EPHS begins abbreviated football season

Townies take the field with new coach, several new faces

By Mike Rego
Posted 3/23/21

EAST PROVIDENCE — Delayed six months due to ongoing COVID-19 pandemic health and safety measures implemented by the state and the Rhode Island Interscholastic League, the 2020-21 term high …

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EPHS begins abbreviated football season

Townies take the field with new coach, several new faces


EAST PROVIDENCE — Delayed six months due to ongoing COVID-19 pandemic health and safety measures implemented by the state and the Rhode Island Interscholastic League, the 2020-21 term high school football season is finally ready to kick off this week, including for the East Providence High School squad.

Much is new about the latest edition of the Townies, pretty much from top to bottom.

Jon Stringfellow, a member of the legendary EPHS clan, takes over as head coach. For Stringfellow, a school alum and former player, it marks a return to the program. He was last an assistant coach here on Sandy Gorham’s staff in 2001. He went on to several championship seasons as head coach of the Bishop Hendricken freshmen team. With the younger Stringfellow in place, it’s the first time a namesake is the head coach of Townies’ football since his father Bill ended his Hall of Fame career back in 1988.

“It’s a work in progress,” Stringfellow said of his team as it readies to start its trimmed down, four-game Division I regular season schedule Saturday, March 27, against rival LaSalle in Providence at 1 p.m.

“I’m really happy for the seniors. It’s only four games, but it’s four games we didn’t think we’d get,” he continued. “We open up against LaSalle. Hopefully that’s something special, gives them motivation to get going from the start. Let’s see if we can compete and get better as the season goes along. The kids have been on board with what we’ve been teaching them. My promise to them, especially the seniors, was to give them as a good an experience as possible. The goal is to get better and give them a good football experience.”

As for the roster, only a handful of players return to the fold from the fall of 2019 when EPHS last took the field. In place now is a host of newcomers to varsity and first-year regulars, including starting quarterback Justin Fiore. Fiore, who missed the 2019 season with an injury, is charged with running an EPHS-Stringfellow staple, the triple-option offense.

“The idea for Justin is to just get better as we go. I’d love for him to get into the category of a Brian Amaral-type kid (EPHS QB in the late 1990s). He has the acumen and toughness of Amaral. The goal is for him to have an 85-90 percent read rate, make the right decisions with the football most of the time.”

Fiore is joined in the backfield by fellow team captain and senior fullback Elijah Owens, senior halfback Santi Nocella, sophomore halfback Yusef Abdullah and senior halfback Colby Babbitt. Senior Jayden DaCruz is the tight end. Junior Marcus Garedo and first-year senior Ilyas Torres are the split ends. Sophomore Maxwell Whiting and freshman Trey Rezendes are the back-up QBs.

The offensive line is led by the third team captain, senior and returning starter Jonah Grilo. Also in the mix are sophomore center Robbie Amaral, freshman Grant Peoples, senior Timothy Amaral, junior Isaiah Andino, sophomore Barnett Vanderhost and junior Donavin Ivy.

“The offense is very similar to what Army (United States Military Academy West Point) runs. It’s running, power football with some play-action (passing) mixed in,” Stringfellow said of the triple option. “It’s a learning curve for these guys, changing over from the spread they’ve run the last few years to under center. It’s an ongoing process. As they understand the scheme, they’re starting to get more and more comfortable. They’re making strides.”

On defense, coordinated by new assistant Nick Salois, Stringfellow is implementing a 4-4/Split-6 alignment. The ends are senior Jovani Lima and Garedo. The tackles are Andino, Grilo, Ivy and senior Shane Haynes. The inside linebackers are freshman Xavier Hazard and DaCruz. On the outside are Babbitt, Abdullah and Fiore. The secondary is composed of corners Nocella and junior returning starter Denzy Suazo with Whiting and Torres at safety.

“Nick came over from Toll Gate. He likes that defense, had success with it. We collaborated on the elements we’ve installed here,” Stringfellow said of the 4-4 scheme. “It keeps everything, the calls in terms that are easy to understand and it allows the athletes to be athletes. They don’t get complicated with the coverages.”

Besides Salois, the new EPHS coaching staff includes two other Stringfellows, Jon’s nephews Eric (offensive and defensive lines) and P.J. (receivers, DBs and special teams); Jon Flamand (OL), Damian Ramos (RBs/LBs) and Rondie Almeida (RBs/DBs); and volunteers Jed Smith (WRs/DBs) and Antonio deSimas Jr. (OL/DL).

The Townies’ four regular season games include LaSalle, their only home contest at Pierce Stadium against Cumberland, Saturday, April 3, at 1 p.m., vs. Burrillville at Scituate High, April 10, at 1 p.m. and against Shea at Max Reed Field, Pawtucket, Friday, April 16, at 6 p.m.

Division I has been broken up into three subgroups: Power Four of Hendricken, LaSalle, North Kingstown and Portsmouth; I-North of E.P., Shea, Burrillville and Cumberland; and I-South of Cranston East, Cranston West, South Kingstown, East Greenwich and Central. Woonsocket was supposed to be in the North grouping but opted not compete in this special, condensed spring season. The Power Four will contest a title amongst themselves. The top two teams from the North and South will each qualify for the D-I playoff semifinals with a championship game to follow in late April/Early May.

In some ways, this high school season could be seen as akin to spring football at the college level, a means of getting prepared for the upcoming fall season only a few months away. Stringfellow acknowledged he and his staff are always thinking about the future of the program, but their aim in the near term is squarely focused on the next month-plus of games and practices.

“We’re just trying to get better now,” Stringfellow said. “We need to take care of business now and worry about fall then. We have a season to play in front of us. And as we’ve seen in other sports, we need to attack this hard because one positive (coronavirus) test, one positive case can take it all down. We want to see these kids in game situations, get them on film so we can get stuff out there to colleges for the juniors and we also don’t want to sell the seniors short.”

The new head coach is taking the same approach to several of the players, some key contributors recently, who are not with the program this spring because of grades or opt outs along with the usual assortment of locals attending private schools.

“We have 35 kids on this roster and every one of them is special. They are the kids we have and all of our attention is on them,” Stringfellow added. “They’re working hard. It’s been a nice build up for the first game. We just need to continue to get better every day, take a new step every day, insert the pieces one by one until they get good at them.

“Hopefully we’ll get to the point when it all clicks, we get better as a team, they take care of themselves individually and the wins will come. I’m optimistic about the season, but with a new offense and defense and with the terminology it’s going to take time. But we’ll get there. We’re just all happy to be out there, playing and coaching football and having fun.”

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