BEVERLY — When Paul McGonagle took over as the new head coach of the Endicott football team, one of his goals to was to establish a strong presence among local athletes interested in joining his program. McGonagle and his assistant coaches have taken pride in recruiting North Shore football talents and keeping them in their own backyard.
Two of those local recruits, Lynn native Marcus Atkins and Marblehead’s Tyrese Hardy, begin their freshman seasons at Endicott this fall. Both said things have gone well for them since joining the Gulls.
“I feel like I’m fitting in very well,” Atkins, a 2017 St. Mary’s graduate, said. “I feel like I’m a senior, to be honest. The coaches treat all of us the same. All the players, we know we’re all equal and we just try to work hard to be the best team we can be.”
“I’m fitting in great here,” Hardy, a 2018 Marblehead High graduate, said. “I’m making a lot of new friends here. The seniors are really friendly, the whole team and the school is friendly. It’s just a really positive energy.”
A two-time Catholic Central League All-Star, Atkins spent three seasons playing varsity football at St. Mary’s. As a senior, Atkins helped lead the Spartans to the Division 3A Super Bowl in 2016 at Gillette Stadium. He played quarterback and safety at St. Mary’s.
“It was rough because we lost but it was my first year playing quarterback so I’ll always remember that year over anything,” Atkins, majoring in business management, said. “Playing at Gillette was unbelievable, just being on the same field as some the best players in the world like Tom Brady. Being there was crazy.”
Atkins, a defensive back on Endicott’s roster, spent 2017 at post-grad Canterbury School in Connecticut alongside Saugus native Cam Williamson, who’s also now at Endicott. The adjustments in jumping to the college gridiron have created a learning curve for Atkins but he feels he’s getting the hang of things.
“There are so many differences, even with hydration,” Atkins said. “Here we drink a gallon of water a day. I never thought I’d do that but it’s gotten to the point where it’s normal. I’ll drink half a gallon before noon and it doesn’t even feel like it.”
Atkins has also found himself getting caught up to speed with the pace of practice.
“The practices get us prepared for games,” Atkins said. “The tempo’s so high. Your body’s getting used to everything. We had a scrimmage last week and your body feels so much better because you have to time to slow down and think compared to our pace at practice, which helps us a lot because we want to be ready for game situations.”
With new coaches at the the helm, the Gulls have used their preseason to gain familiarity with a new playbook and system. Despite the changes, Atkins said it didn’t take long for the players to build trust with the new coaching staff.
“We’re studying what the coaches give us,” Atkins said. “We trust our coaches. They’re here studying other players, what they like to do, what they don’t like to do, what they act like. They give us that information to study. We have trust and know they’ll give us the right things to study so that we’re prepared.”
Hardy was a starting linebacker last fall for the Magicians. A dynamic playmaker known for causing havoc in the backfield, Hardy helped lead Marblehead to the Division 4 North final in 2017. The Magicians fell to Melrose in a 28-20 loss but Hardy said he couldn’t have asked for a better ending to his high school career.
“I feel like I had a great career at Marblehead,” Hardy, a hospitality management major, said. “I worked hard, we all worked hard. As a football team, we worked hard. Football helped me become a man and it taught me a lot.”
The Gulls are still in the early stages of the 2018 campaign but Hardy has liked what he’s seen so far. Hardy said the players have worked hard through the preseason and he expects the Gulls will surprise their opponents in the coming weeks.
“Things are looking great right now,” Hardy said. “I think we’re going to surprise some people. The team’s looking good, the coaching staff’s awesome. We’re very disciplined and we’re working hard.
“The coaching staff has done great,” Hardy said. “They’re teaching us a lot of new things. They’re pushing us.”
Like Atkins, Hardy has also noticed differences in jumping to the college level. The seasoned veterans on Endicott’s roster have established a high work ethic that has motivated Hardy to push himself.
“You can see the players who work harder and you just have to beat that,” Hardy said. “You just have to work hard at that level. It’s about who wants it more.”
The Gulls open the season Saturday afternoon (12) when they travel to Framingham State. They’ll host Bridgewater State for their home opener next Friday (7) for the Gulls’ first night game in program history.