The good news for the Latin Academy football team is that they are returning all of their skill position players just one season after they made their first Super Bowl appearance in 19 years.
The bad news is that the Dragons — who went 7-3 last year before losing to Nantucket 35-7 in the Division 5 Super Bowl — graduated every single offensive lineman, tackle to tackle.
“That’s one of our big losses this year is our line,” quarterback Kyle Dance said. “We need the young guys to step up from JV and work hard in practice. In practice, everybody is on the lineman and the wide receivers. We keep each other in check, work hard and look out for each other.”
Fifth-year Latin Academy coach Rocco Zizza said he never worried about losing his entire line because he would rather have speed over size. He said it’s easier to teach players to block than it is to teach them how to handle the ball.
“There’s a difference between blocking and shielding,” Zizza said. “We have speed guys so they don’t necessarily have to hold the block as long, so it will help us that way. Again, I’ll take speed over size. If you lose speed it’s tough to make up speed. There’s no substitute for speed but there is a substitute for size.”
It also helps that the offensive line will be blocking for senior running back Ernest Kellough, who led the division with nine touchdowns last year.
And Dance, who scored 19 total touchdowns last season, said losing to Nantucket in last year’s Super Bowl was an invaluable experience that they can build on for this season.
“It was a good experience, especially facing a good team like Nantucket, I learned a lot from that game,” said Dance, who added that attending a 7-on-7 passing league at Reading High this summer helped him improve his mechanics and ability to read defenses.
“I improved a lot this summer so hopefully it will show in my game.”
Losing its line was not the only major loss for the Dragons this year. They also lost their practice field, Playstead Park in Dorchester, which is being renovated. Instead, the team has to be bused to Garvey Park about five or six miles from the school.
“We have to start practice later because it takes half hour to 45 minutes to get to practice,” Zizza said. “Once we’re there there’s no facilities, no water, no storage, no bathrooms. Other than being a field there’s actually nothing else there. It is going to be difficult for us.”
Dance said it’s actually not so bad because most of the players live closer to the new field.
“Getting there, it’s easier for some people and harder for some so it’s not that bad,” said the West Roxbury resident.
Learning how to block on the new practice field, however, won’t be any easier or harder for the new lineman.
And Zizza said the incoming linemen are at least as talented as the outgoing linemen.
“The difference between a good line and a great line is work ethic so that’s a key issue,” Zizza said. “The seniors from last year were great, they weren’t a truly athletic class but what they did, they figured out the three keys to be successful, hard work, hard work and hard work. They showed up with a good attitude. They were consistently there and they were never late.”
If they can fill the missing piece to their puzzle, Latin Academy has a shot at making it back to the Super Bowl this fall.
“It was a building block, it wasn’t the end of something,” Zizza said of going to the Super Bowl. “Hopefully it is the beginning of something else.”
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