PAWTUCKET – The way Shea football coach Dino Campopiano looks at it, one of the most significant holes in his varsity roster for this upcoming campaign is at quarterback.
He had a lot of faith in Eric Palmer, his starting signal caller the past two years, and he calls that particular loss to graduation particularly distressing.
That, however, may have eased when Campopiano – amazingly entering his 24th year at the helm – discovered this past spring that All-State first-team hoopster Erickson Bans could be interested in taking over the vacant spot.
“We had talked about it at the end of the school year, but when he finally said, ‘Yeah, Coach, I’ll give it a shot,’ now that surprised me,” Campopiano admitted after a recent practice at Max Read Field. “He’s a very talented kid, but he’s battling for the starting job with (senior) Brian Mello.
“Neither one of them have played quarterback in a while; I guess they both played (QB) in youth football, so it’s going to be a learning curve for them,” he added. “They’re both a little stale, you can see it, but every day they’re getting better and better.
“Obviously, I wouldn’t call quarterback a weakness, but it is a point of interest because of the level of varsity inexperience. At the same tine, I’m confident either one of them could do the job.”
The Raiders will need a boost from their offense if they want to return to the Division I tourney; last fall, Shea finished the regular league campaign at 3-4 (in a three-way tie for fourth with Cumberland and Cranston East) and did snag a playoff berth, though lost in the quarterfinals to eventual D-I Bowl finalist Cranston West.
They finished at 6-4 overall.
Campopiano nevertheless believes this season could be different, and it’s not hard to see why.
He returns nine starters on both sides of the ball, and the first needs no introduction. Senior Jaylen Smith, a running back/corner, was selected an All-Division and All-State first-teamer for his extreme talents, and he will be joined by fellow seniors DeJuan Hayes (running back/strong safety), Ezekiel Vasquez (LT), Sedina Guy (RT/NT), Emanuel Lima (G/ILB), Malik Jackson (RB/OLB), Igdaliah Makor (ILB) and Tyreek McLain (DT).
Actually, his junior center, Justice Lotti, is coming back, too.
“Obviously, Jalen’s a very talented back,” the veteran coach said. “He has been offered a full ride to the University of Rhode Island, and he has given his verbal agreement.”
He also has a trio of players who saw limited varsity and/or extensive JV play a year ago, and they include junior Henrique Duarte (RB/LB), senior Davontay Vaz (WR/DB) and junior Tony Morgan (LB), the latter who Campopiano insisted is a hard worker.
“I will say it’s been a good off-season and summer camp,” he noted. “The kids have been working hard in the weight room and on the field, so I’m proud of them. We’ve got about 65 kids out, which is a good number.
“I think we’ve got some ‘O’ linemen back, which is always important; we’ve got some experience there, and the same goes for some skill guys, like Jalen,” he continued. “One of our problems is replacing out quarterback … but I’m confident either Erickson or Brian could do a good job under center. At defensive back, I think we’re a little shorthanded, and we have to fill some slots.
“Still, our goals never change; they haven’t in my 23 years here. It’s simply to get better every day, go out in a scrimmage or game and do absolutely the best you can. The guys have to have the mentality that every practice, every game, you play, you have to improve.
“Another one, though long-term, is to make the playoffs. It’s a long way off, but I feel we’re fully capable of doing that.”