Talented Millis Eleven No Longer In Co-op Mode

By Ken HAMWEY Staff Sports Writer
Issue Date: 
September, 2017
Article Body: 

Millis High’s football team was crowned Division 4A Super Bowl champions last year after defeating Maynard, 30-18. The last time the Mohawks won a Bowl game was in 1999 — a drought that lasted 17 years. The crowning moment last year also was the first Super Bowl title for Millis as a co-op team.
As a new season approaches, there’ll be talk about a Super Bowl repeat, and fans no doubt will imagine what it would be like to capture back-to-back state championships. Ask coach Dana Olson about that possibility, and his response is tempered with ifs and buts.
“Anything is possible,’’ he said. “But, it’s imperative that we stay healthy. We’ve got the talent, but we don’t have numbers, and we don’t have depth.’’
The co-op venture with Hopedale has ended after eight years. It was approved primarily to help Millis keep its gridiron program alive. In 2009, the Mohawks would have begun their schedule with only 17 varsity players, but the co-op plan changed that count.
Once the partnership with Hopedale ironed out some wrinkles, Millis was back on its feet as Millis-Hopedale and from 2014-2016, its football team advanced to the South final all three years, losing to Cohasset twice and Mashpee once. Now that the co-op plan is history, Olson has some worries.
“We’ll have 25-28 varsity-ready players this season,’’ he said. “Our numbers are down, and that creates not only a depth issue, but also a safety concern. My job is to ensure our kids safety. I will not let players compete if they aren’t ready for varsity games. Staying healthy is one of our goals this year.’’
Olson is acutely aware that other schools are “in the same boat,’’ but he points to Mashpee to emphasize his point.
“They’re a small school, just like us, but they’ve won back-to-back Super Bowls,’’ he noted. “They won because they stayed healthy. For Millis, it’s almost like we’re getting phased out of being a competitive program. I think it was a mistake to let the co-op dissolve. We’ve worked hard to become a quality program. We don’t have a freshman team, and this year, our jayvee squad will number about 22, and 11 will be freshmen.’’
According to Olson, Millis is ranked the fifth smallest school in enrollment in Eastern Mass. and this year’s football program (freshman through seniors) will number about 38.
The Mohawks, nevertheless, have talent, and 18 seniors give them experience. “We’ve got other strengths,’’ Olson said. “We’re athletic, have speed, and a high football IQ. Our big concern is lack of depth. Our offensive line has some new faces, so we’ll need to gain experience there quickly.’’
Millis has some high-powered players on both sides of the ball. On offense, quarterback Bryce Latosek returns after a superb junior year that included 30 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions. “Bryce is one of our captains,’’ Olson said. “He’s an accurate passer who has good field awareness and a high grid IQ.’’
Senior captain Kurt Hopkins is a two-year starter who gained 1,000 yards last year. Once Millis took control against Maynard in the Super Bowl, Hopkins carried the ball 14 times in the second half. “Kurt is durable,’’ Olson said. “He’s not flashy but he makes big plays.’’
Sophomore tackle Kevin Pyne (6-8, 270) will be counted on to open some holes, but he’ll also be utilized at end on defense. “Kevin is athletic, strong and has good technique,’’ Olson said. “His footwork is good, too. He’s already had 15 offers from Division 1 schools.’’
Millis will miss Hopedale’s Brian Espanet, their top receiver, who’ll be playing at the University of New Hampshire this fall. In his place, however, are top-notch senior receivers like captain P.J. Adams, Andrew Brooks and Ray Hillaire. “They’re able to play any receiving position; they’ve got high football IQs, and they’re super athletic,’’ Olson emphasized.
Defensively, Millis will be formidable, thanks to a group that includes linebacker Ryan Daniels, defensive back Dominic Zonfrelli, tackle Ciaran Hourihan (captain) and linebacker/end Stephen Melia. “They’re old-school players,’’ Olson said. “They’re athletic, smart and they work hard.’’
Besides staying healthy, Olson’s other goals include being competitive and winning the Tri Valley League Small Division. “The Small Division will include Dedham this year,’’ Olson noted. “They’ll be an unknown, but they’ve got numbers. Ashland will be strong, and Bellingham is competitive.’’
During pre-season workouts, Olson focused on creating quality depth. His players hit the ground running, got lots of reps and sharpened their technique. Praising his staff of assistants for their dedication and devotion, Olson vowed that he and his aides will guard against any letdown. “It’s my responsibility to put last year in our rear-view mirror,’’ he said. “Last year’s success is history. We’re now in a new chapter.’’
Millis will open its season at home on Sept. 8 against powerhouse Holliston. That’s a matchup that draws a huge crowd, eager to see two of the premier teams in the TVL. As concerned as Olson is about lack of numbers and lack of depth, he can rest easy knowing that in spite of the storm clouds projecting low numbers, his players have competed in big games in high-profile venues.
For the last four years, Millis has been to four straight sectional finals that produced one Super Bowl title. The Mohawks’ 2017 season should be exciting, interesting and telling.