Gridiron Magicians: A Look Back and Ahead After Resounding Victory Closes Season
By Dwight Robson, Marblehead Beacon Contributor
Disappointment may linger after the Marblehead High School football team came up short in their bid to win back-to-back Division 3 Super Bowls, but head coach Jim Rudloff and his players are pleased with the team’s performance on Thanksgiving Day and—with some time having passed since their playoff loss to the Milton Wildcats—able to reflect on their season as a success. (More player reflections can be seen here.) The Magicians kicked off their holiday by trouncing archrival Swampscott 48-7–the team’s tenth consecutive victory over the Big Blue.
After stating prior to the Thanksgiving game that his team had something to prove against Swampscott, Rudloff praised the players for their preparation leading up to the annual clash, which is typically both squads’ game of the year. “We had a chance to really fix some of the things we were doing poorly,” Rudloff said. “We had not been executing our offense efficiently and we addressed that.”
Several players interviewed pointed to the season’s final game as their favorite memory of the year, including junior JJ Pollender, who said, “Winning against Swampscott and being able to celebrate with the seniors one last time…was an unreal feeling.” Despite the big win on Thanksgiving, Rudloff and his players all carry with them regret about their failing to make a couple more plays in the narrow loss to the top-ranked Wildcats. “I think one of the dangers of having a championship season, as we did the previous year, is that players and coaches can be fooled into thinking that having some players back means that it can be done again through osmosis,” said Rudloff. “However, what happened a year ago was the result of a tremendous amount of hard work over Covid and the 2021 season by the players. I think we had a great season, but I wish we had been a bit more competitive in the second half vs. Milton.”
Senior standout Connor Cronin echoed his coach, telling Marblehead Beacon, “We had a very successful season. We went through some hard stuff, including injuries. We had some young guys step up. Unfortunately, it came down to one half that we decided not to play our best.”
Zander Danforth, a senior who missed several games due to a shoulder injury, expressed a similar sentiment. “I am very proud of what we accomplished this year, but we had higher expectations. We weren’t there in the beginning of the season, but the Peabody loss (which ended the Magicians’ 23-game winning streak) was a slap. We [went on] to play much better, but beat ourselves against Milton. That is the most frustrating loss of my career.”
Junior Christian Pacheco highlighted his team’s growth during the 2022 campaign. “At the beginning of this season, the team still had the mindset that we were state champs and were going to roll through the [opposition],” said Pacheco. “We had to get out of that mindset.”
Rudloff praised his large group of seniors, calling them all “great kids.” Asked if he could pinpoint a senior who stood out as a great teammate, Rudloff pointed to middle linebacker Aidan Tardie. “Usually, the seniors lead the direction of the program, the tempo of the practice, and the mood of the team,” he said. “The best example of this was Aidan. He set the tone on defense every practice, every game. Having someone like that on the field, sidelines, and locker room is invaluable.”
While pleased to hear those words of praise from his coach, Tardie immediately pointed to teammates worthy of similar accolades. “There are a lot of guys like me who don’t always make the newspaper but help to build the character of the team by leading for the young guys and pulling the team out of tough spots.”
Senior Alex Orloff, like his teammates, praised Rudloff, assistant coach Nick Broughton—whom he called “amazing”—and the entire coaching staff for putting the team in a position to succeed. “Coach Rudloff is easily the best coach I have ever had in any sport. His high expectations have humbled us, and he says the right things to motivate the team. The coaches have been the biggest factor in our success during my four years.”
With the winter sports season underway, many players who will return next season are already back in the weight room and thinking about the 2023 campaign. Senior Sam Annese is optimistic about the football Magicians’ ability to maintain a high standard of play.
“There are so many [good players]—too many to list—who will be seniors and juniors next year,” said Annese,” said Annese. “The coaching staff is one of the best in the state and they are staying together. The program is in great hands. If they stay humble, they should be a great squad.”
Junior quarterback Miles O’Neill, who will play basketball this winter but focus in the spring on getting stronger and sharpening his fundamentals in preparation for football, also likes the potential of next year’s team. “Losing Connor is tough, but we have lots of players returning who will have the experience of a season of football under their belts. We could be as good or better.”
Many players interviewed pointed to junior Chris DeWitt, who was a significant contributor to this year’s team on both sides of the ball, as one of many outstanding players who will be key to the team’s 2023 fortunes. While DeWitt is excited to play baseball in the spring, he is clearly looking forward to a return to the gridiron next fall. “We have some spots to fill on offense and defense, but the skill is there. I love the guys in my class, and the coaching staff couldn’t be better.”
Like the good coach that he has proven to be, Rudloff appears focused on ensuring his squad remains humble this offseason. “It’s difficult to look ahead,” he said. “We have some idea of who is back based on grade and age, but really no idea who is willing to put the work in. No one is guaranteed their job back.”
Pacheco sounds like he is up for the challenge. The junior said he plans to begin his off-season training next week, returning to the weight room and ramping up his running and agility work.“I can’t wait to play next year,” he said.
Summing up the pride of Marblehead football, Cronin, who was first called up to the varsity squad toward the end of his freshman year and started for the first time that year on Thanksgiving Day, made it clear that he is happy to have worn a Marblehead uniform. “People tried to draw me to other schools, but I never really gave it a thought,” said Cronin. “I wanted to stay with my family and friends. I don’t understand kids who leave Marblehead. I would do it again.”