PEABODY — When the Peabody football team started its season 1-4, it seemed as though there wasn’t much light at the end of the tunnel for the Tanners. But with a motivated group of players who have both redemption and winning on their minds, the Tanners have salvaged their season. That group is led by senior running back/linebacker Eric DeMayo.
DeMayo, in his second season captaining the Tanners, has made it a priority to keep his teammates motivated through the closing weeks of the season. After Peabody stumbled to its 1-4 start, the Tanners won four of their last five games to even their record at 5-5.
“I’ve definitely seen improvement,” DeMayo, who also plays baseball and runs indoor track, said. “We started a bit slow going 0-3 to start the season. I’ve seen a totally different team since then. Our players are learning what to do and they’re improving. We’ve definitely learned from our mistakes.”
Aside from staying motivated and upbeat, adjustments to the offensive and defensive schemes have also been key to Peabody’s turnaround.
“Our defense didn’t struggle too much at the beginning of the year,” DeMayo said. “We made adjustments in our secondary and that has gone a long way. Teams haven’t been able to run the ball on us. Offensively, we made some changes to our schemes. We’ve switched to the ground and pound offense that works for us.”
Coming into the season, DeMayo and his teammates had high hopes for 2017. Peabody’s goal was to emerge as a contender in the Northeastern Conference and embark on a playoff run. Although the Tanners fell short of those goals, they never threw in the towel on the season.
“I’m proud that this team didn’t fold over and give up after not making the state tournament,” DeMayo said. “We lost our fourth game against Masconomet and we made it a point after that not to lose another game. Up until that loss to Lynn Classical we stuck to that and even in that game we put up a great fight. After starting 1-4 we’ve fought and it’s been impressive.”
Individually, DeMayo was hoping to follow up on his big junior season with a strong senior campaign. DeMayo has emerged as a reliable weapon on both sides of the ball, hurting opponents as a bruising ball carrier and a tough-as-nails tackler.
He played the role of unsung hero his first two seasons as a fullback, blocking for Peabody’s all-time leading rusher, Doug Santos, who had two monster years behind DeMayo.
DeMayo’s priority has always been to help the Tanners win games.
“I wanted to dominate this year,” DeMayo said. “I didn’t have too many individual goals this year. I cared more about how our team was going to do this season. I put the team’s goals ahead of my individual goals.”
He also wanted establish himself as a reliable leader for his teammates. As one of Peabody’s five team captains, DeMayo has given a full effort into serving as a role model for the younger players on the roster.
“This is my second year being a captain. I noticed that it meant a lot last year as a junior,” DeMayo said. “I definitely see a lot of the younger guys looking up to me and copying what I do. This year, I’ve seen some of the coaches relying on me to be a leader and help the younger guys. Those guys look up to me and I have to lead by my actions.”
Tanners coach Mark Bettencourt has also seen DeMayo emerge as a natural leader for his teammates. While most players focus on preparing themselves, Bettencourt has seen DeMayo devote himself to preparing his teammates.
“He was captain as a junior and senior and that speaks volumes as the type of person and leader that he is,” Bettencourt, who also coaches DeMayo in baseball, said. “Not many players contribute to the team for all four years. He didn’t just prepare himself, he was all about preparing his team and that’s what separates Eric. He’s not just a good player but a good student.
“You don’t get many kids like this,” Bettencourt added. “I’ve been very blessed in my five years coaching here to have kids with this much talent. These are the type of kids that you remember 30 years from now, not just for what type of player they were but what type of person they were.”
With one game left on the season, Peabody has one goal left: finish the year with a win against Thanksgiving rival Saugus. DeMayo has been a part of Peabody victories over Saugus in all three of his years playing in the rivalry. Needless to say, he’d like to continue that success.
“There’s a huge history with the rivalry,” DeMayo said. “It goes back pretty far. Pretty much all of my coaches have taken part in that rivalry. It hasn’t been too competitive since I’ve been here but you can’t count Saugus out. They’re having a good year and they’re going to be competitive. It’s going to be a good fight.”
“We have one more game left,” Bettencourt added. “We’re hoping Eric can finish his high school career with a win. He’s been a true Tanner and I’m sure he’ll do everything in his power to get that win.”