LYNN — Dominic “D.J.” DiCenso and Jack Maguire sat and watched over the past three years, waiting their turns to have the leadership roles on the St. Mary’s High football team thrust upon them.
“I see this year as being our turn,” said DiCenso, a senior 2-way tackle. “I like to think I’ve always taken leadership roles. I think it makes me a better player.”
“We’ve had great leadership here,” said Maguire, an offensive guard/middle linebacker. “Now it’s us, and everybody has to step up.”
In some ways, say both, the mantle of leadership can be difficult, and in other ways not so hard.
“The people who have come before us have helped instill such a winning culture here that everybody knows what they have to do,” said DiCenso. “We’re a very close group. We worked together in the weight room, and we’ve had a good camp.
“Things like that bring us closer together,” DiCenso said.
On the other hand, with success comes higher expectations.
“They’re pretty big,” said DiCenso. “We’ve come off two incredible seasons, back-to-back.”
“The most important thing is hard work,” said Maguire. “And having success, you get to see how hard work pays off.”
Two years ago, the Spartans made it all the way to Gillette Stadium and a high school Super Bowl — a game they lost to East Bridgewater.
Last year, the Spartans came up a game short — losing in the Division 7 semifinal to Mashpee.
“It’s definitely, 100 percent true that everybody here embraces the winning culture, and we embrace what you have to do to maintain that winning culture.”
Coach Sean Driscoll, in his first year after taking over at St. Mary’s for former Spartans coach Matt Durgin, liked what he saw in DiCenso and Maguire from the early stages.
“They stepped up right away,” said Driscoll, who coached at Winthrop prior to taking over the St. Mary’s job. “I liked that.”
Driscoll and Maguire bonded in a tragic, yet special way, shortly after he was appointed to Spartans’ head coach job. On June 19, Maguire’s mother, Terri, was stricken while driving, and died unexpectedly.
“We told him, ‘Jack, take whatever time you need,'” Driscoll said. “But he wanted to keep coming to the weight room. I would imagine having that to do took his mind off things for that short amount of time, but still … it showed me something.”
“It’s important to have good relationships with your coaches,” Maguire said. “Coach was there, and it definitely helped, having him there.”
Now, he’s ready for the season.
“I love all of it,” he said. “The spirit, Friday nights at Manning Field, it’s all so important.
“If we all do our jobs, it should be a good season,” he said.
The Spartans open the season Friday night (7) when they host Millis at Manning Field.
Friday night games:
Classical at Medford (6): The Rams open the season on the road at Hormel Stadium. Classical blanked the Mustangs, 39-0, when the two teams clashed in the season opener last fall. The Rams return a balanced offense with quarterback Keith Ridley leading the charge and Nashaun Butler as one of his best offensive weapons. Medford went 1-10 last season.
Pentucket at Winthrop (7): The Vikings are all about changing direction in 2018 after a 2-9 season last fall. Working in Winthrop’s favor is its schedule, as the Vikings have four consecutive home games in a row to start the season at the refurbished Miller Field. Jonathan Cadigan takes over as head coach of the Vikings and would like to get his first win sooner rather than later.
Revere at Gloucester (7): Patriots coach Lou Cicatelli has high expectations for this year’s Revere squad. Calvin Boudreau returns under center after seeing significant playing time last year as a freshman. A win on the road against a tournament mainstay in Gloucester would be a huge step forward for Revere.
Triton at Marblehead: The Vikings gave the Magicians a tough game last fall when Marblehead pulled out a 16-9 win. The keys for the Magicians this year are staying healthy and learning the concepts earlier instead of later.
Saugus at Amesbury (7): The Sachems didn’t start 2017 on the best of notes, going 1-6 through their first seven games. Then Saugus won three out of four to close its season, the first for Anthony Nalen as head coach of the Sachems. Nalen would like to carry some of the momentum they built during the closing stretch last year into this year.
Somerville at Peabody (7): This will be the debut of Peabody’s new spread offense. With former Tanners star running back Eric DeMayo now at Division I Wagner, Peabody will look to throw the ball more than it has in recent seasons. On the other side, the Highlanders begin the post-Elijah Jeffreys era. Jeffreys, the Most Valuable Player of the Northeastern Conference last season, is now at Division I UConn.
Lynnfield at Newburyport (7): New Pioneers coach Pat Lamusta takes over the program for Neil Weidman. Lamusta pointed to speed and athleticism as Lynnfield’s two main strengths. The Pioneers blanked the Clippers, 32-0, when the two teams met last fall.
Hamilton-Wenham at Fenwick (7): Crusaders senior quarterback Cory Bright missed significant time last fall as he battled injuries. But after strong showings in 7v7 tournaments over the summer, Bright looked sharp and ready to go for Fenwick. Hamilton-Wenham defeated Fenwick, 21-0, when the two met last fall.
Haverhill at St. John’s (7): The Eagles hope 2017’s struggles are a thing of the past, as St. John’s went 5-6 last year. St. John’s returns a solid senior class to the fold led by running back Aise Pream. The Eagles blanked Haverhill, 27-0, when the two played one another last season.
Other Friday night games include Austin Prep at Salem (7), Malden at Methuen (7) and Masconomet at Danvers (7).
KIPP at Greater Lowell (noon): The Panthers, now in their second season, are all about being competitive in the Commonwealth Athletic Conference. A victory on the road at Greater Lowell to start the season would certainly be a good sign moving forward. Up front, sophomore two-way lineman Mike Bryce leads the Panthers and senior running back Tomi Oladunjoye projects to be a playmaker all over the field.
Greater Lawrence at Swampscott (noon): Swampscott graduated a stacked senior class from last fall’s team, including quarterback Colin Frary. Graham Inzana takes over as the starting signal-caller and has plenty of talented wide receivers (Dylan January, Arturo Vasquez and Jonathan Oriakhi to name a few) on his side. Swampscott went 7-4 last season and coach Bobby Serino said the Big Blue would like to improve that mark this year.
English at Beverly (1): The Bulldogs went 10-1 in a terrific 2017 season but this year’s team is looking to turn the page and form its own identity. Senior Matt Severance returns at quarterback and free safety. English also returns a handful of its offensive weapons from last season’s team, including Ishmile Bangura and Prince Brown. Beverly, on the other hand, is looking for a turnaround season after going 3-8 in 2017.
Nashoba Valley at Tech (7): Tigers coach James Runner and his team aren’t backing down from any challenges this fall. They open the season with a rematch of last year’s MVADA Small championship game. The Tigers graduated two of the top running backs in the CAC (Steffan Gravely and Keoni Gaskin) but quarterback David Barrios returns for his senior season. Nashoba went 8-5 in 2017.