DORCHESTER -- After five seasons of darkness, the lights at Nerud Field in Dorchester will shine again on Friday nights this fall.
Dorchester had co-oped with Milford for football since the 2013 season, but the Longhorns will have their own six-man program in 2018. And the team, the school and the community couldn’t be more excited.
"It’s fun," senior Nathan Cochnar said. "We get to finally show our school spirit. Finally back in our hometown. It’s been a long time."
After the 2012 season, when Dorchester still played eight-man football, coach Brent Zoubek knew something had to change. His team finished the season with only nine players and had to forfeit one game. One option was to move to six-man, but there weren’t enough teams nearby to make a reasonable schedule.
So for each of the next five years, Dorchester sent a handful of players to Milford, which became Milford-Dorchester on autumn Fridays. Zoubek went along as an assistant coach.
"When we went to Milford five years ago, it felt like we lost identity a little bit with our football," said Zoubek, a Dorchester native. "There were different colors, a different mascot, we didn’t have any games up here. So now I think parents are excited about that along with the community, that the lights are going to be back on and they get to watch a game in town again."
More small schools have shrunk to the six-man ranks since 2013, so Dorchester was able to schedule opponents within reasonable travel range this year.
Cochnar and Jonathan Vielma, another senior, didn’t see the field as much as they wanted to before. Now, they have chance to play regularly and be leaders and key contributors for their hometown team.
Zoubek acknowledged that restarting a football program is not without its challenges. Transitioning to six-man has required a lot of film study and scheming, plus only a handful of players on this year’s team have played high school football before.
But the number of players out for the team is encouraging. Seventeen showed up to the first practice Monday, and Zoubek expects 20 overall. Some of the players not out for track did football drills in the spring, and the team got to scrimmage for the first time at a camp in Harvard in July. Even if the experience isn’t there, the enthusiasm is.
And when the Longhorns trot out onto their home field wearing new equipment for their Aug. 24 opener against Walthill, there’s sure to be a buzz around the community.
Over the summer, Vern Johnson, who played six-man football for Dorchester in the 1950s, reached out to Zoubek. He mailed him a playbook from his playing days, and a letter about the teams he was on.
Zoubek called Johnson and asked him to round up some of his old teammates to be honored at halftime of the first game. There are 25 who plan to show up, with one coming from California.
"It’s cool and they’re excited about it," Zoubek said. "The community’s buzzing about it. We’ll have people drive by (practice) I’m sure."
With so many of the kids new to football, Zoubek said it’s going to take time to acclimate them to the contact and physicality of the sport, not to mention figuring out at which positions to play them.
"We’ll just try to get better each practice," he said.
But by all accounts, it seems like a challenge everyone is ready to take on. And the community will eagerly await the results.