Blessed with a whole fleet of returning skill players, the only question about the 2020 Gabriel Richard football team was how good could it’s largely rebuilt, inexperienced offensive line would be.
With limited summer practice, no live scrimmage game and the first three games of the season canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic, the answer was not quick in coming.
But when they got the opportunity, the Pioneers answered resoundingly, beating Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett 61-27 on opening night. It was the first time the Pioneers had scored that many points since Richard hung 60 on Madison Heights Bishop Foley way back in 2014.
The Pioneers followed that with a 14-0 win over Macomb Lutheran North and a 41-7 win over non league Napoleon.
The offensive line, “is gelling,” according to coach Tom Michalsen. It is anchored by four-year player John Mastrogiacomo, who plays center. Among those surrounding him this season are seniors Paul Mann, Hunter Hastings and Carson Sollars, junior Michael Calhoun and sophomore Nic DiSanto.
“We’re pretty excited.” said Michalsen. “With no summer, really, we are still finding things out about this team. We are happy (with the unbeaten start) and trying to enjoy it because everything is uncertain and we know it can be taken away at any minute.”
The Richard offense is obviously explosive, led by junior Nick Szczechowski, who scored six touchdowns in the first three games. Defensively, he added a pair of interceptions.
But teams that concentrate too much on Szczechowski do so at their own risk, because the Pioneers also still have hard-running senior Michael Holdsclaw and junior Ethan Mehall to throw at them.
Richard hasn’t needed to throw the ball much this season, but when it needs to, senior quarterback Joe Wisniewski is more than capable. Among his favorite targets is brother Nick Wisniewski.
“Joe’s got a good arm. I am sure he wishes we threw the ball a little more, but we haven’t had to,” said Michalsen
Michalsen added that in addition to the offense playing well so far in 2020, the Richard special teams have done a great job of setting the team up in good field position.
There is a bit of sobering news amid all the good as senior Travis Lepitsky, one of the leaders of the team, injured his knee in the win over Lutheran North and it appears serious.
Last year the Pioneers were 8-3 Catholic League Division champs and upset Clinton in a first-round playoff game. They’d like to do at least that much this season.
The Pioneers played Manchester on Oct. 10. They will then likely play Bishop Foley in the Catholic League playoffs and assuming a win there, Clarkston Everest Academy would likely be awaiting them. Everest beat Richard 27-6 in the league championship game a year ago in a game played in a driving rainstorm at Rynearson Stadium at Eastern Michigan University.
The playoffs are a little different this season with all teams making the postseason. The first round is the district round and Richard is in a tough eight-team grouping. Joining the Pioneers in the district are Jackson Lumen Christi, defending state champion Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central, Grass Lake, Springport, Leslie, Manchester and Horton-Hanover.
“It’s a tough district,” admitted MIchalsen, “but I feel we can play with all those teams. It’s a big district and we are far east of most of those teams, so we want to win as much as we can before the playoffs, so we can get a home game and avoid the travel.”