It’s still too early for the leaves of fall to be rustling, but other sounds of the season are already in the air: the impatient tweets of a whistle, garbled voices speaking through mouthguards, and the soft smack of a pigskin landing perfectly between two outstretched hands.
Football season is back at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.
Preseason practice for the Vineyarders kicked off Monday, with twice-a-day workouts starting up next week. The team plays its first scrimmage against Blackstone Valley this Saturday at 11 a.m. at the high school football field. Fans of the purple and white will not get another chance to see the team in action until Oct. 1 — the first three games of the 2010 schedule are away matches.
Head coach Donald Herman returns for his 22nd year with the program, backed by an experienced staff of volunteers — defensive coordinator and assistant coach Bill Belcher has been part of the team for 20 years, and five of the staffers played in the Vineyard program (coaches Neil Estrella, Jason Dyer and Jason O’Donnell all played under Coach Herman in the 1990s).
The former players are united in their commitment to football and the high school team in particular. Asked what keeps them coming back year after year, three declared in unison “love of the game.”
Captaining the Vineyarders this season are seniors Chris Costello of Edgartown, Randall Jette of Oak Bluffs and Brian Montanbault of Edgartown. Captains are chosen by Mr. Herman before each season, and must be players who have been with the squad since they were freshmen.
“It feels good that he looks up to us [to lead],” said Mr. Costello of the selection.
Mr. Jette described the start of his final season as “bittersweet.”
“Everybody comes out here to watch you,” he said. “In other communities, it’s not like that.”
“We get tremendous community support,” Mr. Herman said after Wednesday practice. “People here love their athletics.”
As was the case last year, football fans can expect to see the Vineyarders playing tougher competition on the gridiron, the result of a move from the Mayflower League to the Eastern Athletic League. More compelling than the intraleague matches, however, is the return of an old Island rival to the schedule.
“Our goal is basically to win as many games as possible,” said Mr. Herman, “and beat Nantucket.”
The traditional Island Cup game between the Vineyarders and the Whalers is back after being cancelled last year due to financial difficulties, a move that drew media attention from larger outlets such as the Wall Street Journal and Boston Globe. Indeed, Globe correspondent James Sullivan, who covered the cancellation, is now working on a book about the Island rivalry, Mr. Herman said.
“It’s a special event,” he added, making sure to note that this year’s game takes place on home turf.
The combination of a tough schedule and a smaller squad than in previous years — the preseason turnout of 50 players was the lowest since 1994, according to Mr. Herman — means that more will get a chance to suit up, and backups can be expected to do far more than the name would imply. There will also be opportunities for new freshmen to join the team before the roster is nailed down the first week of school.
But for now, the team is focusing on its practice drills and Saturday’s scrimmage. As for the season itself, Mr. Costello makes a simple yet direct prediction: “It’s going to be good.”