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Natick - Local Town Pages

Dalicandro: Natick Grid Captain With Superb Perspective

Mar 02, 2021 03:45PM ● By KEN HAMWEY, Staff Sports Writer

T.J. Dalicandro turns in a dynamic sack against Wellesley High during his junior season.

Coach Mark Mortarelli will rely heavily on T.J. Dalicandro when Natick High kicks off its football season because he admires his captain’s discipline, versatility and leadership — assets that are very positive during a global pandemic.

Mortarelli says the senior linebacker “is a coach on the field and could easily run a practice.’’ The veteran coach trusts Dalicandro so much he’s convinced the Natick native will be a major plus if any of his teammates need help in dealing with covid-19 concerns. Mortarelli knows Dalicandro has the right stuff “to help players stay calm.’’

A captain in both football and lacrosse, Dalicandro won’t be bashful if he’s asked to  settle some nerves. He’ll step up and lead with discipline and conviction, traits that likely stem from his father (Ted Sr.), who coaches the Newton South football team and also assists with Natick’s varsity lacrosse squad.

“As a captain, I’ll have the opportunity to help with any virus concerns,’’ Dalicandro said. “My role will be to maintain focus on the season, not the virus. And, if necessary, I’ll try to relieve any tension, especially among underclassmen. The key is to keep calm.’’

When Dalicandro competes, he’s calm and collected, whether he’s at strong safety, cornerback or linebacker. When he was a freshman and sophomore, he played quarterback on the jayvee squad. “T.J. can play almost any position on offense or defense,’’ Mortarelli said. “As a sophomore he was on special teams with the varsity and he started at strong safety last year.’’

What makes Dalicandro a potential all-star at safety are his speed and quickness, an instinctive nature, a high football IQ and a strong skill-set. “I like playing safety because you see the entire field and it’s where lots of tackles can be made,’’ he offered.

His statistics last season, when the Redhawks posted a 10-1 record, included 52 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 interceptions, 3 tackles for losses and 8 passes broken up.  

“My team goals for the season are to win every game and make sure everyone is having fun,’’ said Dalicandro, whose initials stand for Theodore James. “Having fun is a must because one never knows when his last game will be played. Last spring, my teammates and I were unable to enjoy lacrosse when the virus forced cancellation of all sports. My individual goals for football will be to increase my tackles and to score a touchdown on defense.’’

Dalicandro, who also has competed in indoor track, is optimistic Natick can be a dominant grid team within the Bay State Conference’s Carey Division. “I like our chances,’’ he said. “We’ve got the talent to have a quality season, although every team will be a challenge. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the season. It’s like waiting for the bell to ring in class on the last day of school.’’

At Local Town Pages deadline, the Redhawks were in the process of compiling their schedule for March and April.

If his play on the field as a junior is any indication of what’s to come, the Redhawks should be in a good place. The 18-year-old Dalicandro had some strong efforts in 2019.

“I’ll always remember our regular-season game against Wellesley,’’ he emphasized. “A play was called for me to blitz and I sacked the quarterback at a point when Wellesley was gaining momentum. I played a solid game on defense and we won, 14-13.’’ 

A pair of interceptions, against Braintree, and later in the playoffs against Wellesley,  are also memorable. “The pick against Wellesley was significant because it helped us advance in post-season play,’’ Dalicandro noted.

Mortarelli likes the way his 5-foot-9, 160-pound safety relies on physical and mental toughness. “He’s laser-focused,’’ Mortarelli said. “And, that enables him to play a variety of positions. His positive nature is another quality that rubs off on younger players.’’

Dalicandro firmly believes that physical and mental toughness help with his approach to football. “It not only gives me a good feeling, but it also helps me from getting too high or too low during a game,’’ he said. “Physical and mental strength help me to maintain a level approach while I’m competing.’’ 

Dalicandro’s dad has obviously provided his son with some valuable tips and pointers, especially when T.J. was playing at the youth-league level. “He’s helped a lot,’’ Dalicandro said. “We watch film together and he points out how to play smart, like avoiding penalties at a key time. He’s stressed the importance to be disciplined.’’

As a midfielder in lacrosse, Dalicandro at first felt awkward about his father being an assistant coach. “As I’ve gotten older, I’m glad my father’s on the scene. He helps in many ways.’’

Dalicandro also has progressed and excelled, thanks to Mortarelli’s encouraging words. “Calling me a coach on the field and showing trust in my play builds confidence,’’ he said. “It definitely puts a smile on my face. Coach Mortarelli is a great leader who teaches players to be better people. He knows the game and his experience is a plus.’’

What also puts a smile on Dalicandro’s face is his future destination — he’s been accepted at Western New England College in Springfield where he’ll major in sports management. “I’ll play football and lacrosse there,’’ he said. “I’m planning on a career in coaching and hopefully it’ll be at either the college or the professional level.’’

Before that time arrives, Dalicandro is focused on his final season of interscholastic football. The pandemic has caused some anxious moments, especially with the status of football.

“I was terrified about the possibility of losing football last fall,’’ he said. “Then, when it got pushed to the Fall 2 season, I was relieved. The new timetable felt okay. Now that the season is about to start, it’s a great feeling but I wish we could have a normal year with post-season playoffs. However, it’s important to remember the top priority — the health and safety of everyone. My two younger sisters play sports, too, and we’ve got to realize the need for our parents and grandparents to be safe.’’

Dalicandro is a dynamic team player who recognizes he’s fortunate. He hasn’t forgotten that he and most of his teammates won a championship in the eighth grade and he’s also humbled to be a captain in two sports.

But, most of all, T.J. Dalicandro knows he’s blessed because, as he says, “I’m in a program with great teammates and coaches.’’ 

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