Keith Noonan, the new head coach of the Metrowest Colonials, knows that his team could never replace the Marlborough Shamrocks in the hearts of local semi-pro football fans.
But as the Colonials prepare to begin its new season in the Saturday--the second with Marlborough's Kelleher Field as its home stadium--he's also hopeful the team can put down some roots of its own.
"The Shamrocks were just a phenomenal team and we aren't trying to replace them. We are trying to fill the gap and have our own identity," Noonan said. "Marlborough has been fantastic and very welcoming. There's a gerat traditionof supporting semi-pro football here. "
One way the team has sought to distinguish itself is with community service. The team has set up a non-profit organization and players, who range in age from 18 to their late 40s--player/coach Patrick Caruso from Marlborough kicks field goals and is the third-string quarterback--have taken part in charity walks, last year took part in a city-wide cleanup and later this year will participate n a wheelchair basketball game to benefit the Cerebal Palsy Foundation.
The team also sponsors and runs youth football clinics for area teams with an emphasis on sportsmanship and injury prevention.
The Colonials play in the elite AAA division of the New England Football League, playing a 10-game season that begins on July 21 with a game Boston Bandits at Boston Latin High School. Their first home game will follow on July 28 at Kelleher Field against the Whaling City Clippers.
Noonan said the team is working hard to make home games more of an event, with halftime contests and entertainment and special events honoring the all military veterans--several of whom play on the team.
The Colonials hope to boost attendance in its second year in the city. "We are going to do what we can to make it more of a community gathering," Noonan said. Last year, attendance averaged around 200, a number the team hopes to more than double this season. "We are working hard to make it a big-time event where people can gather around and enjoy some football."
Fourth-year quarterback Nick Ferrara has shown progress in reading defenses and decision-making and has some talented receivers to throw to and a formidable running back, new addition Billy Crisafulli, to hand off to.
"We are the Metrowest Colonials and we want to draw fans from all over the area," said Noonan, noting that players travel from as far away as New Hampshire to play for the team. "But now that we've found our home in Marlborough we are really looking to start developing some deep roots."