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Summer No Time For NHS Football Coach To Relax Mortarelli Stays Focused On Many Areas

Natick coach Mark Mortarelli has led the Redhawks to 11 playoff appearances in 14 years.

Staff Sports Writer

Now that summer has arrived, ever wonder what a high school football coach thinks about in July or August?
Family vacations are probably scheduled around dates that correspond to summer football activities and events. And, it also seems that football likely rules the summer months for coaches because the sport is so demanding and requires lots of preparation to realize success in the fall.
Natick High’s Mark Mortarelli, who’ll begin his 15th season as the Redhawks’ head coach in September, shared some thoughts and insight on what occupies a football coach’s mind in the summer months leading up to the start of the regular season.

Natick High’s four captains (from left) are Simon Pedrelli, Nolan Cloutier, Sam Hubbard and Ronnie Sadm who know their leadership skills will be observed closely during the summer.


A native of Natick, the 50-year-old Mortarelli played football, hockey and competed in track at Natick High and later was a tight end at Ithaca College where he majored in sociology. He earned a masters degree from Bridgewater State in special education and has been on Natick High’s faculty for 27 years, currently as a special ed teacher. Mortarelli is married and has three children.
The veteran coach has led NHS to 11 playoff appearances in 14 years, one of which ended with the Redhawks losing to Beverly in the 2012 Super Bowl. Here are some of the areas that Mortarelli mulls during the summer:
• Strength and conditioning: Natick’s program started in late June and continues to Aug. 9. It’s not mandatory for football players to attend but it’s strongly recommended. 
“We want our players in that program because they can improve their speed and strength,’’ Mortarelli said. “Football is all about getting stronger and faster. The program, which is open to all student-athletes, also helps in team building and injury prevention.’’ 
• Summer leagues: Natick’s players will participate in a seven-on-seven passing league at Weston High School on Wednesday nights. The league began play on June 19 and will continue to Aug. 7. Also, on July 13, the Redhawks will compete in the New England Seven-versus-Seven Tourney at Xaverian High. They will play three 25-minute games in one day. 
“About 50 teams will participate,’’ Mortarelli said. “Winning in these events is not our top goal. We want them to be learning experiences. We want the players to get reps, have fun, build team chemistry and have all players compete.’’  
• The roster: It’s helpful for a coach to know how school choice and transfers are affecting his program. Mortarelli says that at the conclusion of the school year he and his staff know who’s leaving and who’s arriving.
“The most important thing about the roster is to know what kids are in what positions,’’ he said. “Other areas I think about during the summer are who’s working hard, who looks good and who hasn’t worked out.’’
• Team needs: A coach has to figure out quickly if help is needed at a specific position. What helps Mortarelli is a depth chart. “We get a skeleton depth chart done in the spring,’’ he emphasized. “In July, our top priority is attitude and effort. We worry about ability when the pads go on.’’
• Assistant coaches: Natick’s grid program doesn’t have much staff turnover, making Mortarelli’s job easier. However, he says July is a time for assistants to focus on their areas of responsibility. “Many of our assistants work at the strength and conditioning program,’’ he noted, “and they get a good indication on how the players are progressing.’’
• Injuries: Any NHS player who’s been injured or is recovering from surgery can expect a call from Mortarelli or one of his assistants. “We’re always monitoring the players,’’ he said. “We also check in with the trainer often. We want our players to be mentally and physically healthy.’’
*Pre-season workouts — Aug. 16 will kick of pre-season workouts for all interscholastic football teams in Massachusetts. Before that date arrives, it a good bet that  much planning and preparation have been done, especially if a coach is implementing a new system or adding several new “wrinkles.’’ 
“It’s imperative that our kids report in shape,’’ said Mortarelli whose squad finished 6-5 last year after bowing out of the playoffs in the first round to Methuen. “Pre-season is about execution and repetition and we expect the players to know the playbook. On non-contact days, our staff takes advantage of the little details.’’
• Scrimmage: Natick will scrimmage Holliston and Shrewsbury before opening the regular season against Newton North. “There’s no scouting our opponents,’’ Mortarelli said. “Scrimmages are all about how we perform. We’re concerned on how we play and how well we execute. Our concern is about ourselves, not the opponent, when we scrimmage.’’
• Football facility: Four teams will be on the Memorial Field turf during pre-season. They include the football squad, field hockey and the boys and girls soccer teams. All of those teams’ coaches work with Tim Collins, Natick’s Athletic Director, on the times they will be practicing.
“Our field is a terrific facility,’’ Mortarelli noted. “All the coaches whose teams use the field work well together. If a specific need arises, all the coaches adjust.’’
• Captains roles: Mortarelli and his staff observe Natick’s four captains during the summer. “We see them at seven-on-seven drills and know who’s stepping up and displaying leadership,’’ he offered. “We can see who’s a good communicator, who’s supportive and who’s taking care of group texts. It’s a good time to assess their leadership traits.’’
• Regular season: Mortarelli said that as July ends and August moves along, any thoughts about the regular season are solely about Newton North, the Redhawks’ opening day opponent (Sept. 6 at Newton North).
“Our entire focus will be on Newton North,’’ he emphasized. “We’ll review what we know about them and we’ll watch film from last year’s game. “Our non-league games include Wachusett and Walpole, and our Bay State Conference games against Herget Division opponents are against Walpole and Needham. All of our non-league games are against strong teams that would help us in the power rankings.’’
Mortarelli offered more insight on the focus of Natick’s pre-season and in-season schedules.
“Our basic structure for those schedules is modeled after what coach Tom Lamb had done for years,’’ Mortarelli said. “We try to treat it like a small-college experience where we meet multiple times during the week with the players to watch film, go over the game plan, etc. We also follow the same basic weekly schedule, so the players know what to expect.  Every off-season we visit one or two college practices to watch the structure of practice and see if we can find anything new that may be helpfu