LEOMINSTER — The Mass Phoenix, a semipro football team based out of the Fitchburg-Leominster area, is off to a great start to the season, but the coming weeks will likely determine the success of the season and if the postseason is in the cards.
The Mass Phoenix are just in their second year of operation. Last year Marshfield ended their season, and the Hurricanes have handed the Phoenix (3-1) their only loss of this season by a 20-14 margin in overtime on June 29.
The Hurricanes are the Mass Phoenix’s rivals, but the Granite State Destroyers are new to the league, dropping from a AAA league, and figure to be a formidable opponent at home on July 20, and on the road August 3.
The Phoenix have a game scheduled against the Maine Wolverines in between, on July 27, which figures to be a challenge, with kickoff set for 1 p.m. and a long morning drive to Falmouth, Maine in the cards before it.
“GSD was in the New England football league last year, which right away puts them at top-notch competition in this league,” Mass Phoenix head coach Rayshawn Link said. “Them along with Marshfield tomorrow, it’s basically two big games back-to-back. Then we travel to Maine, and the one-o’clock kickoff is going to be tough in itself. But this is what we sign up for.”
Defense has been driving the Phoenix to success with a solid defensive front made up of Shakil Dickey, Josh Bradshaw, Armando Seaz, and Shak Johnson, all of which are from Fitchburg, Leominster and Gardner, and the same goes for about 90 percent of the team.
“We have a lot of athletes on defense,” Link said. “It seems like for semipro football in Central Mass defense has always been a staple. We started out in a 3-4 early in the season, because we had so many athletes, but then went against teams strong in the run and made some changes along the line.
But everyone on defense is so athletic and interchangeable it has been an easy transition. Defense is what wins the championships around here.”
Two locals headline the stalwart inside linebacking core, with Akin Payton and Chris Jackson stuffing the opposing run game. Outside backers are Alex Rivera and Tre Winters.
“We’re just playing really good as a unit on defense,” Payton said. “Everybody is picking each other up.”
Angel Biegan is the featured corner, but with an injury to the opposite side of the position to Dom Allard, the Phoenix are still working that position out. The safeties are Chris Akins from Leominster and Nathan Stanikmas.
“Our defensive backs are really good and really talented,” Biegan said. “We all come from local schools, and we don’t allow a lot of passing yards. Right now I’m leading the league in picks, with six.”
There has been an on-going quarterback battle for the team between Leominster High grad Curtis Ludden, Gardner High grad Matt Seward, and St. Bernard’s product Dazeen Figueroa.
“We have a couple of quarterbacks that we’re evaluating,” Offensive coordinator Matthew Algarin said. “We’re trying to pick the best guy. The Fitchburg-Leominster area has a ton of talent.”
The running back core is a strong presence in the offensive plans as Teddy Norris and David Elias carry the load. Ludden also fills in at running back and kick/punt returner.
“We’re coming together as a team on offense,” Ludden said. “We’re ready to play. We need to come with heart (in the coming weeks) and bring our best game.”
Figueroa is an example of a recent high school grad participating on the team in order to get in a position to accumulate film for prospective college coaches, which Link says is a goal of the organization.
“Around this area, a lot of very talented athletes don’t go anywhere else after high school,” Link said. “Figueroa is planning on enrolling in the Mount, and we want to get him in the mix so he can go to Fitchburg State or another college .
Yes I want to win and make the playoffs, but I want these guys to enroll in school and if players can get into a school it is more of a success than just winning championships because you can’t win a championship every year We want to make a difference.”
The Mass Phoenix have an elite receiving group that is aiding the new quarterbacks working their way through the system. Former Leominster High star Derek Franks is one of the top receivers, along with former Blue Devil and Division 1 Alabama A&M player Bobby Goldsby playing the slot. Kenny Correra is the third wide-out in the starting rotation.
“We’re going through a quarterback transition,” Goldsby said. “I’ve been playing this game for a while, so I can help with that when I can.”
The offensive line is comprised of (RT) Cliff Robertson, (RG) Angel Molina, (C) Lucas Tocci, (LG) Mike Gentilella, and (LT) Eric Comeau.