AYER -- A year after going through a name change due to regionalization, the Ayer-Shirley football team is undergoing a change in leadership. Gone is Jamie Lamoreaux after serving a long second stint as head coach and in is Jay Rivers, a Panther alum who will look to guide his former school to future success on the gridiron.
"I have been an assistant coach here before and always have had a spot in my heart for this school," said Rivers. "When I heard the head coaching job opened up, I immediately applied for it and knew it was something I really wanted. Now that I am here, I am looking forward to the challenge of continuing the program that Coach Lamoreaux built up while putting my own touches on it."
The key to the season for Ayer-Shirley will rest on the offensive and defensive lines, which contain two of the team's captain. Seniors Luke Snyder and Nick Guthiel will need to be key contributors in order for the Panthers to have success this season.
"Luke will most likely start at right tackle for us but could also see time at center on offense," said Rivers. "On defense, he will play end and he has a motor that doesn't stop. At this point, Luke is going to be on the field for nearly every snap and uses his aggressiveness on both sides of the ball to his advantage. I am really expecting a big year from him.
"Nick stands 6-foot 4 inches and 275 pounds and will play left guard and defensive tackle. He is extremely strong and does a great job of staying
Rounding out the lines are juniors Anthony Burwell (left guard/defensive tackle), Muauu Pau (right tackle/defensive end) and Sean Weatherbee (center). "Anthony has had an outstanding pre-season and displayed a great attitude and work ethic," said Rivers. "He has been a man amongst boys on both lines so far and we feel that Anthony has a chance to have an outstanding year as anchor for us.
"Muauu is a hard worker and has had a great camp and is really doing a nice job of picking up the schemes on both sides of the ball. He is an aggressive blocker and is not afraid to hit. Muauu transferred over from Nashoba Tech and has fit right in with us. Sean picked up some varsity experience last year and has done some solid work in our new offense. His work ethic is very strong and he does a nice job of setting up our blocking from the center position."
In the backfield, junior captain Zack Walker will get the start at quarterback and freshmen Owen Carpenter and Josh Elysee will both see time art running back. "Zak has shown a good control of the offense early on and does a good job of making reads in both the passing and running games," said Rivers. "He has a strong, accurate arm and fits the mold of a spread-option quarterback quite well.
"Owen is more of a downhill runner while Josh is quick and shifty. They both have good hands and are threats to catch balls out of the backfield. In addition to his role at running back, Josh will start at a safety spot and has shown a knack for making the right reads and getting to the ball."
The Panthers offense features four wide receivers who also will all start on the defensive side of the ball. Junior Ryan Richard (linebacker), sophomores Alex Walker (safety) and Tyler Mayo (cornerback) and freshman Daniel Goldstein (cornerback) will be the targets for Zak Walker when Ayer-Shirley goes to the air.
"Ryan is a big target with good hands who is extremely athletic and is a big threat in our passing game," said Rivers. "Last year, Ryan was injured for most of the season, but has looked very good early on. At linebacker, he covers a lot of ground and is efficient covering the pass and defending the run.
"Alex is explosive and can break a big play at any time. Defensively, he is like a coach on the field who is extremely smart and knowledgeable. His communication on the defensive side has been outstanding and he we expect big things out of him. Tyler is not that big, but he plays big. He is extremely coachable and does a great job blocking downfield. Daniel plays like a senior despite being just a freshman. He has great hands and has done an outstanding job of adjusting to the speed of the game. Daniel has a chance to have a solid career."
Two juniors will get the start at linebacker for Ayer-Shirley to round out their defense. Justin Felix will get the nod at middle linebacker while Kyle Levensailor will start outside. "Justin has been a big surprise for us so far as he went from not even on the depth chart to our starting mike," said Rivers. "He is a perfect fit at middle linebacker with is footwork and physical play. Justin is always improving and his work ethic is outstanding.
"Kyle will start at linebacker but also will see some time at wide receiver. He played defensive end last year but has adjusted quickly to the linebacker spot. He is a high energy kid who plays physical and smart football."
Also looking to contribute as the season plays out is senior Mike Montoya (linebacker), sophomores Bobby Lawton (offensive/defensive line), Kevin Lewis (receiver/defensive back) and freshman D.J. Richard (offensive/defensive line).
"Mike is small but plays big and is an extremely physical player," said Rivers. "Bobby is aggressive and works very hard on both sides of the ball. Kevin is a smart player that definitely will see time this year at cornerback. D.J. has a great off-season and brings energy and knowledge to both lines."
Going into the season Rivers knows what his team needs to be successful. "We are going to go as far as our offensive and defensive lines take us," said Rivers. "I like the collection of skill players we have, but we have limited depth in the trenches. If we can stay healthy and continue to improve, I think we can be a factor for a post-season spot."