For the first time in anyone’s memory, the Abington High School football team kicks off its season with a Friday evening game in March.
In a school year unlike any other, the 2021 football season will be unusual as well. Concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on high school sports prompted the MIAA to push a number of traditional fall sports – including football and volleyball — into a newly created Fall 2 season, which runs from March until late April.
So when the Green Wave makes its first tackles in anger since its Super Bowl win 15 months ago, they’ll be doing so five days before St. Patrick’s Day, with an away game at East Bridgewater. Kickoff is scheduled today for 6 p.m.
“The goal, as always, is to win every game,” said Abington head coach Jim Kelliher, who will mark his 47th year skippering the Green Wave.
Abington lost 18 of its 22 starters to graduation last year, but Kelliher says this year’s senior class is experienced and deep.
“They certainly played in games last year and played crucial roles in games,” including the team’s 21-7 Super Bowl victory on a frigid Gillette Stadium field.
Abington will be led by senior captains Brady Cristoforo, Brendan O’Brien, and Cedric Lucas-Summers. In addition, seniors Jack Clifford, James Mahoney, Ryan Wessling, and Aaron Siegel are also expected to make contributions.
“We have a very good senior class overall,” Kelliher said.
Friday’s home opener was originally scheduled as a home game on the middle/high school turf football field. It would have marked the first time in decades the Green Wave played a home game someplace besides historic Memorial Field.
Programs with grass fields were asked to relocate games to turf fields to avoid having players fall and make tackles on a hard, frozen surface. Also, the spring thaw would leave fields muddy and susceptible to significant damage from play.
Initially, attendance would have been limited to two parents/friends/family members per home team player; the visiting team would not be able to have guests. That policy was recently revised to allow both the home and visiting teams to have two guests per player.
But because the football field behind Abington Middle/High School does not have stands or additional space behind the end zones, accommodating every allowed spectator at a space distance would have been difficult. So the game was moved to East Bridgewater, which has permanent stands, a press box, and more room around the field.
“We love home games but this is the smarter move for everyone,” Kelliher said.
The hope is that by the time Abington has its first home game on April 9, against Mashpee, that Memorial Field will be ready for play.
Usually when the Abington High School football team starts playing, the concern is the heat and then the season gets gradually cooler as the months go by. This year the early concern has been the cold, with a couple practices cut short by sub-freezing temperatures.
Still Kelliher said the team has done all that’s been asked to prepare for this unusual season. Because locker rooms are closed, players show up to practice dressed. They wear masks at all times, except while getting drinks.
“The kids have been compliant with everything,” Kelliher said.
Unlike some of the other sports, which saw temporary rule changes in an effort to increase player safety, football games will look largely the same. One difference will be huddles; Abington will split its squad into two smaller huddles, which will allow players to remain more spread out.
But the success of the basketball season, which saw no illnesses despite constant close contact between sweaty players wearing tank tops and shorts, leads Kelliher to believe football — which is built on up-close blocking and tackling involving padded players, will be safe.
“If we can handle [basketball] we can certainly handle football,” he said.
The South Shore League schedule includes a playoff week at the end of the six-week season, plus a Thanksgiving Day rivalry type game. But it’s not clear now whether Abington will be able to extend its dominance over Whitman-Hanson this year. The Panthers play in a different league with a different playoff schedule.
As of now, Abington is slated to play Norwell in its “rivalry” game. But there’s a small chance that, depending on the way schedules fall, the Abington/Whitman-Hanson could happen.
Abington Community Access & Media will record tonight’s game, with Shawn Reilly and Kevin Whalen once again providing unbiased play-by-play and color commentary.