This summer, I started working with the varsity football head coach, Taylor Allen, on video coverage of the football team, starting with a “Hard Knocks” style series on the team and eventually gameday coverage. We have decided to call it Gonk Knocks (Gonk being short for Algonquin). Below is Episode 1, along with my voiceover recap of the first day of football activity at Algonquin, August 17th. Since this is the series premiere, I have decided to release two episodes at once. Click here for Episode 2.
Note: This episode exceeded the free YouTube limit of 15 minutes, so it has been split into 2 parts.
The Algonquin Tomahawks are the football team for my school, the Algonquin Regional High School of Northborough and Southborough, Massachusetts.
After a long summer, football is finally back, and for the T-Hawks, it all started today, August 17.
Today’s practice focused on fundamentals, conditioning, and cadence, skills that will be practiced in individual drills, 11 on 11 drills, and a unique running drill.
Last year was challenging for the T-Hawks, but head coach Taylor Allen and his brother and assistant head coach, Mark Allen, are optimistic that this year will be a good year. The coaching staff has noticed a new dynamic in the locker room and plenty of enthusiasm from the players. They have also implemented a new defense and made several other changes that they hope will make a difference.
The Allen brothers like to think of this year’s team as one big family, as their coaching staff is made up of guys that all know each other well. Head Coach Allen said at the parent-player info night, it’s all about the players having fun. He will hold the players to high standards but during this preseason he also wants them to build friendships and support each other.
This year the T-Hawks have a new motto that is written on the back of their practice jerseys, “Burn the Boats”.
It all originated from the story of Spanish explorer and conquerer Hernan Cortes.
The T-Hawks set the expectations for their players by presenting offensive and defensive goals to shoot for. After the meeting, the team was ready to get working.
The practice was scheduled to be held outside, but due to passing thunderstorms, they brought the team into the gym midway through practice. They still had plenty of work to do, and had an indoor plan knowing that the weather might not hold up.
Outside, they had worked on individual and positional drills. But once the team made their way inside, they began to practice their new playbook and cadence in 11 on 11 drills.
While it wasn’t perfect … it was a good day and the team accomplished a lot.
The 1st day had a focus on fundamentals.
This was only the first day of practice. The team did not even have their pads on. Yet this first practice was far from easy. The entire team put in a tremendous effort, and on Day 1, the coaching staff was already working the team hard setting the bar high for days to come.
On top of the hard work in 11 on 11 Drills, the players had to run up and down the gym at the end of practice while practicing their cadence and formation.
One major goal for the team this year was avoiding mental mistakes.
The team did see improvement, but Coach Allen made the whole team drop down for push-ups after a mental mistake during the running drills, sticking with the “Burn the Boats” philosophy.
After practice, the coaches had a few more things to say.
They also named four hard-working seniors the team captains: S and WR Sam Crain, LB and FB Burke Dion, DE Chris Santana, and QB Brendan Hermanspan.
I had the chance to speak with a couple of the captains (check out the interviews in the video above).
The Pirates play in the National Arena League (NAL), one of many Arena Football leagues across the country. The season takes place between April and August, ending right around the start of the NFL season. I’ve been to one Pirates game earlier this year when they played the Maine Mammoths back in May, so I knew that although Arena Football has many differences from NFL football, it was still very exciting.
Arena football is an 8 on 8 game. There are no designated running backs, but offensive linemen will sometimes run the ball. Typically, the starting offense is made up of a QB, three wide receivers, and four offensive linemen. The defense typically has three defensive linemen, two linebackers, and three defensive backs on the field. The Pirates fans are often called the 9th man, because like the Seahawks in the NFL, they are the league’s loudest fans. The game is played on a 50-yard field rather than a 100-yard field and is often played in hockey stadiums. Players will often be pushed into the boards which is considered out of bounds, but sometimes wide receivers dive over the boards to make catches and if they do, it’s considered a completion. The downsized field makes for much higher scoring. Although the uprights are narrower, kickers can often make it through the uprights on a kickoff from the opposite end zone, scoring what is often called a “deuce”, worth two points. The smaller field also makes it so nobody ever punts. On fourth down, teams will either go for it or go for a field goal.
The 10-5 Pirates were scheduled to play the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks, the worst team by win-loss record in the NAL. They had not won a game all season long, and they were 0-14 going into this game, their final game of the regular season. The game was held at the DCU Center in Worcester, the home of the Massachusetts Pirates. The stadium also currently hosts the Worcester Railers, the ECHL affiliate of the New York Islanders, and was formerly home to the Worcester Sharks (now the San Jose Barracuda), the San Jose Sharks’ AHL affiliate.
We all made score predictions on our way to the game:
We arrived at the game, bought some pizza, popcorn, and soft drinks, and took our seats. Before the game, the Pirates welcomed members of the Special Olympics of Massachusetts team, who were attending the game.
The game began and the Pirates got off to a fast start after the Steelhawks won the toss and deferred. Pirates QB Sean Brackett was out with a sprained ankle but QB Darron Thomas was doing a good job filling in. He completed a deep pass to WR Lavon Pearson to get the Pirates close to the end zone. A Pirates o-lineman ran in the TD to put the Pirates up 7-0. Steelhawks kicker Spencer Hotaling was off to a rough start. He attempted a “deuce” on the opening kickoff and missed. He also missed in a Steelhawks FG attempt, but the Pirates defense had shut down Lehigh Valley quickly in their first drive, making for a difficult kick. Despite a nice catch by WR Charles McClain, the Steelhawks were shut down again in their next drive, and Spencer Hotaling’s field goal attempt was blocked.
The Pirates scored another TD on a huge catch by WR Mardy Gilyard. He was being covered very closely by the defense, yet he still scored. Although Pirates K Ali Mourtada missed the extra point, he scored a “deuce” on the kickoff, making it 15-0 Massachusetts.
To start the 2nd quarter, Lavon Pearson made a catch that set the Pirates up to score another touchdown.
The Pirates scored another one soon after on a one-handed catch by Lavon Pearson. The Steelhawks did not make much progress offensively in the 2nd quarter, and they were so far behind that they had to start going for it every time on 4th down. With little time left in the half, the Pirates had one more scoring opportunity. Darron Thomas had one long pass that was deflected into the stands but completed a long pass on the next down to make it 1st and goal for the Pirates. The Pirates tried to eat some clock before scoring in order to make sure the Steelhawks did not get another chance before the half. But they lost the ball in a fumble, losing the opportunity to score. However, they were up 29-0 at halftime. The Steelhawks nearly scored on a nice pass just before the half but failed.
During the half, I enjoyed a mini football game between the Worcester Police Department and the Worcester Fire Department. More fans were rooting for the fire department but it ended in 14-14 tie. Here is some video I took of this mini-game:
The Pirates scored another pair of touchdowns in the third quarter. They scored one on a fumble by Steelhawks QB Patrick Ryan that was recovered for a TD by RJ Roberts, and the other on a deep pass to Lavon Pearson. Ali Mourtada scored a deuce after that one to make it 44-0 Pirates. Mardy Gilyard scored another TD just minutes into the 4th. Here is Gilyard’s TD:
The Steelhawks scored their only TD of the game by recovering their own fumble. The ball was nearly recovered by two Pirates players but found its way into the end zone, where Jason Johnson recovered it for the TD. The Pirates scored 2 more touchdowns before the end of the game. Lavon Pearson scored on a long ball to make it 58-7 Pirates, and another Pirates TD was scored when Spencer Hotaling missed a long field goal that Pirates DB John Hardy-Tulieau returned for the touchdown. Mourtada made one more deuce to make the final score Pirates, 67, Steelhawks, 7. My dad came the closest to predicting the score but we all overestimated the Steelhawks offense.
The Pirates, who finished the season 11-5, will play at home in the NAL semifinals next week. They will host either the #3 seed, the Carolina Cobras, or the #4 seed, the Columbus Lions. It all depends on whether the Jacksonville Sharks beat the Maine Mammoths tonight. If the Sharks win, the Pirates are the #2 seed and play Carolina. Otherwise, the Pirates are the #1 seed and host Columbus. The Steelhawks missed the playoffs after a 0-15 finish.
After the game, they allowed fans to walk onto the field for an autograph and photo session. Paul and I took plenty of pictures on the field, some of them with Pirates players. I gave the players and a couple fans my business card as well. Paul got his Pirates football signed by all the players we took photos with.
I even met Special Olympic powerlifter Joe Morrill, Team Massachusetts’ only powerlifter at the USA Games, on the field. He had his USA Games medals with him. He won two golds (combo and deadlift) and two silvers (bench press and squat). He had roomed with Tyler Lagasse in Marlborough before. Speaking of Tyler, I am meeting with him and his family at APEXtomorrow to celebrate his silver medal win at the USA Games, where I will go live on Facebook with Tyler and compete with him in simulation golf, go-kart races, Olympic bubble hockey, candlepin bowling, and other games.
I had a great time at the Pirates’ final game of the season. Arena football is fast-paced and very exciting. The rule differences from the NFL give football fans a nice indoor viewing experience during the NFL offseason. I’d like to thank Ann Fidrych, Jessica Fidrych, and the Mark Fidrych Foundation for making this amazing experience possible.
Today, I had the opportunity to spend a day at Patriots training camp as a member of the press, shadowing Patriots radio play-by-play announcer and Patriots.com Beat Reporter Bob Socci. I first met Bob at the NFL Kickoff event with the Patriots broadcast team, held at Mr. Sid last year. (Note: I will be going back to a similar event on September 6th).
Bob learned about the work I had done as a sports blogger and offered to help me by inviting me to Patriots training Camp with him.
Before Practice Began: “Pre-Game” Videos and Fan Experience
I arrived a little bit early so I could do a live stand-up in front of Gillette Stadium and also conduct some interviews with fans.
First, I interviewed a long-time Pats fan named Jan. She meets a friend at Gillette every year who gives her the insight on the players at Patriots training camp.
After that, I interviewed Arjun, a 6th grader from Philadelphia who likes the Patriots so much that his parents decided to make the trip north this year. He was very excited to see the team live for the first time.
Many young fans like Arjun also had the opportunity to take advantage of Fan Experience activities held around the practice fields. My Dad further explored some of the activities while I was with Bob and the rest of the media.
They had football activities where they tracked your performance and created a Player Profile. Jimmy from the Patriots staff was really nice and created my card with Pat Patriot’s stats.
There were also a number of booths with give-aways for participating in small games like mini-golf skee ball and photo opportunities like the one with my dad.
Becoming Official Pats Media Member for the Day
Bob Socci met me soon after my interviews in front of the stadium. I said goodbye to my dad and Bob took me to go get my press pass.
We walked to the other side of the stadium and went through media security there. After I gave them my name and affiliation, they handed me my press pass.
All media members received a detailed Patriots preseason roster and media guidelines from the media security table to help us learn about who we were covering and what coverage was permitted and when.
On my way to the media tent, Bob explained a few things to me about the training camp roster:
Since there are many players on the roster and the roster is not finalized, there may be pairs of players who share a number
Rookies wear numbers based on when they were drafted during training camp and their camp numbers do not usually correspond with their position. The team’s first draft pick, T Isaiah Wynn wears #50, their second pick, RB Sony Michel wears #51, their third pick, CB Duke Dawson wears #52, and so on. For the regular season they receive new numbers.
During training camp, quarterbacks wear red while the rest of the offense wears white and the defense wears blue. On the roster, offensive players who share a number with defensive players (and vice versa) have (o) for offense or (d) for defense next to their name.
Bob also mentioned that during camp, there would only be a 10-20 minute session for media to take photos and videos, and that no tweeting was allowed during camp for media members. We were allowed to take notes during the no photo/video portions of practice.
Bob told me that after practice the media guidelines would be more flexible. The only major rules were to stay within certain interviewing boundaries and not take any photos or video of players with their families without permission.
Before practice began, Bob introduced me to the vice president of media relations at training camp, Stacey James, as well as fellow media member Jim McBride. I also had time to catch up with ESPN Patriots beat reporter Mike Reiss, who I had met earlier in the week at Sports Broadcasting Camp. I also met a friend of Bob’s, Steve Yood, along with his sons Alex and Josh.
Watching Practice from the Media Tent
Practice started about 5 minutes after we arrived at the media tent. During practice, I also met Marc Cappello of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Josh Brogadir of WCVB, and Steve Atkinson of Boston Sports Extra. They were surprised to see someone my age in the media tent. Some of them told me what they did at my age and how they wished they had started earlier.
The Patriots practice began with some warm-ups. The team stretched, jogged a little bit, and threw the ball around. Afterwards they began a walk-through of some plays they would use later in 11 on 11 drills.
Positional drills began after the walk-through portion practice. This was the portion of practice when the media photo and video session took place. Offensive lineman competed 1 on 1 against defensive lineman, wide receivers caught balls from a receiving coach, and quarterbacks stayed together as well to take practice throws. During this time, PK Stephen Gostkowski practiced field goals. Here is some of my video coverage.
After the photo and video session ended, positional drills continued. The QBs began throwing to the receivers directly. Soon after that, they had the Pats secondary go 1 on 1 against receivers catching passes from QBs Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, and Danny Etling. The Pats ran a few more offense vs. defense practice plays before starting the 11 on 11 drills.
The Patriots alternated personnel during the 11 on 11 drills with quarterbacks Brady and Hoyer getting most of the reps at QB . Before practice ended, the Pats held a few more running drills on the hills around the field. Then, for most of the team, practice ended. A few guys, including Danny Etling, put in a little extra work after the full team practice.
Some of my Observations from Day 4 of Patriots Training Camp
Keep an eye out for Phillip Dorsett and Jacob Hollister
I kept a tally of Brady’s ball distribution during a couple of his drills, and his most frequent target during those drills was Dorsett. Dorsett had an especially strong catch on a deep pass from Brady during the offensive walk-through. Hollister had a nice jumping catch in the end zone that Brian Hoyer threw to him during 11 on 11 drills.
Patriots RBs could be a big part of the offense again this season
Brady wasn’t just throwing to receivers and tight ends today. Brady, Hoyer, and Etling all participated in a drill where they threw short passes to RBs including James White and Pats 2018 2nd draft pick from the first round, Sony Michel. Michel caught a short pass at the 30 yard line and took it to the house during 11 on 11 drills.
After practice, I was happy to see Meredith Gorman who I worked with last summer at the Boston Herald. Meredith, now with Patriots.com, conducted a 1 on 1 interview with Michel.
Great to see Julian Edelman back on the field
I enjoyed seeing Tom Brady connecting with WR Julian Edelman for the first time since Super Bowl LI. Even though he is suspended for the first four games, Edelman missed the entire season last year and now he is back and seems ready to play and make more amazing catches like the one that most remember as “the catch” from the Pats 5th Super Bowl win. Edelman looked like his old self out there making some good plays along with Pats newcomer WR Jordan Matthews. Other pass catchers I liked seeing were TE Rob Gronkowski and WR Chris Hogan. Gronk had a catch deep up the seam even though he was tightly covered, which is one reason Pats fans love watching him.
Brian Hoyer had some good end zone connections
I watched all 3 of the Pats quarterbacks perform today but the QB I was most impressed with was Brian Hoyer. Hoyer made successful end zone connections on his first two passes, including a great throw to Jacob Hollister in the corner of the end zone.
Don’t Discount New England secondary
Even though one of last year’s starting CB and Super Bowl XLIX hero Malcolm Butler signed with the Titans in the offseason, I still believe that Pats will have a good secondary. For example, today I saw CB Stephon Gilmore break up several pass plays in 1 on 1 coverage against Julian Edelman, nearly intercepting one pass thrown by Tom Brady. Rookie and Pats 2018 #3 draft pick CB Duke Dawson also came close to picking off Brady while covering Phillip Dorsett.
Trey Flowers was back at practice with bandage on forehead
Flowers returned to practice after leaving yesterday with an ice pack on his head. In other injury news, Jordan Matthews left today’s practice with an unknown injury, and CB Keion Crossen (back) and RB Mike Gillislee (unknown) did not practice. Bob Socci told me that WR Kenny Britt, CB Cyrus Jones, CB Jonathan Jones, and WR Matthew Slater were on the PUP list. However, I did notice Britt participating in warm-ups. According to the official training camp roster, WRs Darren Andrews and Cody Hollister are on the Reserve/NFI list.
After Practice: Media Session and Tour
After practice ended, Bob and I headed to the designated player interview zone. I watched some of the interviews. Bob Socci conducted a stand-up recap with Megan O’Brien as they discussed their own observations from the day. Some of the topics he mentioned in the interview were things we talked about in the media tent together during the practice:
James White, Sony Michel, RB Rex Burkhead, T Trent Brown, DE Derek Rivers, and QB Brian Hoyer were among those interviewed. Although he didn’t stop for interviews, I did see Gronk walk by, as well as a few other players like Phillip Dorsett and Dont’a Hightower. I also saw the McCourty twins with all their family on the field. I think it is really cool that after many years on different teams they will now play on the same team and they seem to be enjoying camp together.
Nobody was interviewed at the podium today like Tom Brady was yesterday. This area is primarily used for interviews with star players like Brady and Rob Gronkowski.
In between and after the media interviews, I met some media members including Levan Reid of WBZ, Joe Gallant of WNRI (a radio station in Providence), and Megan O’Brien of Patriots.com. I also said hello to patriots.com’s Meredith Gorman and the Boston Herald’s Meghan Ottolini.
After the post practice interviews were over, Bob took me inside Gillette Stadium so I could see the media area. He showed me the TV studio where Patriots All Access is aired. The studio was filled with football helmets on the shelves and Patriots logos all around. Bob mentioned he hosts a show with Scott Zolak in the studio next door. We also walked by the game day media workroom, the writing rooms for various newspapers and blogs, and the weekday press conference room which was the biggest room of them all.
In total, I spent about 4 hours with Bob today and feel like I learned so much about covering the Patriots. In addition, I saw so much from the media’s point of view. It was truly incredible and surreal at times.
I’d like to thank Bob Socci and Stacey James for making this experience possible for me. I’d also like to thank all the media members who spent the time to talk to me and give me tips on sports reporting.
If there was only one thing I could say to describe the current state of the USA Games Level V Golf Tournament, it would be that this is still anybody’s game. The Flutie Foundation sponsored golfers, Tyler Lagasse and Scott Rohrer, came to Seattle as the heavy favorites to win gold and silver medals, and Scott is currently leading the tournament by seven strokes. But Peter Condon of Washington, Brock Aoki of Utah, and Thomas Cleek of Missouri among other golfers have challenged Tyler and Scott through 2 days on a course with greens playing very fast causing many 3-putts and few 4-putts.
Peter Condon is currently in 2nd (+22) after shooting an 82 (+11) in both rounds. Tyler Lagasse is tied for 3rd with Thomas Cleek, and Brock Aoki is in 5th after starting Round 2 as the leader. However, Cleek, Lagasse, and Aoki are all within two strokes of 2nd place.
Unlike Day 1, Tyler and Scott were not paired up. Tyler was paired with Tony Marino, and they started on Hole 3. Scott started on Hole 2 with Chris Lussier and Thomas Cleek.
Despite facing more putting challenges than yesterday, Tyler Lagasse did well again today, shooting an 86. “There were some putts that just didn’t break the way I wanted them to and other times it was just a case of the yips” (Tyler Lagasse). He had some very strong moments, like his birdie on the par 5 hole 11, and an excellent par save on Hole 18, which he said was his best hole.
On hole 18, his drive did not reach the fairway but he made 2 great shots to reach the green in 3 shots despite the long yardage he had to make up on the long and difficult 566 yard par 5 hole.
Tyler did have some very nice drives and had little difficulty sticking the green when he needed to. He pulled out the driver more often, trying to play more aggressively than yesterday. I asked him why he used his driver more and he said, “I just had to be aggressive, I was getting a little bit emotional, I just wanted to push myself to be the best I can possibly be.”
Scott Rohrer played even better than he did in round 1, shooting a 76 (+5) to take the tournament lead. In response to my question about how he thinks he did today vs. yesterday, he said, “I played a lot better than yesterday, I’ve improved somehow over the past day.” He was very consistent, making par on each of the first three holes. Like Tyler, he birdied the 11th. However, he has no doubt in his mind that his best hole was hole 1, which due to the shotgun start on hole 2, he actually ended his round on hole 1. He had a huge drive on the 386 yard par 4 that nearly landed the green in one. He says it was his longest drive in the two tournaments he has played at Willows Run.
For some video footage from the day, including my stand-up live from Willows Run and my interviews with Tyler Lagasse and Scott Rohrer, see below:
Although Scott Rohrer has a 7-stroke lead, we have learned from this week to expect the unexpected and that the leaderboard can shuffle around very quickly. Someone who is in 4th or 5th right now could be the leader in their division by the end of the final round on the 4th of July. Who will take home the gold? Will Scott hold on to the lead for his third straight gold medal at the USA Games, or will Tyler or someone else catch him?
It was cold and damp as the golfers waited in their carts to begin. The carts were used to speed up pace of play. Tyler won the toss to tee off first.
Both Tyler and Scott bogied on the first hole as their nerves seemed still high for the start of the tournament. They both bounced back in Hole 2, with Tyler just missing a birdie and Scott making one from a couple feet away.
One of Scott’s most challenging holes was the Par 4 3rd hole. He took a penalty stroke for hitting out of bounds but recovered with a solid 2-putt to finish the hole.
Both parred the 4th hole with each of them coming within a foot of a birdie on 10 foot or more putts.
On hole 5, Tyler just missed par but still gained a stroke on Scott, who just missed his bogey putt.
On the 7th hole par 3, Scott came within inches of a birdie off a putt of over 20 feet and then Tyler’s par putt almost rimmed out but went in.
Hole 8 was shortened to Par 3 and they both parred, but it was their partner, Travis Curtis from Maine that dazzled on the Par 3 9th with a near hole in one.
On hole 11, both Tyler and Scott had chances for eagles with very long drives and solid shots with Scott landing on the green in 2 and Tyler on the back fringe. Tyler’s eagle shot got him within 10 feet but on his birdie attempt he rolled past the hole by a few inches. Scott’s birdie attempt reached the lip of the hole. A good hole for both golfers and the start of a strong back 9 stretch for Scott as he played 1 over for the final 8 holes.
Hole 12 was a very strange hole as Travis Curtis called for a rules official as his ball appeared to land in a divot-like hole on the green. Then there was a loud plane soaring over us as well. Tyler 4 putted the hole for a double bogey but then picked up his play and went 2 over on the last 6 holes.
On 13, all three golfers hit strong off the tee and landed within feet of each other. On Tyler’s second shot he landed at the very back of the green. Tyler’s putting came back strong when he hit a 50 foot putt within inches of the hole almost making a birdie and tapped in for par as did Scott.
On 14, Scott made a very exciting 20 foot putt for birdie, pumping his fist as the ball dropped in the hole. Tyler had a 3 foot birdie putt lip out of the hole after a tremendous tee shot but had to settle for a par tap in.
On 15 and 16, the tee shots of Tyler and Scott landed really close like they had on 13. Their scores were close too, as Scott had par and a bogey and Tyler was close to matching it, just missing a par putt on 16 to go bogey and par.
Hole 17 is Eagle’s Talon signature hole. It’s a par 3 over a lot of water and the tee was moved up. The green has 3 levels making putting difficult. Travis Curtis had his birdie putt just missed from 10 feet go in and out of the hole. Scott and Tyler each had very long putts for birdie and left themselves about 3 feet on either side of the hole. All 3 golfers got par.
The long par 5 18th hole was an adventure for all 3 golfers starting with Tyler’s tee shot got a lucky bounce off the cart path to avoid landing in a hazard area. Travis Curtis ended up with a 9 after getting in trouble with the water. In the end, both Tyler and Scott had 1 foot putts to end the round with a par but Scott’s putt just lipped out. Still, both golfers finished strong and within 2 strokes of each other. They hope to carry their momentum into tomorrow.
After the first round, Tyler Lagasse and Scott Rohrer are 2nd and 3rd on the Special Olympics USA Level V Golfer leaderboard. I had the chance to talk to both Tyler and Scott moments after they signed their scorecard. Even though my cameraman (my dad Ken) had his first technical difficulty with one of my interviews, the audio came through for you to enjoy. I also had the chance to quickly speak to the Round 1 Leader, Brock Aoki.