By John Molori
Sport Blitz Writer

Any discussion or preview of the 2023 Methuen Rangers football team has to begin with a look back at 2022. The Rangers, under the consistently strong tutelage of head coach Tom Ryan and his staff, posted the program’s best season since the 1992 Super Bowl Championship team.

While their MIAA playoff run ended with a 54-14 loss vs. Springfield Central in the Division 1 state semifinals, the Rangers thrilled the region with a versatile offensive attack complimented by a rugged defense. The team was ranked 8th in D1 and finished with a 9-3 record after a dominating 47-0 win over Dracut on Thanksgiving Day.

The Rangers lost some key performers, but return a host of talented and playoff-tested athletes. So, just what are Coach Ryan’s expectations as the team prepares to open the season at Lincoln-Sudbury on Sept. 8 at 7pm?

He responds in typical Belichickian coach speak, “Our immediate goal is to win our first game against Lincoln-Sudbury. Our long-term goals are to win a league championship and to qualify for the MIAA Playoffs and contend for a state championship.”

One of the key cogs in the Ranger machine is senior quarterback Drew Eason. This tough, smart and driven field general has been on several recruiting visits to a host of colleges. The 6-3, 200-pound Eason currently has offers from UMass-Amherst, Wagner, Bentley, St. Anselm’s, Bates, WPI, Wesleyan, and Sewanee: The University of the South. His is also still considering Stonehill, Merrimack, UNH and several D1 schools. His attention to detail and will to improve have made him one of the best QBs in program history.

“Drew has improved a lot as a leader,” says Ryan, now in his 11th season at the helm. “Over the offseason, he has continued to become more athletic and is incredibly strong in the weight room. His throwing accuracy is his biggest asset.”
Despite the accolades from last year and the high hopes for this year, Ryan sees areas in need of improvement. He relates, “If you expect to contend in D1, then you need to develop depth on the offensive and defensive lines. We have a lot of quality candidates who will need to adapt quickly to our schemes so we can have the depth we need.”
On Ranger Road, the only thing better than one Eason is two. Junior Shane Eason is Drew’s little brother, but he has carved his own niche as one of the most productive running backs in the region.
Says Ryan, “He is one of the top skill players in the state. Shane was the leading scorer in the state last season with 200 points. He has an incredible knack for setting up defenders to miss tackles in the open field and is equally dangerous getting handoffs or catching passes.”
Balance was a key element in last season’s success. Ryan believes that the same story will be written in 2023: “We have a good core nucleus back on defense. Our linebackers and defensive backs have some experience. We are looking to play more consistent defense than we did last year. Sophomore Vinny DeMaio looks to factor in at linebacker and at fullback.”
Change is the rule, not the exception, in high school football. Each season brings about cyclical departures and arrivals. Ryan discusses some staff changes for the upcoming campaign: “Jon Sweeney, our outside linebackers coach for the last few years, took another teaching job so he is not back with us this year. He is being replaced by Brian Camara, who teaches physical education in the Methuen Public Schools. Additionally, Seth Pare, a captain of our 2017 team, has returned to volunteer coach helping with the defensive backs.”
Now beginning his second decade in Methuen, Ryan has taken a dormant program and turned it into an exciting and productive unit – one that has achieved yearly consistency and respect throughout the state. So has his approach to coaching and preparation changed at all?
Ryan retorts, “I think that my staff has remained largely intact for that whole time, so we really feed off each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We definitely have become more efficient as a staff over the years due to our longevity together.”
The 2023 Ranger Football captains are Brady Gourley, Matt McCormick, Drew Eason and Shane Eason. This solid leadership bodes well for another MIAA playoff run.
With Ryan calling the shots, some new perspectives on the staff, and a blue-chip prospect taking the snaps, the 2023 Rangers look to build on last year’s success and continue their championship rise.

RANGER VARSITY
FOOTBALL SKED

All these games are Friday at 7pm
Sept. 8 at Lincoln-Sudbury
Sept. 15 vs. Marshfield
Sept. 22 at Chelmsford
Sept. 29 vs. Andover
Oct. 6 at North Andover
Oct. 13 vs. Billerica
Oct. 20 vs. Tewksbury
Oct. 27 at Lowell
MIAA Playoffs: Opponent, Site, Date TBD
Thanksgiving game, Nov. 23 vs. Dracut, 10am

Matt’s Mantra
As we head into another Methuen High School sports year, it is always nice to check in with Athletic Director Matt Curran on what’s new and what’s news with the Ranger program. Now in his eighth year in charge, he provides some interesting tidbits in this Sports Blitz Q and A.

Sports Blitz: How would you describe the overall state of the MHS athletic program?

Matt Curran: We are coming off of a very successful athletic year, and I hope we can replicate that success. Outside of wins and losses, we hope to continue our work in the community. Last year, all of our teams took on a community service project that resulted in helping the homeless, hungry, elderly, youth athletic programs, and mental-health endeavors.
SB: Have you added any new coaches to any of the programs?
MC: Bill Blackwell is our new golf coach. Bill is our current varsity hockey coach and former varsity baseball coach. Joann Lanari-Guay is our new girls’ cross-country coach. She is a guidance counselor at Methuen High School and an experienced runner. She will do a great job working with our girls each day.
SB: Are there any events or fund-raising efforts planned for the fall season?
MC: The Methuen Boosters purchased an electronic flag that drops down as the national anthem is being played. The dedication of the flag will take place on Monday, Sept. 11 prior to our varsity girls’ volleyball match. The Boosters also purchased a new track record board that is on display in the Klimas Fieldhouse. The annual Dennis Bistany Memorial Golf Tournament took place on August 21, and I want to thank all who helped support that effort.
SB: Football always seems to take center stage, but what other teams/athletes should we be watching for this fall?
MC: I think our Cheer Team, who returns all but two athletes, will be a fun group to watch. Our girls’ volleyball team lost some very good players, but there are some new kids ready to step up. The MVC Girls Volleyball Conference is one of the best in the state, so we will be challenged every night. Our other programs have some talented pieces and, if healthy, will surprise some people.
SB: Talk about the Dalton Cup Standings for overall program excellence.
MC: Methuen finished 6th overall in the Dalton Cup Standings. The standings are based on our varsity programs’ win-loss-tie records. Out of 37 D1 schools, a 6th-place finish is something of which we are very proud. Our athletes are fortunate to have great coaches working with them every day. I appreciate the support we receive from the administration, School Committee, Trainer Al DeLano, Paula George, the Boosters, and many other staff members.
SB: Your e-mail signature includes the Vince Lombardi quote, “The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual.” What does this mean to you and how does it apply to your job?
MC: The success of an organization is not one person or one thing. It is everyone involved giving their best effort to reach our goals. The teams that best embrace this belief tend to have the strongest culture. I think of our athletes who show up every day, put the work in, and whether they play or not, are always doing what they can to make each team better.

Court Call
Methuen Youth Basketball (MYBA) is now holding open registration for the 2023-24 season. Visit methuenbasketball.com for online signups.
“We are excited that registration is now open for our upcoming season,” says MYBA’s eminent and dedicated President Dan Labelle. “We also will be having one in-person signup on Tuesday, Sept. 12 from 6-8pm in the Methuen High School Cafeteria.”
Tryouts and evaluations for boys and girls are scheduled for September and October. Pre-K through grade 2, the Unified Program, and the high school program all begin in January with the annual Waldie/Blood Tournament slated for February.
Says Labelle, “Places and times for all these happenings will be released through our MYBA social media and on our web page once finalized. The best way to stay up to date with announcements is through our text blasts. Text the letters MYBA to 31279.

“We are also happy to announce that we have a Registration Fee freeze. We are keeping pricing the same as last year, and we do not require families to contribute to fund-raising.”

John Molori is an author, columnist, and a 2011 inductee into the Methuen Athletic Hall of Fame. Facebook: John Molori, Twitter @MoloriMedia. E-mail molorimedia@gmail.com