what he lacks in experience as he assumes his first head coaching job.
“Coming back to Hackley, where some of my fondest football memories are, and leading the program into the future is exciting,” he said. “I’m trying to bring them some consistency. The senior class has seen three different changes in the head coaching position.”
Players have been quick to embrace the fresh-faced McDermott. Senior captain Rafael Green-Arnone said of the transition, “This has been the most seamless by far. I’m very excited with what this coach has brought. I think the team hasn’t felt this much like a team since our freshman year. I’m just excited to see what we can do.”
Still, more adjustments are required and learning a new offense is never easy. The staff is installing a spread attack that will emphasize quick passes from senior quarterback Harrison Riopel, the hard running of Conor Ranawat and Baraka Middleton’s speed out of the backfield. Matt Kearns is a threat in the running and passing game.
The Hornets feature an imposing offensive line comprised of left tackle Quincy Flournoy, left guard Thomas O’Brien, center Liam Abraham, right guard Jack Yalmokas and right tackle Walter Hoffman.
“It’s a different style of offense, for sure, but we’re keeping some of the aspects we’ve always had,” said senior captain William Maier. “We’re going to have a tough run-it-through-your-face running game, which has always been part of our program.”
Riopel was thrust into a difficult position last year as he gained on-the-job training as a signal-caller. He will benefit tremendously from that time and hailed the arrival of a coach with vast experience at his critical position.
“He’s been very helpful to me, footwork, arm angle, stuff like that,” Riopel said. “He’s a guru at it. He knows all about it.”
Riopel also starts at free safety as one of many Hornets who will see action on both sides of the ball. Kevin Kim, a senior, is expected to be a force on the defensive line.
McDermott is encouraged by the enthusiasm that surrounds the program. He recalled that he was one of only 18 players on the roster when he was a freshman in 2010. Forty players turned out for this year’s team. Hackley lost to high-powered Poly Prep in the playoffs last year.
Will Rao, another senior captain, is eager to avenge that defeat and play for the Metropolitan Independent Football League championship. “I think we’re going to do very well,” he said. “We’re together. We’re working harder than we ever have. I have all the faith in the world in this new coaching staff.”
McDermott is cautiously optimistic. “I don’t want to start predicting things. Something I’ve been talking to the boys about is ‘One week at a time,’” he said, sounding very much like a tight-lipped sideline veteran.
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