LYNN — The 2019 high school football season is underway and teams from all over the area are on the practice field in anticipation of the first week in September. And as teams return to the field and the practices get underway, players begin to carve out roles for themselves and find their footing at new positions.
The English football team is no different and this year, a pair of junior standouts in Mathias Fowler and Tahj Purter begin to get used to their new roles with the Bulldogs. Both Fowler and Purter are entering their third seasons under coach Chris Carroll at English, but their roles have shifted — in more ways than one — now that they’re upperclassmen.
“Obviously we have a pretty big change in that Mathias is now our quarterback, and I have a ton of confidence in him,” Carroll, a former English quarterback himself, said. “He’s a great kid and a great leader, and he’s such a great athlete who can do so many things with the ball. I’m really excited to see what he can do in that spot. For Tahj, he’s a No. 1 threat. He’s an explosive wide receiver who can give us a lot in the kicking game as well as on offense and defense. We’re expecting big things from both guys.”
It’s a pretty big ask for Fowler — who up until this summer was a receiver — to step into the shoes left by Matt Severance, who was named the Item’s Edward H. Cahill Player of the Year and MVP of the NEC South in 2018. But if you ask Fowler, he’s up to the task.
“It definitely feels different, but I really like it,” said Fowler. “Being able to take control of the team and to always have the ball in my hands is pretty exciting, and to be able to spread the ball around to so many guys makes it a lot of fun.”
As for Purter, his biggest adjustment is the newfound leadership role that he’s starting to fill in the receiver group. As the No. 1 option in the passing attack, he wants to be a leader both on the field and in the locker room.
“I feel much more like a leader this year, and I really like to show the other guys what to do by example when we’re out on the practice field,” Purter said. “It’s my job to stay on top of the younger guys and make sure everyone is doing what they’re supposed to.”
One of the biggest advantages that Fowler and Purter had at their disposal coming into this year was the annual Northeast 7-on-7 tournament that takes place over the summer. As a quarterback-receiver duo, both players found it extremely helpful to get that extra work in before team practices started.
“It was great for getting to experience the different kinds of reads I’ll have to make on the field, because playing quarterback in high school is a lot different and it took a little while to get used to,” Fowler said. “All of the stuff I saw out there is definitely translating back to tackle football.”
“I think one of the biggest things it helped for us was just getting on the same page as a quarterback-receiver duo,” said Purter.
“The 7-on-7 tournaments are great for the passing aspect of the game on both offense and defense, and obviously both of those guys are involved so it’s great to get them some work. They were able to build up a great rapport with each other, and they were two of the best players on the field no matter who we played. So that gives us a lot of confidence coming into the season.”
But make no mistake, these guys aren’t just all about offense. Fowler and Purter are also the starting cornerback pair for the Bulldogs, and the pair has plans to make an impact on that side of the ball as well.
“I’m still going to be aggressive out there even though I’m the quarterback now,” Fowler said of playing defense. “I like the challenge of playing corner, and I want to be able to play lock-down defense out there.”
“There’s still a lot to learn out there, but for me the key is to be aggressive,” Purter said. “We want to be able to compete with the best of the best, and that’s how we’re going to do it.”
Carroll is hoping the same.
“In the age of the spread offense, having two guys like Mathias and Tahj at corner is a huge advantage for us,” Carroll said. “We want to be a tough and fast defense, and with two guys on the outside like that we can really play that way.”
Fowler, Purter and the English football team will continue practicing for the next few weeks before opening the season on the road against Swampscott on September 13.