NORTH ADAMS >> Friday marked the start of the fall sports season, as football practice began in Berkshire County. For some teams, beginning a new campaign brings a clean slate and renewed optimism as they look to improve from last season.
At Drury, the Blue Devils are trying to rebuild their program under second-year coach Seth Shepard. Last season started with an eight-game losing streak, before ending the season with wins against Smith Vocational and Dean Tech, respectively.
With another year of experience and a strong senior class, Shepard is hoping to turn last season's solid ending into positive momentum for the program.
"How we finished last year, we played some good games against tough teams," he said. "We got two evenly-matched schools and we won and we built confidence."
Playing similar sized schools was one point of emphasis in the new conference alignments. Drury is now in the Intercounty West division of the PVIAC along with Lee, Mount Greylock, McCann Tech and Mohawk.
Shepard said he expects to have a roster of about 36 players once the season starts. Down the road at McCann Tech, the Hornets have a slightly larger roster of about 40. McCann coach Bob LeClair said roster sizes are cyclical as populations change and more and more players specialize in one sport or stray away from football all together.
Both coaches seems happy to renew the rivalry between the two North Adams schools, and Shepard said avoiding the likes of Pittsfield, Taconic and Wahconah fits into where the program is competitively, at least for now.
"I'm torn," he said of the new alignments. "I played here and we played Berkshire County football. ... Berkshire County football is good, tough football. I'd love to say that we could still keep that, but as far as building a program and trying to keep things going for us, it does work out that we don't have to compete with some of the bigger schools, consistently, week-to-week."
Even with the new alignments, Drury plans to keep its rivalry with Hoosac Valley alive, with a game tentatively scheduled for Nov. 23.
Schedules, alignments and class size may seem like MIAA jargon, but the Blue Devils are aware of their chances in the new division. The group, led by senior captains Alex Griffis, Hayden Bird and Thaylen Harrison, are using last year's struggles to motivate them for the new season.
"We have a lot of seniors returning," Griffis said. "It's my third year as captain. Thaylen and Hayden, it's their second year. We've been together pretty much our whole high school careers.
"We're real close and we know what it's like to be on the grind and to be on a losing streak. But we know what it's like to win as a team and I can't wait to love the game and love the people I'm playing with."
The Blue Devils start the season with a tough road test against Frontier before returning home to face Pioneer Valley.
Shepard said he thinks the talent is in place for the team to show improvement, but it will take W's in the win column for the players to reach their full potential.
"We have athletes here, it's about the experience — the football IQ experience," he said. "I think if you get these kids momentum, you'll see them run with it. We have to start the season hot and roll with it."
Contact Akeem Glaspie at 413-496-6252