Berkshire Kings Gear Up for New Season
Football teams traditionally schedule their rivalry games for the end of the season.
Think Michigan-Ohio State, Army-Navy, Williams-Amherst, Drury-Hoosac Valley.
They do things a little differently in the New England Football League, and the Northern Berkshire Kings are going to do it in their season opener.
The Kings open NEFL play on Saturday night against the Bennington, Vt.,-based Southern Vermont Storm.
"The first game is going to be our big game," Kings captain Aaron Chappell said this week. "Last year, we beat three of the four teams in our division. The team we're playing on Saturday beat us last year.
"We're coming out hungry, as are they."
The New England battle between Vermont and Massachusetts rivals will be decided in New York state, as the Storm utilizes one of its three "home fields," this one at Schuylerville High School in Saratoga County.
There is more than just revenge that motivates the Kings when they meet Southern Vermont. There is also geography.
Of all the teams in the 18-team "A" conference of the NEFL, none is closer to Berkshire County than the storm. And the two teams represent half of the conference's Vermont Division, which also includes the Vermont Ravens in Norwich and Monadnock Maruaders in Keene, N.H.
At least one player on the Southern Vermont roster, lineman Joe Rondeau, hails from North Adams.
Familiarity breeds contempt and football rivalries.
Of course, there is much that is unfamiliar about the Kings this summer -- at least relative to years past. Chappell said the team has almost entirely turned over since the start of 2013 season, a year that saw the Kings go 3-3-1 and finish third in the Vermont Division.
He said Northern Berkshire has about 25 players on the roster, but there is room for about 20 more, and that's not unusual at this early date.
"As the season progresses, hopefully we can pick up a couple more," Chappell said. "That's how it always happens."
The team is aggessively looking for new blood through its Facebook page.
The players already in the fold have been hard at work since February getting ready for Saturday's opening night, Chappell said. Things start out with conditioning and flag football indoors in Greenfield.
This summer, the Kings have been holding court at Pittsfield's Reid Middle School, practicing on Monday, Thursday and Saturday evenings. Now that they are getting into the season, the Saturday practices will be replaced with games, and the team will usually hold walk-throughs on Friday, Chappell said.
Based on the players already on the roster, Chappell expects the Kings to continue to be among the better defensive teams in the league but to bring a more potent offense to the table.
"The real goal this year is to get the offense up on par with the defense, so instead of losing games by two or three points, those will be the games we win," he said.
2014 league defensive MVP Q.J. Sumpter anchors the defense at the middle linebacker position.
Other returners on defense include Bey Jackson at defensive end, Leo Marable at guard and Chappell at cornerback.
Joe Wiggins is penciled in at starting quarterback with a backfield that includes Justin Bailey and Steven Sumpter. Wiggins will play behind a line that includes Joe Paulin at center and throw to a receiving corps featuring Carlos Sampson and Donnell McFarland.
"We're a fast-paced team," Chappell said. "I would say we have more skilled players.
"But we have a pretty decent line this year. That's one thing we've been missing for years now. this year, we've got quite a few big bodies to fill the void."
The Kings are scheduled to play eight games starting Saturday and running through Sept. 28 with a bye week the weekend of Sept. 14. Their first three games are on the road before coming home to play Southern Vermont on Aug. 17.
For now, Northern Berkshire's home games are scheduled to be played at Reid, but the team is trying to reach an agreement with a local high school to use its field, Chappell said.
You can learn more about the NEFL by visiting nefl.us. You can find the Kings on Facebook; search for Berkshire Kings.
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