The Cranston East Thunderbolts are prepared to battle the Cranston West Falcons in their yearly Thanksgiving day game at Cranston Stadium on Thursday morning.
The clubs were on opposite sides of the spectrum this season as East finished the regular season winless at 0-9 in the conference and 0-10 overall, while West ended at 8-1 and 8-2, respectively, and then finished up as the runner-up in the Division I Super Bowl.
“We’re going to compete hopefully and just do what we’re capable of doing,” East head coach Tom Centore said. “We’re extremely young. We play six freshmen and probably another six sophomores. So, we’re a very young team and we’ve struggled for most of the year. But hopefully we can just compete and play our best and see what happens.”
No matter the teams’ records, the game is custom and it always tends to draw a big crowd.
“I think it certainly means a lot to the alumni of both schools and the community,” Centore said. “So, it is an important part of our Thanksgiving tradition for the community certainly.”
On Thursday, East will employ the same lineup it used throughout the season.
“I think we’ll certainly play the kids we’ve been playing along the way,” Centore said. “The seniors that have been playing are going to continue to play. We have a handful of seniors that play in certain spots and we won’t change our approach in terms of who's going to play. We’re going to play the best guys we have, and some of our best guys are some of our freshmen and our sophomores, and a handful of juniors, and a handful of seniors.”
The interview with Centore was done prior to the D-I title tilt, so at the time, the coach wasn’t sure if the Falcons team he faced would be a cheery championship team, or an upset team seeking some sort of revenge.
“We don’t know which one we’re going to get, but I think either way they‘re a talented football team and they’ve been a good team for the last two years,” Centore said. “It’s going to be a challenge whether they win or lose.”
Leading the Bolts this season was the seniors, and it will be no different in the final exhibition.
“We have a handful of them,” Centore said. “A few of them were part of that 2017 Super Bowl Championship and they were starters in that game. Omar Reyes is certainly important. He’s a four-year starter. Cody Lietar, the other defensive linemen, is a three-year starter. Andrew Amoako played, he’s one of our running backs. So, at least three of the kids were significant parts of the 2017 Super Bowl team. So, they’ve been a big part of what we’ve done. They’ve played on two Division Championship teams in 2016-17. So, they’ve been important to our program and they are certainly going to be missed when they are not here.”
And once the season comes to a complete end, Centore hopes his returning players can continue to work to build off of this season.
“Certainly in the offseason we want to get a little bit stronger, become a little more of a veteran team, and just let the young guys who played this year develop their football skills and really become a more physical stronger group of kids,” Centore said. “And hopefully again the 14 and 15 year olds that are playing are going to get a little bit stronger and bigger in the offseason in the weight room and continue to do things like that, and we are certainly looking forward to getting them going in an offseason as soon as possible.”
The Bolts have been on a bit of a downward spiral since that 2017 championship run. East took a dip in 2018 finishing 4-6 overall before fully plummeting this season. But next year, the Bolts hope to get back on track.
“Oh, I think it’ll be a better football team,” Centore said. “I think it can only get better. In 17 years here, we’ve never experienced this. But it’s the youngest team I’ve ever coached in my 31 years of coaching. And we lost quite a bit off the team from last year and we’ve suffered a number of significant losses injury-wise this year that certainly factored into having to play the freshmen so early.”
East should return a good sum of its veteran players next year on top of any incoming freshmen who may join the team.
“We had 95 kids on the program this year and if everybody returns the way we hope that they will, it comes out to 84 kids next year. It’s just the growing pains were more difficult. The growing pains are a lot more challenging in Division I than they would be in most other divisions to be honest with you. There’s no breaks in Division I.”
East holds a 24-22 advantage over West in the Thanksgiving series.