Quick-hit thoughts from Week 5

October, 7, 2013
Some quick-hit thoughts from this weekend’s high school football action around Massachusetts:

1. I came away from Saturday night’s Leicester-Auburn battle convinced I had just seen the best linebacker in Massachusetts. UConn-bound inside linebacker Tom Rodrick is the first Division 1 FBS commit in the history of Leicester’s program; tucked away in an insular small-town pocket of southwestern Worcester County, the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Rodrick is a classic definition of an outlier. But he was a monster on Saturday night against traditionally one of the state’s top rushing attacks. In one play, he came around the edge on a sweep, tossed a 250-pound pulling guard with relative ease, squared his shoulders and slammed Central Mass.’s leading rusher Mark Wright for a loss. On another play, he grabbed Auburn’s scrambling young quarterback and planted him in the ground with a resounding thud, knocking him out of the game.

For a player his size, he moves fluidly, able to get to the edge quickly as well as fill gap responsibility on plays to the interior. His nose for the ball is authoritative. The pops from his pads are loud. His arrival to the point of attack is, for lack of a better word, violent. His motor is frenetic, and his body language screams high energy. In evaluating a player like Rodrick, the only drawback might be pass defense, where he gets limited experience as an inside linebacker playing a schedule of predominantly run-heavy opponents. But Saturday night’s showing –- a blocked field goal, a sack, and officially a dozen tackles (but unofficially about a bajillion) –- convinced me that his stock is on the rise.

I’m probably going to get hammered for this. I can hear it now: “Really? A kid from a Division 5 school in Central Mass. is the best linebacker you’ve seen?” There are great arguments to be made for others, but I’m ready and willing to defend my case here. Have at it.

2. Springfield Central comes away from Friday night’s win over Longmeadow somewhat long-faced –- this was easily the worst they’ve played this season -– but the day still ended on a very high note for assistant coach Rich Williams, for reasons that have nothing to do with football. By day, Williams is a criminal defense investigator. Earlier in the day, he saw a wrongful conviction case he’s been working on for the last 15 years finally get a man out of prison after 26 years. Williams described the scene watching his client leave prison as a highly emotional one, with an overwhelming number of friends and family there to greet him.

I’m listening to Williams tell me this story in an overjoyed tone, describing the details in journalistic color, before Friday night’s game, and I just can’t get over the part about the incarceration. You only have one life to live. Imagine spending one-third of it behind bars, isolated from society, in a cell where time seems to evaporate, for a crime that you did not commit. Just think about that. What an amazing story.

3. Danny Ventura of the Boston Herald reported last week that Cambridge will be leaving the Greater Boston League for the Dual County League at the end of 2013-14 school year, which could mean that Saturday’s game between the Falcons and No. 2 Everett could have been the last meeting in this long and storied rivalry. I’ve casually thrown out this idea before, but after seeing yet another GBL team defect to another league, and now that league championships are no longer requisite for postseason qualification, I’m once again wondering if Everett should move to an independent schedule for football to save what’s left of the league.

The GBL has seen Revere, Peabody, Waltham, Arlington and now Cambridge leave since 2006. It’s the elephant in the room, but Everett hasn’t lost a league game since the storied Thanksgiving day upset by Cambridge in 2001; in most years, Everett’s league games are simply not competitive. There’s no denyin the Crimson Tide’s significant dominance in the sport contributed to some of these schools’ departures, to varying degrees. As it stands, Everett had to drop BC High this season to make room for its GBL schedule. Most of these league games are not competitive in most years, and for Everett, a one-month run of Cambridge, Medford, Malden and Somerville is not the best of warm-ups headed into what's expected to be a fierce Division 1 North playoffs field.

4. Turning to the opposite end of the competitive leagues spectrum, good luck figuring out the Atlantic Coast League. Dennis-Yarmouth looked like world-beaters after routing border rival Barnstable in Week 1, only to take one on the chin to Plymouth North in their next game. Plymouth South looked like they were cruising before a setback against D-Y this past weekend, sans returning All-State rusher Dylan Oxsen (ankle). And now Marshfield, fresh off an 0-11 season, is sitting pretty at 3-1 after two dramatic walk-off victories. In my opinion, this one hinges on the health of Oxsen. If he’s good to go, the Panthers are ACL champs. If not, it’s open season.

5. Just to demonstrate what a topsy-turvy adventure this new playoff format has brought upon us, and the helter-skelter behavior of wins and losses it has created, in one week BC High has gone from just barely surviving in D1 South to staring down a first-round home matchup. Same with Barnstable, which has rocketed up the D2 South standings the last two weeks. If the playoffs began last weekend, two teams in Division 3 Northeast would have been in at 0-3.

This is setting up to be one fun October. Under the old “Super Bowl” system, this is about the time of the season when the drama picks up, as the league title races begin to come in focus. But there is no opening act under this new MIAA State Championship system. The intensity went into overdrive by Week 2, and the race for playoff seeds will no doubt reach a wild, possibly bizarre, conclusion.

Five weeks into this experiment, I'm already proposing a tweak here. Why not start the season on Labor Day weekend, and expand the regular season statewide to eight games? Western Mass. plays an eight-game schedule, while the rest goes with seven. The latter doesn't seem like big enough of a window to get a good measure on a team.




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