TOWNSEND -- In order to walk, you must crawl first.
Over the past couple of years, the rebuilding of the North Middlesex football program has been slowly making progress under Sandy Ruggles in his second stint as coach. The Patriots will look to go from a walk to a run this year as a solid group of returning starters mixed with some new faces has created a positive outlook for the 2012 season.
"Right now, the goal is to continue building up the program and taking steps in the right direction every day and every game," said assistant coach Paul Giacobbe. "We want to be competitive in every game and build toward getting this program back to what it has been in the past."
Guiding North Middlesex this season will be a trio of senior captains: Brandon Lambert (running back/cornerback), Ben Ferro (linebacker/receiver) and Bryan Croteau (linebacker/receiver) will all key in the Patriots' success this season.
"Brandon ran for over 1,000 yards last season and has great breakaway speed, making him a threat to break a big play at any time," said Giacobbe. "He is a leader by example and really has an outstanding work ethic. Brandon is the featured back in our offense. We are really expecting big things from him this season.
"Ben is a smart player who uses his aggression to his advantage on defense. He is our coach on the field and will call out plays on defense. On offense, he is an excellent blocker and runs solid routes on the outside. Bryan will start
Joining Lambert in the backfield is sophomore quarterback John Boutwell. "Last season, John gained a lot of experience as he started 10 games for us and showed great poise as a freshman," said Giacobbe. "John has a strong arm and is more of a pocket passer, but he can run when necessary. He is mature beyond his years and does a great job of staying in until the last second and delivering the ball."
Ferro will be joined at receiver by senior Joe Dolciotto and juniors Dylan Woods and Zack Varno. "Joe is going to start at receiver and safety for us and has great knowledge of our playbook on both sides of the ball," said Giacobbe. "He is a tough kid who is willing to do anything for the team. Joe is also versatile and will see time in the backfield as well for us.
"Dylan is going to start both ways, playing defensive end and has great size (6-foot two-inches, 210 pounds) and is very aggressive. He is very strong and does a nice job of attacking on defense. Zack is a steady receiver who possesses good hands and has really improved his blocking as the pre-season has moved along."
The offensive line, while undersized, has shown promise in the early going. Seniors Daegan Gray (left guard), Chris Tucker (right guard) and Matt Vallincourt (right tackle) along with juniors Joe Sullivan (left tackle) and Trevor Murphy (center) will be in the trenches for the Patriots this season.
"Daegan will play defensive tackle as well and has done a great job with his drive blocking along with being good on our pull plays," said Giacobbe. "He is a very smart player that has experience and will be a key for us this season.
"Chris also starts at defensive end and has all the tools to be a great lineman. He has the size (6-foot three inches, 240 pounds) and the footwork to be very good, but the key for him is staying healthy. Matt does a nice job of staying low and using his strength to open up holes. Joe has good feet and uses his athleticism to do a nice job of getting to the second level on plays. Trevor is a small lineman but is extremely intelligent, consistent and does a great job of setting up our protections."
Completing the starting line-up on defense are senior Justyn Atwood (linebacker) and juniors Zak Davis (linebacker) and Paul Naumann (tackle). "Justyn is a tough kid who does a great job of plugging the holes defensively," said Giacobbe. "He is fast and aggressive and does a nice job despite his small stature.
"Zak is a reliable player who knows his assignments and is always in the right place. Paul is very strong and has gained experienced over the last couple of years. He is very good at the point of attack and will also see time on the offensive line."
Fighting for playing time are senior Travers Chandler (line), junior Nate Deignan (OL/linebacker) and sophomores Matt Weatherall (quarterback/safety) and Tyler Zech (running back/defensive back). "Travers has good size and has shown he can play several spots on the line," said Giacobbe. "He is tough to move and will definitely see time as the year goes on.
"Nate is an athletic lineman who is extremely tough and has a great attitude. Matt is going to play a little bit of everywhere on offense and is an athletic player with all the tools to be very good. He is a leader who displays a confidence that comes from his intelligence. Tyler saw some time last year and is a solid player who uses his speed to his advantage."
With a solid stash of skill players, the hopes are in place that 2012 will be another step in the right direction. "We like what we have at receiver, running back and quarterback," said Giacobbe. "The line is coming along nicely and the attitude of the kids has been very good. We feel like we are moving towards our goals and think that we can have a solid season as long as we stay healthy."