| The Enterprise
In two of coach Nick Liqouri’s three seasons at the helm of the Rockland High football program, the Bulldogs have been tantalizingly close to breaking through to that next level.
In 2017 during his maiden voyage as Rockland’s head coach, Liquori’s bunch fell to Old Rochester, 12-8, in the Division 6 South Semifinals.
In 2019, an undefeated season came to a disappointing end when the Bulldogs lost to Ashland, 33-16, in the sectional semifinals. The Clockers went on to win the state championship.
Dante Vasquez played key roles for both of those teams. This season, Rockland will be tasked with replacing the program’s all-time leading rusher (3,971 career yards).
“As good as Dante was offensively, we’re still returning, I think, seven of the guys around him (on offense),” said Liquori. “We had some great contributions.”
While Vasquez, who played quarterback, ran for 1,855 yards and 28 touchdowns as a senior, returners like Tom McSweeney, Joey Nguyen and Zach Ofurum should keep Rockland’s running game afloat.
Along with key returners on offense, the Bulldogs return seven or eight starters on defense.
“A lot of these kids as sophomores were starting two or three years ago, so they’ve had a lot of game experience,” said Liquori. “We’re hoping that they can build off their success.”
Cullen Rogers will replace Vasquez behind center. While Vasquez was primarily a running threat, Rogers is a more prototypical quarterback.
McSweeney finished just shy of 10 TDs last season while Nguyen is a returning Enterprise All-Scholastic. Nguyen, who stands at 5-3, was one of the team’s leading tacklers at outside linebacker while tallying over 400 total yards on offense. He also handled the kicking duties.
Patrick Moriarty, Hunter Wardwell and Jacob Moore will be threats in the passing game.
Jimmy Tsiantoulas, Collin McKerrell, Nick Earner and Moore all have experience on the offensive line.
“Any time you have, I think, my number is 15 seniors coming back,” said Liquori, “I’m pretty sure any coach in any league will tell you that’s advantageous and (you’re) hoping that you’re going to do pretty well, especially at a smaller school like ours.
“It’s definitely a different idea (this season) because Dante meant so much to the program the last couple of years and obviously his numbers over (his career) are awesome, but I think the kids are excited to stamp their year.”
The Bulldogs are scheduled to play six South Shore League games, including a season-finale against Thanksgiving rival East Bridgewater. During the sixth week of the season, Sullivan and Tobin division teams will play crossover games against opponents in the same standings slot in the other division, as long as it will be those teams’ only meeting this season.
Rogers, McKerrell, Nick Leander and Nguyen are Rockland’s captains. Leander is a three-year starter and a returning league all-star. He makes the defensive calls from linebacker spot and brings toughness to the position.
P.J. Celestino and Michael Moriarty also will play key roles. McSweeney (defensive line), Ofurum (linebacker/defensive line) and Wardwell (defensive back) are two-way contributors.
With a roster filled with veterans, Rockland would have had state-title aspirations if there was a state tournament. The MIAA will not stage playoffs for Fall 2, keeping the status quo from the fall and winter seasons.
“(Chasing an MIAA state championship) definitely would have been the case, definitely something we were eye-balling,” said Liquori, “but once they got over that a little bit I think our focus now is let’s go out and win our six-seven games, whatever we’re allowed to play, and make the most of the situation.”
The Bulldogs, who spent much of the first week practicing on tennis courts, play on a grass field, so they could spend a lot of the season on the road. Rockland will open the season at Cohasset on March 13.
“It’s kind of hard to tell,” said Liquori of what the SSL looks like this season. “Looking through some of the teams last year, taking a quick glance of the film, a lot of teams lost a lot of solid football players, but they also had some pretty good young football players that contributed.
“With the season going on pretty fast, we’re going to find out pretty quickly how good everybody is.”