The Blue & Blue will be the first ever Boston City League team to ever be featured in our gallery, which will be unveiled next week. Here are some highlights from today's shoot:
Boston English is first Boston City League team to be featured in our gallery, which we've been doing since 2010 pic.twitter.com/oyzdYCTxJ2— Brendan C. Hall (@BHallESPN) August 27, 2014
Keep an eye on English QB Emmanuel Almonte, who is starting to build FCS interest as a DB pic.twitter.com/CVH8fCutGr— Brendan C. Hall (@BHallESPN) August 27, 2014
Here’s some thoughts from today:
QB battle: One of the biggest questions for Prep heading into the 2014 season is who will be the starting quarterback. The battle is between senior quarterback A.J. Carrigan and junior transfer Oliver Eberth. While Carrigan played sparingly last season behind starter Mike Geaslen, Eberth threw for 967 yards a year ago as starting quarterback for Andover high school.
The quarterbacks split time evenly throughout the night, with Eberth getting the nod for the first series. Eberth controlled the tempo each series he was in, showing a quick release with a strong arm to boot. With his ability to also make plays with his feet, he creates nightmares for outside linebackers and strong safeties, who have to commit either on the run or worry about the short dump pass in the flat.
As for Carrigan, he too made several plays, finishing the night with two touchdown passes, including a nine-yard play action waggle finding fullback Nick Spofford in the corner of the end zone. There were some passes he missed high at times, but only a week and a half into camp, practicing more in pads with his receivers, the Swampscott-native should improve on the timing of routes.
“I thought both guys came out tonight and improved from our last scrimmage on Monday,” explained SJP coach Brian St. Pierre. “They’ve both had good camps and it’s a really tight competition. What I like is that they’re both getting a grasp of the playbook and doing what we’re asking them to do.”
While St. Pierre said there’s no timeline for a starter to be named, he’s confident that whoever gets the nod will do a good job of leading this team.
“There’s no timeline but I think this week should tell us a lot. I’m hoping going into game week we’ll have a guy identify but we have good choices.”
Offense clicking: Adjusting to a new offensive scheme isn’t always the easiest thing to do – especially when there’s only been ten days to learn. But SJP looked like a season group, having zero plays go for negative yards and consistently moved the football.
Boston College commit Jake Burt made several catches and was a force to take down. Other players that stood out were running back Cody Harwood and wide receiver Owen Rocket, who went 75-yards for a touchdown, after catching a quick out by Carrigan. The Eagles flipped back-and-fourth from a singleback formation to a two-back set. Burt was mainly used at the traditional tight end spot in both "12" and "22" personnel, but should be used in numerous ways, including at slot and split this season, according to St. Pierre.
In regards to how the offense has quickly adapted to the changes, St. Pierre is pleased.
“I’ve been real impressed with how we’ve been able to get a lot of stuff in on offense in such a short period of time,” St. Pierre explained. “We’re doing a lot of different things then we’ve done in the pass and they’re handling it tremendously. We’re not where we need to be yet but I’m pleased with the progress.”
Haverhill’s offense was led by sophomore quarterback Broughan McGovern. At 6-foot-4, McGovern showed a quick release on short routes and has the skills to develop into a very good quarterback. When throwing passes downfield, he tended to aim and would often overthrow his receivers.
“When [McGovern] didn’t panic I thought he did a good job of managing the game, said Haverhill coach Tim O’Connor. “He’s calm, cool and collective but needs to develop touch. I have all the faith in the world in him that he’s going to be a great quarterback but he just needs to start believing that.”
Aside from McGovern, Haverhill moved the ball well to start the first series, turning to running back duo Ian Kessel and Pedro Santiago and also adding fullback Samie Alziab into the mix. The Hillies struggled to fine a consistent push up front as the scrimmage progressed, as they mainly attacked in-between the tackles, focusing heavily on draw plays. For most of the scrimmage Haverhill ran spread but also worked a series of double wing, similar to what Everett has been known to do for years.
Defensive menace: Junior linebacker Spencer Jenkins may have been running with the second defense, but after the way he played tonight a couple of eyebrows from the SJP coaching staff may have been raised. To say he played physical doesn’t do him justice, especially since he’s also a member of the SJP wrestling team. With his noticeable black cowboy collar, Jenkins swarmed from sideline-to-sideline, filling gasps on the run and rerouting receivers leaving them on there back.
For the Hillies, they were playing without star linebacker Phil Panici, who tweaked his shoulder in practice on Monday. Although the captain wasn’t suited up today, there shouldn’t be any concern of his status heading into the season.
“Panici is alright,” said coach O’Connor. “He slightly popped his shoulder out in practice on Monday and could’ve gone today but as a precaution, we held him out. He’s a three-year starter and is the heart and soul of our defense and we want to make sure he’s good to go for us versus Beverly.”
With Panici out of the lineup, junior linebacker Brian Haley did a good job of filling in, as his physicality of coming off blocks downhill to make tackles helped the Hillies upfront.
Another player that stood out defensively for Haverhill was senior captain Patrick Yale. The cornerback, who is more known for his play at wide receiver, was smooth in press coverage, using the off-hand jam technique and made several nice breakups with his speed. Overall, Yale is a complete defensive back who can play man-to-man but can also come downhill and make a tackle with his natural ability to flip his hips quickly – a trait crucial for any defensive back.
The teams partook in their annual preseason meeting on Tuesday, but unlike the last meeting at Gillette, Xaverian held the upper hand, looking a step quicker and crisper than the defending champions.
Here are a couple of takeaways from today’s two-hour long work session at the Hawl Bowl:
Tinkering continues: As in their prior scrimmage Saturday against Bridgewater-Raynham, Xaverian continued to sprinkle in some different faces into their spread formations. Reigning ESPN Boston Defensive Player of the Year Joe Gaziano was again seen split out wide in a four-receiver set which also featured starting inside linebacker D’Aundre Holmes seeing snaps in the slot.
The Hawks already have a deep corps of receivers, including returning contributors like Princewell Iwejuo, Ernest Simon, Peter Thorbahn, Coby Tippett and Damion Wood. But the big bodies out wide give Xaverian a different look while presenting matchup problems for undersized defensive backs.
On Tuesday, the Hawks again had to be impressed by senior quarterback Jake Farrell, who has turned in efficient performances in both of the team’s scrimmages.
“I was happy with the way our skills players matched up with them today,” Hawks head coach Charlie Stevenson said.
Xaverian had success moving the ball through the air throughout against a Central Catholic secondary that is still rounding into form. After losing a couple of All-Staters from the group in Cody Demers and D’Andre Drummond-Mayrie, Raiders head coach Chuck Adamopoulos is using the preseason period to test out a host of competitors in a couple of positions.
“Reading didn’t really throw the ball downfield in our last scrimmage,” Adamopoulos said. “And we’re really young in the secondary, so we need to figure out who’s going to play there. Today, with Xaverian, they threw the ball downfield, they threw the ball in the flat with quick hits, so we got a chance to look at our secondary kids.”
Round 2 adjustments: Both squads came in with agendas different from their Saturday debuts.
For one, Xaverian incorporated the running game – after having a pass only scrimmage with B-R. While the Hawks still do not have their full complement of backs, as John Dean continues to be held out with an injury, they look more themselves with Noah Sorrento and sophomore Devon Piccinin pounding Central’s front seven.
“I think when we’re able to throw him into our offensive mix, we’re a lot better team,” Stevenson said of Sorrento.
Meanwhile, the Raiders countered with some different blitz packages and defensive looks, with inside linebacker Markus Edmunds making a strong showing.
“It’s an opportunity to see some different things,” Stevenson said. “With their 3-on-2 blitz packages, any time they did that they caught us off guard. There’s stuff in there that we haven’t practiced.”
Here and there: While the intensity was nowhere near that of last December, the pace of Tuesday’s scrimmage was brisk and the competition was spirited. “There was a lot of bad blood out there still from the championship game, so it was good for us to grind it out,” Central senior running back/ safety Michael Balsamo said. “We saw them last year this time in the preseason and we all told them if they made it we’d see them in the playoffs.” … Injuries curtailed a couple of key players from participating or staying in the scrimmage. Xaverian right tackle and UMass commit Joe Parsons was held out and is listed as day-to-day. Also, Central lineman Jorge Elias missed the last half of the proceedings after having a Hawks player fall on his ankle. … How do you improve on a Super Bowl season? For Central four-year returning starting quarterback Michael Milano, that means an increased leadership role. “He always was a leader, but he’s taken that to a new level this year,” Adamopoulos said. “It’s really impressive. He did it all for us last season.” … Reflecting on his team’s progress through the first week-plus of the preseason, Adamopoulos had this to offer about the top-ranked Hawks: “They deserve to be ranked where they are; we don’t.” The No. 2 Raiders have another tuneup scheduled Friday at Mansfield. “Last year, at this time, we weren’t what we were at the end of last year,” Adamopoulos said. “There’s a long way to go.”
Sophomore sensation: At 6-foot-4, sophomore quarterback Jordan McAfee not only has the size, but also the tools to become one of the best quarterbacks in the state. His mechanics are smooth, has a solid arm and demonstrates a knack for finding the open receiver. One of his best throws came on a tremendous 37-yard hookup with Boston College commit Lukas Denis. But McAfee’s play of the night came during 7-on-7 drills, when he threw a miraculous 33-yard bullet to Denis, this time squeezing the pass in-between three Lynn English defenders.
Everett did a tremendous job of optimizing the space on the field, mainly as a result of their splits, running several wheel routes with slots and running backs and motioning receivers to create rub routes heading back towards the outside.
"[McAfee] gives us a few more options than we’ve had the past few years," said Everett head coach John DiBiaso. "If he can continue to progress, and stays on track, which we hope he does, and stays healthy, he gives us that added dimension of throwing the ball, which makes the running game that much more effective."
Based on the talent at quarterback and a speedy group of receivers, Everett’s offense should look more like they did in 2011, when record-setting quarterback Jonathan DiBiaso was under center, in comparison to more recent years when their offense seemed to change on a weekly basis.
Solid line play: The Crimson Tide controlled the line offensively behind linemen Eric Trickett, D.J. McDonald and Jefferson Palencia. The holes helped running back Jackinson Joacine stand out on several plays, as the shifty back has a knack for changing direction on a dime with excellent ball carrier vision, that allowed Everett’s run game to be effective. There were several times they came out in pistol and incorporated jet sweep, getting Denis in the mix on the ground. Overall, Everett’s offensive line may be one of the bigger ones in the state and played extremely physical.
Taking control: Despite three of Lynn English’s starting wide receivers not playing, third-year starting quarterback Lucas Harris showed great composer in the pocket and allowed his experience to bring the offense together. What was most impressive with Harris was his ability to make decisions quickly as his rapid release on throws gave his receivers opportunities to make plays.
Most of the Bulldogs’ biggest plays on offense came on completions that were caught for four to seven yards, and then turned into bigger gains. Receiver Miguel Martinez made a plethora of those catches, including a snag on a post route to the back of the end zone during 7-on-7.
Although there were several dropped passes, what’s more important to take away, since this was a scrimmage, is the fact that the Bulldogs can depend on Harris’ leadership when the team needs him most. It’s tough to ask a teenage to take control and lead a team, but Harris certainly is capable of answering the call.
Aggressive approach: Heading into tonight’s scrimmage, the Lynn English coaching staff stressed they had to be more physical. The message must’ve got through, as both the offensive and defensive lines had their moments led by the play of junior offensive/defensive linemen Jeremy Garcia and Victor Morales.
On offense, the blocking allowed senior running back Stevie Collins -- an All-State basketball guard who returns after missing all of last season with a lower body injury -- to turn several runs into big gains, showing off his speed once he got to the outside. Defensively, the Bulldogs were out-sized up front versus a much larger Everett offensive line, but played physical and swarmed to the ball.
“We were much better tonight than were versus Everett Friday night,” said Lynn English coach Peter Holey. “The running game was clicking a little big tonight with Stevie [Collins] and I liked how Lucas [Harris] looked. The offensive line is a work in progress and we missed some assignments but I was pleased with how we came out and played physical.”
For Everett, coach DiBiaso didn’t think his team tackled well but noted that it’s not necessarily his players’ fault.
“It’s hard to blame the kids when you’re only in pads for four days,” DiBiaso said. “We don’t have double-sessions because school started early so it’s tough, but we’ll have to improve on it.”
In case you missed our earlier installments: 25-21 | 20-16 | 15-11 | 10-6
NO. 5 ST. JOHN'S (SHREWSBURY)
Coach: John Andreoli (11th year, 92-31)
Last season: Division 2 state finalists, lost 28-14 to Mansfield
Returning starters: 11 (4 offense, 7 defense)
Key returners: Davon Jones, Sr., RB/DB, 5-10, 185 lbs; Sam Norton, Sr., DT, 5-9, 210 lbs, Nick Calvano, Sr., WR/DB, 5-7, 175 lbs; Shane Combs, Sr., QB/RB/DB, 6-1, 210 lbs.
Strengths: Defense, physical strength
Outlook: Another year, another deep and talented starting lineup boasted by the Pioneers, last year’s Central Mass. Division 2 champion. The Pioneers lost some major contributors off of last year’s team, including all-state quarterback Andrew Smiley, but coach John Andreoli is confident especially in the ability Combs, Jones, and Calvano to make big plays on the offensive side of the ball. Currently, Combs is splitting equal reps at quarterback with Tim Cassidy. “The jury is still out,” Andreoli said on the quarterback decision, “Both he and Tim Cassidy are taking equal snaps. They both have very different skillsets...it’s a different look when each one of them is in there.” Jones, a hard-hitting Boston College-committed safety, has proven to be one of the state’s top players over the past couple of years, but it’s his on the field leadership that is standing out so far this fall. Jones is the only four-year starter in the history of the program. “The thing that impresses me most about him is that he's really assumed a leadership position, with the way he conducts himself on the field, and the way he takes control of the defense,” Andreoli said, “And offensively the level of maturity that he has brought takes him to the next level.” Several players have found a way to make a name for themselves early on in camp, partly too because of the work they put in over the offseason. Andreoli said that this year’s team has the most physical strength collectively of any squad that he’s coached at St. John’s: “The amount of guys that we had were able to bench 185 for multiple reps was the most we ever had here. That's kind of been the foundation as the first thing. On the defensive side of the ball, our secondary has really shown a tremendous amount of speed, athleticism, and physicality in our first week.” Keep a close eye on Marc-Eddy Paul, Michael Corinna, Mitch Earley, and Sam Kloczkowski – all of whom have made a big early impact early on in practice.
NO. 4 MANSFIELD
Coach: Michael Redding (27th, 217-66-4)
2013 Record: 13-0, Division 2 State Champions
Returning Starters: 11 (5 offensive, 6 defensive)
Key Players: Brendan Hill, Sr. TE/SE 6-5, 228 lbs; Mike Carpino, Sr. OL/DL 5-9, 210 lbs; Tyler Smith, Sr. OL 6-1, 205 lbs; Andrew Horstmann, Sr. OL 6-2, 225 lbs; Curtis Boisvert, Sr. RB/DB 5-8, 180 lbs; Joe Moreshead, Sr. LB 5-10, 180 lbs; Q'ra Guichard, Sr. LB 5-8, 195 lbs; Connor Finerty, Jr. LB 5-11, 195 lbs; Nick Borsari, Sr. DL 6-2, 270 lbs; C.J. Daniel, Sr. LB 5-11, 170 lbs.
Strengths: Offensive line, linebackers, defensive line, running backs/receivers
Weaknesses: Inexperience in the secondary, adapting offense to personnel
Outlook: The Hornets completed their own version of a revenge tour last year, turning a loss in the 2012 D2 EMass Finals into an undefeated 2013 season and winning the first ever Division 2 State Championship. The biggest concern for the Hornets will come on offense and finding the pieces to replace quarterback Kyle Wisnieski, receivers Michael Hershman and Kyle Hurley and the elusive Miguel Villar-Perez. But to counter that, Mansfield possesses one of the most talented tight ends in the entire state in Brendan Hill, a member of the ESPNBoston Preseason All-State Team. Hill, who has received interest from multiple D1 programs, will likely garner the majority of attention from defenses so Mansfield will need to develop other options. Matt Carafa will likely step in and be QB1 for the Hornets while Curtis Boisvert will see a good amount of carries out of the backfield. Last year, Michael Redding talked about having some inexperience on the offensive line but this year they return three starters – Carpino, Smith, and Horstmann – and will rely on their line to help carry the offense. Defensively, the front seven is very strong led by linebackers Q'Ra Guichard and Joe Moreshead, arguably two of the more underrated players in the Hockomock League. They also return linebackers Connor Finerty and CJ Daniel as well as Brendan Hill and Nick Borsari, who will both be on the defensive line. The question on defense will be about replacing the strong defensive backs they had a season ago, led by Mike Barresi and Aurien Dawkins. Boisvert will likely be called on to be the anchor of that group. It won't be an easy start either for Mansfield as they begin the season on the road in New York against powerhouse Archbishop Stepinac.
NO. 3 EVERETT
Head Coach: John DiBiaso (23rd season at Everett, 271-66-1 overall)
2013: 8-2, lost Division 1 North final to Central Catholic
Returning starters: 13 (6 offense, 7 defense)
Key Players: Lukas Denis, Sr. Ath./DB, 6-0, 175 lbs.; Nick Orekoya, Sr. RB, 5-10, 200 lbs.; J.J. Colimon, Jr. TE/DL, 6-4, 250 lbs.; Erick Browne, Sr. OT/DT, 6-3, 270 lbs.; Mark Cardwell, Sr. 6-0, 225 lbs.; Jordan McAfee, Soph. QB.
Strengths: Athleticism in offensive and defensive backfield; size and physicality on offensive line.
Weaknesses: Lack of game experience at key positions.
Outlook: Perhaps more than any Everett team in recent memory, this year’s edition of the Tide is full of X-factors. The hype is abundant, but there are lingering questions. The athletic potential is apparent, but there’s a lack of on-field experience together. The one surefire thing the Crimson Tide do have returning is Lukas Denis, who joined the long lineage of Everett defensive backs to give their commitment to Boston College. Denis, who’s on-ball coverage skills are unparalleled in the region, will again be relied upon heavily as a hybrid back/wide receiver. Of course, that too depends on which form Everett’s offense will take. There are big things predicted for sophomore signal-caller Jordan McAfee whose yet to make a start. Meanwhile, Billerica transfer Nick Orekoya provides a stout presence at running back – one that can both break tackles and out-run hits. On defense, the Crimson Tide are short on game experience at linebacker, but should be able to generate on the pass rush with senior Mark Cardwell.
NO. 2 CENTRAL CATHOLIC
Head Coach: Chuck Adamopoulos (18th season, 123-62)
2013: 11-1, won Division 1 State championship
Returning starters: 11 (5 offense, 6 defense)
Key Players: Michael Milano, Sr. QB, 6-1, 170 lbs.; Michael Balsamo, Sr. RB/S, 6-1, 202 lbs.; Markus Edmunds, Sr. RB/ILB, 5-11, 210 lbs.; Jorge Elias, Sr. G/DT, 6-0, 215 lbs.; Pat Dziedzic, Sr. OT/DT, 6-1, 220 lbs.; Dan MacDonald, Sr. OT/DT, 6-3, 260 lbs.; Justin Landry, Sr. C/ NG, 5-11, 270 lbs.
Strengths: Experience at quarterback, inside linebacker and safety; defensive front seven; big game experience.
Weaknesses: Lack of game experience at wide receiver and outside linebacker; kicking game.
Outlook:The Raiders rolled through Everett and Xaverian on the Road to Gillette and snuck up on some observers – we’re included – en route to the state’s first true state championship in Division 1. This year, they’ll be the targeted team, with a good mix of returning key contributors from last year’s title team. The added good news for Central is that many of its returning starters are back at its most important positions. That includes senior four-year starting quarterback Michael Milano, who was among the statistical statewide leaders in just about every category during last year’s playoffs. “He led our team in rushing last year and, I think for the people that followed us every week, that while [Cody] Demers made a lot of the big plays, Michael [Milano] did a lot of the things that made us successful, making such a big jump from his sophomore to his junior season.” The Raiders also return a few key members of its vaunted 3-4 defense, including free safety Michael Balsamo and inside linebacker Markus Edmunds. Edmunds, who led the team in tackles last year while eclipsing the century mark, will be working beside a new-look linebacking corps, but “I don’t know if he’s going to have a better year statistically this year because he was so good last year, but he’s going to have a lot more on his shoulders. We had two seniors at outside linebacker last year, who were both pretty smart kids as football players and they helped him make calls. So he’s got a little bit more on him in a leadership role.”
NO. 1 XAVERIAN
Coach: Charlie Stevenson (21st season, 172-62-1)
2013: 10-2, lost in Division 1 State Championship
Returning Starters: 15 (6 offense, 9 defense)
Key Returnees: Joe Gaziano, Sr. TE/DE, 6-4, 242 lbs.; Damion Wood, Sr. WR/FS, 5-11, 200 lbs.; Joe Parsons, Sr. OT/DT, 6-5, 285 lbs.; Jake Farrell, Sr. QB, 6-3, 185 lbs.; Noah Sorrento, Sr. RB/OLB, 5-9, 185 lbs.; Kenny Kern, Sr. FB/MLB, 6-0, 227 lbs.; Elijah Pierre, Jr. OL/NG, 6-0, 260 lbs.; Mekhi Henderson, Soph. CB, 5-9, 175 lbs.; D'Aundre Holmes, Jr. RB/FB/OLB, 5-11, 205 lbs.; Coby Tippett, Jr. WR/CB, 5-9, 165 lbs.; Ernest Simon, Sr. WR/CB, 5-9, 180 lbs.; Nick Allsop, Jr. C/DT, 6-3, 248 lbs.
Strengths: Defense, experience at quarterback, skill position depth
Weaknesses: Experience at offensive line.
Outlook: There’s no hiding it, and there’s no way the coaching staff can sandbag it: This defense is going to be pretty good. Led by the Northwestern-bound Gaziano, the reigning ESPN Boston Defensive Player of the Year, the Hawks return virtually everyone defensively, and are solid at just about every position in the front seven. The strength of the defense may lay in the secondary, where the Coastal Carolina-bound Wood has been playing with a violent chip so far this preseason, and the quick-twitched Henderson figures to be the top draw at corner after a promising freshman campaign. "He’s a fierce competitor," Stevenson said of Wood. "He likes to make plays against the opponent, and I think he’s serious about that. He’s playing hard when he’s out there, that’s a good thing to have." Offensively, the Hawks have a few holes to fill, but on the right side they should be fine with the UMass-bound Parsons returning at right tackle. Gaziano was mostly used in-line for run support last season, but the Hawks have so far experimented with him in a "flex" role, lining him up in the slot or splitting him out wide. He made a few dazzling grabs in Saturday’s scrimmage with B-R, and it’s hard to imagine a scenario where the traditionally conservative Hawks don’t get him more involved in the passing game this fall. "When he gets inside a cornerback, that’s a big body for the cornerback to come through," Stevenson said. "He’s a big guy who can run and catch, and once he catches the ball –- I’m not gonna say he’s quick –- but he brings a pretty good load with him. Clearly, we’re going to get him more involved in our pass attack." Farrell, a baseball star during the spring, is entering his second year under center and demonstrates above-average arm strength. He won’t be depended upon to run the ball, with the entire backfield back, but his improvisational skills are noteworthy.
-BRENDAN C. HALL
Lydon is a graduate of Providence College, where he captained the Friars' lacrosse team.
Here's more from the release posted on the school's website:
“Steve has a solid lacrosse background both as a player and coach, and will generate a lot of enthusiasm within the lacrosse program. More importantly, Steve will be a positive role model for the student-athletes who play lacrosse at BC High. He understands the values we place on the overall character development of the athlete, both on the field and off,” said Athletic Director Jon Bartlett.
"I am extremely grateful for the opportunity, and to build on the already outstanding tradition of athletic excellence at one of the top college preparatory schools in the country. I want to thank Jon Bartlett, Coach Kelly, and the rest of the athletic administration for their hard work over the last several years establishing BC High as one of the top lacrosse programs in Massachusetts,” said Coach Lydon.
Coach Lydon’s goals for the program will reflect the mission of the school as his players will be held to the highest standards of teamwork, respect, hard work, and humility. “Living by these standards, we will continue to develop young men into leaders not only on the lacrosse field but in their lives,” said Coach Lydon.
For the first time in a long time, neither team managed to reach the end zone, despite several good chances. Here are my takeaways from this afternoon’s battle at Pioneer Field:
Start your engines: Based on today’s run, both teams’ defenses appear to be ahead of their respective offenses right now.
Watching St. John’s offense today, you have the feeling things will inevitably click into gear. Since offensive coordinator Chris Moriarty installed the Oregon-esque “Blur” offense back in 2012, the Pioneers have routinely been among the state’s leaders in yards per game. Today we saw many of the same staples that have made the Pioneers one of the most entertaining brands of offense the last few years – middle screens, sweep reads, inverted veers, and a sprinkling of smash, screen-wheel and follow concepts.
After finding great success in 2012 with a “Flex Bone” offense orchestrated by quarterback Augie Roberts, the Boxers struggled with the scheme last fall, which brought them back to their tried-and-true I-Formation today (we’ll all be driving flying cars before the Boxers ever abandon the I). Boxers head coach Peter Colombo said that they haven’t done away with the old scheme, and hinted that we might still see some of it this fall.
“I wanted specifically to keep things pretty simple this first week,” Colombo said. “I think [quarterback] Aaron [Williams] can run the option, so we’ll be doing some of that as well.”
But defense thoroughly ruled the day. Brockton’s front seven made running the ball difficult at times, led by Jayden Cellucci, Kingsley Dike and Aaron Monteiro in the trenches. Downfield, the Pioneer quarterbacking platoon of Tim Cassidy and Shane Combs were picked off a combined three times by senior free safety Davon Duarte, including one spectacular tip-toe grab breaking towards the sideline.
Twice the Boxers’ offense broke through for a long gain, both long strikes from Williams to Carl Darling then Darien Keefe, and both time the receivers were chased down by Boston College-bound free safety Davon Jones inside the 10 yard line. Then, the Pioneer front seven held tight, led by linebacker Sam Norton, stalling the Boxers in both of their red zone trips. In their first defensive series alone, the Pioneers' front four registered a sack and a pass deflection, then Norton came up with an interception over the middle.
QB duel: Since the graduation of record-setting two-time All-State quarterback Andrew Smiley, there has been much discussion about the succession plan. One of the most common theories assumes that Combs, a Notre Dame baseball commit armed with an upper-80’s fastball, would slide from running back into the driver’s seat under center. But Cassidy, a junior lefty, has a rifle that’s been making waves in camp as well.
The two split an even amount of snaps with the varsity starters. Unofficially, Combs finished 8 for 11 with 100 yards, while Cassidy went 4 for 9 for 36 yards, though several of his passes were dropped.
Head coach John Andreoli said he won’t be ready to name a starter until Week 1, which for the Pioneers is still two weeks away (they open against Leominster on Sept. 13). But considering how effective Combs was at tailback in the second half of last season’s run to the Division 2 State Final, his familiarity with the read option on top of his scrambling ability, it’s not out of the question to think the Pioneers could roll out some packages that utilize both players on the field at once.
Mount Monteiro: At 6-foot-6 and nearly 310 pounds, the Boston College-bound Monteiro remains one of the most Bay State’s most intriguing prospects. ESPN currently ranks Monteiro the No. 2 overall recruit in Massachusetts and top lineman, ahead of stalwart D1-bound linemen such as Shepherd Hill’s Chris Lindstrom Jr. (Boston College) and Xaverian’s Joe Gaziano (Northwestern).
He’s not a completely polished product yet but -– as was the case in his first year of varsity last fall -– there were some “wow” moments. In one series, at defensive tackle, he blew through a double team with ease, forcing a tackle in the backfield. On one offensive series, he buried a player in the grass on a kick-out block. On the next series of offense, he bulldozed the pile to a first down on third-and-short, then later drove a linebacker 10 yards downfield to spring loose tailback Isaiah Ortiz.
“Aaron is just a force. It’s nice running behind him on that power stuff,” Colombo said. “I think he’s in the best shape he’s ever been. He made himself stronger in the offseason. He’s even bigger and quicker than he was.”
Last year, Monteiro swung back and forth between guard and tackle on the left side of the line. Colombo said he’ll likely be locked into the left guard spot for now.
“We like him there, because he moves well and can pull,” Colombo said. “We might move him around, might do some things with him, but right now he’s settled in at left guard.”
Extra Points: Two key cogs for Brockton’s offense were nursing injuries today: fullback Kerry Raymond (hamstring) and receiver/safety Jon Derolus (groin). ... Junior offensive guard Sean Ragan draws a lot of attention for St. John’s with his huge frame (6-5, 280) and building D1 interest (Miami, Holy Cross), but one other lineman to keep an eye on is senior Anthony Franzoso, who has transitioned from linebacker to left guard and is quickly making an impact ... Brockton’s Williams shows a knack for buying himself time with his scrambling ability, and also shows some toughness. On one scramble up the middle, he absorbed all of a Davon Jones hit that could be heard up in the stands, and simply popped back up. ... Jones, a Boston College commit, was up to his old tricks as the “X” receiver today. On one bubble screen, he hurdled a Brockton defender. On another, he shook a cornerback with a toe drag and ball fake for arguably the prettiest juke of the day. But opposite Jones, junior Cam Lucey could be a nice revelation this fall. On a five-yard out route to the right sideline, he slipped around an arm tackle and sprung himself free for an extra 25 yards.
To the average Rhode Island sports fan, the name Dave Belisle conjures up images of the Mount St. Charles boys’ hockey team.
Since Dave’s father, Bill, became the head coach, the Mounties have won 32 Division I state championships, including a national record string of 26 in a row. Dave Belisle has been his father’s assistant for 35 years, but now the younger Belisle’s name is known nation-wide – and not because of anything he accomplished on a rink.
As the head coach of the Cumberland Americans, his name -- as well as his team -- are revered for the image they created during the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
The story within the story was the off-the-cuff speech Dave Belisle gave to his players after they lost, 8-7, to the Jackie Robinson West team of Chicago, following an elimination-round game. The latter part of that speech is what struck a chord not only to those who heard it live on ESPN but also those who heard it on YouTube (the morning after Cumberland’s last game, the clip had more than 350,000 views).
“The only reason why I’ll probably end up shedding a tear is that this is the last time I’m going to coach you guys,” Belisle said in his postgame speech. “But I’m going to bring back with me, the coaching staff is going to bring back, you guys are going to bring back what no other team can provide -- that’s pride. Pride.”
Now, Belisle and his team have returned home as heroes. They were given a parade in their honor on Friday. And, while the hoopla of Williamsport is behind them, the memory of their inspirational run and the spirit of their leader endure.
“There’s nothing I can compare it with in terms of magnitude – the magnitude of what these kids accomplished at such a young age,” Belisle told ESPN Boston this week. “Nothing compares with this because I always had my dad on the bench. He was the guy. Now I was the guy. I know when my dad told me he was proud of me as an assistant I realized it was because when you’re the head guy you have so much more to do.”
He continued, “I’ve never had a prouder moment than when I went to the World Series, not for their wins but because how they captivated an audience for their effort. That’s what my dad preached, as long as they give you effort that’s all you can ask for.”
Given the Cumberland Americans’ penchant for rallying and overcoming deficits, their effort should be underscored.
“My team provided me what my dad taught me -- effort,” said Belisle. “We’re not going to be recognized for wins and losses. We were recognized for their grit and fight. This was my proudest moment because my team was recognized for its effort on the biggest stage.”
What made Belisle’s accomplishments noteworthy, winning state and New England Regional championships, plus making a big splash at the World Series, is that instead of coaching hockey players in their mid-to-late teens, he was coaching 12- and 13-year-old boys.
“Obviously, you have to be more delicate with younger boys because they’re not ready to handle that pressure,” he said. “They need more stroking. You have to be careful with 12s and 13s because they’re not mature enough to understand you’re trying to push them toward something they want.”
That, in change, requires a delicate guiding touch.
“You have to be a mother and father figure,” Belisle said. “You can’t push the envelope too much with young kids or you’ll lose them. They’re not ready for that physical and mental challenge.
“Negativity coming into play won’t work. With a teenager you can be tougher and they expect more because they know what they want. Teenagers set their own goals. My kids aren’t mature enough to make their own goals. I’ve got to continually work with them to achieve small goals while achieving larger goals at the end. They need more positive attention at that age.”
To say Belisle derived satisfaction from what the Cumberland Americans accomplished -- from annexing the state title to coming within a couple of runs of competing for the U.S. championship -- would be a massive understatement.
“I thought we were going to win against (Jackie Robinson West),” Belisle said. “When we didn’t, we still won the game because they fought. I liked them because of their resiliency. It’s nice to be the best but to go out and prove it isn’t easy. But they went out and did it.”
What Belisle won’t do any more is coach Little League, concluding a 16-year run.
“I love the age and the innocence,” he said. “I’m going to miss the whole volunteer thing about Little League. At the age of 12 and 13, that’s when youth sports end. Everything else becomes magnified.
“You’re coaching against people you know and respect, plus the kids who are friends of your kids. There shouldn’t be any pressure in coaching Little League baseball. It should be fun.”
That –-- more than anything -- is Belisle’s credo. And, for a few days in August, it was on display for the entire world.
“Little League baseball is going to be in my heart forever,” Belisle said. “It’s going to keep me young. If anything, Little League is going to keep that youth and positive attitude in my heart. Little League reminds me of everything that’s positive in sports.”
Mike Scandura has been covering high school sports, college basketball, football and hockey, plus minor league baseball in Rhode Island since the early 1970s. A native of Oswego, N.Y. he’s a member of the Words Unlimited Hall of Fame which is the statewide organization of sportswriters, sportscasters and sports publicists.
Since 1967, the Eagles have won four state championships and 14 Catholic Conference titles under the tenure of just two head coaches. So when Jim O’Leary, who took over coaching duties for Fred Glatz in 1984, retired this winter, he says he was thrilled to be replaced by Prep alum Brian St. Pierre.
“I’m really pleased we found one of our guys,” said O’Leary, who is now solely the school’s Athletic Director. “[Brian’s] philosophy is very close to mine, and the entire staff is back from last year, so it’s not as big of a transition as compared to how it be in other places.”
St. Pierre wasn’t just a student at Prep. He was on the sidelines from the time he could walk, accompanying his father, who spent some 38 years as the football team’s physician.
After an impressive career as the Eagles' quarterback, St. Pierre played at Boston College before getting drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2003 NFL Draft. He spent eight years in the NFL, but came back to his high school alma mater every offseason to work out.
It was during one of those throwing sessions that St. Pierre first met standout tight end Jake Burt, who was just a freshman at the time. Now a senior that has verbally committed to Boston College next year, Burt says that St. Pierre was an invaluable resource throughout the recruiting process.
“I would go and meet with him about all the different colleges, and it was great because he went through the same process. He was able to give me great advice. He told me not to rush anything, and I was able to make the best decision for me.”
Like St. Pierre, Burt has been around campus since he was a kid, and says that he began using the field to practice when his oldest brother enrolled at Prep in 2007. He’s one of four siblings that have graduated, or are currently attending the all-boys school, and has been an integral part of the football team since he joined the varsity squad as a fullback and special teamer during his sophomore year.
“My family’s been around here for a long time,” Burt said during the break between practices this Thursday. “And it helps being familiar with the program. There were a lot of things going on this offseason, so having someone who is also familiar with program in coach St. Pierre come on board has definitely made the transition smoother.”
Last year, the 6-foot-4, 235-pound tight end hauled in 28 balls for 367 yards as a featured part of the Eagles offense. Now Burt will play alongside a primarily new offensive line, and catch passes from a new quarterback, as senior A.J. Carrigan competes with junior transfer Oliver Eberth for the starting job.
The two signal callers were able to build a rapport with Burt as St. John’s won the Under Armour Northeast 7-on-7 North Sectional tournament this July. Eberth and Carrigan split reps during the tournament, and while they both targeted senior wideouts Owen Rockett and James DiBenedetto often, they were effusive in their praise of Burt.
“Jake’s the guy you want on your team,” Carrigan said. “He can do it all. He blocks well, he’s got great hands, he’s got speed, he’s just the all around package that you’re looking for as a quarterback because you can always trust he’s going to make a play.”
Since Burt is an experienced player that was a part of the 2012 Super Bowl winning team at Prep, his coach is holding him to a high standard as a senior.
“I just want him to take on a leadership role, and he’s already started to do that. I don’t worry about Jake, but I want him to raise the performance of the guys around him,” said St. Pierre.
Whichever QB starts this year will be grateful to have a dependable target like Burt, because four of the top 10 teams in our statewide preseason polls are on the Eagles’ schedule. They’ll open 2014 the season with games against No. 6 Bridgewater-Raynham, No. 9 Brockton, No. 2 Central Catholic, and No. 3 Everett during the month of September, and it doesn’t get much easier after that.
“Our schedule is brutal,” St. Pierre said before a practice, “but that’s why I came to this school as a football player, that’s why these kids come here, and that’s why I wanted to coach here. There are no easy weeks. Every week’s a playoff game and that’s part of the allure of coming here. It’s certainly going to be a challenge, and we’re looking forward to it.”
Regardless of the results, St. Pierre says he’s glad to be back at St. John’s Prep. “I had opportunities to coach at the college or NFL level, and could’ve gone that route, but this just felt right. I had a great experience here, and this place has always felt like home to me, so it’s just a natural fit.”
In case you missed our earlier installments: 25-21 | 20-16 | 15-11
NO. 10 ST. JOHN’S PREP
Coach: Brian St. Pierre (First season)
2013: 6-5, lost in Division 1 North Quarterfinals.
Returning Starters: 12 (3 offensive, 8 defensive, 1 special teams)
Key Players: Jake Burt, Sr. TE, 6-5, 235 lbs.; Cody Harwood, Jr. RB, 5-7, 189 lbs.; Owen Rockett, Sr. WR/CB, 5-9, 185 lbs.; Hayden Rockett, So. CB, 5-8, 150 lbs.; Brandan Kahari, Sr. LB, 5-10, 187 lbs.; Jack Lambert, Jr. DL, 5-10, 210 lbs.
Strengths: Skill positions, secondary.
Weaknesses: Offensive line, quarterback.
Outlook: St. John’s Prep might have the toughest schedule in Division 1, as they open the season against four of the top 10 teams in our preseason polls. They’ll start the season at No. 6 Bridgewater-Raynham, at No. 9 Brockton, hosting No. 2 Central Catholic, and finishing September with a game at No. 3 Everett. With only three offensive starters returning, and a new head coach on the sidelines, the Eagles will have to learn on the fly during this brutal stretch. Oliver Eberth, a junior transfer that threw for 967 yards as the starting QB for Andover high school last season, is competing with senior A.J. Carrigan for the right to replace Mike Geaslen as the Eagles starting QB. Throwing to playmakers like Burt and Rockett will make life easier for whichever quarterback wins the starting job, as those two standouts paced the Eagles with a combined 62 receptions for 788 yards and six touchdowns last season. However, head coach Brian St. Pierre is more concerned about blocking considering sophomore James Carnevale is the only offensive lineman that is returning from the 2013 season. Both the coach and Burt insist that the line’s potential deficiencies won’t keep the future BC Eagle from splitting out as a “move” tight end, leaving the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder free to cause matchup problems for defenses across the Catholic Conference. Cody Harwood filled in admirably when All-State running back Jonathan Thomas was lost for the season early in 2013 with a knee injury, as he averaged 118 yards in 7 starts. Now a senior, Harwood will look to sustain that success in a very tough conference. Prep’s defense will be led by Kahari, and strengthened by several talented cornerbacks including sophomores Hayden Rockett and Joe Masterson. The linebacking corps will be bolstered by the addition of senior transfer Arthur Churchwell, who joins his younger brother, John, on the front seven. It will be a tough season for the Eagles, but 4 of the 5 teams in the Catholic Conference qualified for the postseason under the new format last season, and they’ll have a great chance to earn a decent seed in the D1 bracket.
NO. 9 BROCKTON
Head Coach: Peter Colombo (84-35, 10 seasons)
Returning Starters: 9 (3 offense, 6 defense)
Key Players: Aaron Monteiro Sr. OL/DL, 6-6, 308 lbs.; Uzziah Hilliard Sr. C, 6-0, 280 lbs.; Marcus Bullard, Jr. MLB/TE, 6-0, 215 lbs.; Dan Estrella Sr. OL/DL, 6-2, 280; Aaron Williams, Sr. QB/FS, 5-10, 160 lbs.; Kerry Raymond, Jr. RB/DL, 5-11, 215 lbs.; Jon Derolus, Sr. WR/SS, 5-10, 170 lbs.; Ben Cowart, Jr. OT, 6-4, 250 lbs.; Ryan Clifford, Jr. K;
Strengths: Offensive and defensive lines, secondary.
Weaknesses: Experience at skill positions.
Outlook: Peter Colombo’s squad looks to bounce back from a down season in 2013. The Boxers, one of the perennial powers in Massachusetts high school football, will rely on strong play along the line between Monteiro, Hilliard and Estrella. The beginning to the 2014 slate will present a difficult road for the Boxers. Colombo’s squad opens against St. John’s Prep, the first of four games against Catholic Conference opponents in the first five contests. The Boxers were solid at home in 2013, going 4-1 on its own turf. Colombo’s team will have very strong line play. Highly-touted Boston College recruit Aaron Monteiro, a hulking road grater, will lead the way on both sides of the ball. He will be the key protector for QB Aaron Williams. The offense was the biggest reason for the team’s struggle in 2013. The Boxers were shut out in four of the team’s six losses last season, including the last two games of the season. A 20-0 Thanksgiving Day loss to archrival Bridgewater-Raynham left a sour taste in the team’s mouth that has motivated them to be better in 2014.
NO. 8 SHEPHERD HILL
Coach: Chris Lindstrom Sr. (14th season, 95-65 overall)
2013: 9-2, lost in Division 4 Central Final
Returning Starters: 14 (6 offense, 8 defense)
Key Returnees: Chris Lindstrom Jr., Sr. OG/DE, 6-5, 250 lbs.; Chase Flibbert, Sr. OT/DL, 6-5, 265 lbs.; Austin Jones, Sr. C, 6-2, 300 lbs.; Cam MacDonald, Sr. OT/DL, 6-0, 245 lbs.; Gage Nutters, Sr. OG, 6-2, 220 lbs.; Drew Jean-Guillaume, Sr. QB/FS, 5-10, 195 lbs.; Brady Ravenelle, Sr. RB/LB, 6-1, 220 lbs.; Sean McKeon, Jr. TE/DE, 6-5, 220 lbs.; Dan Gilligan, Sr. TE, 6-1, 205 lbs.; Nick Ostrowski, Jr. WLB, 5-10, 180 lbs.
Strengths: Offensive line, defensive line, intelligence, size, speed at lineman positions
Weaknesses: Depth, speed at running back
Outlook: One area the Rams won't be deficient in is size, but it's the way they wield it which makes them so dangerous. Led by the Boston College-bound Lindstrom Jr., a long and wiry pulling guard with 4.9 speed, this is among the biggest and most mobile offensive lines the Bay State offers this fall. Combined with some big tight ends, a bull in Ravenelle, and a quarterback with sprinter's speed in Drew Jean-Guillaume, this should be one of the more explosive rushing attacks outside of I-495. We're a decade into the "Double Wing" offense in the Lindstrom Sr. era, but in the last few years it has diversified with some shotgun looks to better suit Jean-Guillaume. The Urban Meyer-like formations have given way to some effective screens and sweeps, but the passing game might be at its best when Jean-Guillaume is on the run, extending the pocket to the sideline. Coaches have high hopes this year for McKeon as a breakout candidate -- the junior has seen interest so far from BC, Rutgers, Harvard and Yale -- and with his long frame streaking across the field, the Rams like his chances in the passing game as well as setting the edge in the run game. Defensively, with virtually everyone back on the defensive line, the Rams will remain in a 4-3 front, with Lindstrom Jr. setting the edge. Jean-Guillaume is being recruited by Division 1 FCS schools as a safety, but last season he wasn't an every-down player in the secondary. Expect him to get a lot more snaps on defense this season.
-BRENDAN C. HALL
NO. 7 LOWELL
Coach: John Florence (4th season, 22-11)
2013: 7-4, lost in Division 1 North Semifinals.
Returning Starters: 9 (3 Offense, 6 Defense)
Key Players: Shyheim Cullen Sr. RB/ILB, 6-1, 210 lbs.; Nicolau Coury Sr. WR/ILB, 5-11, 205 lbs.; Chris Mansour Sr. QB/LB, 6-0, 180 lbs.; Theo Bryant Sr. WR/DB, 5-10, 171 lbs.; Malik Settles Jr. LB/DB, 5-8, 190 lbs.; Angelo Brito Sr. NG/OL, 5-8, 245 lbs.
Strengths: Athletic linebackers; offensive and defensive line play; running back
Weaknesses: Inexperience at quarterback and skill positions
Outlook: Lowell will come into this season with arguably the most athletic linebacking corps in the state, lead by Syracuse commit Shyheim Cullen. His bruising style at both 'backer and running back helped the Red Raiders make a run to the Division 1 North semi-finals last season. “Teams are going to start game planning for him, so other guys around him are going to have to step up and play,” said Florence. His running mate Ngaiiva Mason graduated, so it remains to be seen whether another back will step up to continue that two-headed attack or whether Cullen will shoulder more of the load this season. Nicolau Coury will return alongside Cullen to form a stud linebacking tandem, but the team is still searching for that third player to defend the short and intermediate part of the field. The team came into last season with five new starting offensive linemen, so having two returning starters there will help an offense predicated on creating time and power up front. Since Florence took over as head coach, he has had one-year starters at quarterback each season. This year is no different. Chris Mansour was the odds-on favorite to take over under center with last year’s starter Brian Dolan lost to graduation, but Florence noted the competition is wide open. “There’s some pluses and minuses,” said the coach of the quarterback competition. “There’s no clear frontrunner this year like we’ve had in the past with (R.J.) Noel, (Cam) Latta, and Dolan. This year we seem to have a little more depth than we did. There’s more competition in camp, which makes it good.” Juniors Matt Smith and Shaymus Dunn are also in the running for the job. Whoever wins the job will also have a new receivers corps since Jack Galvin graduated. Galvin terrorized Merrimack Valley Conference defenses and was one of the main cogs in Lowell’s spread offense. The team will be tested early in the schedule against Leominster in the third week of the season. After a bye in the first week of October, it will face defending Division 1 state champion Central Catholic. How the Red Raiders come out of those two games will say a lot about how their season will go. “With the playoff system and the points, you have to shoot to get every possible win you can,” said Florence. “It’s a short, short season when you look at those seven weeks. But after that, it determines the playoffs. So you can’t really have too much of an adjustment period, you have to be ready to roll that first week.” If the right pieces come together, the potential is certainly there to make a postseason splash again.
NO. 6 BRIDGEWATER-RAYNHAM
Head Coach: Dan Buron (22nd season, 161-68-2)
2013: 7-3, lost to Attleboro in Div. 1 South semifinal
Returning starters: 11 (6 on offense; 5 on defense)
Key Players: Brandon Gallagher, Sr. RB, 5-10, 185 lbs.; Connor Reagan, Sr. TE/DE, 6-2, 205 lbs.; Matt Clement, Sr. QB, 6-1, 175 lbs.; Nick Whittemore, Sr. G/DE, 6-1, 230 lbs.; Will Fuller, Sr. OL/DL, 5-11, 220 lbs.;
Strengths: Experience at skill positions.
Weaknesses: Lack of game experience at linebacker.
Outlook:You could say that this isn’t your typical Bridgewater-Raynham squad. The Trojans’ strength in their returning ranks comes more at skill positions, rather than in the trenches. But, if history has proven anything with a program that has churned out offensive lineman with consistency under Dan Buron, B-R will find a way. “I think we’ll be good around the perimeter on both sides of the ball,” Buron said. “We’re inexperienced up front, but we’ve been in this situation before, we’ll find guys. We’ve come into camp in pretty good shape, so that helps. Now we’ve just to find the right people in the right combinations.” For the Trojans, it will all start with preseason All-State running back Brendan Gallagher. But, as B-R has exhibited in recent years, they’re able to take chances downfield behind returning starting quarterback Matt Clement. Buron also said he expects tight end Connor Reagan to see a greater perecentage of targets within the passing game. The cause for concern on defense is at linebacker, where all of B-R’s four starters from last year graduated. However, as on offense, Buron is content with his mix on the perimeter. “We lost some good guys up front, but we’ve got some of the younger kids who’ve worked hard behind them,” Buron said. “We’ll be counting on them.”
You can forgive the Raiders if they looked rusty early -- there's been a lot on the minds of the Central Catholic community this week. Incoming senior Will Wheeler passed away suddenly last weekend, less than 48 hours before the Raiders' first practice of the season.
Central Catholic coach Chuck Adamopoulos made it clear after the scrimmage that there was nothing he was more proud of than the way his team came together to finish the week. After Thursday morning's practice, the team loaded up the buses and made their way to Wheeler's funeral services. With hearts heavy following the conclusion of services, Adamopoulos told his players they understandably didn't need to attend their scheduled afternoon session of practice if they weren't up for it.
Instead, hours after the burial of one of their beloved teammates, the players went back out for their next practice, a powerful moment Adamopoulos called "something I'll never forget."
“It’s been a tough week for these kids,” explained an emotional Adamopoulos. “For them to go through what they have this week and for them to respond the way they have, it’s amazing."
Describing the week's emotions, Adamopoulos continued, "What these kids had to go through this week, I would never wish upon my worst enemy."
Slow start, strong finish: The Raiders struggled on their first offensive series, having two plays go for losses, a bad snap and an interception. But as the scrimmage went on, Central was able to get into a groove with a balance of both run and pass.
Senior quarterback Mike Milano, a preseason ESPN Boston All-State selection, looked more and more impressive as the scrimmage went on. His highlight of the day came on a 40-yard touchdown pass to Steven Jackson. Milano showed a quick release on short routes and was a big factor for the offense improving after the first series.
Defensively for the Raiders, two players that stood out were linebacker Blake Shield and nose tackle Jorge Elias III. Shield had a huge hit that resulted in a tackle for loss, while Elias filled gaps and had several tackles after coming off blocks.
Rockets glare: For Reading, the Rockets started the scrimmage off with a bang on both sides of the ball. On defense, players were swarming to the ball and forced an interception that was brought down by safety Will Connery. On offense, junior running back D’Aundray Burcy did his best Barry Sanders impression, tight roping down the sideline 40 yards before diving into the end zone for the score.
After the first series, Reading struggled to move the ball consistently. Their only other noteworthy long gain on the day came from Burcy again, taking a screen pass and eking out a 22-yard reception. While Reading coach John Fiore was pleased overall with his team’s effort, he knows there’s still areas to improve on before the team’s next scrimmage versus Andover on Friday.
“I was real pleased with our run defense and how we tackled out there,” said coach Fiore. “There are definitely areas we can improve on and that goes for everybody. Every guy on this roster and every coach has something we have to work on. But it’s a great barometer to see where we’re at from playing a talented team like that.”
That stuck out immediately as a smattering of Trojans and Hawks came to a head in close quarters nearly from the get-go of an exercise that was primarily a passing scrimmage. It possessed the tenor of a black-and-blue trench battle, however, with neither team able to find the end zone with regularity.
Xaverian outscored B-R, 2-1, in the nearly two-hour long scrimmage, with the Hawks’ first unit offense holding the upper hand with two passing touchdowns, while the Trojans’ second unit accounted for its lone score.
Here are some of our takeaways from a rather intense (given that the teams just began practicing in pads a few days ago) morning at the Hawk Bowl:
Choppin’ the Wood: One of the standouts on the day was Xaverian senior wide receiver/safety Damion Wood. The Coastal Carolina commit helped establish the physical tone early on defense, laying down a wallop on a B-R receiver. Wood, who’s listed at 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds on Xaverian’s updated roster, looks to have bulked up in the offseason. It’s an added benefit for the Hawks, who will return nine of 11 starters from last year’s defensive corps.
Wood, who exhibited good ball skills last year in a ball-hawking secondary, is also a sure-handed tackler who carries a chip on his shoulder, befitting a player who can play up in the box.
Watch out for the big man: Is there anything Northwestern commit Joe Gaziano can’t do athletically?
While the 6-foot-4 defensive end’s future is on the gridiron, he’s a lock-down pole on the Hawks lacrosse team in the spring. But Gaziano’s palate of skills looks as though it will expand further this fall.
Gaziano was featured prominently in the Hawks’ offensive sets at tight end on Saturday. That’s nothing new, but what is is how head coach Charlie Stevenson might look to utilize him in the future. Gaziano was flexed out on several formations during the course of the scrimmage, showing a flair for the dramatic as well while making a diving catch on a crossing route at one point.
“A couple of times today we did experiment with splitting him out wide,” Stevenson said. “He did make a nice post catch. When he gets inside a cornerback, that’s a big body for that cornerback to come through. He made a nice diving catch over here on a crossing route.
“He’s a big guy who can run and catch. And, once he catches the ball, I’m not going to say he’s quick, but … Clearly, we’re going to get him more involved in our passing attack.”
Do what doesn’t come natural: Both Stevenson and Trojans head coach Dan Buron expressed the importance of Saturday’s get together in that it takes both of their teams outside of their element to a degree.
For B-R, a power-running team, that meant a diminished load for preseason All-State Brandon Gallagher and a lack of the play-action game set up off the ground game. On the flip side, Xaverian’s option game – featuring quarterback Jake Farrell’s play-making ability on foot – and running backs Noah Sorrento and Kenny Kern was all but moot.
But, for Farrell and the Hawks, Saturday proved an important building block for testing out the starter’s arm. Farrell, who missed much of hockey and baseball season with a shoulder injury, is on a “pitch count” – as Stevenson termed it – for the preseason. But for a player that’s limited in preseason snaps, Farrell looked comfortable making throws on the run, hitting timing routes and players on the run in Xaverian’s intermediate and vertical passing plays.
That all equates to a major plus for the Hawks’ incumbent starter.
“Jake’s poised and he’s throwing the ball well,” Stevenson said. “He’s chomping at the bit.”
Meanwhile, B-R senior starter Matt Clement also looked as though he’d put on some bulk in the offseason and was efficient on the Trojans’ rollout passes. Buron, who believes he has two high-grade quarterbacks in Clement, as well as also fellow senior Steve D’Emilia (who spelled Clement for a time late last season).
“He’s bigger, he’s thicker this year,” Buron said of Clement. “He’s an athlete, so we’re going to call on him to run the ball a little bit more this year.”
He continued, “We’ve got two good ones. They need to work on the fundamentals and the decision-making process, but that’s why you practice.”
Here are some of the best moments from today's slate of action across the Bay State:
1st day of double sessions! https://t.co/8iiOb6PqnM— GL Tech Gryphons (@GLTechAthletics) August 21, 2014
Trojans in their live period of practice pic.twitter.com/6MnBUVZgFS— Scott Barboza (@ESPNScottB) August 21, 2014
Coach Mort rallies the troops during the 1st practice in pads today. pic.twitter.com/l13Iy59CGK— Tim Collins (@NatickAthletics) August 21, 2014
Mustang football in full gear under first year coach Jim Tighe pic.twitter.com/i7pbgoFnyS— Norwood Mustangs (@NHS_Mustangs) August 21, 2014
Led by Boston College-bound safety Davon Jones, running back Shane Combs and promising junior lineman Sean Ragan, St. John's is the prohibitive favorite in Division 2 Central. But as always, nemesis Leominster is nipping at its heels. The Pioneers and No. 16 Blue Devils open their respective seasons in Shrewsbury on Sept. 13, in a rematch of last year's D2 Central Final, won by the Pioneers 51-42 in an instant classic.
Look for the complete gallery of our preseason tour on Sept. 3.
Today, the Pioneers took us into the classroom to show us their winning formula:
Lots of fun at today's shoot at No. 5 St. John's. Pioneers look poised in D2 CMass pic.twitter.com/LxNOQqmmt1— Brendan C. Hall (@BHallESPN) August 22, 2014
ATH Shane Combs diagramming a play for his co-captains pic.twitter.com/tdXHCKGGbM— Brendan C. Hall (@BHallESPN) August 22, 2014
Howard Herman of The Berkshire Eagle broke the news tonight. According to Herman, Benzinger chose the Demon Deacons over Fordham, Harvard and Dartmouth.
At 6-foot-8 and a wiry 260 pounds, Benzinger is a raw prospect with a projectable frame. He also comes with pedigree; his father, John, was an All-Yankee Conference selection at offensive tackle for UMass back in 1986.
"Big is big," Greylock coach Sean Flaherty told the Eagle. "What [the Wake Forest coaches] felt was, seeing a kid who is 6-8 with nice footwork and the wingspan Jake has, is a little harder to find."
There's also a local connection in play with Benzinger's commitment. New Deacons head coach Dave Clawson graduated from Williams College, located in Williamstown, in 1989.
Benzinger becomes the 14th Bay State prospect from the Class of 2015 to commit to a Division 1 FBS program, and the ninth to commit to an Atlantic Coast Conference school. He's also the second prospect from the Western Mass. district to commit to an ACC school, joining Amherst athlete Taj-Amir Torres (Boston College).