Aug. 31—Graduation may have hit the defending Merrimack Valley Conference Division 1 champion Andover High football team hard, but don't tell this fall's edition they're underdogs.
The Golden Warriors are ready to battle and contend again.
"I know I speak for the entire team by saying we are all excited and pumped for the upcoming season!" said star Warriors linebacker Brian McSweeney. "Our seniors have led the way this summer with team lifts, field/speed work and 7 on 7's. Everyone is committed and working hard to get better. We want to demonstrate that on the field this fall."
The Golden Warriors are currently hard at work in the preseason, preparing for their Sept. 8 season-opener, when they welcome Shrewsbury to Eugene V. Lovely field (7 p.m.)
"We have a really special team this year," said senior quarterback John Enman. "We are focused, determined, and full of support and belief in each other. I am confident that all of the hard work and dedication that we put in during the offseason will soon pay off."
Sure, Andover lost a slew of talent off the 2022 squad that finished 10-1, won the MVC Division 1 title and advanced to the Division 1 quarterfinals, falling to eventual state champ St. John's Prep. The losses include four-year starters QB Scotty Brown and running back Lincoln Beal, along with offensive lineman Jason Osborne and receiver/defensive back/kicker Andrew Wetterwald.
But this year's team feels ready to overcome the losses.
"The 2023 version of the Golden Warriors football program is filled with optimism," said coach E.J. Perry. "The Andover ballers are up for any challenge, returning 14 starters from last year's MVC champion team and are star studded at the key positions. Practice has been intense and we're pumped for the home opener."
While Andover is generally known for its explosive offense, the Golden Warriors' defense appears ready to open eyes and shut down opponents.
Perry called defensive back/defensive end Brian Hnat, "the most intriguing player in the state" after a stellar offseason. The 6-foot-5, 210-pounder — who also plays receiver — turned in 36 tackles, an interception and 11 passes defended last fall.
"The team and I are really fired up for the upcoming season!" said Hnat. "Everyone has been working hard in the off season. We have a lot of returning starters who have lots of experience and have set a great example for the younger players. I have very high expectations for this group of guys, and I am very excited to help lead this team to a winning season."
A massive presence on the defense will be tackle machine McSweeney. Last year as a junior, he led the Golden Warriors in total tackles (108) and solo tackles (30) and was second in tackles for loss (6). He has already been offered by Bentley University.
Sammy Joseph is a three-year starter at linebacker, who made 51 tackles (15 solo) last fall. He's been offered by Pace and Saint Anselm. Defensive back Connor Acheson (70 tackles last fall), while a pair of sophomores have opened eyes, defensive lineman JC Aquino and defensive end Jackson Fuller.
On offense, the Golden Warriors will look to running back Dante Berger to take charge after seeing major varsity time as a freshman last season. Berger rushed for 223 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries, while catching eight passes for 127 yards and two more scores.
"Dante is a Division 1 college prospect, said Perry.
The offensive line is expected to be a major strength for Andover, led by 6-foot-2, 215-pound Ryan Zannoni. He'll be joined on the line by Liam Finn, Jamyl Figuroa, Brady Carlson and promising sophomore Jake Medeiros.
The only returning player to throw a pass last season was Enman, who completed all three of his attempts for 59 yards and a touchdown.
"We have a lot of returning, experienced talent, as well as some exciting new players on our roster who I am confident will quickly make names for themselves," said Enman. We're all very excited for this season to start!"
Some of the toughest opponents on the schedule will be at 2022 Division 1 semifinalist Methuen on Sept. 29 and at perennial rival and fellow 2022 Division 1 semifinalist Central Catholic Oct. 20 — both teams Andover beat last season — along with hosting traditional Mass. power Brockton on Oct. 6 and hosting defending MVC Division 2 champ Billerica on Oct. 27.
"We have eight starters returning on defense and I expect us to set the tempo for the team," said McSweeney. "Even with changes in the backfield, our offense should dominate. We are really focused on preparing for our first game against Shrewsbury. Let's go Warriors!"