Boston High School: Roundtable

Roundtable: Early season favorites, Mr. Hockey finalists

December, 21, 2013
12/21/13
7:49
PM ET
1. What are your preseason Super 8 crossover round teams (last four teams), your winner and why?

Scott Barboza, ESPN Boston High Schools co-editor:
My top four would consist of Austin Prep, Catholic Memorial, Central Catholic and Malden Catholic.

I think after last year’s duel at the Garden, many observers across the state are penciling in a rematch between AP and MC, and with good reason. I felt last year the Cougars might be a year away from a finals appearance and/or hoisting the tournament’s hardware. I think with another year of seasoning under his belt in the crease, Elijah Harris is poised for a breakout season, which we had a glimpse of in last year’s first-round duel against city rival Reading.

Meanwhile, the Lancers are their usual selves. Look for Ara Nazarian to make another run at the Mr. Hockey award after becoming the first underclassman to win one last year. While MC is breaking in a new goaltender in junior Alex Reissis, the Lancers defense has some really nice building blocks with preseason All-State blue-liner Nick Rolli and the big and physical John McLean III.

Some – including myself here who might not have given the Knights enough credit in the preseason – might have looked at Catholic Memorial with a degree of uncertainty. After graduating their top two centers (Liam Coughlin and Jack O’Hear) and figuring in a prominent prep school defection, the Knights’ offensive cupboard looked a little bare. However, with a strong defensive corps, led by Frank Cosolito and Timmy Weinstein, CM will again be strong in its own end with All-State netminder Brandon Collett back between the pipes after a sensational Super 8 last year. And, of course, as with any of Bill Hanson’s teams, this group can really skat.

I’m torn between BC High and Central Catholic for the final spot in this group. I like BC High’s defensive depth, but I like Central just a little bit more as a complete team. The Raiders nearly upset St. John’s Prep in last year’s tournament behind a Herculean effort from All-State goaltender Colin Soucy. There’s plenty to like up front too from Central, as well, with Lloyd Hayes and Alex Lester both capable of putting together All-State-caliber seasons. You can never count out a Mike Jankowski team and I think, after some years of Super 8 heartache, the Raiders are ready to take it to the next level this year.

Mike Abelson, ESPN Boston High Schools correspondent:
Austin Prep, Malden Catholic, Cathedral, and Winchester.

The departure of Nolan Vesey may be the best thing that happened to Austin Prep. Yes he was talented, but the core of the Cougars were younger and are maturing as one. With so much talent back, including one of toughest defenses in the state, this team will have the best chance of knocking off MC at the end of the year.

That being said, until Malden Catholic loses in March, they’re in the driver's seat. The fact that Ara Nazarian hasn't left for prep school or juniors yet is huge. No one commands attention on the ice like Nazarian does, and he'll be the motor in the Lancers' engine this season. The biggest challenge for MC will be their schedule. Their "weakest" games are roads games at Franklin and Bishop Guertin. There is no off day for them between now and March. If they can make it through their first six games unscathed the statement will have been sent.

Recently, Cathedral has found different ways to come up bridesmaid at year's end. This year, the Panthers have the firepower to break through and show that Super 8 isn't exclusively for EMass. Peter Crinella seems like he's been dominating defenses forever and is just a junior. The Panthers defensively will lean on John Liquori in net, but I saw him last year when Cathedral beat Hingham at an overflowing Pilgrim Arena. He'll be fine.

As far as Winchester goes, James Offner is back between the pipes, and the offense still has Brendan Greene and Nolan Redler to work their magic on the scoreboard. The Middlesex League has six teams in ESPN Boston's initial Top 35 (I'm including the First 10 Out) and is loaded with talent. I'll even go so far to say that the Sachems earn one of the top-six spot in Super 8.

As far as a winner, I'll take Malden Catholic. Until they lose in March I'm not picking against them. Last year everyone wrote their obituary from the moment they snuck in as the 10-seed and the Lancers scorched through the tournament. My other three picks all have the talent and coaching to get it done, but I'm not picking against the Lancers.

John McGuirk, ESPN Boston High Schools correspondent:
My four picks are Malden Catholic, Springfield Cathedral, Catholic Memorial and BC High.

Malden Catholic has too much offensive firepower not to make a push at a fourth consecutive Super 8 crown. Led by Ara Nazarian, Tyler Sifferien and new goaltender Alex Reissis, the Lancers will certainly be well in the hunt. Like MC, Springfield Cathedral is loaded on the offensive side. Having got a taste of the Super 8 atmosphere a year ago, expect the Panthers to make a return. This club has way too much depth, albeit young, not to make a serious push for a championship. Peter Crinella and D.J. Petruzzelli lead the way, along with, lone senior John Liquori in net. Despite the loss of some solid contributors from a year ago, Catholic Memorial still has enough to make a case for itself led by Aaron Clancy. BC High may have lost goaltender Peter Cronin, but the Eagles should score enough goals where it doesn't matter who minds the net. Pat Kramer and Sam Topham will lead the way, as well as their strong defense.

Jeff Cox, ESPN Boston High Schools correspondent:
Austin Prep, Springfield Cathedral, Central Catholic and Malden Catholic have to be considered the top four choices to make it to the crossover round in 2014. Springfield Cathedral is dangerous with two solid goaltenders and some depth up front led by Holy Cross commit Peter Crinella, UMass commit Johnny Leonard and recent Quinnipiac commit D.J. Petruzzelli. Central Catholic is always well-coached by Mike Jankowski and has a solid senior goaltender in Colin Soucy. Malden Catholic should be solid, and has to be considered a contender, until proven otherwise.

Austin Prep is the team that will go all the way in 2014. The Cougars have arguably the best forward and best goaltender in the state. BU commit Bobo Carpenter will lead Louis Finnochiaro's team with a group of underrated underclassmen with Elijah Harris in between the pipes.,

2. It’s never too early to look at the postseason awards, so who would be your three finalists for Mr. Hockey?

Barboza:
In no particular order, I’m looking at last year’s winner, Nazarian, along with Austin Prep’s Bobo Carpenter. I don’t think either of those names will surprise anyone, but let’s take a look at a few dark horses.

This could be a year a goaltender emerges to steal the show – and the top player award – and both Soucy and Harris are capable of doing so, if they play as they did in last year’s tournament. Among the forwards, Springfield’s Peter Crinella could put up monster numbers this year surrounded by a terrific supporting cast and let’s not discount Winchester’s Nolan Redler, BC High’s Pat Kramer and Marshfield’s Pat Shea (a recent Maine commit).

Abelson:
Ara Nazarian, Nolan Redler, and Colin Soucy. Nazarian is the dominant force, Redler brings the alfredo, and Soucy is the glue that holds a talented Central Catholic squad together.

McGuirk:
  • Peter Crinella, Springfield Cathedral
  • Ara Nazarian, Malden Catholic
  • Pat Kramer, BC High
Cox:
It's rare for awards such as Mr. Hockey to go to any one, but a senior, but the three best players in the state this year will be juniors. Bobo Carpenter of Austin Prep is the top choice to be Mr. Hockey, followed by Springfield Cathedral's Peter Crinella and Malden Catholic's Ara Nazarian.

3. Which of the new entrants in Division 1 who’ve had success in recent years has the best shot of making an immediate impact this year?

Barboza:
Franklin had a rough second period against No. 2 Malden Catholic on Friday night, but I came away with more positives than negatives from a tough effort from the Panthers. Devon Maloof will again be among the state’s top netminders and I never think Chris Spillane gets enough credit for the job he does year-in, year-out with the program.

Similarly, the Panthers’ foil in last year’s Division 2 state championship game Wilmington will again thrive with an All-State-grade netminder Drew Foley returning. Foley already has claimed a number of the Wildcats’ all-time goaltending records with a year remaining in his high school career – not mention, back-to-back state D2 titles (both over Franklin).

Abelson:
Of the newbies in Division 1, Franklin has the best chance to rock the boat. Next week, the Panthers play Malden Catholic, Lincoln-Sudbury, and La Salle of Rhode Island. Win a couple of those games and you put the whole state on notice. Add in Cathedral and Newburyport to the non-conference schedule as well as several quality Hock games (at Mansfield, vs. Oliver Ames, vs. Newburyport) and the Panthers have a chance to raise hell and make a statement.

Cox:
Many of those teams lost key parts of their club to graduation, but Franklin has to be considered the top choice to make some noise in the Division I ranks. Senior goaltender Devon Maloof returns to lead the way Chris Spillane's troops. Newburyport might have the best record with the weakest schedule. Wilmington will have a tough go of it in the very challenging Middlesex League, but Steve Scanlon's teams always play hard.

Roundtable: Midseason All-State, Awards projections

October, 9, 2013
10/09/13
12:46
PM ET
Scott Barboza
ESPN Boston High Schools Editor


OFFENSE
QB – Troy Flutie, Sr., Natick
QB – Neil O’Connor, Sr., Leominster
QB – Andrew Smiley, Sr., St. John’s (Shrewsbury)
QB – Cody Williams, Sr., Springfield Central
RB – Brandon Gallagher, Jr., Bridgewater-Raynham
RB – Dylan Oxsen, Sr., Plymouth South
RB – Mike Panepinto, Sr., Needham
RB – Rufus Rushins, Jr., Bishop Fenwick
WR – Jack Galvin, Sr., Lowell
WR – Jeff Trainor, Soph., Billerica
WR – Ju’an Williams, Sr., Springfield Central
WR – Isaac Yiadom, Sr., Doherty
TE – Rory Donovan, Sr., Cardinal Spellman
TE – Brendan Hill, Jr., Mansfield
OL – Jon Baker, Sr., Millis/Hopedale
OL – Kent Blaeser, Sr., St. John’s Prep
OL – Shawn Duncombe, Sr., Plymouth South
OL – Grant Kramer, Sr., Duxbury
OL – Aaron Monteiro, Jr., Brockton
ATH – Zach Elkinson, Jr., Holliston
ATH – Hayden Murphy, Sr., Barnstable
K – John Fisher, Sr., Hingham

DEFENSE
DL – Joe Gaziano, Jr., Xaverian
DL – Will Greelish, Sr., Auburn
DL – Alex Quintero, Sr., Lowell
DL – Chris Tinkham, Sr., Lynn English
LB – Kevin Bletzer, Sr., Catholic Memorial
LB – Shyheim Cullen, Jr., Lowell
LB – Will Eikenberry, Sr., Andover
LB – Brett McEvoy, Sr., King Philip
LB – C.J. Parvelus, Sr., Everett
LB – Tom Rodrick, Sr., Leicester
DB – Jarell Addo, Sr., Leominster
DB – Lukas Denis, Jr., Everett
DB – D’Andre Drummond-Mayrie, Sr., Central Catholic
DB – Davon Jones, Jr., St. John’s (Shrewsbury)
D-ATH – Lubern Figaro, Sr., Everett
RET – Brooks Tyrell, Jr. Marblehead

Mr. Football Finalists:
Jon Baker, Millis/Hopedale
Troy Flutie, Natick - Winner
Neil O’Connor, Leominster - Winner
Dylan Oxsen, Plymouth South
Cody Williams, Springfield Central

Offensive Player of the Year – Dylan Oxsen, Plymouth South
Defensive Player of the Year – Tom Rodrick, Leicester
Lineman of the Year – Jon Baker, Millis/Hopedale
Coach of the Year – Bill Moore, Westfield


***


Brendan Hall
ESPN Boston High Schools Editor


OFFENSE
QB – Cody Williams, Sr., Springfield Central
QB – Troy Flutie, Sr., Natick
QB – Andrew Smiley, Sr., St. John’s (Shrewsbury)
QB – Neil O’Connor, Sr., Leominster
RB – Dylan Oxsen, Sr., Plymouth South
RB – Brandon Gallagher, Jr., Bridgewater-Raynham
RB – Brooks Tyrrell, Jr., Marblehead
RB – Rufus Rushins, Jr., Bishop Fenwick
WR – Isaac Yiadom, Sr., Doherty
WR – Ju’an Williams, Sr., Springfield Central
WR – Jack Galvin, Sr., Lowell
WR – Brian Daly, Sr., Marblehead
TE – Brendan Hill, Jr., Mansfield
TE – Rory Donovan, Sr., Cardinal Spellman
OL – Jon Baker, Sr., Millis/Hopedale
OL – Grant Kramer, Sr., Duxbury
OL – Kent Blaeser, Sr., St. John’s Prep
OL – Shaun Duncombe, Sr., Plymouth South
OL – Aidan Beresford, Sr., Marshfield
ATH – Hayden Murphy, Sr., Barnstable
ATH – Zach Elkinson, Jr., Holliston

DEFENSE
DL – Chris Tinkham, Sr., Lynn English
DL – Joe Gaziano, Jr., Xaverian
DL – Alex Quintero, Sr., Lowell
DL – Hunter Sallila, Sr., Fitchburg
LB – C.J. Parvelus, Sr., Everett
LB – Shyheim Cullen, Jr., Lowell
LB – Brett McEvoy, Sr., King Philip
LB – Kevin Bletzer, Sr., Catholic Memorial
LB – Will Eikenberry, Sr., Andover
LB – Tom Rodrick, Sr., Leicester
DB – Lubern Figaro, Sr., Everett
DB – Derek Estes, Sr., Barnstable
DB – Da’Quan Clemons, Sr., Springfield Central
DB – D’Andre Drummond-Mayrie, Sr., Central Catholic
D-ATH – Jarell Addo, Sr., Leominster
RET – Brady Jones, Sr., Pope John Paul II

Mr. Football Finalists
Troy Flutie, Natick - Winner
Neil O’Connor, Leominster
Dylan Oxsen, Plymouth South
Tom Rodrick, Leicester
Cody Williams, Springfield Central

Offensive Player of the Year – Cody Williams, Springfield Central
Defensive Player of the Year – Tom Rodrick, Leicester
Lineman of the Year – Jon Baker, Millis/Hopedale
Coach of the Year – Dave Palazzi, Leominster


***


Ryan Kilian
Founder and Editor, Massachusetts Prep Stars (massprepstars.com)


OFFENSE
QB – Cody Williams, Sr., Springfield Central
QB – Troy Flutie, Sr., Natick
QB – Andrew Smiley, Sr., St. John’s (Shrewsbury)
QB – Neil O’Connor, Sr., Leominster
RB – Dylan Oxsen, Sr., Plymouth South
RB – Brandon Gallagher, Jr., Bridgewater-Raynham
RB – Brooks Tyrrell, Jr., Marblehead
RB – Olan Abner, Sr., Bedford
WR – Isaac Yiadom, Sr., Doherty
WR – Ju’an Williams, Sr., Springfield Central
WR – Jack Galvin, Sr., Lowell
WR – Will Blumenberg, Jr., Concord-Carlisle
TE – Brendan Hill, Jr., Mansfield
TE – Rory Donovan, Sr., Cardinal Spellman
OL – Jon Baker, Sr., Millis/Hopedale
OL – Grant Kramer, Sr., Duxbury
OL – Kent Blaeser, Sr., St. John’s Prep
OL – Shawn Duncombe, Sr., Plymouth South
OL – Aidan Beresford, Sr., Marshfield
ATH – Hayden Murphy, Sr., Barnstable
ATH – Kevin Dick, Sr., Tewksbury

DEFENSE
DL – Chris Tinkham, Sr., Lynn English
DL – Joe Gaziano, Jr., Xaverian
DL – Alex Quintero, Sr., Lowell
DL – Josh Palmer, Sr., Everett
LB – C.J. Parvelus, Sr., Everett
LB – Shyheim Cullen, Jr., Lowell
LB – Liam Kenneally, Sr., Reading
LB – Eddie Matovu, Sr., Tewksbury
LB – Will Eikenberry, Sr., Andover
LB – Tom Rodrick, Sr., Leicester
DB – Lubern Figaro, Sr., Everett
DB – Derek Estes, Sr., Barnstable
DB – Davon Jones, Jr., St. John’s (Shrewsbury)
DB – D’Andre Drummond-Mayrie, Sr., Central Catholic
D-ATH – Jarell Addo, Sr., Leominster


Mr. Football Finalists:
D’Andre Drummond-Mayrie, Central Catholic
Lubern Figaro, Everett
Troy Flutie, Natick - Winner
Neil O’Connor, Leominster
Cody Williams, Springfield Central

Offensive Player of the Year – Neil O’Connor, Leominster
Defensive Player of the Year – Lubern Figaro, Everett
Lineman of the Year – Jon Baker, Millis/Hopedale
Coach of the Year – Dave Palazzi, Leominster


***

Bob McGovern
ESPN Boston correspondent


OFFENSE
QB - Cody Williams, Sr., Springfield Central
QB - Troy Flutie, Sr., Natick
QB - Will Bolster, Sr., Walpole
QB - Brian Dolan, Sr., Lowell
RB - Rufus Rushins, Jr., Bishop Fenwick
RB - Brooks Tyrrell, Jr., Marblehead
RB - Brandon Gallagher, Jr., Bridgewater-Raynham
RB - Dylan Oxsen, Sr., Plymouth South
WR - Kevin Nunes, Sr., New Bedford
WR - Jack Galvin, Sr., Lowell
WR - T.J. Hairston, Jr., Watertown
WR - Isaac Yiadom, Sr., Doherty
TE - Rory Donovan, Sr., Cardinal Spellman
TE - Brendan Hill, Jr., Mansfield
OL - Jon Baker, Sr., Millis/Hopedale
OL - Aaron Monteiro, Jr., Brockton
OL - Josh Briggs, Sr., Oliver Ames
OL - Joey Fitton, Sr., Holy Name
OL - Aidan Beresford, Sr., Marshfield
ATH - Malik Garrett, Sr., Melrose
ATH - Michael Dunn, Jr., Dennis-Yarmouth

DEFENSE
DL - Shaun Duncombe, Sr., Plymouth South
DL - John Panzini, Sr., Wakefield
DL - Joe Brown, Sr., Central Catholic
DL - Joe Gaziano, Jr., Xaverian
LB - Tom Rodrick, Sr., Leicester
LB - Steve DiCienzo, Sr., BC High
LB - Shayne Kaminski, Sr., Xaverian
LB - Eric Mercer, Sr., Melrose
LB - Eddie Matovu, Sr., Tewksbury
LB - Michael Kwegyir-Attah, Sr., Haverhill
DB - D'Andre Drummond-Mayrie, Sr., Central Catholic
DB - Lubern Figaro, Sr., Everett
DB - Damion Wood, Jr., Xaverian
DB - Jarell Addo, Sr., Leominster
D-ATH - Isaiah Douglas, Sr., Bishop Feehan
RET - Frank Roche, Jr., Arlington

Mr. Football Finalists:
Rufus Rushins, Bishop Fenwick - Winner
Troy Flutie, Natick
Cody Williams, Springfield Central
Tom Rodrick, Leicester
Will Bolster, Walpole

Offensive Player of the Year: Rufus Rushins, Bishop Fenwick
Defensive Player of the Year: Jarell Addo, Leominster
Lineman of the Year: Shaun Duncombe, Plymouth South
Coach of the Year: Joe Gaff, BC High


***


Joe Parello
ESPN Boston correspondent


Mr. Football Finalists:
1. Johnny Thomas, Sr. RB/DB, St. John's Prep
2. Neil O'Connor, Sr. QB/S, Leominster
3. Troy Flutie, Sr. QB, Natick
4. Cody Williams, Sr. QB, Springfield Central
5. Dylan Oxsen, Sr. RB, Plymouth South

Obviously, Thomas isn't going to win the award at season's end due to injury, but it's hard not to have him at the top here at the midway point. The St. John's Prep sensation was living up to every bit of the preseason hype at running back and delivered, perhaps, the play of the year in high school football on defense, returning an interception 107 yards for a score against Central Catholic.

Just behind him you're splitting hairs between O'Connor and Flutie, but I think the Leominster two-way player does a little more for his team. Obviously, there's a lot of football to be played.

Offensive Player of the Year: Troy Flutie, Sr. QB, Natick
All that being said, from a purely offensive perspective, it's hard to top what Flutie has done for the Redhawks. Without his two best targets, the BC commit is still putting up video game numbers in Natick's undefeated start. Level of competition is a bit of a question, but over 1,000 yards and 17 TDs while breaking in new receivers is hard to argue with.

Defensive Player of the Year: Tom Rodrick, Sr. LB, Leicester
Call me crazy, but I can't think of a player that does more for his defense than Leicester's massive middle linebacker. The UConn commit has an undeniable nose for the ball and plays with infectious energy, but it's his thunderous hits that make even the best runners in Central Mass nervous to carry the ball against the Wolverines. Rodrick is also a special teams demon, blocking a critical extra point in Leicester's big win over Auburn Saturday night.

Lineman of the Year: Jon Baker, Sr., Millis/Hopedale
He's the best offensive line prospect in the state, opening gaping holes for MH's prolific senior RB Chris Ahl, and the anchor of a suddenly salty Mohawks defense. MH isn't exactly a powerhouse, but Baker is special.

Coach of the Year: Dave Palazzi, Leominster
It helps when you have talent, as the Blue Devils do this year, but not many coaches get more out of their talent than Palazzi. The second-year Leominster coach has had the Midas touch this season, moving star athlete Neil O'Connor from receiver to quarterback on offense, and bouncing UMass-bound athlete Jarell Addo around pretty much everywhere on both sides of the ball.

Palazzi has also found creative ways to utilize versatile athletes James Gurley, Mayson Williams and Jake Allain, while running everything from the spread option to the double wing in Leominster's unpredictable attack.


***


Mike Abelson
ESPN Boston correspondent


Mr. Football: Johnny Aylward, Sr. QB, Tewksbury
He might not be the best overall player, but no one is more valuable to his team than he is for Tewksbury.

Finalists: Issac Yiadom, Doherty; Brendan Hill, Mansfield; Troy Flutie, Natick; Dylan Oxsen, Plymouth South

Offensive Player of the Year: Troy Flutie, Natick
Defensive Player of the Year: Tom Rodrick, Leicester
Coach of the year: Tom Ryan, Methuen

Roundtable: Early MIAA boys hoop thoughts

October, 3, 2013
10/03/13
12:40
PM ET
With the big news breaking Monday night out of Springfield -- where the legendary Jack O'Brien is returning to the sidelines, out at Springfield Central, after eight years away from the game -- we thought this would be an opportunistic time to deliver some early thoughts and predictions headed into the first MIAA basketball practices in late November.

Brendan Hall
ESPN Boston High Schools Editor


What Jack O'Brien's return means
Simply put, with what William Shepard has built at Putnam, and how the Beavers' bitter rivals have responded with this O'Brien hiring, we could be entering an unprecedented era of buzz for high school hoops in the birthplace of basketball -- and that's already with the two schools combining for the last two Division 1 state titles. The schools' rivalry with each other is well-documented. Bringing in a patriarch like O'Brien cranks this rivalry up to 10 -- and, perhaps, the schools being less than a mile apart along Roosevelt Ave. brings the intensity to an 11.

Barring catastrophe, the Beavers will be a unanimous No. 1 to start the season, with four starters returning and four transfers coming in, most notably sophomores Davidson Pacheco and Tyonne Malone (who already holds offers from UMass and Boston University). O'Brien produced nationally-ranked squads at Charlestown, McDonald's All-Americans at Salem, and has six Division 2 state championships to his name. Central is already a budding statewide power, but given O'Brien's track record, it seems a foregone conclusion this program will hit another gear quickly.

All things considered, I may end up renting a second property in Springfield this winter. With these two squads battling it out for supremacy in the 413, there is no place else to be this winter for high school hoop fans across the Bay State.

PRESEASON TOP 10

1. Springfield Putnam
No surprise here. The Beavers return four starters and bring in several excellent transfers with college scholarship potential. By season's end this was the best running team in the state, and they show no signs of slowing down in 13-14.

2. Mansfield
Everybody but Greg Romanko returns from last year's D1 state finalist squad, including Hockomock MVP junior forward Brendan Hill. By season's end, this was the best shooting team in Massachusetts, and with everybody back in tow they are a favorite to return to the Garden and beyond.

3. Lynn English
They may surrender a ton of points, but they are incredibly fun to watch and have one of the deepest backcourts in Freddy Hogan, Stevie Collins and Erick Rosario. Throw in promising 6-foot-6 pogo stick Johnny Hilaire, and a frenetic pace that routinely scores in the 80's or 90's.

4. Central Catholic
The Raiders lost two of their best forwards, Doug Gemmell and Nick Cambio, before the playoffs, yet still came away with the D1 North title. With a fully healthy Cambio, plus Fairfield-bound sharpshooter Tyler Nelson, they're a favorite in D1 North for the umpteenth year in a row under coach Rick Nault.

5. Brookline
Point guard Elijah Rogers' breakout run in the D1 South tournament has been much-talked about in the offseason, but the difference will be 6-foot-6 center Obi Obiora. He's a defensive monster who is still developing an offensive game, but like Rogers he can control a game without scoring points.

6. Catholic Memorial
The return of Aahmane Santos after a year of prep school gives the Knights one of the deepest backcourts in the state. If junior marksman Giulien Smith can go for 20 points a night, these guys have potential to make their deepest run since winning the D2 state title in 2008.

7. Springfield Central
All together now...#JackIsBack

8. St. John’s (Shrewsbury)
Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Give Bob Foley two frontcourt pivots and he can carve up pretty much any team in the state. Oh, and they'll have a pretty nice backcourt between Davon Jones and Adham Floyd.

9. New Mission
As usual, the Titans have a Northeast-10 ready backcourt with Franklin Pierce commit Asante Sandiford aboard. But this is going to be the season Shaquan Murray comes into his own, fresh off a promising summer AAU run.

10. St. John’s Prep
The Eagles were already considered a contender with junior Ben Judson in the fold. But the addition of Lowell transfer Kareem Davis changes everything.

SUPER TEAM

G – Tyler Nelson, Sr., Central Catholic
Fairfield commit has been one of the state's top marksmen for several years, a reputation further solidfied this summer on the EYBL circuit. Now, he'll be counted on to lead the Raiders through a tricky D1 North title defense.

G – Elijah Rogers, Sr., Brookline
At times demonstrating supreme athleticism, there are few guards that can control a game without scoring points the way Rogers can. And then when he is scoring...boy, is he fun to watch.

F – Brendan Hill, Jr., Mansfield
For all of his shooting and rebounding ability, it's the 6-foot-5 point forward's passing ability, especially in the open court, that puts him among the state's elite.

F – David Murrell, Sr., Springfield Putnam
Despite all of their blowouts, at times it seemed like the Beavers couldn't throw the ball in the ocean. But they would never get outworked as long as the 6-foot-3 Murrell (14.9 points, 10 rebounds, .530 field goal pct.) was underneath. He is as physical a player as you'll find.

C – Chris Baldwin, Jr., Springfield Central
When his head is on straight, there isn't anybody in the MIAA with his level of talent. And it's not even close.

PARTING THOUGHTS

1. With seemingly increased pressure on kids to play AAU basketball six, seven, even eight months out of the year, it's nice to know the folks at Putnam get it. Guards Dizel Wright, Ki-Shawn Monroe and Jonathan Garcia are apparently playing soccer this fall, and I couldn't agree more with this decision -- but not so much because it works different muscle groups, keeps them fresh from burnout, and reinforces team-oriented goals, though those are obviously important factors. The Beavers want to play a "40 Minutes of Hell" style of basketball; if you watched the Beavers last year, they got a lot of points off of turnovers and fast breaks. Some players doing soccer, and others running cross-country, ensures these kids will be able to keep up with Shepard's preferred tempo when they officially begin practice next month. Maybe others can take a hint or two from this.

2. While many of us (myself included) were occupied with getting pulse on the Jack O'Brien hire at Springfield Central, that same Monday night Methuen may have snuck under the radar with a bit of an underrated hire. Anthony Faradie is a bright young basketball mind, and what he built at Medford is nothing short of terrific when you consider where the Mustangs were before his arrival. The Merrimack Valley Conference is arguably the state's toughest league, and every now and then the Rangers come above water to enter the conversation. With Faradie at the helm, they have potential to be in the discussion every season.

3. The 2013-14 statewide divisional realignment was met at first with a groan when it was introduced last year, but I've come around on this quite a bit, if not solely for the competitive shake-up about to unfurl in Division 1 Central. It's going to be a whole other ball game for the St. John's of the world when they have to face the likes of Westford, Acton-Boxborough and Franklin in playoff games. Also, I've long championed Franklin as one of the fiercest (and most innovative) student sections, and I am 150 percent on board with any realignment that puts these lunatics in the state's best venue to watch a high school game, WPI's Harrington Auditorium.


***


Chris Bradley
ESPN Boston correspondent


What Jack O'Brien's return means
Jack O'Brien to Springfield Central seems like a perfect marriage, especially given the amount of talent in inner-city Springfield. Central star forward Chris Baldwin is supremely gifted; at 6-foot-7 he can rebound, block shots, shoot from mid-range, and dominate in the paint. However, his production last year for the Golden Eagles was often inconsistent and there were plenty of questions this summer -- whether it was him switching up AAU teams in the middle of the live period, or abot whether or not he would even be back at Central or transfer to a nearby prep school. Baldwin has shown he has the talent to play college basketball at the highest level, but his focus and production will likely determine how far he goes. Can O'Brien get the most out of the MIAA's highest-level college prospect? Given O'Brien's track record, my gut says yes.

PRESEASON TOP 10

1. Springfield Putnam
Coach William Shepard has to be excited about the talent on this team, after throwing Davidson Pacheco and highly-touted wing Tyonne Malone into a rotation that already included a large core of last year's state championship team--including David Murrell, Dizel Wright, Jonathan Garcia, and Ty Nichols. The scary thing about Putnam is that this team is more talented than last year's Division 1 state title team.

2. Mansfield
It will be state championship or bust for the Hornets this year, after coming up just short against Putnam in the Division 1 state championship game. With a solid core of Brendan Hill, Kyle Wisnewski, Rocky DeAndre, Ryan Boulter, and Mike Boen, Mansfield has to be the pre-season favorite in Division 1 South.

3. St. John's (Shrewsbury)
The Pioneers only lost Kenny Harrington off of last year's squad that fell in the Division 1 Central final to Milford. Bob Foley's stable of post players is the state's best: featuring Alex Fisher, Drew Vittum, Charlie Murray, and TJ Kelley. St. John's also returns starting point guard Davon Jones and highly-touted sophomore Adham Floyd.

4. Lynn English
The element of surprise was on English's side last year--nobody predicted their lengthy run in the Division 1 North tournament. The Bulldogs will have the "X" on their back this year though, returning high-scoring guards Erick Rosario, Freddy Hogan, and Stevie Collins, scrappy forward Danny Lukanda, and 6-foot-6 center Johnny Hilaire.

5. Catholic Memorial
The transfer of Aamahne Santos takes CM from Catholic Conference title contender to state championship contender, as he joins Guilien Smith and Denis Tobin in the Knights' backcourt rotation. This could be CM's best team in years, rivaling the Matt Droney/Dan Powers-led squad of 2012.

6. Central Catholic
Tyler Nelson and Nick Cambio will be back for venegance after losing to Mansfield in the Eastern Mass. championship game last year. They'll have a pretty solid supporting cast: Aaron Hall, a 6-foot-6 senior, was impressive in Cambio's absence last year, and remember the name Kevin Fernandez--the freshman point guard should get minutes right away in Rick Nault's rotation.

7. New Mission
Returning guards Asante Sandiford, Shaquan Murray, and Randy Glenn, this Titans' squad has to be one of Cory McCarthy's best yet. City league rival Brighton bested New Mission in the city championship game last year, is this the year the talented Titans return to glory.

8. St. John's Prep
The Eagles were one of the state's best teams last year, and should be once again this year with returning projected starters Ben Judson, Max Burt, and Max Butterbrodt. Throwing Lowell transfer Kareem Davis into the mix makes this team a well-oiled machine on offense.

9. Melrose
Frantzdy Pierrot was one of the MIAA's best all-around guards last year, while sophomore point guard Sherron Harris improved by leaps and bounds this summer. Keep this in mind: Melrose was 22-0 last year before they lost to eventual state champ Brighton by 3 points in the D2 North semis.

10. St. Peter-Marian
Is this finally the year that the talented Guardians win a title at WPI? Perhaps. This team will be one of Marcus Watson's best in recent years, featuring senior leaders Connor Brown and Sean Sweeney, in addition to well-regarded sophomores Makai Ashton-Langford and Greg Kuakumensah.

SUPER TEAM

G - Elijah Rogers, Sr., Brookline
The do it all point guard will be one of the MIAA's top scorers this year as a senior. His ability to take over a game should enable Brookline to make a lengthy run in Division 1 South.

G - Tyler Nelson, Sr., Central Catholic
He may very well be New England's best shooter, and Nelson will be plenty motivated after falling up short in the Division 1 North tournament two years in a row.

G - Tommy Mobley, Jr., Newton North
Mobley would certainly give Nelson a run for his money in a shooting competition, the star junior torched the MIAA last year--emerging as one of the state's most dangerous scorers.

F - Brendan Hill, Jr., Mansfield
Hill will be one heck of a floor presence one year after helping Mansfield get to the Division 1 state title game. The versatile 6-foot-5 big man, a coveted college football prospect, is nimble and versatile, making him a matchup nightmare.

F - Chris Baldwin, Jr., Springfield Central
There isn't a player in the MIAA with a higher ceiling than Baldwin. Last year he played second fiddle to former two-time All-Stater Kamari Robinson, but this year Central will be Baldwin's team. Expect him to put up huge numbers.

PARTING THOUGHTS

1. St. John's Prep first-year coach John Dullea has a lot to be excited about these days, especially after picking up a transfer in former Lowell point guard Kareem Davis. Davis, a 5-foot-9 junior, will be looked at to contribute right away for another very good Prep squad who will also feature lefty shooter Ben Judson and blue collar big man Max Butterbrodt. Davis' ball handling and superb floor vision were integral in a high-scoring Lowell offense last year, which should give plenty of indication to how Prep's offense will look this season.

2. Few players in New England had a bigger summer than St. Peter-Marian sophomore point guard Makai Ashton-Langford, even picking up his first scholarship offer from Dan Hurley and Rhode Island. Ashton-Langford and 6-foot-4 classmate Greg Kuakumensah will bring some promising young talent to a St. Peter-Marian squad that returns senior Connor Brown--one of the MIAA's best outside shooters, and senior big man Sean Sweeney--a long, athletic forward who primarily stays down in the post. Guardians' coach Marcus Watson never shies away from a challenge, look for another tough schedule loaded with teams from outside Central Mass.

3. Good luck finding a better backcourt in the MIAA than the one Catholic Memorial will boast this winter. After junior Guilien Smith tore the state's best defenses apart last year, star guard Aamahne Santos announced earlier this fall that he would be joining Smith and the Knights this year. CM has been outstanding at the Beantown Slam Fall League at New Mission, that great play should carry over smoothly going into the winter season.


***


Terrence Payne
MassLive.com


What Jack O'Brien's return means
As a Springfield native, I am excited to watch the legendary Jack O'Brien a lot this winter. I've heard the stories and it will be interesting to see where he takes this Central program, who won its first state title since the Travis Best era under Mike Labrie in 2012.

This shakes up the Springfield hoops landscape for sure. We've seen what a good coaching hire can do, look no further than Will Shepard. Putnam has the state title and a new school, which is attractive to basketball players. O'Brien helps stir kids back to Central.

Central is in a very talented city. It's not just a battle between Putnam and Central on Roosevelt Ave.

Springfield Cathedral, despite enrollment issues, has some quality freshmen (and one eighth grader). He also added Anthony Reynolds from Sabis. Justin Dalessio has won with small numbers and he does return Darrick Boyd and an improved Edens Jean-Baptiste.

The big question is how he will handle Chris Baldwin, and if he can help reach his potential.

PRESEASON TOP 10

1. Springfield Putnam
Four starters return, as well as sixth man Ty Nichols. Kayjuan Bynum is gone but add forwards Tyonne Malone and Davidson Pacheco to the lineup. David Murrell will be a force on the offensive glass and Dizel Wright and Jonathan Garcia are as good as defenders as you'll find in the state.

2. Mansfield
Wouldn't a Mansfield-Putnam rematch be great? Brendan Hill, along with many other key contributors can make that possible with another run by a team that lost only one senior.

3. Central Catholic
The Raiders once again have a team with high expectations. Tyler Nelson and Nick Cambio know how to make runs in the playoffs, the question is whether it ends in the Garden or the DCU Center?

4. Brookline
The Warriors have talent inside and out. Elijah Rodgers will be running the point while Obi Obiora looked to be one of the better rim protectors this summer with Middlesex Magic.

5. Lynn English
The Bulldogs impressed last year with a young cast, but is Steve Collins, Erick Rosario and Freddy Hogan ready to put Lynn English among the state's elite teams?

6. St. John's (Shrewsbury)
Always a team to fear in Central Mass. The Pioneers bring back Davon Jones and T.J. Kelly to anchor a team that looks to qualify for the state semifinals after a season ended in the Central Mass. finals to Milford.

7. Melrose
A team that made it to the Division 2 North semifinals returns Frantdzy Pierrot and Sherron Harris makes for another promising season for Melrose

8. Brighton
The Division 2 state champions have to replace Malik James, who is now at Notre Dame Prep. The strength maybe its frontline with Nick Simpson and Jason Jones

9. Springfield Central
Chris Baldwin returns after flirting with the idea of prep school. The key addition is head coach Jack O'Brien though

10. Springfield Cathedral
Darrick Boyd is back. Edens Jean-Baptiste is much improved. Those two guys will carry a team of transfers and newcomers.

SUPER TEAM

G - Tyler Nelson, Sr., Central Catholic
He's been one of the best shooters in the state over the past few years. It's his senior season and is looking to advance Central Catholic to the DCUenter

G - Darrick Boyd, Jr., Springfield Cathedral
He was one of the best kept secrets as a sophomore. He's putting up numbers in his first season on the gridiron, but he is one of the state's best guards and will prove it this season with an improved Springfield Cathedral lineup.

G - Tommy Mobley, Jr., Newton North
Like Nelson, one of the best shooters in the state. Has good size at the guard position, and is coming off a summer with the BABC's 16U team

F - Brendan Hill, Jr., Mansfield
The sting of losing the state title game to Putnam is still there. That only adds to his motivation to bring the Hornets back to Worcester for a shot at redemption.

F - David Murrell, Sr., Springfield Putnam
Kayjuan Bynum is gone, leaving that role for Murrell to fit. He'll be the fixture on the boards, especially on the offensive glass where Putnam was so effective last season.

PARTING THOUGHTS

1. Putnam isn't living off last year's success. The Beavers are no longer the "little brother" school on Roosevelt Ave., and they are eager to enter the season with a target on their backs. Putnam is going to have a tougher schedule, and got a good run this weekend at the Commonwealth Academy Fall Tip-Off this past weekend where they matched up with two prep schools. The Beavers handled a short-handed MacDuffie squad, and topped a talented ninth grade team that will be Commonwealth Academy's varsity team this winter.

2. Lynn English made a run last year, and returns so much talent. Guards like Steve Collins and Erick Rosario ran with Metro Boston this summer, and played up in the 17-under division at the Maine Event in June and during the July live recruiting period a the BasketBull Summer Championships. Gaining experience like that against some of the region's top talent is so important for a Bulldogs team that has high hopes this winter.
1. HOW DOES THE SEASON-ENDING KNEE INJURY TO ALL-STATE SENIOR RUNNING BACK JOHNNY THOMAS CHANGE THE DYNAMIC FOR ST. JOHN'S PREP?

Scott Barboza, ESPN Boston High Schools Editor: Akin to Vince Wilfork of the Patriots, you cannot simply replace a player who brings so much to the table. All you can hope to do is adapt. Now, it was a small sample size, but Cody Harwood ran with some authority in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s loss to Everett in Thomas’ absence. You cannot replicate Thomas’ home-run-potential in the running game, but if Harwood can at least pick up some of the slack, perhaps the Eagles can take greater advantage of the play-action passing game, with top targets Jake Burt and Owen Rockett becoming a featured part of the offense, supplementing the ground game. Also, as Eagles head coach Jim O’Leary pointed out Saturday, they can ill-afford untimely offensive penalties, including the slew of false start infractions which stunted several promising drives against Everett. With Prep’s ball-control-oriented offense, the burden of playing perfect will be paramount without Thomas.

Brendan Hall, ESPN Boston High Schools Editor: No disrespect to anyone else in the Prep backfield, but when you lose a player as gifted as "Johnny Guapo", it's not simply a matter of "next man up". When the Minnesota Vikings lost Adrian Peterson to a knee injury in 2011, it was not simply "next man up" for Toby Gerhart, try as he might. No, what the Prep needs to do is adapt and survive to advance. When the Patriots lost Vince Wilfork on Sunday night, they didn't try to replace his irreplaceable two-gap responsibility -- they diversified their fronts, including sub packages heavy on speed personnel.

If the Eagles are to maintain their preseason expectations minus one of the Bay State's most gifted backs of this generation, they cannot simply throw another body in at tailback -- good as he may be -- and expect the same results. They must change on the fly, much of which has to involve junior perimeter threats Owen Rocket and Jake Burt. In particular, Burt is a matchup nightmare at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds. Even as the passing game struggled in the season's early-goings, Burt was practically uncoverable for good stretches. For Burt, it is time to unleash the beast within that everyone has been anxiously waiting for.

Josh Perry, ESPN Boston correspondent: Obviously, this is a huge blow to Prep’s run at back-to-back Super Bowl titles, but this may become a moment for the team to rally together. There are few more powerful motivators than “nobody believes in us” and I think the Prep players may feel that they’re being dismissed without their star teammate. If the team can pull together and several players can raise their games, such as Cody Harwood, who took over after Thomas went down against Everett, then there is till the talent to win games. Any team that overlooks Prep now that Thomas is out, does so at their peril.

John McGuirk, ESPN Boston correspondent: The loss of Thomas is no doubt a big blow for the Eagles. But this is St. John's Prep. A program, including this season, with a plethora of talent throughout its roster. Prep has depth and, with Thomas out, may have to adjust its offensive play calling schemes a bit. If they start to become more pass-savvy, then expect opposing defenses to changed their strategies at well. But you know they have someone waiting in the wings who can carry the rock. We shall see.

2. WITH THOMAS' HIGH SCHOOL CAREER OVER, WHERE DOES HE RANK ALL-TIME AMONG THE RUNNING BACKS YOU'VE SEEN IN MASSACHUSETTS?

Barboza: I think he’s the best. In the history of our venture with ESPN Boston, the only player who vaguely presented what Thomas did in terms of commanding attention each and every carry is someone he briefly played with – former Prep running back Tyler Coppola. Obviously, Thomas’ ceiling as a collegiate player is much higher than most Massachusetts athletes in recent memory, but Coppola also created that kind of buzz with each carry –- the ability to score a touchdown on any given touch from anywhere on the field. That’s what Thomas also brought and it most certainly will be missed.

Hall: I'm a 2003 graduate of Oakmont Regional High School, in Ashburnham, and if you look into our program you'll find us Spartans have a long history of being run roughshod over by some of the best backs this state has ever produced, from Ayer's fabled Morris brothers to St. Peter-Marian's Jerry Azumah to Holyoke's Cedric Washington and arguably the best of the what-could-have-been's, Fitchburg's Will Earley.

Over my decade as a writer, the only comparables I can think of are Everett's Isaac Johnson and Dartmouth's Jordan Todman. The drawback with Johnson is we perhaps didn't get to see the full arsenal because of the Tide's offense at the time (double wing), and that he was a better cornerback anyways. Todman -- who appears to have finally solidified an NFL roster spot, on the Jacksonville Jaguars -- demonstrated that same breakaway speed that earned Thomas SEC scholarship offers this past spring before settling on Maryland. But while Todman was more of a finesse back, Thomas is the total package, as demonstrated by clips like these:



And, as a parting shot, I'd just like to say Johnny Thomas is one of the most sincere, appreciative, humble high school athletes I've had the pleasure of covering. There's a reason many opposing coaches and players around the region have expressed such deep sympathy publicly since the season-ending injury -- you couldn't be any nicer than Johnny.

Perry: I didn’t see either back more than a handful of times combined, but the two best that I’ve seen were Thomas and Jordan Todman of Dartmouth. If I have to choose one, I’m going with Todman based on his performance for the Indians in the 2007 Super Bowl against Everett. It was one of the most dynamic games that I’ve seen by a running back and he almost single-handedly took home the title for Dartmouth. If I had seen Thomas play live, I may have a different impression, but I give the nod to Todman by a small margin.

McGuirk: Thomas has been one of the more dynamic running backs of this decade. But there are some other former Massachusetts backs who I believe were better. You need to look no further than Joe, Mike and Jamie Morris (Ayer), Cedric Washington (Holyoke), Brian Picucci (Leominster), Jerry Azumah (St. Peter-Marian), Alex Scyocurka (Longmeadow) and Zack McCall (Fitchburg) -- all of whom were some of the greatest this state has ever produced.

Mike Abelson, ESPN Boston correspondent: He's probably in my top five. Number one would be Everett's Omar Easy, followed by Dartmouth's Jordan Todman, Thomas, Everett's Isaac Johnson, and Billerica's James McCluskey.

3. WITH THOMAS ON THE SHELF, WHO ARE THE FAVORITES NOW FOR ESPN BOSTON'S PRESTIGIOUS 'MR. FOOTBALL' AWARD?

Barboza: In no particular order, I’d group quarterbacks Troy Flutie (Natick), Neil O’Connor (Leominster), Drew Smiley (St. John’s of Shrewsbury) and Cody Williams (Central) in the hunt. I think Plymouth South’s Dylan Oxsen is now the leader in the clubhouse among the running backs and Lowell wide receiver Jack Galvin should garner consideration. But, just maybe, this opens the door for our first ever lineman to take the award, which could be Millis/Hopedale’s Jon Baker. Or how about a safety in Leominster’s Jarell Addo?

Hall: Any discussion post-Thomas has to start with Natick quarterback Troy Flutie. The Redhawks lost one of the most gifted Bay State receivers in some time, Brian Dunlap, for the year, after just one preseason game. Then they lost the next best thing, Alex Hilger, last week to a shoulder injury. Yet as the injuries to the receiving corps continue to pile up, Flutie just continues to put up video game numbers. Last week against Wellesley might have been his best performance to date. He completed 66 percent of his passes for 236 yards and five touchdowns, and added 170 rushing yards on the ground. Through three games, minus his two best receivers, he has 1,076 yards of offense and 14 touchdowns.

Other names to consider currently are Springfield Central quarterback Cody Williams, Plymouth South running back Dylan Oxsen, and Leominster quarterback Neil O'Connor.

Perry: I wonder how many people will still lean towards Thomas just because of how good he was prior to the injury? Troy Flutie continues to pile up stats and keeps Natick rolling, despite losing his top receiver and has to be among the favorites. Brendan Hill has been a beast for no. 1 Mansfield on both sides of the ball and Mike Panepinto is carrying the load again for a resurgent Needham team. The one great thing about the playoff system is that some of these players may get the chance to go head-to-head and the awards may come down to which player’s team ends up holding the trophy at Gillette.

McGuirk: Springfield Central quarterback Cody Williams. He is the best dual-threat signal-caller in the state. Having led Central to the Division 1 Western Mass. Super Bowl title a year ago, Williams and the Golden Eagles are eyeing a bigger prize -- a Division 2 state championship -- this time around.

Abelson: I'd say Troy Flutie takes over at the top with Brendan Hill and Dylan Oxsen in the discussion as well. Throw in Hayden Murphy and Mike Panepinto to round out my top five.

4. MIKE MCGILLICUDDY'S WALK-OFF KICK RETURN FOR ST. JOHN'S OF SHREWSBURY IS ONE OF THE BEST ENDINGS YOU'LL SEE IN HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL FOR YEARS. WHAT'S THE BEST ENDING TO A HIGH SCHOOL GAME YOU'VE COVERED?

Barboza: I think it will pain Mr. McGillicuddy to bring up this sour memory, but at Pioneer field just about one year ago, with archrival Leominster visiting, Neil O’Connor officially made a name for himself. Trailing 34-29, the Blue Devils went into their two-minute drill and masterfully, behind quarterback Garrett DelleChiaie, set up O’Connor’s game-winning touchdowns with four seconds remaining. The best part of the ending is that Blue Devils head coach Dave Palazzi actually left the play call on the game’s penultimate snap to his quarterback and then receiver (now turned QB). It was a tremendous ending to a great back-and-forth game on a perfect mid-fall day; one I’ll always remember.

Hall: I simply go back to last year's wild ending at Plymouth South, in which the host Panthers used a last-second hook-and-ladder to beat Nauset 13-12 and clinch their first postseason berth in school history. The visiting Warriors went ahead with 40 seconds left on a one-yard goal line dive, only to watch their lead evaporate in the final seconds. Dylan Oxsen had been bottled up pretty nicely the whole game, until these final eight seconds. This is where I think he established himself as one of the state's premier running backs:

Perry: In 2008, I started covering Attleboro High for the local cable station and they had a really strong team that was in its next-to-last season in the OCL. They challenged a really strong Dartmouth team (that included Arthur Lynch of Georgia and Sean Sylvia of Boston College) right to the end, but it was an early-season win over Bridgewater-Raynham that allowed it to happen. Trailing with less than a minute to go, Attleboro needed a miracle and got it when B-R sent a snap over the head of the punter and Matt Campbell chased down the loose ball for a touchdown. That wasn’t the end of the game as a shaky pass interference call gave the Trojans one more chance at the end zone, but Nate Robitaille knocked it down in the corner of the end zone. Tozier-Cassidy was rocking; it was the loudest that I've ever heard the Attleboro fans.

McGuirk: Gardner kicker Donny Lemieux booted a 40-plus yard field goal with no time left to beat St. John's of Shrewsbury back in 2003 in a huge upset victory. Lemieux later went on to a fine career at Holy Cross.

Abelson: Hands down for me it was Brooks-Nobles Halloween 2008. A mediocre Brooks team lead by Jason Buco traded touchdowns with a McCallum Foote-led Nobles team for 48 minutes. Buco had a 98-yard interception return to tie the game at 21, and the whole game had a bigger than life feel even though there was only about 150 people watching.
Brooks' Joe Napolitano scored from a yard out with 20 seconds left to make it 28-27 Nobles. Instead of pushing for overtime Alex Konovalchik went for the win. The conversion called for Buco to roll left and throw to Napolitano on a short cross in the corner, but Buco sailed the throw a touch and Foote picked it off right in front of me and went 100 yards for the safety to ice a 30-27 win. For me no game I've covered has come close to that one.

5. WHICH PLAYERS HAVE HAD THE BIGGEST BREAKOUT IN THE FIRST HALF OF THE SEASON?

Barboza: He’s somebody that’s been on our radar for some time, but King Philip’s Joe Johnston is playing in beast mode through the quarter point of the season. Johnston’s rushed for more than 400 yards and five touchdowns in three games. Coupled with Christian Flaherty, Johnston’s created one prong of one of the state’s most feared backfield duos. Of course, like many of the Warriors’ recent greats, he plays both ways as well, and comprises one of the state’s best linebacking corps alongside preseason All-State Brett McEvoy.

Hall: It all starts with Barnstable's Derek Estes. The Red Raiders had a lion's share of work to do after getting embarrassed by rival Dennis-Yarmouth opening weekend, and nobody has answered the bell better than the senior receiver/cornerback. As a split end, he has home-run capabilities, able to release deep and stretch the defense vertically. But where he truly makes his mark is on the defensive side of the ball, where his superior conditioning allows him to effortlessly mark an opponent's top target all night. The Raiders don't put together back-to-back wins over Catholic Conference opponents, including then-No. 1 Xaverian, without Estes' coverage ability.

Perry: Needham’s Mike Elcock has developed a great relationship with quarterback Ryan Charter and has been scoring touchdowns for fun in the opening three games. He scored a pair apiece in the loss to Westwood and victory over Walpole. Mike Panepinto rightly draws a lot of press for the Rockets, but on both sides of the ball Elcock has been outstanding. His ability to stretch the defense is critical to keep people from loading the box against the run and gives the Rockets much-needed balance on offense. He was also a star in the secondary against the Rebels, making a couple of big plays that ended Rebel drives.

McGuirk: Westfield's dynamic duo of running back Ben Geschwind and quarterback Jake Toomey. The two have combined for 11 scores and are the catalysts in why the Bombers have run out to 3-0 and expected to be in the hunt for a shot at the Division 2 state championship.

6. WHO ARE THE BEST RISING SMALL-SCHOOL PROSPECTS WE'VE YET TO HEAR MUCH ABOUT?

Barboza: I think you can look up and down Boston Cathedral’s roster and find some young gems, but how about freshman running back Byron Martin? He ran for 228 yards and four scores two weeks ago against Matignon – a glimpse at what should be a very promising future. With Abington’s running back depth depleted, sophomore Shawn Donovan has really answered the bell, shouldering a larger load for the Green Wave early on.

Also, we had a question from one of our loyal CMass readers last weekend during our Sunday night chat about Maynard football, so how about a tip of the cap to sophomore running back Sean Peterson who has six touchdowns through three games for the Tigers’ machine, which is averaging more than 42 points per game.

Hall: Last weekend, following Boston Cathedral's win over Pope John Paul II, I made two bold statements on Twitter: the next Quron Wright is at Cathedral, and the next Cody Williams is at Pope John Paul. The silence in the lack of response was nearly deafening. That Wright and Williams themselves were the only ones to chime in out of curiosity says either A) My statement is not as outlandish as I initially thought (unless you're one of my readers from the Grafton Hill or Vernon Hill areas of Worcester), or B) We have lost our readership. Just maybe, 7,500 Twitter followers (and counting) suggest the former.

In 5-foot-3 freshman Byron Martin, Cathedral has a Lilliputian scatback with the same home-run capability that made Wright, the pint-sized former Holy Name star and Mr. Football finalist, a household name across Massachusetts last fall. One of the Panthers' favorite things to do is line Martin in the slot and motion him across the formation for an end-around; when quarterback Jermal Brevard-Jackson is able to sell the inside dive off of it, it is one of their most dynamic plays. Best yet, we've got three more years of this.

Across the sideline, Pope John Paul II junior quarterback Ryan Barabe turned in a stellar performance for the Lions in the loss, completing nearly 75 percent of his passes for 279 yards and three scores, putting him in the top five statewide for passing yardage (776) and near the top in efficiency (68 percent completions). At 6-foot-4 and 175 pounds, he has a throwing ability -- and build -- similar to Williams, able to huck 50-yard fades effortlessly but also time his throws nicely in the short game, zipping the ball into tight windows.

McGuirk: Ricardo Edwards (Brighton), Ben Reiffarth (Blackstone Valley Tech), DeWayne Kirton (Scituate), Sean Peterson (Maynard), Dylan Kiernan (Quabbin Regional), Mike Whitsett (Chicopee Comp) are some of the names that come to mind in the first half of this season.

Abelson: He had the hype and Ian Kessel has delivered thus far for Haverhill in a big way. You have to count Natick's receiving corps as a whole, for constantly stepping up as first Dunlap and now Hilger went down. Will Weinhold at Methuen is another guy who has stepped up. His numbers haven't been spectacular, but he's a major reason why Methuen is perched at the top of D1 North.

Roundtable: Bigger things to come for Xaverian?

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
1:59
PM ET
1. SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYED A MAJOR FACTOR IN XAVERIAN'S 49-13 DRUBBING OF BRIDGEWATER-RAYNHAM, RETURNING TWO BLOCKED PUNTS FOR TOUCHDOWNSW, BUT A.J. KING (2 TDs) DIDN'T HAVE A BAD DAY EITHER. IS THIS XAVERIAN SQUAD CAPABLE OF ROUTINELY PUTTING UP BIG NUMBERS?

Brendan Hall, ESPN Boston High Schools Editor: If this were 2012, or any other recent year for that matter, I would lean towards labeling that game an anomaly. Xaverian squads typically aren't known for blowing up the scoreboard, instead moving the chains rather steadily behind a conservative multiple offense and relying on change-of-pace backs to grind out the tough yardage. I've been in this for 10 years, and this year's Xaverian team feels like one of the more unpredictable squads that I can recall. And when I say that, I mean you just don't know that they're going to throw at you. Certainly, Jake Farrell brings about an escapeability intangible they typically haven't had with quarterbacks, and there is some promising sophomore talent.

By the way, whoever the special teams coach is at Xaverian, give that man a raise. If you think the B-R game was an aberration, ask the BB&N coaches how their scrimmage with the Hawks went.

Scott Barboza, ESPN Boston High Schools editor: I know we all thought the Hawks’ defense would be ahead of the offense entering the season, but this looks like a much-improved group thus far. I like the one-two punch Shayne Kaminski and Noah Sorrento provide in the backfield. They have some legit targets in the passing game with King and D.J. Sperzel and Jake Farrell has looked great at quarterback. If the offensive line keeps creating holes and pass protecting the way they have in the first two weeks, I don’t foresee a slowdown.

John McGuirk, ESPN Boston correspondent: With the talent Xaverian has they should continue to put up decent numbers. They have four 'big' games left on the schedule in Barnstable, Brockton, BC High and St. John's Prep. All four of those programs are outstanding but all have issues on defense as well which should work in the Hawks' favor.

2. NASHOBA OWNS THE STATE'S LONGEST ACTIVE WIN STREAK (28 GAMES), BUT TWO TOUGH OPPONENTS LAY AHEAD IN WACHUSETT AND ST. JOHN'S OF SHREWSBURY. DO YOU SEE THE CHIEFTAINS MAKING IT TO 30 STRAIGHT?

Hall: Wachusett matches up evenly on paper with Nashoba, but watch out for St. John's. Andrew Smiley is heating up (380 passing yards the last six quarters), and the running game seems to be hitting a groove with St. Louis transplant Shane Combs taking over the feature role. The "blur" offense is a whirlwind to handle when all is going right, and you always have to watch where Davon Jones lines up. I see the Pioneers stopping Nashoba's streak at 29.

Barboza: I think it’ll end at No. 29. The Chieftains will get by Wachusett, but I think the Pioneers’ athletes, particularly on the perimeter, will prove too much to handle.

McGuirk: I see Nashoba reaching 30 straight wins. Wachusett is going through a down year, having already lost to St. Peter-Marian and Fitchburg. And what has been noted many times, St. John's biggest weakness the last couple of seasons has been its porous defense and inability to make tackles consistently. If you look past those next two games, the Chieftains will face a pair of unbeatens (Marlborough and Leominster). That is where the streak could possibly come to a close.

3. BETWEEN THE SUPERB STARTS FROM BROCKTON, TAUNTON, TEWKSBURY AND WESTFIELD, THE TRIPLE OPTION IS MAKING A COMEBACK. WHICH TEAM RUNS IT BEST?

Hall: It's tough to argue against Westfield's ridiculous numbers -- there are running backs that will go a whole season not putting up as many rushing yards as the Bombers have their first two games of the season. But it's hard to argue against Brockton's talent. Aaron LeClair and Jamal Williams get to the perimeter quick, and the Boxers can steamroll you inside with counters and dives. All four of these teams have a dynamic playmaker in the backfield -- LeClair, Tewksbury's Eddie Matovu, Westfield's Ben Geschwind and Taunton's Domingo Jenkins -- but I will give Brockton the edge here because of what they have in the trenches. Aaron Monteiro, the Boxers' prized prospect at 6-foot-5 and 290 pounds, is a road grader at left guard with a pretty high ceiling.

Barboza: As of right now, I don’t see how you can argue with Westfield. The Bombers are running roughshod over opponents behind senior fullback Ben Geschwind. After running for 348 yards and six touchdowns as a team during last week's 49-20 win over West Springfield, Westfield has scored 109 points in two games, with Geschwind averaging more than 150 yards per game.

Josh Perry, HockomockSports.com: I can’t say whether or not Taunton runs it better than other teams in the state, but I can say that the Tigers do make it look fun. With Gerald Cortijo and Steven Harrison giving star back Domingo Jenkins some help in the backfield, the Tigers have speedy and shifty runners. It’s almost enough to make you forget just how good the ground game would have been without Jamal Williams’ move to Brockton. Taunton’s ability to run the triple option will of course get a much tougher test this week against King Philip and its strong defense, but the Tigers are unique among the other Hockomock teams and it can be fun to watch.

McGuirk: The way Westfield is dominating the competition (109 points in two games), I would say the the triple option is working best for them. They have the right personnel to execute it and coach Bill Moore is very good at putting the right players in place to keep it rolling effectively, especially his tandem of Ben Geschwind and Jake Toomey, who are both averaging over 10 yards-per-carry.

4. TWO OF THE MERRIMACK VALLEY CONFERENCE'S BEST SQUADS, CENTRAL CATHOLIC AND LOWELL, SURRENDERED A COMBINED 73 POINTS AGAINST NON-LEAGUE TOP 10 OPPONENTS LAST WEEKEND. ARE WE HEADED FOR ANOTHER SEASON OF HIGH SCORES IN THE MVC?

Hall: Tough to tell, because Tewksbury has more than pulled its weight in the defensive end so far. If there's one team that can avoid track meets, it's the Redmen. Everyone else, good luck. We anointed the MVC "Death By 1,000 Shallow Crosses" a year ago, and with the amount of spread offense and no-huddle tempo deployed in this league, we could very well be in for another season of Wild West scores.

Barboza: I'd take my chances with the defensive units of Andover, Central Catholic, Lowell and Tewksbury against just about any offense in the state, but what comes into play in the MVC is the teams' offensive style of play. With so many teams in its ranks adopting the spread offense, the big numbers put up seemingly on a weekly basis are more a function of the pace of the game, with shortened drives as opposed to rushing-oriented, ball-control styles of play. But as long as MVC teams continue to live and die by the sword (or the spread), I think we'll continue to see some lopsided numbers.

Mike Abelson, ESPN Boston correspondent: Yes and no. Central and Lowell, when the blur is working as advertised, can drop basketball scores on lesser teams because of the athletic talent. That being said, through three weeks there are only two MVC teams averaging 30 or more points. Central is one, and the other, North Andover, hasn't won a game. The only two remaining undefeated teams, Tewksbury and Methuen, are averaging 27 and 18 points a game, respectively, and winning games without all the flash and dash of putting up buckets of points. Yes, the MVC will have it's share of high-scoring contests (I'll put the over/under for Central-Chelmsford at 90.5), but it won't consistently translate to W's.

5. AFTER A ROUGH FIRST WEEK, HAS BARNSTABLE FIGURED IT OUT? CAN THEY KNOCK OFF NO. 1 XAVERIAN?

Hall: I feel like this is a sneaky good matchup. Let's not forget Barnstable was our preseason No. 12 before getting shell-shocked by Dennis-Yarmouth in the opening weekend. There is talent, between versatile athlete Hayden Murphy, shutdown corner Derek Estes and elusive scatback Justus Chafee.

Defensively, Barnstable typically likes to stretch vertically and keep everything in front of them, which can be a bad matchup against spread teams like Dennis-Yarmouth. Last week against BC High, they looked like they cleaned up a lot of their mistakes. Xaverian's offense, while a bit more creative, has some similarities to BC High's. Going the other way, the Red Raiders use some funky misdirection in the run game to prevent linebackers from filling gaps. On their first touchdown against BC, for instance, a receiver backpedaled off the line of scrimmage, feigning a bubble screen, putting several defenders on their heels as Chafee came up the gut on a zone read.

That kind of stuff can keep even the best defenses on their toes. Expect some fireworks, and some dynamic playcalling, in this one.

Barboza: This is a yes-and-no proposition to me. I think the Raiders righted ship after an embarrassing loss to Cape rival Dennis-Yarmouth in Week 1, going on the road to beat another Catholic Conference foe in BC High. But I think Barnstable would need to play a near perfect game, while forcing the Hawks into some turnovers in order to make it four straight defeats of an ESPN Boston No. 1 squad. I'm not saying it will not be a close game, I just like Xaverian a little bit more.

Perry: In a preseason roundtable, I said that Barnstable was a team that was getting overlooked because of the players that it lost from last year. I’ll stick by that and say that the Raiders give Xaverian a run for their money. The No. 1 ranking has been more of an albatross than an honor this year, so I’ll say that Barnstable has a good chance of causing the Hawks problems.

McGuirk: Barnstable is good but Xaverian is playing with a lot of confidence, especially following the huge win over B-R last week. The Hawks should take care of the Red Raiders who gave up 37 points to D-Y in Week One but did bounce back nicely last week against BC High.

Abelson: In Hayden Murphy I trust. In the ESPN Boston poll curse I believe. Barnstable, 27-21.

6. THE HOCKOMOCK LEAGUE'S KELLY-REX DIVISION MIGHT BE THE STATE'S MOST UNPREDICTABLE RACE THIS FALL. AS LEAGUE PLAY OPENS UP THIS WEEK, PROJECT YOUR CHAMPION AND DARK HORSE.

Hall: Mansfield was the prohibitive favorite in most minds heading into the season, and so far they've done little to suggest otherwise. Consider that nearly three weeks out from their shocking upset of Dunbar (Md.), the Hornets are still without five starters. They're already a dynamic offense, between quarterback Kyle Wisnieski, 6-foot-5 flex tight end Brendan Hill, and space-carving tailback Miguel Villar-Perez. Hard to go against that.

For dark horses, I like Attleboro. I think it's understated how big their line is, particularly at defensive tackle, and there are plenty of weapons on offense between quarterback Tim Walsh, tight end Luke Morrison and receiver Brendan Massey. This program has long been a sleeping giant, and new coach Mike Strachan has re-awakened those sentiments.

Barboza: All along, I've penciled in Mansfield as the team to beat in the Kelley-Rex. I believe they had the most complete group of talent on either side of the ball, and also had the most upside. The scary part is that, due to injury, the Hornets might not have yet hit their apogee and will continue to strengthen as the season progresses.

Now, for the sleeper, I know we've talked up Attleboro up a lot in the early going -- to the point that I really think they're a threat in Division 1 South. Seeing that the Blue Bombardiers are for real in the first two weeks of the season, I'm going to go with Taunton. I don't think Chris Greding has gotten enough credit for the job he's done turning around the Tigers program in short order. Of course, an infusion of talent led by Domingo Jenkins helps, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if Taunton knocks off one of the Hock's "Big Three" -- King Philip, Mansfield, North Attleborough -- at some point this season.

Perry: The favorite heading into the Hockomock League season is defending champions Mansfield and its new spread attack that takes advantage of its great weapons like senior quarterback Kyle Wisnieski and junior tight end Brendan Hill. Attleboro has gotten a lot of hype from media, me included, in the preseason as a sleeper in the Hock. A new coaching staff, a new field, and new schemes on both sides of the ball have made the Bombardiers a much more confident crew and better utilize the weapons that it has. The Bombardiers were only a few mental mistakes from beating Mansfield last season and Tim Walsh is on fire running the spread formation – watch out for Attleboro. Of course, watch out for KP, Franklin, and North Attleborough, too. It really is up for grabs

McGuirk: The Kelly-Rex Division is solid with four teams still unbeaten (Mansfield, Attleboro, North Attleboro and Taunton). When it is all said and done. I believe it will come down to Mansfield and North Attleborough for the title because of their high-octane offenses. Attleboro has to be considered the darkhorse here because of its stingy defense which could carry them through. It will be interesting to watch all four of these team beat up one another during the season and see who survives.

Roundtable: Big statements made in opening weeks

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
3:11
PM ET
1. AFTER PUTTING UP EXPLOSIVE NUMBERS AGAINST TOP 10 OPPONENTS IN BACK-TO-BACK WEEKS, IS THERE ANY DEFENSE THAT CAN STOP ST. JOHN'S PREP RUNNING BACK JOHNATHAN THOMAS?

Brendan Hall: The gut reaction is, in short, no. But pay attention two Saturdays from now, when No. 5 Everett comes to Cronin Stadium for their annual showdown with Prep. In the B-R game, there were times where Trojan linebackers got a great jump off the snap and were able to stuff Thomas either for a loss or short yardage. Against Everett, the Eagles will have to gameplan for the unique skill set of defensive tackle Josh Palmer. The 5-foot-10 Palmer provides a unique matchup not seen often -- built like a running back, low to the ground, shooting interior gaps with speed rush moves.

It will be interesting to see how they attack Palmer -- maybe a chip, a double or even submarine him with a cut block -- and if Everett can control the interior gaps, they can make things uncomfortable. Plus, I don't know what Everett coach John DiBiaso's record is in games coming off a bye week, but it's got to be Belichick-like.

Scott Barboza: In not so many words, no. It’s no indictment on any of the opposing groups, but let’s just call it like it is and say that Thomas is a special talent primed for a ridiculous kind of season. I would say, if any of the teams on Prep’s schedule are equipped to do so, I think Everett and Xaverian would be best suited. I like the Crimson Tide’s C.J. Parvelus in run support; he plays a physical game and has the size to try to take Thomas down. Also, I think Xaverian’s ends -– Nick Colantuoni and Joe Gaziano -– are big and rugged enough off the edge to contain Thomas. But flat out stopping? I don’t think that’s about to happen.

Chris Bradley: There is no stopping Johnny Thomas, the best thing that opposing defenses can hope to do is contain him as well as possible and hope that they can frustrate him or wear him down. He’s rated as one of the nation’s best running backs for a reason: not only does he carry the ball like he was shot out of a cannon, he’s also crafty and possesses the strength to shake off most any tackler he’ll see in the MIAA.

Mike Abelson: I don't think there is a defense that can stop Thomas, but B-R showed that slowing him down might be the best possible outcome. He's going to get his touches, and he's going to get his yards; it's just a matter of if those rushes go for 5 and 6 or 15 and 25.

John Botelho: Bridgewater-Raynham has flashed arguably the best defense in the state through the first two weeks, and Johnathan Thomas ran wild on them despite Prep's loss in that one. He's very clearly the best player in the state, and keeping right around the century mark for yards would be a huge win for any team at this point. Everett might have the best shot at containing him a bit because of their athletic linebacking corps, but realistically, there's not a defense out there that can completely take him out. If you count B-R among the state's best -- and keeping Duxbury's offense out of the endzone for the first time in a decade should warrant that -- then what will Thomas be capable of against less elite opposition? Simply put, expect video game numbers from him every week.

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2. WHICH TEAMS CAN LEAST AFFORD AN 0-2 START?

Hall: After Friday's battle with Weymouth, Brockton's final five opponents are Catholic Memorial, BC High, Xaverian, New Bedford and Durfee. At least two of those look like guaranteed victories, and the Boxers have a realistic shot in all five of those games. This a team that was going to take a bit to get going, with a promising-looking finished product, so they simply need to do enough to get in. Attleboro and Franklin's hot starts have made the D1 South bracket a bit steeper than anticipated, but the Boxers will be fine.

It gets interesting with Barnstable. After this weekend's clash with BC High, they face Xaverian, Marshfield, New Bedford, Bridgewater-Raynham and Dartmouth. Like Brockton, there's a lot of winnable games on that slate, but I'm not as confident in the Red Raiders as I am in the Boxers. Their front seven got exposed in the season-opening blowout loss to Dennis-Yarmouth, and their offense remains a work in progress.

Plus, they're in a D2 South field with Natick, Mansfield, Taunton, King Philip, Duxbury and Needham. Making this field -- already the toughest in the state -- even stiffer is the emergence of Braintree and Quincy in the season's earlygoings. If the Raiders don't win on Friday, they've got a lot of ground to make up.

Barboza: First and foremost is Needham. For a team that began the season in our Top 25 poll, the Rockets could quickly find themselves in dire straits in a deep Division 2 South if they lose to Bay State rival No. 12 Walpole. Also, a couple of teams in Division 2 North in North Andover and Waltham, will hope to avoid a winless start. Both received a decent amount of buzz in the preseason as dark horses in the division.

Bradley: I’d say St. John’s of Shrewsbury, especially one week after a heartbreaking loss to archrival Leominster. The Pioneers, for playoff points’ sake, really could use a win over Catholic Memorial this weekend before they start their slate of Central Mass. games. With a loss this weekend, the Pioneers would have to win outright in order to ensure a good playoff seed. They’ll see plenty of CMass teams going for their neck the rest of the way: Fitchburg, Nashoba, Shrewsbury, Wachusett, and Marlborough.

Abelson: Beverly's already 0-2, but if they go to 0-3 after Friday's North Andover game there's no room for error the rest of the season. The loss to Haverhill was tough because much of it was due to unforced errors. The loss to Danvers was a headscratcher. Giving up 300-plus yards on the ground isn't typical Beverly. They'll need to find the mojo under the lights against NA this weekend.

John McGuirk: I think St. John's of Shrewsbury can ill-afford to open the year at 0-2. They travel to Catholic Memorial Friday night. Last year the Pioneers went to West Roxbury and struggled against the Knights before coming away with a tight 21-6 victory. The biggest concern once again is lies on the defense. Against Leominster last week, the Pioneers front line had difficulty containing the run, especially around the edge, and the secondary surrendered several big gains through the air _ many coming on third and fourth down. That was the same issue they endured last year. Another concern was St. John's offensive line which had problems picking up the blitz and thus forcing quarterback Drew Smiley to scramble out of the pocket all night long.

Botelho: I think Weymouth is going to want to avoid the 2-0 start more than anyone, but they'll have no easy task this week against Brockton. In the uber-competitive Bay State Conference, one off night is generally enough to not win the league, so these teams need to pile up as many wins for power ranking purposes as possible.

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3. WHICH TEAM MADE THE BIGGEST STATEMENT IN THESE FIRST TWO WEEKS?

Hall: Here's my case for Mansfield, which knocked off Baltimore public power Dunbar in the opening weekend of the season. Last season, Xaverian and BC High went down to New Jersey to take on two of the Garden State's premier parochial powers, got embarrassed, and had some wondering how legitimate the competition in Massachusetts really is. The state of Maryland is a hotbed of high-major football talent, producing four times as many Division 1 FBS signees per year than Massachusetts; schools from the SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Big Ten routinely battle it out for the top recruits in the Old Line State. You're not going to find a quarterback in New England as talented as Dunbar's four-star West Virginia-bound William Crest, and the Hornets held him to 8 of 19 passing for 146 yards, a touchdown and two picks. You're not going to find a bigger statement than that, this year or next.

Barboza: I don’t see how this could be any team but Bridgewater-Raynham. All the Trojans have done, while overtaking the No. 1 position in our poll, is gone on the road and beaten two Top 25, state championship-caliber teams in St. John’s Prep and Duxbury. They get style points, too, (if there were such a thing) for holding Johnny Thomas in check (just enough) and pitching a defensive shutout against the Dragons, marking the first time one of Dave Maimaron’s offenses has even been blanked. I’d also give a nod to Westfield after its 60-14 dismantling of Amherst in Week 1. Hudson’s 33-0 thrashing of previously ranked Auburn was an eye-opener as well.

Bradley: There was no question coming into the season that St. John’s Prep and Bridgewater-Raynham had loaded the schedule in their first few weeks, and seeing as the Trojans picked up the win over Prep in week one, I’ll go with B-R here. A borderline top 10 team coming into the year, they’ve jumped all the way up to No. 1 in the top 25 poll. They’ll take on a loaded Xaverian squad on Saturday with yet another opportunity to make a statement to the rest of the MIAA.

Abelson: Two teams that have made statements are Bridgewater-Raynham and Methuen. Man-type wins over St. John's Prep and Duxbury showed that the Trojans are for real and will be playing meaningful games deep into November. Methuen is interesting because they're 2-0 in D1 but only play one more D1 team the rest of the year. Tom Ryan does have them believing in themselves after two tough wins; it'll be interesting to see how they handle a Cambridge offense that is averaging more than 30 points a game.

McGuirk: Teams that have made the biggest impact thus far this year? I have two. Bridgewater-Raynham, who knocked off St. John's Prep in Week One and came back to clip Duxbury last weekend. We expect B-R to be good but I don't feel anyone thought they would be this good. Let's see how the Trojans handle themselves on Saturday at Xaverian, who is coming off its big triumph over Everett. The other team has to be Agawam. The past few seasons, the Brownies have been mediocre at best, but with a plethora of seniors, including five on the offensive line, it appears they are ready to make a legitimate push for a postseason berth this year having started out the year at 2-0 with impressive wins over Longmeadow and Holyoke.

Botelho: Bridgewater-Raynham obviously launched into the spotlight by knocking off defending Div. 1 champ St. John's Prep, and following it up with an impressive defensive performance against a very good Duxbury team. The Trojans are very much for real, and don't have an obvious weakness. Brandon Gallagher is among the better running backs in the state, and the lumps B-R took a year ago seem to have helped this team grow up into a force to be reckoned with.

Turning attention to a team that picked up a good win on B-R's homefield last weekend, the East Bridgewater Vikings needed just one game to showcase they'll once again be among the most exciting small school teams out there. Owen Harrington score three times in a win over a very strong Millis/Hopedale squad, and all of them came from at least 61 yards away. Most impressive about the Vikings was how well they played against Boston College commit Jon Baker. The South Shore League Large also features defending Super Bowl champ Abington, and when these two teams meet on October 25th, it'll likely decide the league title.

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4. WHICH PLAYERS LEFT OFF OUR PRESEASON ALL-STATE TEAM ARE MAKING THE BIGGEST CASE FOR INCLUSION?
(See the team HERE)

Hall: Many of us knew Amherst's Taj-Amir Torres was bound for a big junior season this fall, after all the offseason attention, including three FBS offers and the state's Gatorade Player of the Year honors in track and field. It was a simply a matter of production (24 catches for 260 yards in 2012) that kept him off the list, but he's off to a blistering pace. After missing Week 1's blowout loss to Westfield, Torres had seven catches for 147 yards and two touchdowns last Friday in a 28-14 loss to East Longmeadow. All the Hurricanes have to do now is win a ball game.

Barboza: Off the top, I’d include Natick wide receiver Alex Hilger, but we’ll get to him more in a little bit. How about another receiver for consideration in Watertown’s T.J. Hairston, who put up video game numbers in a win over Medway. Although he’s a sophomore, Billerica’s Jeff Trainor should also get a look as Jordan Bolarinho’s top target. On the defensive side, I think Tewksbury’s Eddie Motavu could easily slide into a linebacker position. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound, two-way player has been a huge element to the Redmen’s early success and has reportedly generated FCS and FBS interest.

Bob McGovern: It's still early, but I think Plymouth South defensive tackle Shaun Duncombe is a real quality player. While his contributions don't always show up on the stat sheet, Duncombe nearly always occupies two blockers and has horizontal quickness that you don't normally see with high school kids of his size. Against Marshfield, Dylan Oxsen was the story, but Duncombe was equally dominant on both sides of the line. He has good feet, and you can see his wrestling background come through at the point of attack. Bryant got itself a good football player, and I think he's likely one of the better defensive linemen in the state.

McGuirk: Players to keep an eye on who have already made an impact include Putnam's Jaleel Kyles, who rushed for 277 yards and a pair of scores in the Beavers' "Backyard Brawl" win over Commerce last week. Putnam will rely heavily on Kyles this season to help bring them to the forefront of the AA Division. East Longmeadow RB Mike Maggipinto has flown under the radar but is a key reason why the Spartans have jumped out to 2-0. It will be interesting to see what he can do against a vaunted Springfield Central defense Friday night. Others to watch are Lowell's Jack Galvin who has 4 TDs already for the 2-0 Red Raiders. He will certainly be tested when Leominster comes to town Friday evening. Lastly, don't fall asleep on Agawam back Stephen Comee, who already has 255 yards on the ground and 3 TDs for the surprising 2-0 Brownies.

Botelho: Brockton's Aaron LeClair had a pretty strong showing against the Prep last week, registering a team high seven tackles while going for nearly 160 all purpose yards and a score. He's going to be the featured guy in Peter Colombo's offense, and should find the end zone a lot this season for the Boxers. Throw in his electric kick return ability and his pass coverage on defense, and he has a chance to make the team at a couple of positions, or with an athlete designation.

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5. SANS BRIAN DUNLAP, NATICK'S ALEX HILGER LOOKED COMFORTABLE AS THE REDHAWKS' NEW TOP OPTION, CATCHING 14 PASSES FOR 188 YARDS AND TWO SCORES. WILL THIS CLIP KEEP UP?

Hall: If Natick is to stay afloat, he's going to have to. His production may vary depending on how he's covered -- I can't imagine he'll ever be left on an island by himself -- and he saw a decent amount of zone coverage against Weymouth. Quarterback Troy Flutie demonstrated great timing with this receivers, and his gift for extending plays with his feet can mean big production for his top target. Either way, with his sprinter's speed, lacrosse-like agility, heavy kicking foot and visage that resembles Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat, Hilger is quickly becoming a fan favorite in Natick.

Barboza: No, but not that far off. I think Hilger’s Week 1 performance against Weymouth was an opening statement to what should be an All-State-caliber (see previous comments) season. What will be interesting to watch is how opposing defenses treat him going forward. Will he now receive the Brian Dunlap honorary bracketed coverage? And, if so, what will that do for the rest of Natick’s receivers, primarily Justin Robinson? Robinson saw increasing success in the second half of the Weymouth game, as the Wildcats coverage increasingly adjusted to Hilger’s side of the field.

Bradley: Hilger will continue to be Troy Flutie’s go-to guy, but I wouldn’t predict that he catches 14 balls many more times this season—especially now that opposing teams know that Flutie will be looking Hilger’s way on pretty much every play.

McGovern: I don't see any reason why Hilger can't continue to put up big numbers. Behind Natick's tough offensive line, Troy Flutie is pretty dangerous. He can hang out in the pocket or run horizontally to extend plays. While this backfield tango is happening, Hilger has the ability to get open against almost any cornerback in the Bay State Conference. With Brian Dunlap out for the year, Hilger is going to be the No. 1 target for the Redhawks, and I think he's comfortable with that role. After Natick's opening win over Weymouth, Hilger said that he and Flutie have known each other for year and have pretty good chemistry. That was pretty obvious to those in attendance.

McGuirk: Alex Hilger is highly capable of putting up more yardage like this as the season progresses. He has the ability to find open spaces against opposing defenses. He is smart, fast and elusive.

Botelho: There's no reason to think Hilger can't keep it up. He torched a strong Weymouth team and Troy Flutie is going to keep looking his way. Hilger likely becomes the focus of defenses going forward, but with someone throwing the ball as well as Flutie does he's going to keep pulling down catches.

Roundtable: Best players, breakout stars, sleepers

August, 21, 2013
8/21/13
6:03
PM ET
Brendan Hall
ESPN Boston High Schools editor


Best QB: Cody Williams, Springfield Central
Best RB: Johnathan Thomas, St. John's Prep
Best WR: Brian Dunlap, Natick
Best TE: Brendan Hill, Mansfield
Best OL: Jon Baker, Millis/Hopedale
Best DL: Jon Baker, Millis/Hopedale
Best LB: C.J. Parvelus, Everett
Best DB: Lubern Figaro, Everett
Best passing offense: Natick
Best rushing offense: St. John's Prep
Best offensive line: St. John's Prep
Best defensive line: Reading
Best linebackers: Reading
Best secondary: Everett

THREE TEAMS THAT WILL SURPRISE

Medway
Coach Dave McSweeney's affinity for power football isn't a secret, and this season he'll have two road-graders to run behind in Kevin Sheehan (6-4, 285) and Cam Smith (6-5, 290, Lafayette commit). If there's any exhibit for why we needed to change the postseason format, the most glaring sample might be the Mustangs, who went 19-3 from 2009-10 with no playoff berth. In this new playoff system, a gameplan like the Mustangs' is built for the long haul.

Lynn English
Perhaps this isn't a surprise pick so much as an affirmation. In a Division 2 North that is perceived to be wide open after heavy favorite Reading, the Bulldogs have enough talent to make a deep run. There has always been elite talent at the skill positions, but Preseason All-State selection Chris Tinkham gives them a presence in the trenches they've lacked the last few years, a rare "war daddy" type who overpowers the interior gaps. The biggest question will be where the Bulldogs put junior Jordan Javier, a 6-foot-4 transfer from Haverhill who is a matchup problem at his natural split end position but also throws one of the prettiest balls you'll see on the North Shore.

Quabbin
The Panthers struggled to a 4-7 tune last season in a weak league, but there is some promise. Quarterback Dylan Kierman is an underappreciated talent, who should get a boost from the return of slippery receiver Nick Thyden. The Panthers run a unique "Air Raid" scheme, and another year of experience with it could surprised teams in Division 4 Central.

THREE BREAKOUT ATHLETES TO WATCH

Lukas Denis, Jr. ATH, Everett
After an injury-shortened 2012 season in which he was the assumed successor to record-setting quarterback Jonathan DiBiaso, but barely saw the field, Denis is moving to the perimeter, where he will take a role similar to the hybrid slot-back role that Manny Asprilla made legendary in 2010. Defensively, he should serve as a terrific compliment in the secondary to highly-touted safety/cornerback Lubern Figaro, and has already begun to pick up some Division 1 FBS interest.

Alfred Adarkwah, Sr. WR, Doherty
Standing a long 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-7 wingspan, Adarkwah has an unusually large catching radius for a high school receiver. This summer in passing leagues, the Highlanders toyed with Adarkwah and Boston College-bound receiver Isaac Yiadom on the same side of 2x2 formations. Head coach Sean Mulcahy has to be excited with the possibilities that opens up -- just imagine sending those two on a post-wheel combo route. Or better yet, imagine running them on a bubble screen, taking advantage of both Yiadom's elite speed and Adarkwah's great downfield blocking skills.

Taj-Amir Torres, Jr. ATH, Amherst
Already a household name in track and field, where he was named the state's Gatorade Player of the Year last spring as a sophomore after winning New Englands in the 100-meter dash, he's about to get a whole lot more attention. Boston College, UConn and UMass have already offered Torres, who made just 24 catches last season but made some incredible feats of athleticism. Hurricanes head coach David Thompson told us earlier this month "[We're] trying to get the ball in his hands every opportunity we get", so expect bigger numbers in 2013.

WAY TOO EARLY STATE CHAMPION PICKS

Div. 1 - Everett
Div. 2 - Springfield Central
Div. 3 - Walpole
Div. 4 - Doherty
Div. 5 - Auburn
Div. 6 - Millis/Hopedale

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Scott Barboza
ESPN Boston High Schools Editor

Best QB - Drew Belcher - Sr. Reading
Best RB - Johnny Thomas - Sr. St. John’s Prep
Best WR - Brian Dunlap - Jr. Natick
Best TE - Rory Donovan - Sr. Cardinal Spellman
Best OL - Jon Baker – Sr., Millis/Hopedale
Best DL – Joe Gaziano – Jr., Xaverian
Best LB – Eddie Motavu – Sr., Tewksbury
Best DB - Lubern Figaro - Sr. Everett
Best passing offense - Natick
Best rushing offense - St. John's Prep
Best offensive line – Bridgewater-Raynham
Best defensive line - Reading
Best linebackers - Leominster
Best secondary - Everett

THREE SURPRISE TEAMS

St. Mary’s (Lynn)
OK, so a team coming off an 11-2 season and a Super Bowl appearance might not exactly be a surprise, but with a couple of other Catholic Central teams garnering the buzz in the preseason, let's not forget the Spartans have another season with Jordan Collier (1,495 yards, 18 TD).

Hingham

We've heard them knocking, but can they come in? The Harbormen have whittled the gap in recent years, particularly against Patriot League nemesis Duxbury, but they're still waiting to break through. They could have an in-road in Division 3 Southwest. An early non-leaguer against Oliver Ames should be a bellweather for things to come, but the real proof will come Oct. 5, against those aforementioned Dragons.

Wakefield
The Warriors fell short of their goal of winning the Middlesex League's Freedom division last year, but should be in the mix in a wide open Division 3 Northwest race. We'll have a better impression after a visit from Lynn English in Week 2.

THREE BREAKTHROUGH ATHLETES

Joe Johnston, Sr. RB/S, King Philip
Anybody who saw Johnston's hard-nosed 157-yard, 2-touchdown performance against North Attleborough last year knows Johnston's style. He's a burden for would-be tacklers inside the box, and once he kicks it outside, he's also very hard to catch.

Grant Kramer, Sr. OT, Duxbury
The younger brother of Boston College tackle Aaron Kramer, Grant is now ready to assume the role as the next great lineman on the Dragons' line (and there have been some very good ones in recent memory). He currently holds offers from Coastal Carolina and Villanova but has also expressed interest in attending West Point.

Connor Moriarty, Sr. RB, Walpole
When Rebels starter Mike Rando went out with an ankle injury near the midway point of the regular season last year, it was Moriarty who carried the load down the stretch. Expect even bigger numbers this year.

WAY TOO EARLY CHAMPIONSHIP PREDICTIONS:

D1 – St. John’s Prep
D2 – Springfield Central
D3 – Walpole
D4 – Doherty
D5 – Auburn
D6 – Millis/Hopedale

***

Josh Perry
ESPN Boston correspondent


Best QB - Drew Belcher, Reading
Best RB - Jonathan Thomas, St. John’s Prep
Best WR – Brian Dunlap, Natick
Best TE – Brendan Hill, Mansfield
Best OL – Jon Baker, Millis-Hopedale
Best DL – Andrew Bourque, Reading
Best LB – Kevin Bletzer, Catholic Memorial
Best DB – Lubern Figaro, Everett
Best passing offense - Natick
Best rushing offense – St. John’s Prep
Best offensive line – St. John’s Prep
Best defensive line - Reading
Best linebackers – Catholic Memorial
Best secondary - Everett

THREE TEAMS THAT WILL SURPRISE:

Attleboro
A new coaching staff, the energy of a new field complex, and a strong crop of returning seniors could make the Bombardiers the surprise team of the Hockomock League. Attleboro has always been a sleeping giant and the program continues to find solid athletes, it’s now up to the new staff to build a system that fits the talent on the roster. With a couple of league rivals dealing with injuries and suspensions, Attleboro could sneak up on people.

Barnstable
Everyone assumes that there will be a significant drop off for the Red Raiders due to a big graduating class, but there is still potential to be a solid team in D2 and in the OCL. This may not be a another season with Barnstable holding the top spot in the poll, but it shouldn’t be written off either.

Stoughton
The Knights are expected to finish behind Oliver Ames in the Davenport, but don’t be surprised if they pull an upset or two and give the Tigers a run at the title. Watch out for running back Malachi Baugh, who will be getting the majority of the carries this season and is a beast to try and bring down.

THREE BREAKTHROUGH ATHLETES TO WATCH

Luke Morrison, Sr. TE/DE, Attleboro
Attleboro’s giant tight end/defensive end is a monster match-up on both sides of the ball and could be a real threat as Tim Walsh’s favorite target in the Bombardiers passing attack.

Ryan Charter, Sr. QB, Needham
Mike Panepinto has deservedly drawn praise as the star man on the Needham offense, but the senior quarterback, who has been under center for 1-1/2 seasons already, will have high expectations as the Rockets try to get back on top in the Bay State.

Kyle Wisnieski, Sr. QB, Mansfield
With the graduation of running backs Robbie Rapoza and Kevin Makie and the continued injury problems for wide receiver Michael Hershman the key cog for the Hornets offense will be its senior quarterback. Wisnieski’s ability to spread the ball around and pick the right options out of a still talented receiving corps that includes Brendan Hill is going to be the key for Mansfield’s run at a Hockomock title.

WAY TOO EARLY STATE CHAMPION PICKS:

Div. 1 – St. John’s Prep
Div. 2 - Nashoba
Div. 3 – Bishop Feehan
Div. 4 - Doherty
Div. 5 - Auburn
Div. 6 – Millis-Hopedale

***

Ryan Kilian
Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Massachusetts Prep Stars


Best QB - Drew Belcher, Reading
Best RB - Johnathan Thomas, St. John's Prep
Best WR - Brian Dunlap, Natick
Best TE - Rory Donovan, Cardinal Spellman
Best OL - Jon Baker, Millis/Hopedale
Best DL - Alex Quintero, Lowell
Best LB - C.J. Parvelus, Defense
Best DB - Lubern Figaro, Everett
Best passing offense - St. John's (Shrewsbury)
Best rushing offense - St. John's Prep
Best offensive line - St. John's Prep
Best defensive line - Reading
Best linebackers - Duxbury
Best secondary - Everett

THREE TEAMS THAT WILL SURPRISE

Bedford
While Wayland and Concord-Casrlisle have earned the DCL Small Championship the past few years do not sleep on Bedford in 2013. The Bucs play one of the toughest schedules in Division 4 and the return All-DCL running back Olan Abner.

Chelmsford
While Lowell, Central and Andover are getting most of the early press in the MVC Large, the Chelmsford Lions return one of the State's top running backs in Jeff D'Auria, a seasoned young quarterback in Jack Campsmith and a nice nucleus of tough experienced defenders.

Archbishop Williams
If Archies can find early offensive balance to take some of the work load off the shoulders of star senior back Kylan Philbert-Richardson, they could make some noise in the D5 playoff hunt.

THREE BREAKOUT ATHLETES TO WATCH

Ian Kessel, Soph. RB, Haverhill
The St. John's Prep transfer saw late game carries last season as a freshman for Prep's Super Bowl Champion squad. The speedy halfback is now back home in the MVC Small, and with the graduation of work horse, All-State RB Chance Brady (Tufts), there should be plenty carries to go around.

Devin Lekan, Sr. DE/TE, Chelmsford
D'Auria and Campsmith return to lead the offense for Chelmsford's but it is the Lion defense could be the story if they stay healthy. The Lions feature the 2nd team all-MVC performer was the most impressive player in the games I saw last season.

Nick Orekoya, Jr. DB/RB Billerica
Orekoya saw a lot of playing time as a two-way starter for Billerica last season. With another year under his belt Orekoya should thrive in coach Rich McKenna's high octane offense.

WAY TOO EARLY STATE CHAMPION PICKS

Div. 1 - Everett
Div. 2 - Reading
Div. 3 - Tewksbury
Div. 4 - Dennis-Yarmouth
Div. 5 - Auburn
Div. 6 - Boston Cathedral

***

John Botelho
Editor-in-Chief, South Shore Sports Journal


Best QB - Troy Flutie, Natick
Best RB - Dylan Oxsen, Plymouth South
Best WR - Brian Dunlap, Natick
Best TE - Rory Donovan, Cardinal Spellman
Best OL - Jon Baker, Millis/Hopedale
Best DL - Steve Manning, Abington
Best LB - Kervin Jean-Claude, Brockton
Best DB - Lubern Figaro, Everett
Best passing offense - Natick
Best rushing offense - St. John's Prep
Best offensive line - St. John's Prep
Best defensive line - Auburn
Best linebackers - Brockton
Best secondary - Everett

THREE TEAMS THAT WILL SURPRISE

Brockton
They're ranked pretty high in any poll you look at because people have just come to accept the fact that Brockton generally reloads. They graduated 18 starters from last season's Super Bowl team, including quarterback Austin Roberts, who was one of the best in school history. Roberts, Micah Morel and Joe Previte are all playing ball at prep schools this year, and Anthony Davis has moved on to Div. 1 Central Connecticut. Still, the Boxers will very solid again. They have a number of athletes and playmakers, including returning do-it-all Aaron Leclair. Transfer Jamal Williams is going to compliment him well, and sophomore Kerry Raymond is physically imposing at 6-foot-1 and 205. Aaron Monteiro's 6-foot-5, 295-pound frame gives Brockton an anchor on the offensive line. They have plenty of guys ready to step forward on the other side of the ball as well, led by Kervin Jean-Claude, Justin Ahanon and Leclair.

Abington
The Green Wave went unbeaten in their march toward a Super Bowl crown last year, but saw a slew of stars graduate. QB Brandon Cawley, TE/DE Pat Dwyer, FB Jack Malafronte, RB Babila Fonkem, DB Mike Walsh, OL Tyler Perakslis and OL Matt Diver are just some of the elite players Abington graduated. These guys won't miss a beat though, as they have a ton of talent back. Matt Kilmain broke out for more than 400 yards on 27 carries in two postseason wins last year, and he might not even be the best player back this season. Abington returns its top three tacklers from a year ago and has most of their front seven back on defense. Jim Kelliher has one of the best coaching staffs going at this point, and these guys look like they're headed back to the playoffs. (For bold prediction purposes, I'm also going to go ahead and say I think they beat Duxbury on opening night, because that's how good I think this team can be).

Stoughton
The Black Knights missed the playoffs last year because of the wrong day for a let down game, taking a tough defeat to eventual Super Bowl champ Sharon. The Knights lost some very good players, but leading running back Malachi Baugh is back in the fold and they return four starting offensive lineman, so there's no reason to think the offense won't be up to par again. The Hockomock League has proven in recent years to be one of the toughest to win, but a second guaranteed playoff berth can only help a team like Stoughton.

THREE BREAKTHROUGH ATHLETES TO WATCH

Aaron Monteiro, Jr. OL, Brockton
Monteiro has something that can't be learned, or even worked toward. His 6-foot-5, 295-pound frame is one that will draw the interest of coaches at the next level. Coach Peter Colombo is very excited about plugging the junior into his offensive line, and it's not just because of the size. Monteiro worked during the off-season to get himself stronger and is primed to be one of the best lineman in the state. He plays basketball in the winter, something that has helped him develop quick and agile feet for a guy his size.

Sam Malafronte, Jr. LB, Abington
Started at linebacker a year ago as a sophomore for the Div. 4 Super Bowl champs, and finished second on the team in tackles. A very good athlete who is a work-out warrior, Malafronte will team with Matt Whelan to lead a solid corps in the middle of the field for the Green Wave.

James Shea, Sr. WR, East Bridgewater
The Vikings have benefited from having tremendous athletes in the backfield the last few years (think Casey DeAndrade, Tim O'Brien, Andrew Benson and Kevin Lynch), but in 2013 their most dangerous player will be splitting out wide. Shea can run with just about anyone -- he finished sixth in the 100-meter dash in the South Shore League last spring -- and is going to wreak havoc pulling in passes all year.

WAY TOO EARLY STATE CHAMPION PICKS

Div. 1 - Everett
Div. 2 - Natick
Div. 3 - Plymouth South
Div. 4 - Doherty
Div. 5 - Abington
Div. 6 - Millis/Hopedale

Roundtable: Players, storylines to watch in 2013

July, 8, 2013
7/08/13
12:19
AM ET
Brendan Hall, ESPN Boston High Schools editor

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH

Isaac Yiadom, Sr. WR/DB, Doherty -Caught some eyes with his commitment to BC in March, and the hype is warranted. Expect the versatile athlete to fill multiple roles as the Highlanders seek a D4 Central title.

Tom Rodrick, Sr. FB/LB, Leicester -Turned in a volcanic campaign last fall for the Wolverines, leading the team in tackles (92) and sacks (14). At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, this kid is a specimen.

Jarell Addo, Sr. TE/FS, Leominster - Reportedly recorded a 42-inch vertical leap at a combine in New York back in April. The athletic potential with the lanky 6-foot-2 safety is high, and he is a violent downhill pursuant in run support – just watch some of his highlights from last year’s game against Everett.

Rory Donovan, Sr. TE/FS, Cardinal Spellman -A unique matchup problem for his size and versatility, expect the 6-foot-6 Donovan to fill multiple roles even in a system as conservative as Ron St. George’s Wing-T.

Cody Williams, Sr. QB, Springfield Central -More than the natural gifts, more than the impressive arm strength and accuracy, it’s the winning poise (20-3 as a starter) and the ornery chip on his shoulder (in a good way, of course) that inspires colorful narrative with this kid.

STORYLINES TO WATCH

1. Pistol packed: One of the most remarkable transformations for 2012 happened at Plymouth South, which switched to a pistol scheme with Wing-T principles and produced their first playoff appearance in school history. Running back Dylan Oxsen went from a meddling backup in 2011 to the state’s leader in rushing touchdowns (40) last fall, earning a spot on ESPN Boston’s All-State Team in the process.

A decade ago, the success of spread-based college teams like Texas Tech, Florida and West Virginia had a dramatic trickle-down effect to the high schools. As we sat last year and watched quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III achieve NFL superstardom running the pistol, I wonder now how many high school teams will install elements of the system over the next few years. Nevada has run it at the college level for over a decade, with consistent success. Plymouth South proved last year it can make you an instant contender if executed right.

2. Heightened activity at The Heights - If there were one word to describe Steve Addazio’s stint so far as head coach of Boston College, it would be this: energy. The man hit the ground running when he took the job in December, and he hasn’t stopped since, already stockpiling a Top 25 recruiting class for 2014. That includes an eye-popping seven commitments from Massachusetts – a state that typically produces 10-12 Division 1 FBS signees a year – and he may not be done, with several of the state’s top prospects still on the board.

Addazio’s energy, in turn, has created a frenzy. By Bay State standards, this is has been one of the most active offseasons of recruiting in some time, with the three New England FBS programs (BC, UConn, UMass) scavenging the state thoroughly to unearth previously-unseen talent. Couple that with the ACC, which is seeing more of its schools checking out Massachusetts prospects; Syracuse, long a steady miner of the area, digging in again; and the Big Ten, which is starting to pop up more frequently following the sudden recruitment of Everett’s Jakarrie Washington to Wisconsin; and you have a much wider cornucopia of suitors than even as little as five years ago.

Last fall, after the MIAA general assembly passed a landmark state championship proposal that radically altered the landscape, I mused that this could lead to more kids from Massachusetts earning scholarships. As it turns out, there is no correlation between the two; plain and simple, college programs seem to have become stronger in their convictions that there is talent to be found up here.

3. Can the Pioneers rebound? St. John’s of Shrewsbury took the state by storm last season with its “Blur” offense, modeled after the one Chip Kelly ran at Oregon. Quarterback Andrew Smiley, thrust into the starting role due to injury, dazzled in his first year under center (4,146 total yards, 35 TD), directing an offense that led the state in yards per game (442.2) to earn ESPN Boston All-State honors. And just as the Ducks’ offense evolved under Kelly, adding new ripples each week, one has to figure the Pioneers will too.

But as good as the offense was, the defense was somewhat forgettable. Four times the Pioneers surrendered 39 points or more to the opposition, including a 51-46 loss to cross-town rival Shrewsbury. Really, there is no place to go but up for them, and the good news is they have one of the state’s best defensive backs in junior free safety Davon Jones (96 tackles, five interceptions, five forced fumbles).

Looming over all of it is the Leominster machine, which St. John’s can’t seem to get around. Since Dave Palazzi took over in 2011, the Blue Devils are 4-0 against the Pioneers, including two Super Bowl matchups. If St. John’s is to get over the hump – they’ll open the season in Leominster – the defense is going to need to make a significant improvement.

4. Diamonds in the rough: Last year, local Division 1 colleges dipped into the Cape & Islands region to complete their recruiting classes. UMass plucked mammoth tight end Terrel Correia out of remote Nantucket High, while a number of other products from Barnstable, Dennis-Yarmouth, Mashpee and Nauset went to FCS and FBS schools as either scholarship athletes or walk-ons. What region of the state, if any, could be this year’s answer to the Cape?

One area to consider is Worcester County. Doherty’s Isaac Yiadom was one of BC’s first commits for the 2014 class, and now stock seems to be taking off for Leicester’s Tom Rodrick; plus, a number of Leominster athletes could see themselves filling spots on FBS or FCS rosters. Another area to consider is the city of Springfield, which is seeing activity pick up for a number of Central recruits, while several Putnam and Commerce products may still intrigue others.

5. Not Done Yet: Graduation has taken a toll on proud programs such as Barnstable – or has it? Barnstable graduated a huge class from one of its best squads ever, a team that sat for seven weeks as the No. 1 team the state and lost a 20-19 thriller to Everett in the D1A Super Bowl. But athlete Hayden Murphy, an All-State contender, returns, with his set position still unsettled. The Red Raiders also added Catholic Conference powers BC High and Xaverian to their schedule, which suggests that perhaps head coach Chris Whidden has some up-and-coming talent we don’t know about.

Scott Barboza, ESPN Boston High Schools Editor

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH

Isaiah Douglas, Sr. RB, Bishop Feehan – A key cog to the Shamrocks’ Division 3A Super Bowl victory last year, expect the shifty runner to put up monster numbers this year.

Jack Galvin, Sr. WR/OLB, Lowell – Galvin was among the statewide touchdown receptions leaders last year with eight.

C.J. Parvelus, Sr. LB, Everett – Might have been the Crimson Tide’s defensive MVP in the second half of 2012, highlighted by Parvelus’ three-sack performance in a win over Xaverian.

Andrew Smiley, Sr. QB, St. John’s (Shrewsbury) – In his season as a starter, Smiley just so happened to set a Central Mass. record with 3,123 passing yards. Who knows what the U.S. Naval Academy lacrosse commit will accomplish this year?

Shawn Whitaker, Sr. T, Bridgewater-Raynham – The 6-foot-5, 250-pound tackle is just the latest in a long line of terrific road-grading run blockers with the Trojans.

STORYLINES TO WATCH

- Who’s the Catholic Conference challenger? I think all of us pundits have anointed St. John’s Prep as the preseason favorite in the Catholic Conference — perhaps, overall in the state as well — in the preseason. But the rest of the conference also finished with sub-.500 records in 2012 while the Eagles ran away with the title en route to the Division 1 Super Bowl championship. Can Catholic Memorial’s defense led by BC commit Kevin Bletzer slow down the pack? Will BC High be able to fill the multiple skill position voids from graduation? To what extent will Xaverian’s talented group of rising underclassmen be able to contribute?

-An added benefit to realignment? While detractors have implied that the new playoff system will belittle the meaning of Thanksgiving Day rivalries, let’s pause to look at the flip side and what can develop from the new deal. In addition to maintaining traditional rivalries, we’re also going to be introduced to new must-see matchups. Consider Division 2 South, which figures to be one of the most competitive sections in the state during the upcoming season. Mix in elements from the Bay State, Hockomock, Old Colony and the Patriot, and you’re bound to watch a few new traditions grow from a the current mix of potential postseason showdowns. Not only will league games maintain importance – with the ability to fight for the bragging rights that come with league championships – each and every week counts in the postseason hunt. And, once we get to the postseason, we’re in store for games worthy of being played year and year again.

Adam Kurkjian, ESPN Bo ston correspondent

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH

Charlie Aylward, Catholic Memorial - Overshadowed a bit by BC commit and teammate Kevin Bletzer, this Catholic Conference All-Star is an underrated talent at middle linebacker.

Kyle Dance, Latin Academy - This isn't just the best player in the Boston City League. Dance, a quarterback and defensive back, would be a standout anywhere.

Ryan Martin, Bridgewater-Raynham - It isn't often that B-R has a player with wheels like this wide receiver and kick returner, but Martin, a senior, can really fly.

Alex Quintero, Lowell - A disruptive force at defensive end, Quintero was an all-MVC selection last year and is part of one of the more athletic defenses in the state.

Terrence Thorpe, Brockton - This 6-foot-3, 250-pound lineman with great feet didn't start last year for the Boxers but he would have on a lot of teams. Expect a big year.

STORYLINES TO WATCH

- How the new playoff format takes hold. It has both its legitimate pluses and legitimate concerns. How it all plays out will be intriguing, to say the least.

- Will BC High and Xaverian bounce back? Both had uncharacteristic losing seasons last year and lost a fair amount of talent. The thought here though is each program will find its footing again.

- The Waltham resurgence. After falling off a bit in previous years, the Hawks finished strong last season and return some real nice pieces along the line of scrimmage.

- Mansfield's trip to Dunbar (Md.). If you get excited for out-of-state games, this is the one to keep an eye on. The Hornets will have their hands full with Dunbar's team speed, but Mike Redding always seems to have his charges well-prepped for a good road trip.

- A way-too-early prediction on your six champions:

D1 - St. John's Prep

D2 - Reading

D3 - Walpole

D4 - Doherty

D5 - Auburn

D6 - Millis/Hopedale

John Botelho, ESPN Boston coreespondent

FIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH

1. Dylan Oxsen, Plymouth South - His junior campaign was something that seemed out of a movie, and might be hard for him to improve on. After being banged up his sophomore year, he produced just three scores. Then he matched that total in a season-opening win over East Bridgewater, and never looked back as he erupted for 40 scores. The junior led the Panthers to their first ACL crown, their first playoff appearance, and nearly led them past Natick in the playoffs. He's still uncommitted, but has garnered pretty strong interest since last season ended. Picking up a scholarship offer and/or leading the Panthers to the promised land could certainly send him out in a way that would surpass what he did a season ago.

2. David Harrison, Weymouth - The Wildcats have had an explosive offense the last few years, and Harrison was one of the biggest reasons why a year ago, serving as a do-everything weapon for the Bay State champs. With Ozzy Colarsusso gone, his role will be even bigger this year. It will be interesting to see how many ways Kevin Mackin can use him, since he saw time as a quarterback, receiver, running back, defensive back, and return-man a season ago.

3. Matt Kilmain, Abington - As the Green Wave rolled to their first every undefeated Super Bowl season a year ago, Kilmain was part of a lethal three-headed backfield with seniors Babila Fonkem and Jack Malafronte. The trio rushed for nearly 3,000 yards while sharing the workload. The Green Wave also graduated star quarterback Brandon Cawley, meaning Kilmain will be the focal point this season. Kilmain erupted in the playoffs, totaling more than 400 yards and four scores. All four scores showed how deadly he could be if got into space, as the shortest score was from 42 yards out.

4. Aaron Leclair, Brockton - Was a big part of everything the Boxers did last season -- he was a top running back, a skilled defensive player and their leading return man. He is a special athlete who could add his name to Brockton lore if he steps into a leadership role left vacant by the graduation of guys like Austin Roberts or Micah Morel. Morel was a Swiss Army Knife for the Boxers last season, and while LeClair will have a hard time matching his presence in the secondary on defense, he is a more dynamic offensive player.

5. Sean McCarthy, Duxbury - As a junior quarterback he helped the Dragons rattle off an unbeaten regular season, rushing for seven scores and throwing eight more. With Jon Hurvitz graduated, the offense will depend on what McCarthy is capable of this season. A 6-1, 185-pounder, who is equal parts thrower and runner, McCarthy gives coach Dave Maimaron an important front line piece toward building another impressive offense.

STORYLINE TO WATCH

I think the story we're all excitedly looking forward to is the new playoffs. For a long time, people have complained about everything that was wrong with the previous system, and we'll finally get state wide champs, we'll finally get the very best match-ups in the title game and we'll finally get to see more teams play in the playoffs. This season might be the most important one in state history in terms of football, because it could start to dictate the landscape of football as we know it going forward.

Roundtable: Preseason football teams to watch

July, 6, 2013
7/06/13
6:17
PM ET
Because Aug. 19 isn't too far away, we're adding another pack of hot dogs and hamburgers to the grill and saddling up for some good ole fashioned summertime football talk with our panel of experts.

This is the first in a series of two Roundtable segments we're bringing you this weekend to get hyped for the action in the fall to come. Today, we take a look at our panelists' preseason Top 10s, while looking at five teams that could surprise.

Enjoy.

Brendan Hall, ESPN Boston High Schools Editor

TOP 10

1. St. John’s Prep - If not the top spot, I’m guessing the Eagles will likely be a Top-3 selection in every major preseason poll. Maryland-bound running back Johnathan Thomas is the early favorite for Mr. Football after being named a finalist last season, much of the offensive line remains intact, and Holy Cross-bound linebacker Sean Smerczynski figures to put in another All-State campaign. But I’m earmarking junior tight end Jake Burt for a breakout season – remember that name.

2. Everett - There are holes to fill everywhere, but considerably less in the back seven, where linebacker C.J. Parvelus and safety Lubern Figaro are among the state’s best. But how do you turn over after losing an embarrassment of riches at the skill and line positions the last few years? And just who the heck is going to play quarterback? All things considered, the Crimson Tide have done more with less, and thus “In DiBiaso We Trust” remains the motto.

3. Reading - There are few opponents across the state that the Rockets can’t out-muscle at the point of attack. With All-State quarterback Drew Belcher returning under center, behind a line led by Andrew Bourque and Jimmy King, the Rockets will have a nasty run game once again. They figure to be a heavy favorite in Division 2 North.

4. Springfield Central - Under Valdamar Brower, the Golden Eagles haven’t just supplanted Longmeadow as Western Mass.’s premier program. They’ve become a wagon, with respect from the state’s traditional powers. Between quarterback Cody Williams, his cousin Ju’uan at wide receiver, linebacker Kenneth Marshall, lineman Shawn Lee, and running back/safety Da’Quon “Honey Badger” Clemons, there is no shortage of game-changing playmaking ability. They’ll face Everett for the third straight year to kick off their season – could this time be the charm?

5. Natick - The Redhawks were one of the state’s most prolific offenses (418.6 yards per game) behind a modified air raid attack, and nearly the entire core is back from that record-setting 2012 campaign. Boston College commit Troy Flutie has his favorite target Brian Dunlap back, as well as Justin Robinson, Alex Hilger and Andrew Boynton. Simply put, this is one heck of a passing attack. The question lies in the defense, and in the trenches.

6. Mansfield - It’s going to be fun watching the way Mike Redding utilizes 6-foot-5 tight end Brendan Hill (48 catches, 849 yards, 11 TD) over the next two seasons. In the chess match of football, Hill is a king piece, a matchup problem wherever you line him up. Expect that to open up the rest of the offense, with quarterback Kyle Wiseniewski and wide receiver Michael Hershman shouldering bigger expectations as the Hornets try to survive a loaded D2 South.

7. Leominster - Athlete Neil O’Connor, he of the high-80’s fastball during the spring, figures to be the assumed successor at quarterback. But therein lies the dilemma: do you really want to plant such a dynamic jack-of-all-trades at one spot? The two-time defending Super Bowl champs are the odds-on favorite in D2 Central, returning a loaded core of playmakers that includes Jarell Addo, Jason Valera, Mayson Williams and Eddie Rivera.

8. Brockton - The Boxers underwent a philosophy change last season, installing a Navy-style flexbone to better suit the strengths of the run game, and the result – a D1 Super Bowl appearance – spoke for itself. It’s unclear what they’ll adopt this year, but regardless the run game will be strong again between Aaron LeClair, Taunton transfer Jamal Williams and promising sophomore Kerry Raymond. Still, the Boxers are No. 8 here, and not No. 1, and thus the #BHallWontHoldMeBack movement rages on.

9. Lowell - Just by law of averages, there is talent abound here. After knocking on the door the last few years, many are predicting a breakout year for the more mature, more experienced Red Raiders. Wideout Jack Galvin (72 catches, 916 yards, 11 TD) and defensive end Alex Quintero (77 tackles, 12 sacks, 17 hurries) are two of the very best the Merrimack Valley Conference has to offer. But it’s the MVC, and so we must ask ourselves – can they put enough stops together on defense, or will they have to out-score everybody?

10. Bridgewater-Raynham - The Trojans relish the underdog role, so what the heck, this seems like a good spot for them. Don’t hedge your bets on them sneaking up on anybody, though. Shawn Whitaker leads a bullish line up front, wideout Ryan Martin brings balance, and junior tailback Brandon Gallagher will be a household name by season’s end. Week 1’s matchup with St. John’s Prep will be appointment viewing.

FIVE TEAMS THAT WILL SURPRISE

Boston English - Brian Vaughan called it “a dream job” when he was named head coach of the dormant Blue & Blue last January, after four years at Pope John XXIII, and you can understand his optimism. Vaughan brings his record-setting spread offense to a school where there is loads of athletic potential roaming the hallways. Numbers have always been a tricky thing in the Boston City League, and reportedly there has been high turnout. If done right, this could be a powder keg.

Springfield Putnam - The Beavers are licking their chops after a disappointing 2012 season, but they have potential to return to prominence quickly with speedsters like Wayne Lowery and Jaleel Brown on the perimeter. Also consider that rival Sci-Tech has now merged with the Beavers as a co-op, which should solve the numbers issue.

Cambridge - Like Boston English, there is tons of potential with this job, and new head coach Ryan Saulnier could see big returns if all goes well. Shaq Anderson could be bound for a bigger year, and there are a few quality arms expected to compete for the quarterback job after record-setting signal-caller David Maaghul left for prep school.

Nauset - Gritty quarterback Jimmy Sullivan (595 passing yards, 1,013 rushing yards, 15 TD) is back again to lead the state’s most unique offense – the single wing. The Warriors are always a load to handle between the tackles, and 2013 should be no different.

Taunton - This was a team that showed promise late in the season. With another year of experience in the flex bone, and running back Domingo Jenkins back in the fold, can the Tigers make a surprise run in the loaded Hockomock League?

Scott Barboza, ESPN Boston High Schools Editor

TOP 10

1. St. John’s Prep - I still believe the Eagles have the greatest collection of talent in the state entering the season, thus the No. 1 ranking. But I’ll be keeping a keen eye on the competition in the preseason at the safety positions where the Eagles graduate two Division 1-level players in Mr. Football Alex Moore and Lucas Bavaro.

2. Springfield Central – This preseason spot might be a little bit lofty, but we’ll have a good judge of exactly where the Eagles stand out of the gate in their season-opener against Everett. Quarterback Cody Williams will emerge as a legitimate Mr. Football candidate this year.

3. Reading – The Rockets are again going to control the point of attack behind offensive lineman Andrew Bourque, creating holes in the ground game and capably protecting Drew Belcher.

4. Everett – Too low for the defending (now defunct) Div. 1A champions? Perhaps as the Crimson Tide rejoin the ranks of heavyweights in Division 1 North. I’m expecting a monster year for linebacker/defensive end C.J. Parvelus.

5. Natick – There is not a passing attack in the state that will keep pace with the Redhawks this season, nor are many defensives equipped to slow them down.

6. Mansfield – Wisnieski to Hill. Wisnieski to Hershman. Wash. Repeat. And watch the results.

7. Bridgewater-Raynham – Brandon Gallagher (who, by the way, is pretty fun to watch on the lacrosse field, too) is ready for a breakout season at running back. And offensive lineman Shawn Whittaker will be a big reason why.

8. Leominster – Was either going with the Blue Devils or St. John’s (Shrewsbury) in this spot, but I’m certain they’ll hash it out on their own terms.

9. Lowell – John Florence’s group is looking to take the next step in their third year under the head coach’s direction. Can we be as bold to say they’ll be a player in the stacked Division 1 North derby? I’m saying yes.

10. Brockton – Aaron LeClair gives the Boxers and intriguing look to their running game, with the speed to bust it to the outside, while maintaining the strength and balance to run between the tackles.

FIVE TEAMS THAT WILL SURPRISE

Attleboro – Mike Strachan takes over the Blue Bombardiers controls with the help of a coaching staff that includes former New England Patriots running back Sammy Morris. Can they lead them to a playoff appearance out of a stacked deck in the Hockomock League?

Barnstable – OK, so maybe not so much a surprise team, but after last year, the Red Raiders are more in a reloading stage than a rebuilding one, per se. Led by senior athlete Hayden Murphy, Barnstable might not score at last year’s pace, but they will not too far off.

Central Catholic – For all the preseason buzz around Lowell, the Raiders could become the class of the Merrimack Valley behind Division 1 FBS recruit running back/defensive back D’Andre Drummond-Mayire.

Hingham – The Harbormen gave their best shot at Patriot League rival Duxbury last year and fell just short in a 14-7 game. But Hingham moves out from under the Dragons’ fire and could have a shot at the playoffs in Division 3 Southwest.

Wellesley – Cats out of the back a little bit on the Raiders, especially after their shocking win over Natick last year, but head coach Jesse Davis has utilized a tie-in with the school’s wrestling program to breathe life back into the program. I look for continued success in year No. 2 under Davis.

Adam Kurkjian, ESPN Boston correspondent

TOP 10

1. St. John's Prep - At this point, this pick makes the most sense, as Maryland-bound running back Johnathan Thomas gets to run behind an experienced line. There are questions, though, like if the defense can replace nine starters around Holy Cross-bound linebacker Sean Smerczynski and cornerback Michael Fawehinmi and if the passing game can take the pressure off Thomas and Co.

2. Reading - The Rockets will have one of the state's best offensive lines, one of the state's best defenses and one of the state's best quarterbacks - if not the best, period - in senior Drew Belcher, a three-year starter. Overcoming the loss of offensive tackle Matt Comerford and several skill position players will be the biggest concern.

3. Everett - The graduation losses took a heavy toll, but there is no way the Crimson Tide can be counted out in Division 1 North and beyond. The defense, behind standout cornerback Lubern Figaro and linebacker C.J. Parvelus, should again be a strength and will carry the squad early until the offense finds an identity.

4. Natick - There really can't be many teams around that will be able to slow down an offense that has a BC-bound Troy Flutie at quarterback slinging the ball to the likes of Brian Dunlap and an experienced group of receivers. The defense needs to find more consistency than last year though to win a brutal Division 2 South.

5. Mansfield - Like Natick, this is an offense that should put up in the neighborhood of 30-35 points per game, as quarterback Kyle Wisniewski has the 6-foot-5 Brendan Hill and Mike Hershman to terrorize opposing defenses. Also like Natick, the defense comes in as a bit of a question mark.

6. Leominster - The Blue Devils will be favorites to win CMass Division 2 ahead of St. John's of Shrewsbury, and for good reason. Tight end and safety Jarrell Addo is one of the best players in the area and this is an experienced and well-coached group. A state semifinal with Springfield Central would be a classic take.

7. Springfield Central - This has to be considered the best team in Western Mass. at the moment and we'll find out just how good the Golden Eagles are statewide right away when they take on Everett. Quarterback Cody Williams has a strong arm and doesn't lack for weapons, starting with speedy playmaker Juwan Williams.

8. Bridgewater-Raynham - For now, the Trojans look like the favorite to emerge from Division 1 South in what looks to be a wide-open section chock-full of heavy-hitters. The strength of the team should be a big and experienced offensive line blocking for bruising junior running back Brandon Gallagher.

9. Brockton - Despite losing 18 starters to graduation, there is talent here to reload. Explosive running back Aaron LeClair is joined by Taunton transfer Jamal Williams, while the defense returns top linebacker Kervin Jean-Claude. The offensive line replaces everyone but will again have good size and strength.

10. Lowell - The skill positions will be well-stocked for the Red Raiders, who were just a few plays away from making the playoffs a year ago but are primed for a run this season. Receiver Jack Galvin put up huge numbers last year and the defense will be one of the best in the MVC with speed everywhere.

FIVE TEAMS THAT WILL SURPRISE

Billerica - New coach Rich McKenna did a nice job at Westford Academy and has a good quarterback to build around in Jordan Bolarinho.

Haverhill - Those that think losing running back Chance Brady (Tufts) will sink the Hillies' hopes of contending in Division 2 North are sorely mistaken.

Melrose - Division 3 Northwest is wide open and this team has some good skill and an excellent linebacker in Eric Mercer.

Watertown - Wide receiver T.J. Hairston is an underrated talent and this team could make noise in Division 4 North.

Winthrop - Another Division 4 North team flying under the radar is the Vikings, who have the experience necessary to take the next step.\

John Botelho, ESPN Boston correspondent

TOP 10

1. Everett - Another year, another loaded Everett team. They graduate D1 guys every year, and every year somehow just reload. Expect more of the same.

2. St. John's Prep - They might have the best offensive player (Jon Thomas) and best defensive player (Sean Smerczynski) in the state. Losing Gatorade Player of the Year Alex Moore won't be easy to replace.

3. Natick - Expect to see Troy Flutie throwing to Brian Dunlap this year -- a lot.

4. Reading – Matt Comerford is gone, but Drew Belcher is among the best offensive weapons in the state.

5. St. John's (Shrewsbury) - The offense clicked together last year in record-breaking fashion, and Andrew Smiley is back under center again this year.

6. Brockton - Austin Roberts, Joe Previte and Micah Morel have all moved on, but what would a Massachusetts ranking be without the Boxers?

7. Plymouth South - This team will go as far as Dylan Oxsen's legs can carry them. More than 2,000 yards and 40 touchdowns from him a year ago landed the Panthers their finest season ever. What can another year of maturation do for them?

8. Bridgewater-Raynham - Brandon Gallagher burst onto the scene last year and proved to be a dominant back for the Trojans. If he steps forward, this team is headed for a playoff berth.

9. Mansfield - Everyone got to see Brendan Hill's incredible athleticism during hoops season a year ago, and that translates into one of the toughest to stop offensive weapons in the state on the gridiron.

10. Needham - Mike Panepinto ran for more than 2,000 yards last year and scored 26 times. He's back for more - and the Rockets could be headed for a playoff berth they narrowly missed a year ago.

FIVE TEAMS THAT WILL SURPRISE

Brockton - I know, how can a team I expect ranked in the Top 10 be considered a surprise? Well, losing four guys who plays varsity downs all four years would hurt any team. When one of those players is a guy like Austin Roberts, perhaps the best option back in the state in recent memory, and certainly a kid whose will to win was other-worldly (he returned after two weeks after breaking two vertebrae). Throw in a borderline D1 talent like Micah Morel, as well as four-year starters and physical specimens Joe Previte and Anthony Davis, and the Boxers are left to plug plenty of holes. But you know what? Brockton always has guys waiting in the wings. Play-makers are on the way, and it was shown in brief glimpses last year when the reserves would enter a game, and not just hold a lead but expand on it. They'll be back in the playoffs.

Middleborough - They had a winning record a season ago, and coach Pat Kingman has his squad trending in the right direction. They played Duxbury, 0-0, to halftime last year, and showed competitiveness against their league. Another step forward shouldn't be a surprise, as this team has installed an off-season workout routine that challenges the players even in the off-season. Don't be surprised if at the end of the year, the Sachems have punched a playoff ticket.

Abington - Abington graduated a slew of stand outs: QB Brandon Cawley, RB Babila Fonkem, FB Jack Malafronte, DE/TE Pat Dwyer, OT Matt Diver, C Tyler Perakslis. But even with those graduation hits, the Green Wave return enough talent that they could become the first team to win the SSL in back to back season since they did it in 2008-2009. Matt Kilmain is as good as a running back in the SSL, and he's just the beginning. 6-0, 270-pound Jon Aprile is back to anchor the offensive line. On the other side of the ball, Abington returns arguably the two best defensive players in the league, with DL Steve Manning and LB Sam Malafronte ready to lead the charge.

Oliver Ames - The Tigers followed up a Super Bowl appearance two years ago with a 6-4 season, but no doubt built toward success this year. Nick Cidado is back under center after tossing 14 scores and rushing for three more in 2012, and he's a tremendous athlete who could be one of this season's breakout candidates.

East Bridgewater - They've graduated a bevy of talent that has moved on to the college level the last few years (Casey DeAndrade - UNH, Tim O'Brien, Andrew Benson - Assumption, Kevin Lynch - WPI) and they just keep finding ways to be competitive. It'll be interesting to see how their QB battle unfolds, as last year Mike Kelly and Ryan Graham battled most of the preseason before Shawn Tarpey on the uberathletic Benson. Kelly might fit the option-style offense the Vikings have used the last few years a bit more because of his speed, but Graham - a sophomore - might have the best arm on the South Shore (not in the South Shore League, on the entire South Shore. This kid can sling it).

Roundtable: Calling league race winners

October, 31, 2012
10/31/12
11:55
PM ET
In this week's edition of "Roundtable", ESPN Boston High Schools editors Scott Barboza and Brendan Hall, along with our usual gang of contributors, gave their predicted winner of some of the state's most hotly-contested league races.

Scott Barboza
ESPN Boston High Schools Editor


Catholic Conference: St. John's Prep
Call it capitulation, but I’m going to change my tune on my preseason Catholic Conference pick, which was BC High. St. John’s Prep hasn’t shown anything to indicate that they will have a hiccup in conference play and I fully expect them to be celebrating a championship come Thanksgiving Day.

Hockomock Kelly-Rex: King Philip
Given that there presently is a four-logjam of teams atop the standings with identical 2-1 records, it’s all but certain the league will be decided in a tiebreaker scenario, as it was last year. I don’t know how it’s going to pan out, and this exercise is a little bit like throwing darts into the ocean, but I’ll say King Philip will again be the team to make the postseason dance.

Hockomock Davenport: Foxborough
Similar situation in the Hock’s small division. Right now, Sharon, perhaps the state’s greatest ongoing story of the year, holds the inside track with a 2-0 record, but I’m looking ahead to next Saturday’s matchup with Foxborough as a make-or-break date. I like the Warriors to win that game and the division, ruining Sharon’s Cinderella run.

South Coast: Dighton-Rehoboth
I know Wareham might be the logical, favorite pick here, but the Vikings take on another undefeated SCC squad in Dighton-Rehoboth Friday night. I can see that game going either way and I’m inclined to say the Falcons will pull this one off, entering with a six-game winning streak since their Week 1 defeat to Somerset-Berkley. D-R takes it.

MVC Large: Andover
This might be the most competitive division from top to bottom at any level of MIAA football this year, but I really can’t see it getting away from Andover. Just too many weapons to stop for opposing defenses.

Boston City North: Madison Park
After a 22-20 loss to Latin Academy in Week 1, Madison Park’s defense has buckled down to pitch shutouts in five of its next six contests. M.P. Machine’s for real.

Boston City South: Dorchester
Dorchester passed perhaps its toughest challenge of the season earlier in the year with a 36-24 win over Latin Academy. I look for the Bears to roll to an undefeated regular season.

Atlantic Coast League: Nauset
This race too will likely be decided on Thanksgiving Day, and I’m looking at Nauset’s battle with Dennis-Yarmouth as the definitive game. The Warriors ride to the title behind their Four Horsemen.

Patriot Fisher: Pembroke
This Friday’s Scituate vs. Pembroke matchup looms large in this race. I’m going with experience in that matchup with the Titans, fresh off a playoff appearance in 2011, proving to be the difference.

Dual County Small: Wayland
Wayland has a huge matchup with reigning champion Concord-Carlisle on Friday before another biggie against another DCL Small unbeaten Bedford next week. I like the Warriors to win out and take the crown.

***

Brendan Hall
ESPN Boston High Schools Editor


Catholic Conference: St. John's Prep
Really, is there any other choice at this point? I picked BC High to take the conference in the preseason, but nobody could have predicted the Eagles' injury-ravaged start. Meanwhile, the Eagles from Danvers look sharp as ever, with its two-pronged rushing tandem of Alex Moore and Jonathan Thomas, and an experienced offensive line that works surgically. It may come down to Thanksgiving if Xaverian beats BC High on Friday night, but is there any question who's the favorite in that Turkey Day game?

Hockomock Kelly-Rex: North Attleborough
Don't look now, but the Red Rocketeers are on swole. Alex Jette's return adds another dimension to an offense that has been crawling back to life the last month, and the win over Mansfield last week at hallowed Community Field cements things. It's going to be a headache trying to figure out the playoff berth recipient here, but expect Big Red to take care of business these final three games.

Hockomock Davenport: Stoughton
The Black Knights have one league game left, Canton on Thanksgiving, while Sharon and Foxborough still have to claw it out. Sharon also has the looming spectre of Oliver Ames on Thanksigiving morning. In terms of league games (because Attleboro and Bridgewater-Raynahm will be tough outs), Stoughton has the easiest path.

South Coast: Wareham
This is all pertinent on Darien Fernandez having a big game on Friday night against Dighton-Rehoboth. When he turns it on, he's a bowling ball of a runner to deal with, what with the low center of gravity combined with superb lower-body strength, and the stats reflect that. This might have been the most complte SCC team heading into the season, and the Vikings have lived up to the expectations for the most part.

MVC Large: Andover
Because, in short, in the land of no defense, the team with the most offense is king.

Atlantic Coast League: Nauset
Suddenly, the Nov. 9 tilt with Plymouth South is interesting, potentially for all the marbles, unless Dennis-Yarmouth rebounds and stays the course until Thanksgiving. There's a lot of bracketology to be done here, but in the end it comes down to this: How good is your scout team? Because it's not like you see the single wing 10 times a year.

Patriot Fisher: Pembroke
I'm a Bob Bancroft guy, and you should be too. Because wherever he goes, it seems, he's got that Midas touch.

Dual County Small: Wayland
The Warriors still have three tough league games on tap, including this week's tilt with Concord-Carlisle, but this is a veteran defense that has thrown some haymakers, the most impressive a 10-6 win over Lincoln-Sudbury. Give me Wayland in its first playoff appearance since the 2007 Division 1A Super Bowl.

Boston City North: Madison Park
Brighton has come on strong the last month, but frankly they are on the outside looking in. Right now the MP Machine is running at industrial speeds defensively, with shutouts in five of its last six contests and an average of six points allowed per game overall. Hey, can we get an "MP Clap" rendition for the football team too?

Boston City South: Dorchester
It's been a storied season thus far for The Dot, including key wins over Brighton and Latin Academy over the last month. Barring something wild the Bears should wrap up the league in the next week, and then it's on to a much-anticipated No. 16 tilt with Madison Park.

***

Josh Perry
Managing Editor, HockomockSports.com


Catholic Conference: St. John's Prep
The Catholic Conference is extremely tough to call (as are all the leagues in this week's Roundtable), but between St. John’s Prep’s stifling defense and Alex Moore’s power running, the Eagles should be considered favorites to win the league title. Xaverian barely beat St. John’s (Shrewsbury), which Prep crushed earlier this season, and BC High has struggled to match its preseason billing (albeit thanks in large part to early season injuries). If BC High can regain some confidence this weekend against Xaverian, then next weekend’s game with Prep will be a must-watch, but right now it looks as though it will be Prep's league to lose.

Hockomock Kelley-Rex: North Attleborough
I’ve been arguing all season that North Attleborough has the most talented team in the Hockomock League, but the Rocketeers were struck by the injury bug and lost three straight games. Alex Jette’s hairline fracture and Sean Peters’ shoulder injury are nowhere near 100 percent, but the captains are gutting it out to give North a shot at the postseason. The Rocketeers’ win over Mansfield last Friday night has given Big Red its swagger back and changed the whole mood around Community Field.

North faces a big test on November 10 when it hosts King Philip, but the Rocketeers defense has been playing at an extremely high level in recent weeks and the offense has started to finish drives behind quarterback Ryan Perron and running back Dwayne Hunter, Jr. Add Jette back into the mix, even if he is more decoy than big play threat, and suddenly this is a prolific offense again. Franklin still have a shot, but because of last week’s stunning loss to the league’s bottom team, Taunton, the Panthers can’t afford anymore defeats and still have to play both Mansfield and KP. I think North runs the table and Franklin drop both to avoid the calculus lessons that were needed to determine the winner last year.

Hockomock Davenport: Foxborough
Foxborough has made a resurgence this season behind star tailback Kiivone Howard and if they beat Sharon on the road on November 10th will finish 3-1 in the division. Stoughton should beat Canton on Thanksgiving Day to also finish 3-1. Then it will be up to Sharon beating Oliver Ames, which will be a very difficult game, to make it a three-way tie at the top.

In both divisions of the Hockomock League there is going to be some serious long-division needed to decide who advances to the postseason. I’m not a great mathematician so I will say that the Davenport is going to come down to Foxborough and Stoughton. Sharon have made a great run against all expectations and its upset of the Black Knights stunned most of the league’s followers. I do not see the Eagles beating either Foxboro or Oliver Ames, but I have been wrong with most predictions in the Hockomock this season so really it's a coin flip.

There’s been a lot of ‘they should win’ and ‘they’re the better team’ going around the Hockomock League right now, but the way the season has gone it is almost impossible to say what will happen next and every game has title implications.

South Coast: Wareham
The league really comes down to this Friday night between Wareham and Dighton-Rehoboth. I’ll give the edge to the home team, Wareham, and say that they will take home the league title. Excluding one bad night at Somerset-Berkely, the Vikings have not allowed more than 14 points in a game this season and that strong defense should make the difference.

MVC Large: Andover
Andover’s offense has been outstanding this season, averaging just fewer than 39 points per game. All signs point to the league title coming down to the Thanksgiving Day game against Central Catholic, which Andover will be hosting this year. The Golden Warriors offensive attack, led by quarterback CJ Scarpa, should be enough to carry them to the league title.

Atlantic Coast League: Nauset
Nauset and its old-school single-wing offense, which was highlighted by Eric Adler on Wednesday, is riding a wave of momentum heading into its November 9th showdown with Plymouth South. That game could decide the ACL and Nauset’s ability to wear teams down with a physical run game and a massive offensive line could be the difference down the stretch. Not to be overlooked is the Warriors’ defense, which is allowing fewer than 12 points per game. With an historic offense producing an historic season, Nauset is poised to take home the league title.

Patriot Fisher: Pembroke
Junior quarterback Corey Brandon has started to turn the corner for Pembroke in recent weeks, notably the game against Middleboro in which he threw three touchdowns and completed all of his passes. If the Titans can get that kind of production from the passing game this week against Scituate then they could take home the Fisher division title. The Sailors allowed North Quincy to come back into the game last week and could be vulnerable to a downfield passing attack. I think Pembroke makes it two road wins in a row and takes control of the league this weekend.

***

Adam Kurkjian
ESPN Boston correspondent


Catholic Conference: St. John's Prep
Overall, it's been a disappointing year for the Catholic Conference, as just one team currently holds an overall winning record. The one constant this season has been a strong St. John's Prep squad, which is as complete in every facet as any team in the state. While BC High and Xaverian will pose a challenge, expect the Prep to be the last team standing here.

Hockomock Kelley-Rex: King Philip
Took this team at the start of the year and will stick with it. This is a jumbled league race but the Warriors have already played the one team they seem like they can't beat in Mansfield and you have to think the defense has found itself after that one slip up.

Hockomock Davenport: Stoughton
The Black Knights need some help after that loss to Sharon earlier, but the thought is they get it from Oliver Ames and Foxboro when they play the Eagles. The thought here is that Stoughton is simply the best team in the division and wins whatever tiebreakers happen to pop up.

South Coast: Wareham
This one looks like it will come down to the Vikings' game with Dighton-Rehoboth, and while the Falcons can never be counted out in this league, the thought here is that Wareham is just a tad more explosive at the skill positions, led by multi-sport star Darien Fernandez.

MVC Large: Andover
This is an offense-driven league, and the Golden Warriors have the ammunition to win any shootout. The one team with the best defense, Central Catholic, awaits on Thanksgiving, but Andover just may have one too many weapons in the end.

Boston City North: Madison Park
Normally, it would be tough to go against East Boston in this space, but the Cardinals have been fairly consistent and play some of the best defense in the city. The game with Eastie in two weeks should decide who emerges from this race.

Boston City South: Dorchester
The story of the year in the city has been the play of the Bears, who sit in a pretty good position to take the league crown. With wins over Latin Academy and O'Bryant already in its pocket, Dorchester looks good to win this league.

Atlantic Coast League: Nauset
Last year, Dennis-Yarmouth was all the rage both in this league and Division 2A as a whole. Next year, keep an eye on Plymouth South and its loaded current junior class. But this year, Nauset has just been the most complete and consistent squad, so look for a run to what promises to be a loaded Division 2A bracket.

Patriot Fisher: Pembroke
Scituate is always a tough out and this weekend's game will be a difficult one for Pembroke, but the Titans seem to be playing better at the moment and have the confidence gained from last year's run to the postseason. Expect Bob Bancroft and his team to get there again.

Dual County Small: Wayland
Concord-Carlisle and Bedford have both played well this season but the team that has fared the best against the top Large schools in the DCL has been Wayland. Not only do the Warriors own a win over Lincoln-Sudbury, they also handed Millis-Hopedale its only loss. Look for Wayland to not just win this league but make some noise in the postseason.

***

Bruce Lerch
ESPN Boston correspondent


Catholic Conference: St. John's Prep
In my estimation, the Eagles are playing like the best team in the state right now. To survive, the Prep will have to earn it as they finish up with BC High and Xaverian, both of whom would love to play spoiler.

Hockomock Kelly-Rex: King Philip/North Attleboro winner
I know, way to go out on a limb. YOU try picking games in this league. I really believe this race comes down to the winner between the Red Rocketeers and the Warriors on Nov. 10, although Mansfield still has a terrific case to make as well. The X-factor in this race could ultimately be Franklin, who controls its own fate as the Panthers finish with road games at KP and Mansfield. Anyone else feeling an ice cream headache coming on?

Hockomock Davenport: Stoughton
Much like with the Kelley-Rex, the key game takes place on November 10 when Foxboro takes on Sharon. Since I don't have an Engineering degree from M.I.T., I'm just guessing that the Black Knights have the edge in the complicated three-team tiebreaker rules of the Hockomock League in what I forsee as a three-way tie atop the standings.

South Coast: Wareham
Simply put, the SCC will be settled this Friday when Wareham hosts Dighton-Rehoboth. Vikings beware, my public game predictions didn't do so hot last week.

MVC Large: Andover
In 2010, the Golden Warriors took down Central Catholic on Thanksgiving to earn a playoff berth for the first time in 25 years. It looks like a similar situation is shaping up this season.

Boston City North: Madison Park
In three games against City South opponents, the Cardinals have yet to yield a point. The MP Machine has also already vanquished its two toughest competitors in West Roxbury and Brighton.

Boston City South: Dorchester
Expect the Bears special season to end with a City South title and a shot at overall bragging rights in the city against Madison park on Thanksgiving.

Atlantic Coast League: Nauset
And the Warriors will earn it, with road games at Sandwich and Plymouth South before hosting Thanksgiving against Dennis-Yarmouth -- the three teams also in contention for the ACL crown.

Patriot Fisher: Pembroke
Another league title that should be decided on Friday as the Titans visit hurricane-ravaged Scituate.

Dual County Small: Wayland
I feel like the Warriors their tougher non-league schedule up to this point gives them an edge over both Concord-Carlisle and Bedford, both of whom are also unbeaten in league play and both of whom represent Wayland's next two opponents.

***

Ryan Kilian
Editor-In-Chief, New England Prep Stars


Catholic Conference: St. John's Prep
Prep has the best combination of offense and defense but with Xaverian and BC High getting healthy and playing well I would not be surprised if any of the three took it.

Hockomock Kelly-Rex: King Philip
This is the tightest division in Eastern Mass but the way KP puts up numbers and distance in games wins out.

Hockomock Davenport: Sharon
Sharon holds the advantage here with the win over Stoughton but crazy things happen in league play.

South Coast: Dighton-Rehoboth
I am sticking with D-R from the preseason. All eyes will be focused on Wareham on Friday as the two top teams clash for first.

MVC Large: Central Catholic
I am sticking with Central from the preseason pick as they have showed that they are the top defensive team in the MVC. With last week's win over Lowell they got by one of their biggest hurdles. Andover should be right there with them at the end but defense should win out.

Boston City North: Madison Park
Defense wins leagues championships and the MP machine is as stingy as they come in the City.

Boston City South: Dorchester
See above regarding defenses and league titles

Atlantic Coast League: Plymouth South
It could come down to next week's match-up with Nauset. I am going with the home team in this match-up.

Patriot Fisher: Pembroke
Pembroke's only three losses are all to Top 25 teams. They have won two in a row and this Friday's game against Scituate will be huge.

Dual County Small: Concord-Carlisle
It should come down to the winner of the Wayland and Concord-Carlisle game this Friday night. While Wayland is healthier and having a stronger year, I am going with the home team and the recent winning experience in this one.

***

Corey Allen
ESPN Boston correspondent


Catholic Conference: St. John’s Prep
Jim O’Leary does not like to lose and after rebuilding last year and getting the offense back to producing this year, O’Leary and the Eagles are winning again. No one else in the conference has a winning record.

Hockomock Kelly-Rex: King Philip
KP is undefeated at home and with Franklin for Thanksgiving, I’m giving edge to King Philip. Leading the league in PF/G and PA/G, the Warriors’ offense is dangerous on the ground with Joe Johnston ripping long runs and Jon Dillon finding one of his many options downfield or in the red zone for consistent scores.

Hockomock Davenport: Stoughton
Despite losing to Sharon in the fourth quarter, Stoughton has been stingy in the points department. They’ve given up multiple TDs in only three games, and the lion’s share of those short runs.

South Coast: Wareham
Darien Fernandez puts on a weekly clinic. D-R has to play from first snap for any chance to stop the Fernandez Express this week for a chance at the South Coast title.

MVC Large: Andover
Offensive production by Cam Farnham and co. has been key for Andover this year and will land them the MVC title. Defense is tight like a tiger.

Boston City North: Madison Park
In a Boston North that is struggling to win games (MP has the only winning record), the Cardinals stand alone carrying the league on their backs.

Boston City South: Dorchester
The Bears have only Boston English and the Burke in their way en route to a perfect league record. If the knuckle down defense continues to flourish, Dorchester will be berthed.

Atlantic Coast League: Nauset
Zach Altneu has many reasons to kick extra points, and if necessary, will boot for three himself. Plymouth South is also struggling at home this year.

Patriot Fisher: Pembroke
Cory Brandon under center, and possibly in an out pattern, gives me nightmares.

Dual County Small: Bedford
I recant my vote during the preseason for Boston Latin to take the DCL Small. I give Bucs edge over C-C based on offensive double threat Christian Boivin and multiple targets he has to choose from on the run.

Roundtable: Big statements, bigger production

October, 4, 2012
10/04/12
1:44
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1. WHAT IS THE BIGGEST STATEMENT YOU GOT OUT OF BARNSTABLE'S UPSET OF EVERETT?

Scott Barboza, ESPN Boston High Schools Editor: Aside from the defense, which was phenomenal by all accounts, the manner in which the Red Raiders were able to pull off the upset was impressive, meaning that the offense was firing on all cylinders for most of the game. In other words, Barnstable can win ugly. When you hear about the offense and all the things the Red Raiders can do on offense, it’s sometimes easy to overlook the fundamentals. They can do all the things that constitute a potentially successful playoff team in that they can run the ball when called upon, get the back stop when required and they don’t turn the ball over. When you have one of the top quarterbacks in the state like Nick Peabody, that’s all you need to win. And, if Hayden Murphy runs the ball as he can and the defense, led by Andrew Ellis, is on, Barnstable is difficult to beat, no matter the conditions.

Brendan Hall, ESPN Boston High Schools Editor: For me, more than anything, it was a throwback statement. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how much Division 1-caliber talent you've stockpiled, how heavy your line is, or how many of your skill players run a 4.5. All that matters is who puts themselves in the best position to win -- period. Barnstable demonstrated that to a T on Friday night.

Of course, this Red Raiders team isn't an underdog. They came into the game at No. 3 in our statewide poll, and I think the general consensus was that this would be a one-score type of affair. Nick Peabody is in a quarterbacking class of his own through the first month of the season, Dylan Morris is beginning to enter Matt Costello territory in terms of production, and the Raiders' linebacking corps is one of the two or three best in the state.

Barnstable coach Chris Whidden dialed up a great defensive gameplan in the pouring rain, playing outside contain on the Crimson Tide's gifted receivers, and getting great push in the trenches with a deceivingly athletic front four that fired quickly off the ball. These guys were not as big, but they certainly were fast, and above all else they hit with a level of abandon replicated by very few teams in the state.

At the end of the day, it was a pleasant reminder that things haven't gotten soft in the game of football. At the end of the day, the overarching theme remains -- if you come out complacent, someone's going to knock you around.

Adam Kurkjian, ESPN Boston correspondent: Year after year, while Everett always seems to have its share of explosive skill players, the foundation of its success is consistent and dominant line play on both sides of the ball.

The biggest statement Barnstable made Friday night was that it can go toe-to-toe with Everett's front and get the better of the exchange. That is rare, and it speaks to the level of offseason commitment the Red Raiders have made the past few seasons. While Barnstable may have the reputation as a finesse team because of the amount of times it puts the ball in the air, it looks like the Red Raiders shattered that notion last week.

Bruce Lerch, ESPN Boston correspondent: Defense, defense, defense. Staring at Everett's offensive line with 300-pounders across the board is daunting for any opposition but the Raiders didn't seem intimidated at all. In fact, they set the tone and managed to stuff the Tide twice on fourth-down tries from the one-yard line.

All 11 starters, plus the others that rotate in made plays. Jason Frieh and the defensive line held their own Everett's blockers, linebackers Brian Hardy, Andrew Ellis, Terrence Mudie and Robbie Stuart made tackles all over the field. Safeties Ryan Litchman and Kevin Hardy were tremendous in support against the run and corners Tedaro France and Derek Estes won their matchups with Everett's speed merchants at the receiver positions.

John Botelho, Editor-in-Chief, South Shore Sports Journal: Nick Peabody and the offense have been well publicized -- and deservedly so -- all season. Going into the Everett game, they had scored an astounding 145 points in three games. But the biggest statement made while snapping Everett's 28-game win streak was that the Red Raiders' defense is just as good as their powerful offense. Division 1A should be real fun to watch come December.

Everett and Barnstable Round II is already a Super Bowl many people are excitedly calling for, but neither has an easy path to get there. Everett is likely headed for a first-round playoff game with Lincoln-Sudbury, and Barnstable has to worry about beating Bridgewater-Raynham during the regular season just to reach the playoffs.

2. NAME YOUR FIVE BEST WIDE RECEIVERS IN THE STATE

Barboza:
1. Brian Dunlap, Natick – Might not be No. 1 on any other list, but come his senior season, he's going to be right there on the top of all the volume stats list.

2. Jalen Felix, Everett – Seeing, in person, the catch he made during last year’s BC High game at Memorial Stadium is something I’ll likely never forget. It’s the same feeling I had watching Randy Moss make impossible catches.

3. Jakarrie Washington, Everett – One of the best route runners around since those Asprilla and Costello kids were the go-to targets in Everett.

4. Dylan Morris, Barnstable – Hard to argue with Morris’ production thus far this season with his eight touchdown catches.

5. Will Heikkinen, Andover – Spies tell me Xaverian had Heikkinen blanketed with double coverage throughout most of last week’s game. That’s the ultimate compliment paid to a wideout.

Hall:
1. Dylan Morris, Barnstable - You'll be hard-pressed to duplicate his five-catch, 207-yard performance in Week 2, and right now he's on track for 20 touchdown receptions and over 1,000 yards receiving. Bar none, best wideout in the state right now. And to think, some have mused he may be a better baseball player.

2. Jakarrie Washington, Everett - You could rotate this spot with Jalen Felix, who had an explosive performance against Springfield Central, but right now you've got to with Washington based on game-breaking ability. Against Leominster and St. John's Prep, he turned the game on its heels seemingly on a dime with one back-breaking catch or run.

3. Brian Dunlap, Natick - A versatile route-runner, he's got crunch-time knack (see his game-winning catch against Norwood with 10 seconds to go) and makes the most of his touches (17.25 yards per catch, 6 TD).

4. David Harrison, Weymouth - Has seven receiving touchdowns, and in the last two games running a pistol offense at quarterback, has thrown for six. He's just plain productive.

5. Sam Blake, East Longmeadow - Doesn't get a lot of touches in the Spartans' system, but in terms of athleticism I've heard some pretty crazy stories. In his last two games, he has 232 receiving yards and four touchdowns on just seven catches.

Kurkjian:
Tough to say for me because most of the games I have been to have featured mainly run-oriented teams.

That said, looking around the state, Lincoln Collins of BC High needs to be mentioned for his size and improved speed.

Jakarrie Washington of Everett may be the fastest receiver out there right now.

Speaking of guys that can motor, Andover's Cam Farnham has been pure lightning all season as well.

As far as pure production goes, there aren't many who do more on a week-to-week basis than Natick's Brian Dunlap.

If anyone can outdo Dunlap in that department, though, how about Shawsheen receiver Devonn Pratt? One of the top wrestlers in the state, Pratt has 11 touchdown receptions already, including five in a ridiculous, 15-catch, 268-yard performance against Cambridge two weeks ago.

Lerch:
1. Dylan Morris, Barnstable - Seems to have a tremendous mind meld going on with quarterback Nick Peabody. Has eight TD receptions on the season, including two clutch catches in the 13-7, double OT win over Everett.

2. Jalen Felix/Jakarrie Washington, Everett - I'm cheating a little by putting both in, but it's hard to argue against the fact that these speedsters are two of the biggest gamebreakers in Massachusetts.

3. Bryan Vieira, Thayer Academy - Eight receptions for 200 yards and a TD in the opener (along with an interception return for a score) and six more catches for 179 yards and three TDs in week two. The top receiver in the ISL.

4. Brian Dunlap, Natick - Just a sophomore, Dunlap continues to team up with QB Troy Flutie to put up big numbers week after week. I may be underrating him because of his age, but all signs point toward Dunlap someday taking over at the top of this list. Maybe sooner rather than later.

5. David Harrison/Tyler O'Brien, Weymouth - It's a cheat day for me in the roundtable as I'm going with a duo once again. The Wildcats receivers have combined to catch 13 TD passes and O'Brien seems to be Harrison's favored target when he switches under center as Weymouth's quarterback.

Botelho:
1. Dylan Morris, Barnstable: This is sort of a chicken and egg thing. Is Nick Peabody such a good quarterback because he has Morris to throw to, or is Morris the beneficiary of a standout QB. I think the answer is Peabody is a tremendous QB and Morris an elite receiver, and the results have indicated that so far.

2. Lincoln Collins, BC High: Collins might not have the gaudy stats some his peers do (he's caught just one TD this year) but he's a D-1 scholarship athlete going to Villanova for a reason. The Eagles have been the victims of bad luck and bad timing this season, dealing with some of the toughest teams in this state - and New Jersey - while figuring out how to replace injured stars like Brendan Craven and Luke Catarius.

3. Brian Dunlap, Natick - Like Morris, Dunlap has a premier QB throwing him the ball. He's pulled in 6 TD from Troy Flutie, and is one of the biggest reasons Natick is scoring more than 30 points per game.

4. Dondre James, Whitman-Hanson - James single-handedly changes game plans of opposing teams, often drawing more than one defender on passing plays. He's spread out defenses all season, allowing QB Tom Sapienza to throw 8 TD already. James' speed and athleticism are clear with one looks at the Panthers on offense, but what he contributes away from the ball might be even more impressive. James has sprung more than one ball carrier this year with a big block.

5. Rory Donovan, Cardinal Spellman - The Cardinals aren't matching their regular season success from the last two years, but Donovan is among the toughest receivers for defenses to match-up with. At 6-5 and with an impressive vertical, not many defenders can go up and get a jump ball against him. He's averaging a touchdown a game right now and could get better as Spellman's line matures this season.

3. WHO IS THE BEST QUARTERBACK FROM A SMALL SCHOOL?

Barboza: Right now, I’m looking at Hopkinton’s Hank Rudden. The Hillers have been off and running in the Tri-Valley League, averaging more than 34 points per game through four weeks. Whether the Hillers can keep it going into the meat of their TVL schedule is another thing, but the 6-foot-1 senior is a dependable pocket presence.

Hall: Hard to argue with the production of Northbridge's Matt Phelan. Head coach Ken LaChapelle (who won his 300th career game last weekend) is famously inclined towards the pass -- and a passing pioneer for this state, really -- but through the first four games of the 2012 Phelan has been arguably better on his feet (41 carries, 448 yards, 12 TD) than through the air (42 of 50, 514 yards, 2 TD). LaChapelle has joked that he would like to once coach a game where he doesn't call a running play, but he tends to yield some freelancing to his quarterbacks when he feels they're up for it. And understand, for LaChapelle to loosen the reigns, you have to be a special player.

Kurkjian: Let's go into the Boston City South Division where Latin Academy junior Kyle Dance is putting together a fantastic season through four games.

To this point, Dance has had a hand in 13 touchdowns (nine passing, four rushing). You want to know how many touchdowns the Dragons have as a team? Fourteen. In other words, Dance is doing it all for this team, and it will be exciting to see how the rest of his season and career develops.

Lerch: Since taking over in week two, Shawsheen's Mike O'Hearn has produced eye-popping numbers and ranks fourth in the state with 11 touchdown passes, including a six-TD performance against Cambridge. With the 6-foot-3, 190-pound senior at the helm, the Rams have put up 98 points in their last two games.

Botelho: Assuming "small" school means any outside of Div 1, 1A, 2 or 2A, the best small school QB might be Dan Eckler at Stoughton. They're a run-first offense with tons of weapons, but he's been the point man for all of their success this year.

Hanover's Ryan Bennett and Middleborough's Troy Rossi both have big arms and ideal QB size and have been fun to watch early on.

Abington's Brandon Cawley has all of the tools to run the offense for the Green Wave. He's tall, has a cannon of an arm and can tuck it and run if need be. Andrew Benson also comes to mind in the South Shore League. After sliding over from RB to QB when the Vikings didn't have an obvious heir apparent to Tim O'Brien, Benson has handled the transition well. He's very athletic and gives EB a similar look on offense they had a year ago.

4. WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE CATHOLIC CONFERENCE?

Barboza: (Disclaimer: None of this argument has to do with St. John’s Prep right now.) Honestly, I’m not trying to make excuses here, and this has happened a couple of times during the last couple seasons, but it’s not as though the teams are playing easy schedules. On the other hand though, I think the rest of the state has caught up with the parochials a little bit. Some inside the Catholic Conference used to scoff at the idea of a Hockomock team (North Attleborough anybody?) hanging with one of those teams. Use this weekend’s Xaverian vs. Duxbury matchup as another proof positive. I think the Hawks will find out that last year’s win by the Dragons at the Hawk Bowl was no fluke. And, while most of the state still cannot match the numbers the Catholics have on their sidelines, there’s plenty of talent to be had.

Hall: With St. John's Prep, nothing. With the rest of the conference (a combined 4-12 heading into this weekend's games), where do you start?

Expectations weren't high on Malden Catholic or Catholic Memorial coming into the season, but the way BC High and Xaverian (preseason Nos. 2 and 3, respectively) have stumbled out of the gates is concerning. Then again, they've endured brutal schedules, and few teams in Massachusetts would come out of September with better than their 1-3 records. Still, the way in which they've lost is not convincing, between BC High getting dominated from scrimmage by North Attleborough and Xaverian laying eggs against Brockton and Andover. Bottom line, BC High and Xaverian so far haven't lived up to the preseason hype.

Something tells me they'll turn it around. BC High will be getting All-State linebacker Luke Catarius (ankle) back this month, and quarterback Brendan Craven (knee) sometime soon, and you can't say enough how much that could change things quickly. Xaverian finally showed signs of life in the second half of the Andover upset, and Mike Brennan has been bringing steady production to what has been an otherwise stale offense.

How quickly does Xaverian turn it around? Jury's out, because the rest of the Hawks' 2012 schedule, in order, goes like this: Duxbury, Everett, Bridgewater-Raynham, St. John's (Shrewsbury), BC High, Catholic Memorial, St. John's Prep. Talk about skating uphill.

Kurkjian: Well, there's not much wrong with St. John's Prep right now, as they've looked outstanding in their three wins and only have one loss to Everett in a game many observers thought could have gone the other way with a few breaks.

As for the rest? BC High has been decimated by injuries, but the Eagles are starting to heal up and it would not be a total shock to see them make a run at the league title once everyone is back.

Xaverian does not have nearly the amount of team speed it usually does and has not looked physical at all on the lines.

Catholic Memorial has, as expected, struggled on offense, and you simply don't improve when graduation takes away as much talent as it did for the Knights.

Malden Catholic is this year what it has been nearly every year, which is the fifth-best team in the league.

Lerch: The coaches won't make excuses but we can. Injuries have absolutely decimated BC High while graduation hit both Xaverian and Catholic Memorial pretty hard. Not to mention that these teams all play among the toughest schedules in the state. That said, St. John's Prep is still a top-three team in Massachusetts and don't think for a second that the aforementioned trio won't put it together by the time league play rolls around. Anyone who counts these teams out when we're not even halfway through the season is making a big mistake.

Botelho: BC High and Xaverian has certainly underachieved, but their schedules have been absolutely brutal. BC is also dealing with a whole mess load of injuries. That said, what looked like the best league in the state before the season needs a turnaround in the second half to avoid an overall disappointing year. If things continue like they are, St. John's Prep will coast to a league title behind Jonathan Thomas and Alex Moore. The Prep, in my mind, is probably the favorite to win the Div. 1 Super Bowl right now (I still love Brockton, but missing Austin Roberts is going to hurt them in a big way).

5. THERE HAVE BEEN A LOT OF SHOOTOUTS IN THE FIRST TWO WEEKS OF ISL PLAY. WHICH IS THE BEST OFFENSE?

Barboza: I think this was supposed to be Thayer’s year to shine behind wide receiver Aaron Gilmer and the Tigers haven’t disappointed, putting up 76 points in their two games. But they still have nothing to show for it, losing two close barn-burners against Governor’s and Roxbury Latin. But it’s hard to ignore the defending ISL champions at Governor’s. We’ve extolled about Tate Jozokos’ two-sport excellence for a couple years now, but running back Eli Morrissey has been a true revelation in the early going. Gov’s should face a test this weekend against BB&N, but with 103 points scored in two games, it’s hard to pick against anything short of a repeat performance of 2011.

Hall: If what Duxbury's been doing the last couple of years doesn't tell you enough about the value of lacrosse skill in football, then Governor's senior quarterback Tate Jozokos will. The UNC lacrosse commit led a renaissance last fall, leading the Governors to the ISL championship, and is off to a quality start this season. He is as a true a dual-threat quarterback as you will find in Massachusetts.

Running back Eli Morrissey has been just as productive (5 TDs), and is arguably one of the best backs in the ISL -- not the biggest, but definitely one of the most complete, and a tough runner. Overall, the Governors have averaged 51.5 points per game in their first two contest. Hard to argue with a number like that.

Kurkjian: Tough to say with such a small sample size, but it's hard to go against what Governor's Academy has accomplished in the first two weeks. With 103 points in two games, the Governors are simply running past, over, around and through everyone in their way.

We will see whether or not that continues this weekend as they travel to Cambridge to face an always-tough BB&N squad.

Lerch: When in doubt, I always say go with the team led by the lacrosse guy. Governor's is stacked with talent on offense with quarterback/dynamo/North Carolina lacrosse commit Tate Jozokos leading the charge. Along with standout running back Elijah Morrissey, the duo has combined to score nine rushing TDs in the first two games. Until some team finds a way to slow these two guys down, the Red Dogs will keep piling on the points.

Roundtable: No. 1 vs. No. 2, hidden talents in the city?

September, 19, 2012
9/19/12
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In this week's roundtable, we discuss the first matchup since 2010 between teams ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in ESPNBoston.com's statewide poll, project the Merrimack Valley Conference and Dual County League races, and examine the hidden talents of the Boston City League.

1. OUR FIRST NO. 1 VS. NO. 2 MATCHUP SINCE 2010 GOES DOWN SATURDAY AT EVERETT MEMORIAL STADIUM. WHAT WILL BE THE BIGGEST KEYS FOR NO. 2 ST. JOHN'S PREP TO TAKE DOWN EVERETT?

Brendan Hall, ESPN Boston High Schools editor: We can all thank Dallas Cowboys legend "Bullet" Bob Hayes for inspiring the advent of the zone defense in the 1970's, and we can thank Everett's Jakarrie Washington and Jalen Felix for kick-starting what is sure to be a challenging season for even the most creative defensive coordinators.

In week one, Leominster was able to keep Felix in check, and Washington came up with two back-breaking scores, a 32-yard fade and a 57-yard sweep. Last week at Springfield Central, the Eagles keyed Washington (or so it seemed) and Felix went off to the tune of 211 yards from scrimmage.

It's like watching the Tide's record-breaking 2010 duo of Matt Costello and Manny Asprilla all over again. How do you stop this lethal combination? Great question, because based on the first two weeks there don't seem to be many answers.

The number one thing, I would say, is that Prep has to play ball-control and dictate tempo. With their smash-mouth run-oriented attack, and arguably the state's best Class of 2014 prospect in running back Jonathan Thomas, physicality is not an issue. If they went to make a difference, they're going to have to get into the teeth of the Crimson Tide early and be physical with Everett's receivers. Let these skill guys hang in space, and with the time already being bought by the state's hefitest line, you can buy quarterback Gilly De Souza enough time to look like John Elway back there.

Prep has the sword. The trick will be swinging it.

Scott Barboza, ESPN Boston High Schools editor: It all comes down to this much-hyped Prep defense.

Can the state's potential No. 1 defensive unit keep the Crimson Tide in check? Or at least under 30 (that could give them a chance)? That's a tall task and I'm looking at the Eagles' defensive ends as vital to their game plan on Saturday. The key for Prep will de Tucker Mather and Anthony Bongiorno setting the edges on the defensive line, and they have a tall task against Everett's line. But if the Tide start rolling in the ground game, gaining the outside, it could turn into a long day for the state's Top D.

Adam Kurkjian, ESPN Boston correspondent: There are two main things St. John's Prep must do to take down the king. For one, the Prep's defense has to limit big plays from the Everett offense. The Crimson Tide have been held down at times this season only to find a seam with one of their many speedsters and, before you know it, it's six. The Prep has to force the Tide to sustain drives and make Everett chip away rather than get large chunks.

Second, the Prep offense has to loosen up the Everett defense with the pass. The Eagles have some excellent backs in Alex Moore and Jonathan Thomas, but don't expect them to just run roughshod over the Tide's defense by gashing the middle of the defense right away. Quarterback Jack Sharrio is an effective passer and he needs to loosen up the Everett defense early on to open lanes for the running game to take off.

If the Prep can do those things, there is no reason to believe that the Eagles can't end Everett's 27-game winning streak.

Bruce Lerch, ESPN Boston correspondent: The Prep displayed a pretty dominating defensive effort last week against Central Catholic but Everett is whole other animal to try and contain. SJP is one of the few teams in the state with size, a huge key when facing the Tide's mammoth offensive line. The big question is - do they have the speed to hang with Jakarrie Washington, Jalen Felix and Gilly DeSouza? Not many do, so the Prep will have to find ways to keep those speedsters contained as best they can and take their chances in the trenches. When the Prep has the ball, they have a true weapon in Johnathan Thomas. If Kenny Calaj is sidelined for yet another game, that means Everett is once again playing without its best linebacker and top tackle and Thomas has the type of gamebreaking ability to exploit that. Also, quarterback Jack Sharrio has continued to progress steadily and if he is allowed to open things up a bit through the air, it coul really throw Everett off balance.

Ryan Kilian, founder, New England Prep Stars: It will certainly be a challenge for Prep as Everett has so much team speed and skilled position players. St. John's Prep has a fast and tough defense that has nearly shut out two MVC teams (Dracut and Central Catholic). Offensively they will need to mix up their play calls and avoid the vanilla between the tackles focus. If they can get Jonathan Thomas in space, Alex Moore consistently moving the chains and mix in some Jack Sharrio in and out of the pocket they should compete and possibly take over No. 1.

2. ST. JOSEPH REGIONAL (N.J.) 62, XAVERIAN 0. DISCUSS.

Hall: Can I throw an Officer Barbrady line here, or is our audience too young to appreciate the halcyon days of South Park? "Move along people, nothing to see here."

I mentioned in last week's roundtable that St. Joe's wideout Ricky Jeune was going to be a load to handle. But it sounds like even the backup placekick holder was a load for the Hawks to handle, as Xaverian trailed 55-0 at the half and couldn't even score on SJR's freshman reserves. By all accounts, this sounds like arguably the most talented New Jersey team that the Hawks have ever faced, and one that is in talks as being on par with some of the Garden State powers that compete nationally such as Don Bosco Prep.

I was expecting more out of of a defense that has multiple Division 1 talents, but I guess that was too much. Back in the Bay State, I'm not going to look at this as much more than a severe humbling, and a great lesson in what football is all about in other parts of the country.

Barboza: All that can be gleaned is the discrepancy between the two state's football scenes. St. Joe's is among the best the Garden State has to offer and an eye-opener to the level of competition there. For the Hawks, the good news is, despite the points, it counts only as one loss and last time I checked, St. Joe's hasn't joined the Catholic Conference, so they'll be just fine. Albeit with a little bruised ego in the interim.

Kurkjian: I was in attendance for the first two games between Xaverian and SJR in 2006 and 2007. Both were very competitive games where the Hawks led at halftime each time. I expected SJR to win again this one, but I have to say I was shocked at how much the Green Knights had their way with the X.

Coming into this season, people in New Jersey were hailing this SJR team as the program's best since 2004, when current Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty played for the Green Knights. Well, it looks like they may be right and, at this point, the big parochial powers in New Jersey are way ahead of the top teams in Massachusetts.

As far as Xaverian is concerned, the Hawks simply need to forget about this loss and move on. There isn't another team on their schedule that can do that to them and all of their goals are still achievable.

Lerch: There's really nothing to discuss other than to credit the Hawks for scheduling such a top flight opponent. The score is what it is. Both teams had their starters out of the game during the second quarter, so it really means nothing in the overall scope of things. The best thing it can do for Xaverian is make them hungry to get back on the winning track, which is bad news for Brockton

3. THE MVC AND DCL ARE PERCEIVED TO BE DOWN THIS YEAR. BUT HAVE ANY TEAMS ASSERTED THEMSELVES AS LEAD DOGS AFTER TWO WEEKS?

Hall: The MVC Large is looking like a buzzsaw again, with three teams standing at 2-0 headed into league play, but if there's any team that separated itself it might be Andover. The Golden Warriors blew away rival North Andover in the second half for an impressive 50-35 comeback victory, and last week made easy work of a once-mighty Gloucester squad that appears to still be on the rebound. I expect them to take down Methuen this week, and I expect them to put up big offensive numbers again throughout 2012. Speed is king in the MVC, and the Warriors have three terrific horses to carry that wagon in quarterback C.J. Scarpa and receivers Will Heikkinen and Cam Farnham (Buddy's cousin).

The DCL is shaping up to be an interesting race in both the Large and Small divisions. Lincoln-Sudbury is the prohibitive favorite in the Large, and I initially pegged them as champs during the preseason, but keep an eye on Westford. In spite of its loss to Chelmsford in Week 1, this is another explosive offensive team, led by Justin Mount at quarterback. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior runs a 4.6 40-yard dash, and ran for 19 touchdowns and over 1,200 yards last season. Last week against Catholic Memorial, he ran for 214 yards on 10 carries, came up with a goal-line interception, and recovered a fumble.

In the Small division of the DCL, Wayland was the trendy preseason pick, and still are even after the loss to Nauset last week, what with their burly senior class and experienced defense. But keep an eye on Bedford, which currently sits at 2-0 with shootout wins over Westwood (34-18) and Belmont (35-29). I got the chance to watch them over the summer in 7-on-7's, and there is some promise coming through the ranks.

Barboza: I think coming out of the Gillette Stadium 7v7 Championship, Andover's been on my radar as the forerunner in the MVC Large. C.J. Scarpa is a solid quarterback in command of a legitimate offense. And, of course, as we know from looking at MVC scores in the last couple of years, scoring points is something most of its teams do well; Andover can do it with the best of them. I still like Lowell an awful lot though and think it could have a say in the division crown. I'm still sticking with my preseason take that Haverhill will the surprise playoff entrant of the MVC Small, with Tommy Morgan and Chance Brady charging the offense.

In the DCL Large, L-S is simply the cream of the crop. Anything short of another playoff appearance for the Warriors would be a disappointment. In the small, I'm still throwing my weight behind Wayland with tackling machine Matt Devlin leading the defense.

Kurkjian: In the MVC Large, the picture is still a little muddled. Lowell, Andover and Chelmsford have all come out of the gates strong and while Central Catholic did not fare well this past weekend, the Prep will do that to a lot of teams.

In the MVC Small, the best teams right now seem to be Tewksbury, Haverhill and North Andover. All three have a loss but it wouldn't be a shock to see any one of them emerge with the division's playoff berth.

Right now, Lincoln-Sudbury seems poised to repeat in the DCL Large. The Warriors' win over Tewksbury looks a lot more impressive than it did a week ago. Still, you have to keep an eye on Acton-Boxboro and Westford Academy there.

In the DCL Small, Wayland probably has the inside track at this point despite a loss to Nauset over the weekend.

Lerch: If we're talking solely about the Large school division, then the MVC doesn't seem down to me. Three teams stand at 2-0 and Central Catholic's only loss is to the consensus No. 2 team in the state. I think Andover and Chelmsford are probably at the head of the pack but counting out Lowell or Central is something neither of those teams would consider doing. Including the Small, obviously Dracut and Methuen aren't where they have been the last several years but such is life with public school programs. Both teams have tremendous coaches and shouldn't be counted out. Anyone want to bet against North Andover as Casey Walsh continues to gain experience?

Over in the DCL, Div. 1A Super Bowl finalist Lincoln-Sudbury is 2-0, and both Acton-Boxborough and Westford Academy ran into a Chelmsford team that ios off to a terrific start. In the Small, again I find two unbeaten teams, and the preseason division favorite Wayland with a loss to a larger division school in Nauset. And while Concord-Carlisle won't be ripping off another undefeated season, no one wants to see them at the end of the schedule with a possible playoff spot on the line. Seems a little early to me to be writing eiother of these two leagues off just yet.

Kilian: I think there is more balance in the MVC and DCL this year than any year in recent past. I would say that Andover has the edge from the first couple of games in the MVC D1 but Central Catholic and Chelmsford will be right there competing for the league. Nobody does a better job than Tewksbury of surprising teams and media year in and year out. It is time that head coach Brian Aylward gets more credit and attention with the program that he is running over there. He has a smaller team in size and numbers year in and year out and they get the kids to play hard and tough. Their win over Haverhill proves that they should be at the top again in the MVC D2. Keep an eye on newcomer North Andover as well as the season develops.

The DCL Large leader right now is Lincoln-Sudbury but Westford Academy could be there team to beat when all is said and done if they can keep Justin Mount healthy and running hard all season. The Thanksgiving game between L-S and Westford could be the determining factor this season. The DCL Small race is also a tight one as Concord-Carlisle has a lot to overcome with graduation and critical injuries. As their young players get more experience they should be there again at the end with a fight from Boston Latin, Weston and even a veteran Bedford team.

4. LET THE HYPE BUILD NOW. SPRINGFIELD CENTRAL FACES LONGMEADOW ON OCTOBER 12 IN ARGUABLY THE BATTLE OF THE YEAR IN WESTERN MASS. BASED ON HOW EACH TEAM PLAYED LAST WEEKEND OUTSIDE THE REGION, WHO SHOULD BE THE FAVORITE?

Hall: My understanding is that Central was a couple of dropped passes away from making its game with Everett even more interesting. Cody Williams has grown up a lot since he last faced the Eagles, and in my book 20-of-31 for 227 yards against the Tide might as well be 25-of-30 for 350 against about 90 percent of the state.

Longmeadow, meanwhile, did not look so convincing in the loss to St. John's of Shrewsbury. The Lancers had the far bigger team, and typically excel at confusing the defense at the point of attack with all of their backfield motion and dive handoffs. But the Pioneers' front four fired off the ball quicker, and most of the time were able to decipher the direction of the play quickly. I know the Wing-T by nature doesn't exactly lend itself to an exotic passing game, but the Lancers did not fare well through the air. Then again, they're playing with a running back under center right now, too.

I'm going to give Central a one-point edge right now just based on the early returns. The Eagles fought off a very tough Putnam squad, and gave the No. 1 team in the state everything it could handle. The Lancers have one blowout win over Chicopee Comp and an uninspiring loss. This will still be a slugfest come October.

Kurkjian: Purely based on this past weekend, Central might be a slight favorite. From what some of the Everett folks said, Central quarterback Cody Williams has made some big strides and the Crimson Tide had their hands full for a half. Central also should have the confidence that it can beat Longmeadow after taking down the Lancers last regular season.

Still, this should be a close game either way.

Jay King, Sports Producer, MassLive.com: Longmeadow is the favorite in WMass, mostly because Longmeadow is always the favorite in WMass. But I think the past weekend dispelled any pre-existing notion that the Lancers should be considered a clear favorite to win the regional Super Bowl. Central’s Cody Williams has progressed significantly since his sophomore season, adding five inches, 35 pounds and a knowledge of the quarterback position that makes him one of the least mistake-prone signal-callers around. Williams finished 20 for 31 for 227 yards and one touchdown even while running for his life from Everett’s line, which averages more than 300 pounds. His lone interception came on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half. The Golden Eagles are athletic and deep, but it’s Williams’ progression that makes them especially dangerous.

While Williams was electric in a loss to Everett, Longmeadow was less so against St. John’s. The Lancers’ defense looked a step slow, failing to force a punt until the fourth quarter while allowing 432 yards of total offense. Granted, that was against a St. John’s offense with weapons galore and a quarterback, Andrew Smiley, who didn’t seem to miss a single throw. But Longmeadow looked vulnerable against speed, an issue that could potentially be the Lancers’ downfall against Central, especially if the Golden Eagles continue to air it out like they did against Everett.

Longmeadow is still the favorite, with a deep senior class studded with experience, talent and size. But Central’s not far behind, if it is behind at all.

5. THERE MAY NOT BE A RON STONE OR A JERMAINE WIGGINS COMING OUT OF THE BOSTON CITY LEAGUE THIS YEAR. BUT ARE THERE ANY HIDDEN TALENTS?

Hall: The perception about football talent in the Boston area is that it is dictated from the suburbs in, rather than the city out like practically every other major metropolitan area in the United States.

Noting that axiom, my sentiment is that the trend of hoopstars-turned-NFLers like Julius Peppers, Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham will continue (the Raiders drafted a shooting guard from Cal State-Fullerton last spring, for instance), and at the high school level that will have a trickle-down effect within city limits. Boston City League basketball players already get a ton of exposure -- and will probably get even more now, with the newly-aligned "City A" division expected to be the state's most competitive this winter -- but in college basketball you are recruiting for 12 scholarships, as opposed to 85 in Division 1 FBS football.

With these things in mind, you might see more basketball players giving the gridiron a shot. One example is Brighton's Prince Unaegbu, a power forward on the Bengals' basketball team that made its first MIAA Division 2 state final appearance in school history last March. Unaegbu goes about 6-foot-6, 240 pounds, and plays the edge on defense -- who doesn't at least keep loose tracks on a kid like that?

But my sleeper pick here, as it pertains to the question, is New Mission's Isshiah Coleman. He is 6-foot-5 with long arms, and plays power forward on the Titans' basketball squad, where he has already won two state titles. Head basketball coach Cory McCarthy has nicknamed him "Plastic Man", and last winter a City League coach told me he watched Coleman jump over someone's head to block a shot.

In his first varsity action in Mission's first-ever varsity game two weeks ago, a 36-0 loss to Dorchester, Coleman had 12 tackles and a sack, alternating between safety and defensive end. Offensively, coach Mike Pittman has coleman playing mostly wide receiver. And with a reported 38-inch vertical leap -- again, who wouldn't want to at least monitor him loosely?

Barboza; Unaegbu is the one worth watching. If the NFL has taught us anything recently (Chandler Jones, Jason Pierre-Paul, et al), it that there will be a place for long and lean defensive ends with monster (wait for it here, BHall) WINGSPAN (Jay Bilas just went crazy). With college and pro offensive tackles getting taller and taller, emphasis has been placed on the defensive ends' ability to hold and then shake their blocker. If Unaegbu's keeps growing upward, he might grow himself out of the game. But if he were to hang some weight on his frame, college coaches might want to keep the name in the back of their minds.

Kurkjian: Early on, there may not be a more valuable player to his team than Latin Academy's Kyle Dance. In two games, both close wins, including an overtime decision over South Boston the first week, Dance has combined for three touchdown runs and three scoring passes. Only a junior, Dance is a player worthy of keeping an eye on.

Lerch: While numbers seem to be dwindling across the board in the city, there are still athletes and we're bound to see a few stars rise up between now and December. On defense, you have to like Brighton's Prince Unaegbu, a 6-6, 240-pound terror off the end. New Mission may struggle in its inaugural season but what football coach wouldn't jump at the chance to see what he could with a 6-foot-6 receiver like Nate Anderson?

6. BARNSTABLE CURRENTLY LEADS THE STATE IN POINTS PER GAME (55). WHERE DO THEY RANK ON YOUR LIST OF MOST EFFICIENT OFFENSES?

Hall: Obviously scoring 110 points in eight quarters is nothing to be ashamed of, but consider the oppoents they came against. Durfee has forever been a doormat in the South Coast region, and Dennis-Yarmouth is down after graduating its most talented senior class in school history. Sandwich traditonally gives the Red Raiders a hard time, but I want to see the Week 4 tussle with Everett before I anoint anyone king.

That said, the Raiders are up there with the best of them. They dial up some terrific play-calling designed to get Dylan Morris, Tedaro France and Hayden Murphy in space -- Morris, in particular, runs some crisp routes and is one of the smarter receivers around. It also doesn't hurt to have Nick Peabody, a legitimiate Division 1 talent, leading the way at quarterback.

Any discussion about offense right now has to obviously include the aforementioned Everett, but take a look at Natick and Weymouth in the Bay State Conference. Natick sophomore Brian Dunlap led the league in receiving as a freshman last year, and is off to another great start, while David Harrison has emerged as a big-play threat for Weymouth. Also don't forget about Minnechaug, which has tweaked its "Air Raid" principles after graduating one of its most talented quarterbacks ever, but blew out Silver Lake in Week 1 and is averaging nearly 45 points per game.

Barboza: I don't know if efficient is so much the term as is methodical. I know Dennis-Yarmouth isn't quite what it was a year ago, but the Dolphins still had plenty at stake with their backyard rivals on Friday, and the Red Raiders threw it into overdrive -- again. Yeah, the competition hasn't been the best, but this team will put up points every week with ease. Peabody's only improved in his play week-to-week, beginning when he took over for D.J. Crook against New Bedford last year. The X-factor to me is Hayden Murphy, who can bring a power running element to their run-and-shoot and can also operate out of some Wildcat looks.

Kurkjian: Hard to argue against Barnstable right now, although a few other teams deserve mention. Duxbury looks like it will be able to score a lot of points again this year and probably would have had more against Bridgewater-Raynham the first week if not for some self-inflicted errors. North Attleboro has moved the ball seemingly at will against two quality opponents to start the season. However, if there is one team that probably has the best case right now, you might have to go with Andover. The Golden Warriors are looking dominant through the air right now. Don't look for their offense to slow down anytime soon.

Roundtable: Best players, league champs

August, 20, 2012
8/20/12
8:14
AM ET
In our first "Roundtable" of the 2012 football season, our high school staff and correspondents submitted their best position players in the state, and predicted champions for the state's most anticipated league races.

Brendan Hall
ESPN Boston High Schools Editor


Best QB: Nick Peabody, Barnstable
Best RB: Jared Taylor, Mashpee
Best WR: Jalen Felix, Everett
Best TE: Chris Collins, Walpole
Best OL: John Montelus, Everett
Best DL: Maurice Hurst Jr., Xaverian
Best LB: Luke Catarius, BC High
Best DB: Micah Morel, Brockton
Best K: Gilly De Souza, Everett
Best RET: Cam Farnham, Andover

Catholic Conference: Xaverian
MVC Large: Andover
MVC Small: Dracut
Bay State Carey: Needham
Bay State Herget: Natick
Old Colony: Barnstable
Atlantic Coast: Nauset
South Coast: Dighton-Rehoboth
Dual County Large: Lincoln-Sudbury
Dual County Small: Wayland
Patriot Keenan: Duxbury
Patriot Fisher: Pembroke
Hockomock Kelly-Rex: North Attleborough
Hockomock Davenport: Stoughton
NEC/CAL Tier 1: Masconomet
NEC/CAL Tier 2: Beverly
Middlesex Large: Reading
Middlesex Small: Wakefield
South Shore: Mashpee

Scott Barboza
ESPN Boston High Schools Editor


Best QB: Drew Belcher, Reading
Best RB: Jonathan Thomas, St. John's Prep
Best WR: Jalen Felix, Everett
Best TE: Chris Collins, Walpole
Best OL: John Montelus, Everett
Best DL: Maurice Hurst Jr., Xaverian
Best LB: Luke Catarius, BC High
Best DB: Alex Moore, St. John's Prep
Best K: Gilly De Souza, Everett
Best RET: Cam Farnham, Andover

Catholic Conference: BC High
MVC Large: Andover
MVC Small: Dracut
Bay State Carey: Weymouth
Bay State Herget: Natick
Old Colony: Barnstable
Atlantic Coast: Marshfield
South Coast: Dighton-Rehoboth
Dual County Large: Lincoln-Sudbury
Dual County Small: Concord-Carlisle
Patriot Keenan: Duxbury
Patriot Fisher: Pembroke
Hockomock Kelly-Rex: King Philip
Hockomock Davenport: Stoughton
NEC/CAL Tier 1: Lynn English
NEC/CAL Tier 2: Beverly
Middlesex Large: Reading
Middlesex Small: Wakefield
South Shore: Mashpee

Adam Kurkjian
ESPN Boston correspondent


Best QB: Drew Belcher, Reading
Best RB: Jonathan Thomas, St. John's Prep
Best WR: Jakarrie Washington, Everett
Best TE: Chris Collins, Walpole
Best OL: John Montelus, Everett
Best DL: Maurice Hurst Jr., Xaverian
Best LB: Luke Catarius, BC High
Best DB: Jalen Felix, Everett
Best K: Jackson Bockhurst, BC High
Best RET: Ozzy Colarusso, Weymouth

Catholic Conference: BC High
MVC Large: Central Catholic
MVC Small: Haverhill
Bay State Carey: Weymouth
Bay State Herget: Walpole
Old Colony: Bridgewater-Raynham
Atlantic Coast: Dennis-Yarmouth
South Coast: Wareham
Dual County Large: Lincoln-Sudbury
Dual County Small: Concord-Carlisle
Patriot Keenan: Duxbury
Patriot Fisher: Pembroke
Hockomock Kelly-Rex: King Philip
Hockomock Davenport: Stoughton
NEC/CAL Tier 1: Lynn English
NEC/CAL Tier 2: Beverly
Middlesex Large: Reading
Middlesex Small: Wakefield
South Shore: Mashpee

Ryan Kilian
Founder, New England Prep Stars


Best QB: Drew Belcher, Reading
Best RB: Jonathan Thomas, St. John's Prep
Best WR: Jalen Felix, Everett
Best TE: Chris Collins, Walpole
Best OL: John Montelus, Everett
Best DL: Maurice Hurst Jr., Xaverian
Best LB: Luke Catarius, BC High
Best DB: Alex Moore, St. John's Prep
Best K: Gilly De Souza, Everett
Best RET: Cam Farnham, Andover

Catholic Conference: BC High
MVC Large: Central Catholic
MVC Small: Haverhill
Bay State Carey: Weymouth
Bay State Herget: Natick
Old Colony: Barnstable
Atlantic Coast: Dennis-Yarmouth
South Coast: Dighton-Rehoboth
Dual County Large: Lincoln-Sudbury
Dual County Small: Concord-Carlisle
Patriot Keenan: Duxbury
Patriot Fisher: Pembroke
Hockomock Kelly-Rex: Mansfield
Hockomock Davenport: Stoughton
NEC/CAL Tier 1: Masconomet
NEC/CAL Tier 2: Beverly
Middlesex Large: Reading
Middlesex Small: Wakefield
South Shore: Mashpee

Corey Allen
ESPN Boston Correspondent


Best QB: Nick Peabody, Barnstable
Best RB: Brendan Flaherty, Beverly
Best WR: Jakarrie Washington, Everett
Best TE: Chris Collins, Walpole
Best OL: John Montelus, Everett
Best DL: Peter Ngobidi, Catholic Memorial
Best LB: Luke Catarius, BC High
Best DB: Jalen Felix, Everett
Best K: Gilly De Souza, Everett
Best RET: Cam Farnham, Andover

Catholic Conference: BC High
MVC Large: Central Catholic
MVC Small: Dracut
Bay State Carey: Needham
Bay State Herget: Walpole
Old Colony: Bridgewater-Raynham
Atlantic Coast: Nauset
South Coast: Wareham
Dual County Large: Lincoln-Sudbury
Dual County Small: Boston Latin
Patriot Keenan: Duxbury
Patriot Fisher: Pembroke
Hockomock Kelly-Rex: North Attleborough
Hockomock Davenport: Stoughton
NEC/CAL Tier 1: Masconomet
NEC/CAL Tier 2: Beverly
Middlesex Large: Reading
Middlesex Small: Wakefield
South Shore: Mashpee

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