Tuesday, August 22, 2017

MIAA Football Camp Road Trip: The Millis Mohawks

With guys like sophomore Kevin Pyne (left), junior Murrell Quashie (center) and senior Ciaran Hourihan (right), Millis will have plenty of size and talent in both trenches.
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

MILLIS - After years of coming up just short, the Millis Mohawks finally achieved their goal, winning the Division 4A state championship against Maynard last December at Worcester State.

But, if you were hoping that this small-school power was running out of gas, or that low numbers would take their toll, or that the school's prosperous co-op with Hopedale ending would slow the Mohawks down, you're going to have to keep on waiting.

The Mohawks return 18 seniors from last season's championship squad, including star quarterback Bryce Latosek, who lit up opposing defenses for 30 touchdown passes and just 7 interceptions a year ago. While Latosek does lose star receiver Brian Espanet to graduation (and college football at the University of New Hampshire), the Mohawks will be far from short on weaponry.

"People say, 'oh, they lost Espanet,' but we're bringing back our four other top receivers," head coach Dana Olson said with a smile.

"It feels good to be getting back on the same page," Latosek said. "It's just getting the timing back, and the hand signals back together, but we're looking to get back to midseason form, like last year."

Though Millis expects to only dress about 26 varsity players, nearly all of them have game experience, and can play both sides of the ball. On offense, the Mohawk receiving corps will be powered by seniors P.J. Adams, Dominic Zonfrelli, Andrew Brooks and Raymond Hilaire, and look for all four of them to start in the Mohawk secondary as well.

Millis also returns starting running back Kurt Hopkins, who doubles as a starting outside linebacker. With all that skill talent coming back, and an experienced quarterback, expect opposing defensive coordinators to have their hands full when preparing for the Mohawks' wide-open, yet balanced attack.

One area the Millis offense does lose experience is the offensive line, where four starters depart to graduation, including Peter Fallon, who is now pursuing his college football dreams at Villanova. Normally, returning only one starter along your offensive line would be a concern, but normal teams aren't bringing back one of the best offensive linemen in the country.

Standing 6-foot-8 and weighing 275 lbs, with scholarship offers from power programs across the country, sophomore Kevin Pyne may end up being the most decorated recruit the Commonwealth has seen in a generation. But the big left tackle, who is ranked as the No. 2 overall prospect in the country for 2020 by 247Sports, isn't quite thinking that far ahead.

"I don't really think about all that (hype) at this point," Pyne said. "I do realize that it puts a bigger target on my back, so that just means I have to work that much harder."

Next to Pyne, the Mohawks have a bevy of upperclassmen who all have the size and talent, though maybe not the experience quite yet. Olson expects his line's smallest player to be around 225 lbs, and has every confidence that this year's group will pick up where the last one left off. 

"I don't know why, but we've always had big kids here," Olson said. "We've been blessed. I don't know how long it will last for, but it's been seven years, and we just keep cycling them in and out. We'll take them while we can get em."

Indeed Millis has been very fortunate in the trenches recently, with Fallon and current Boston College center Jon Baker headlining past Mohawk lines. But very few players in the Millis program are afforded the luxury of being one-way specialists.

This season, Pyne will also play defensive end in Millis' three-man front. In the middle will be massive junior nose tackle Murrell Quashie, who tips the scales around 370 lbs at 6-foot-5. On the other side is senior end Ciaran Hourihan, who will also likely double as the team's starting right tackle on offense.

Behind that, uh, imposing front, will be senior middle linebacker Ryan Daniel, who is also penciled in as the team's new starting center, and the aforementioned quartet of staring receivers/defensive backs.

With a state title in their cap, a talented senior class, and one of the most decorated underclassmen in the country, you might think the Mohawks would be dreaming of Gillette already. But no, right now it's all about opening night against a Holliston program that has had their number.

"We're really focusing on Holliston this year," Latosek said of Millis' opening night opponents. "We haven't been able to beat them yet… It wasn't a fun one (last year), so we're hoping to get them back out here."

Millis opens up its title defense at home on September 8th against Holliston, a match up that is quickly becoming one of the best early season games in the state.

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