Boston High School: Boston College

Nobles' Wood refocuses after WJC experience

January, 15, 2015
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DEDHAM, Mass. – Spend a few of minutes with Miles Wood and you realize how much this kid gets it.

Still a teenager, Wood has already accomplished more than most during this point of his life.The past couple of years alone have been nothing short of a whirlwind adventure for the Noble and Greenough senior hockey star.

In 2013, he was selected in the fourth round by the New Jersey Devils in the NHL Draft. That was soon followed by his commitment to play at Boston College next season, after decommitting from Brown University, his initial choice.

Things continued to flourish for the left winger this past December when it was announced that he had been chosen to play for Team USA in the IIHF World Junior Championships, making him the first prep/high school player to be selected by Team USA to the WJC since Massachusetts native Tom Poti (Cushing Academy) in 1996.

Initially, Wood (6-foot-2, 195 pounds), did not receive an invite to the U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp this past summer at Lake Placid due in part to him deciding to return Nobles and not leave early for BC. But USA Hockey still continued to monitor his progress. A couple of weeks into his final season at Nobles, Wood was offered a tryout in which he didn't disappoint by earning a roster spot.

Following last year, Wood had planned on moving to The Heights. But on the advice of his parents, Randy and Cheryl, he was strongly urged to remain at Nobles for one more year and graduate, which he will do this spring.

Ironically, his father took a similar path just starting out. Randy Wood played four years at Phillips Andover Academy before spending four years at Yale. He then went on to have a successful 11-year career in the NHL with the Islanders, Sabres, Maple Leafs and Stars.

"When I decommitted from Brown I thought I would head into college a little sooner," said Wood. "But at the end of day, staying here for another year is only going to help me. It is one more year for me to get stronger. My game is not perfect so there are things I can do here that can help my hockey sense that college wouldn't do. It's good to work on the small things here and hopefully next year I'll go to BC with a stronger season then if I had done it a year earlier."

The opportunity to play with and against some of best young hockey talent in the world was a thrill of a lifetime for the 19-year-old, not to mention the learning experience he had gained.

"It was good for me to see what world competition was like," Wood said. "Not just seeing kids from the United States but kids from Sweden, Finland, Canada, et cetera, and to see where your game is as compared to where their game is.

“It was good to see what I need to work on, what my strengths are and just continue building off of that experience. My teammate Jack Eichel told me I was here because the coaches wanted me here. I wasn't here because I was a prep school kid. I'm here because the coaches have a trust in me and that I could help them win a gold medal. It was really good to hear that from someone like him."

At the WJC, the U.S. came up short in its bid for gold, finishing fourth after being eliminated by Russia in the quarterfinal round.

Highly regarded as a superior skater and his ability to put pucks into the back of the net, Wood says he wasn't selected by Team USA to score goals.

"I knew going into the tryouts I had to be more of a defensive player and a person they could trust out on the ice,'' he said. "I had to do the small things during camp because they had the Jack Eichels and Dylan Larkins to score goals. But they didn't really have that person to be tough around the puck or be tough in the corners.

“So I knew in order for me to make the team I needed to switch my role and not be the goal-scorer that I am [at Nobles]. Going into it, the coaches really had no idea who I was so it was good for me to go out and prove something to them."

When Wood came to Nobles in 2012, early reports listed him as an individual type of player. But under the tutelage of 14-year Bulldogs coach Brian Day, Wood has managed to transform his game, becoming more of a multi-faceted player.

"He is a kid who has grown tremendously since he has been with us," said Day. "He was certainly much more of a soloist when he first arrived here. He has always been a great skater and always had a good shot. He generated mostly off of people getting him the puck but now, he has learned to develop on how to incorporate everyone in the offense. He has grown to be a player who makes everyone around him better.

Wood added, "For the three years I have been here, Coach Day has taken my game from being a solo guy to a kid who can compete at the Worlds. A lot of my talent has been built through my three years here. It also shows that it doesn't matter where you play.”

He admits his decision to part ways with Brown was difficult. Had he opted to follow through on his commitment, it would have given him the opportunity to play alongside older brother Tyler, a sophomore defenseman with the Bears.

"I just didn't think it would be the right fit for me school-wise and hockey-wise," Wood explained. "It was obviously tough because Tyler was there. But I didn't want it to have an effect on him. It was good that I decommitted early enough where the Brown coaches could find a new player.

“The draw that I first had in wanting to go there was to play with Tyler. But as it got down to the nuts and bolts I just didn't feel it would be a good fit and I just had to move on from there."

As stellar a player that he is, one would probably have you believe Wood is a rink rat that spends a majority of his time and life on the ice.

On the contrary. Wood says his parents have instilled into him that the world does not revolve around the sport of hockey.

"It is nice to have parents that aren't so one-way with hockey," he said. "My father isn't just a parent to me in the hockey world but he is a parent to me when comes to school and life. It is good to have that person where you can call him up and talk about life and not always about hockey. He always tells me to step away from the game, to have fun and enjoy myself. As long as I'm happy it doesn't matter where I am because I know both of my parents will be happy for me no matter what."

Wood says once the season ends at Nobles, he will not lace up his skates again until he begins fall camp at BC. Wood said he only spends approximately five months out of the year playing hockey for a reason.

"You see some kids that are hockey, hockey, hockey 12 months out of the year," said Wood. "By the time they hit high school they are burnt out. I feel for those kids."

What lies ahead for Wood remains the million dollar question. Without a doubt, he is talented enough to excel at the collegiate level and potentially the pro level. But the work ethic can never falter.

"The opportunities are there for him but he realizes he needs to continue to get better," Day said. "As long as he does that then he'll reach his goals. Where he is right now and having these opportunities in front of him doesn't mean a thing unless he goes out and puts in the time and effort to pursue those goals. I think he is committed in doing that."

But first things first. Right now, the only thing on Wood's mind is helping Nobles try to win a second consecutive ISL title.

Last season, Wood was a prime contributor throughout the Bulldogs' championship run, having scored 29 goals and registering 25 assists. Nobles, which also carries a few other Division 1 commits – including Yale commits Billy Sweezey and Luke Stevens and Brown’s Mike Fahie – is 9-3-1 after Wednesday night’s win over Lawrence Academy.

"If you start looking too far ahead, then you start losing sight in where you are today," Wood added. "I think this whole thing of me staying back for one more year of prep school has taught me how to be patient and that is the best way to go about things. You don't go from point A to point B without enjoying the time between.

“I consider myself very fortunate to have had the chances I have had in hockey but for me it is all about today. For us to win our league again, it has been a goal for the entire team. I think talent-wise we have grown as a team here and this team is very strong. But we are just taking it day-by-day and practice by practice. That's all you can do."

Nobles' Wood joins U.S. WJC roster

December, 26, 2014
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Noble & Greenough senior Miles Wood will join the Team U.S.A. as it opens its World Junior Championship schedule today in Montreal against Finland.

The Buffalo, N.Y. native and 2013 New Jersey Devils Draft pick is the third player with Massachusetts connections making the final roster this year. Jack Eichel, the Boston University freshman sensation and presumed top two draft choice in the upcoming NHL Draft, was bestowed a high honor, as the North Chelmsford native was named captain. Former St. Sebastian's standout and current Boston College defenseman Noah Hanifin also made the team.

During last week's Flood-Marr tournament, Nobles head coach Brian Day reflected on Wood's growth as a player in his three years with the Bulldodgs.

“The biggest thing is I think his hockey sense has improved,” Day told ESPN Boston. “He’s always had the tools, but when he was younger, he was more of a straight-ahead player. Now, he’s looking around, incorporating guys into the offense with him. He’s making guys around him better."
The NHL Central Scouting Service today unveiled its "Players to Watch" list, providing the first evaluations for the draft eligible class ahead of the 2015 NHL Draft.

To little surprise, a few local products checked in with "A" grades, including North Chelmsford native and Boston University freshman Jack Eichel, who is projected as a top five selection by many draft observers. Former St. Sebastian's defenseman and Norwood native Noah Hanifin (Boston College) also collected an A grade, as did former Noble & Greenough center Colin White (U.S. NTDP).

"A" grades are assigned to prospects expected to be selected in the first round, B for second through third round picks and C grades given to players who are likely to be taken between the fourth and sixth rounds.

On current MIAA player received mention as well, as recent Northeastern commit and BC High defenseman Ryan Shea holds a C grade. Former Malden Catholic turned U.S.A. U-18 defenseman Casey Fitzgerald garnered a B grade.

Here's a list of the New England-based skaters appearing on the preliminary ranking:

"A" Grade:
Jack Eichel, Boston University (North Chelmsford, Mass.), 6-2, 195, C
Noah Hanifin, Boston College (St. Sebastian's - Norwood, Mass.), 6-2, 201, D
Colin White, U.S.A. U-18 (Noble & Greenough - Hanover, Mass.), 6-0, 183, C

"B" Grade:
Taggart Corriveau, Westminster (Conn.), 6-1, 176, RW
Casey Fitzgerald, U.S.A U-18 (Malden Catholic - North Reading, Mass.), 5-10.5, 186, D
Erik Foley, Cedar Rapids - USHL (Mansfield High), 5-11.5, 185, LW
A.J. Greer, Boston University (Kimball Union Academy), 6-2.5, 204, LW

"C" Grade:
David Cotton, Cushing Academy, 6-2.5, 200, C
Liam Darcy, Berwick Academy, 5-10.5, 175, D
Trevin Kozlowski, The Gunnery, 6-3.75, 186, G
John McDermott, Westminster (Conn.), 6-1.25, 185, C
Shane Sellar, Canterbury, 6-1.25, 186, LW
Eric Shaw, Middlesex School, 6-2, 215, C
Ryan Shea, BC High (Milton, Mass.), 6-0, 168, D
Will Somers, Hotchkiss School, 6-4, 228, LW
Luke Stevens, Noble & Greenough (Duxbury High), 6-3.75, 184, LW
Spenser Young, Dubuque - USHL (Phillips Exeter - Brentwood, N.H.), 5-9.75, 177, D

Luke McInnis: BC 'suits my game well'

July, 23, 2014
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It's been a good summer for Hingham native Luke McInnis.

First, the slick-skating defenseman was named to the United States national team at the Five Nations tournament in Germany. Then, last week, McInnis followed in the footsteps of his father -- former Bruin, Marty -- to the Heights, giving his verbal commitment to Boston College.

McInnis will transfer to Dexter School next year, joining Dan Donato's squad, after playing two varsity seasons at Hingham High. As a sophomore last year, McInnis put up 4-11-15 totals with the Harbormen.

We caught up with McInnis to talk about his commitment:

On his decision to go to BC: "It has run through my family starting with my dad's dad. And also the history the school of being a competitor every year."

On his father's impact on his decision: "My dad did not have a big impact. He wanted me to make the decision and go where I think I would be the best that I can be."

On how Coach York's philosophy suits his game: "I think it suits my game well he likes to have his defenseman jump up in the play but make sure to take care of their own zone as well. He likes to coach the game the way I like to play."

On what he's working on this summer: "I work out all summer with Edge Performance Systems and play in many tournaments such as the Chowder Cup and the pre-draft [tournament] with the East Coast Kings."

On moving on to Dexter next year: "I am excited for next year it will be a challenge. I will need to work harder to keep my grades up. I am excited to have a coach such as Coach [Dan] Donato and to play along side great players."

Lawrence Academy's Garrison commits to BC

June, 26, 2014
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Chris Garrison and the Boston College football program had been flirting with each other for a long time before Garrison committed to BC last weekend. So long, in fact, that Frank Spaziani was BC’s head coach when the school offered Garrison a scholarship.

Garrison, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound tight end/split end who will be entering his senior year at Lawrence Academy, said he was sold on BC when he learned what kind of offense BC head coach Steve Addazio has planned for the Eagles in the near future.

“BC has been at the top of my favorites since they offered me two years ago,” Garrison, a Goffstown, N.H., resident, said. “Then a new staff came in and my big question was, ‘How are they going to use me?’

“Everyone knows they were a running team last year with a Heisman finalist (running back Andre Williams). Coach Addazio and Coach Day (offensive coordinator Ryan Day) explained to me the new vision for their offense. They’re building something new at BC. It’s more of a spread offense and they brought in a couple of dual-threat quarterbacks.

“Coach Addazio said he doesn’t like to use the example, but I’ll be playing a similar position that Aaron Hernandez did when he recruited him at Florida. They plan to use me more as a big wide receiver, but I’m sure I’ll still be doing some of the dirty work.”

Garrison, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds at BC camp last week, also had scholarship offers from Maryland, Duke, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Syracuse and Wake Forest. BC was the second school to offer Garrison, after UMass.

Garrison said he felt a connection with Day, who played high school football at Manchester (N.H.) Central and then at the University of New Hampshire. Goffstown and Manchester neighbor each other.

He became the sixth in-state player from the Class of 2015 to commit to the Eagles, joining Shepherd Hill offensive lineman Chris Lindstrom, Brockton lineman Aaron Monteiro, Everett defensive back Lukas Denis, St. John’s Prep tight end Jake Burt and St. John’s of Shrewsbury defensive back Davon Jones.

“After I talked to the BC coaches I spoke to my dad,” Garrison said. “I wanted to commit before next season, so I said, “Why am I waiting?’ The whole recruiting process was overwhelming at times.”

Garrison said his decision came down to Duke or BC. He was at Duke earlier this month.

“I was comfortable with Duke, but I was more comfortable with BC,” he said. “BC was where I wanted to go.”

Natick's Flutie embracing opportunity at BC

February, 7, 2014
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NATICK, Mass. – The name Flutie is synonymous with Boston College. But it wasn’t just family lineage which led Natick’s Troy Flutie to the Eagles and Steve Addazio’s program.

“Meeting with him the first time, I was just like, ‘Wow, this guy is awesome!’” Flutie said of Addazio.

[+] EnlargeFlutie
Scott Barboza/ESPNReigning ESPN Boston Mr. Football award winner Troy Flutie signed his national letter of intent to Boston College this week.
The Redhawks quarterback and this year’s ESPN Boston Mr. Football award winner is part of a large haul of homegrown talent headed to the Heights in the 2014 recruiting class. This year, the greatest number of Eagles recruits came from the Commonwealth with seven, ahead of New Jersey’s six.

The commitment to seeking out talent around the home base has become a priority for BC under Addazio – or “building a fence” around in-state prospects as he’s termed it. Looking to revitalize local interest in the program, the effort has created a twofold benefit for Massachusetts’ recruits, such as Flutie. Not only has it created greater opportunities for the state’s football elite to play and stay close to home, it has gone a long way to reestablishing its roots in the area.

“I think it’s real important for BC to recruit around here because I think, for a while, they lost that for a couple years previous to Coach Adazzio,” Flutie said Friday, “and I think he really wanted to bring that back and make BC really feel like a community with a lot of Massachusetts guys representing.”

After Wednesday’s National Letter of Intent signing at Natick High was snowed out, the school hosted a celebration in honor of its signees, with soccer standout Haley Reddish (Bryant University) joining Flutie for a photo-op on Friday. The moment was strictly ceremonial though, as both athletes had already submitted their paperwork at the beginning of the signing period on Wednesday.

Flutie enjoyed a historic season in his senior year, breaking state records in career touchdown passes (112), career passing years (9,014) and single-season passing touchdowns (47).

However, Flutie’s role with the Eagles is to be determined. Recruited first as a wide receiver, the 6-foot, 178-pounder should also see time with BC’s quarterbacks this summer.

Addazio mentioned Flutie by name when outlining the competition at quarterback during a conference call with reporters on Signing Day.

“We had Troy in camp and he’s just got ‘it,’” Addazio said earlier this week. “He’s a guy that has a knack for anticipating guys being open. He’s got a really unbelievable confidence about him. And he’s just got that demeanor that’s got leadership to it. He’s a dynamic athlete.”

Flutie was listed on BC’s Signing Day materials as a “quarterback/athlete.”

Whether Troy Flutie will follow in the footsteps of Heisman-winning uncle, Doug, at quarterback or his father, Darren, at wide receiver with the Eagles, the youngest member of Massachusetts football’s first family is only focused on contributing.

“It’s a nice opportunity that I have to play quarterback or wide receiver, I just want to get on the field as quick as possible,” Troy Flutie said.

Flutie stressed the importance of learning Ryan Day’s offense as his primary goal. He spoke of the opportunity to learn the ropes under Florida graduate transfer Tyler Murphy as a tremendous help.

“Realistically, I’ll play wherever I can get on the field the quickest and where they need me as a team. Wherever they want me to play, I’ll play. Anything I can do to help the team, I’ll do – if it’s wide receiver, quarterback, special teams, I’ll do it.”

For now, Flutie’s biggest priority is working out in preparation for June’s camp. He’s given up basketball this winter to spend more time in the gym, but plans to play one last season of baseball.

He’s learned of the vigor of the Eagles’ strength program from midyear signees Jon Baker (Millis/Hopedale) and Isaac Yiadom (Doherty). The Eagles’ Massachusetts contingent has already formed a kinship.

“We all went to the official visit together and we really bonded,” Flutie said. “We’re all very close right now and I can’t wait to get there with them and spending those next four years, maybe five, with them.”

One more skate for CM's Kevin Bletzer

January, 23, 2014
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For Catholic Memorial senior Kevin Bletzer, the changing of the seasons is marked with an exchange of sporting equipment.

A three-sport captain who’ll graduate to Boston College next year and play football, the Medfield native makes – what appears to be – a seamless transition from one to the next.

But even for a Division 1-caliber athlete, there’s one time of the year that’s particularly challenging. It comes the week after Thanksgiving, when the football spikes go in the closet and the skates come out.

“It’s like walking on water,” Bletzer said. “It’s brutal.”

[+] EnlargeBletzer
Scott Barboza/ESPNCatholic Memorial senior Kevin Bletzer passed up opportunities to play Division 1 college lacrosse to pursue his dream of playing Division 1 football at Boston College next year. He's still playing one more season of high school hockey.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder is a jack-of-all-trades.

On the football field, Bletzer has been a Swiss Army knife for the Knights – lining up at cornerback, safety and inside and outside linebaker on defense, while playing running back, full back, tight end, wide receiver and even a little quarterback. He even returned punts during his high school career.

When lacrosse season comes, he’s heat-seeking missile in the defensive midfield while enough stick still to play in the offensive half as well. Earlier in his high school career, Bletzer had offers in hand from UMass-Amherst and Penn State for lacrosse.

Then there’s Bletzer’s “first love.”

“I remember my dad putting me in Learn to Skate and I absolutely hated it,” Bletzer said of his earliest hockey memories. “My feet hurt in the skates, and we weren’t actually playing hockey, we were just skating around. It was brutal.

“But then, when we started playing, a lot of my friends that I’m still playing with now were the ones I played with then. I was hooked.”

Since around the age of 3, when his father, Kurt, first laced up his skates, Kevin’s been a rink rat in the winter. That also extends to the Bletzer family’s ice sheet in the backyard, where Kevin, younger brother, Kurt, and members of CM’s hockey team can be found just about any afternoon.

With a program rich in tradition as Knights hockey is under the direction of Bill Hanson, many Boston-area skaters dream of pulling on Montreal Canadiens’ style “CM” sweater. For many, it’s the zenith of their life in the game.

But, for Bletzer, with a promising future on the gridiron ahead of him, a major decision came during his junior season, last year, when he considered giving up one of his passions in order to pursue a full-fledged shot at big time college football.

“I asked him if he could do me a favor, I told him I needed him in the locker room,” Hanson said of a conversation he had with Bletzer during tryouts last year. “He hadn’t developed as a hockey player that way we thought he would, but that’s because he hasn’t played as much as everybody else. But I knew we were going to be young last year and we needed him in that room.”

Bletzer had resigned himself to running track and putting extra time in the weight room, preparing for football season. That experiment lasted a couple of days before his hunger to return to the ice took over.

“I was like, ‘This is all we do?’” Bletzer said. “I was missing it too much.”

Bletzer rejoined the team, contributing to a Knights team that endured a first-round, best-of-three Super 8 tournament duel with archrival BC High, before bowing out to eventual champion Malden Catholic in the semifinals.

“He ended up having a hell of a year,” Hanson added.

And so the challenge for Bletzer and Co. entering the 2013-14 season was how to keep that momentum going. For Bletzer, himself, naturally, it takes a little while to get going.

“It takes about a month to get your skating legs back,” Bletzer said after a recent practice at the Cleveland Circle rink, a stone’s throw from BC’s Alumni Stadium. “The hardest part of the transition is getting to the point where I was at the end of the last season.”

Not matter how the Knights season might end, however, this will be Bletzer’s last go playing competitive hockey. And, as soon as lacrosse season concludes, he’s divesting his former interests to jump into football entirely.

While those elements of Bletzer’s athletic career will go away, it’s part of what made him alluring to BC’s coaching staff.

Bletzer first’s Division 1 FBS scholarship offer was his last, as he gave his verbal commitment to the Eagles following their camp in June. He received the call that the Eagles intended to offer him from assistant coach Ryan Day while he was at a lacrosse tournament with his Laxachusetts travel team.

Even though Bletzer has yet to sign his National Letter of Intent, Steve Addazio and staff didn’t want him to deviate from his original plan.

“They were more than OK with me playing every single sport because they liked that about me,” Bletzer said. “Just as long as I know, after lacrosse season, that’s it’s all football, and just to be ready for that.”

The intent is for Bletzer to work with Eagles defensive backs coach Kevin Lempa as a safety when he arrives at the Heights.

It will mark yet another transition for Bletzer. But for a player who’s prided himself on versatility and doing whatever is required for his team, it seems a natural progression.

“Not very many freshman make the varsity football team at CM,” Knight football head coach and athletic director Alex Campea said. “At the time he made the team, we had some pretty talented kids on that team -- Cam Williams, Armani Reeves, A.J. Doyle. They really took him under his wing and were great teammates to him. They showed him the ropes.

“Now, in his time, he’s done that for his teammates, too, which is really an indication of his leadership qualities.”

For now, Bletzer’s focused on making the most of hockey season, taking advantage of even the smallest time with his younger brother. With a sizeable contingent of players from Medfield on this year’s roster, Kevin Bletzer’s led the morning caravan to West Roxbury, then to the rink, then home, and then maybe some time for a little pond hockey.

“I think this hockey season has been a breath of fresh air for him,” Hanson said. “He’s playing with his brother, he’s captain of the team and playing for a team that is really a great group of kids to be around.

“This team is kind of like a group of kids who play pond hockey, that’s how they approach the game together, in games, too – they’re having fun.”

M/H's Baker looks to stay hungry at BC

November, 1, 2013
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MILLS, Mass. – Jon Baker’s hungry.

Obviously, with a 6-foot-3, 305-pound frame to support, it’s a common problem for the Millis/Hopedale football lineman. After the hulking senior Boston College commit signed an early National Letter of Intent Friday morning in Millis High’s library, officially marking his arrival at the Heights next season, all that was on his mind was grabbing a bite to eat.

“Getting this done, there’s a lot of weight off my shoulders,” Baker said. “Everything’s done, there’s no messing around. Plans have obviously changed, it’ll be a little bit tougher, but nothing too big has changed.”

[+] EnlargeJon Baker
Scott Barboza/ESPNBoston.comMillis/Hopedale senior OL/DL signed an early letter of intent Friday to play at Boston College next year and has enrolled for the spring semester.
Baker would have had more on his plate Friday, as his Mohawks prepared to take on Mashpee in an MIAA Division 6 South sectional playoff game, if not for a season-ending knee injury. During M/H’s Tri-Valley League game against Bellingham two weeks ago, Baker suffered a right anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear.

As a result, Baker’s priorities have shifted to rehabbing and getting back on the field as soon as possible to join his new Eagles teammates. He’s undergoing surgery on Monday, but with the peace of mind, knowing he now is signed and sealed to BC, Baker’s ready for the next chapter of his life.

“Sooner I get it done,” Baker said of the surgery, “the sooner I get back to practice and get back to playing.”

Mohawks head coach Dale Olmsted called Baker “a professional” during Friday’s gathering, citing his ambition and attention to detail. That’s carried Baker through his high school career, and it’s no coincidence that he’s accelerated his transition to college. Baker will graduate in December and is enrolled for the spring semester at BC (allowing him to sign his Letter early) and, aside from his rehabilitation, he’ll get a head start on his course work.

It’s emblematic of his approach on the field as well.

“The minute he went down with the injury, he looked up at me and said, ‘What if I just play offense?’” Olmsted said.

Expectations at Chestnut Hill are high for Baker. In his talks with BC’s coaching staff, Olmsted made mention that the Eagles staff believes Baker is among of the top incoming interior offensive linemen in the country.

Baker, who projects to work at guard and center with the Eagles, is simply thrilled to get to work with Steve Addazio and his staff.

“This new staff is amazing,” Baker said. “Just what they’ve managed to do this season, they haven’t really had any of the guys they’ve recruited come in, but they’ve managed to turn things around. I love the style of play they have and I look forward to getting in there and working with them.

“And, it’s close to home, so that’s great.”

Baker also had offers from Michigan State, Rutgers, Temple, UConn, UMass, Harvard, Yale, Old Dominion and Holy Cross, but it’s BC’s long-served reputation as a lineman factory that he’s hoping to reestablish.

“It was O-line U,” Baker said of the Eagles’ long lineage of linemen to play in the NFL.

If he stays hungry, he might just join them.

St. Seb's tackles high expectations for '13

September, 18, 2013
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The St. Sebastian's School football team has to ask itself a tough question heading into the 2013 season.

“How do you duplicate perfection?”

After a 9-0 season, which saw the Arrows win their seventh ISL title and first NEPSAC championship, head coach Bob Souza will head back to the drawing board with yet another talented team. Despite losing nine offensive starters and four on defense, St. Sebastian's looks ready to attack a schedule that's a little tougher than last year's.

“We have a pretty good nucleus of kids coming back, including two of the best kids from last year. We think we're going to be a pretty solid team in the league, but this year the league is more balanced than it has been in previous years,” said Souza, the 2012 Massachusetts High School Football Coach of the Year.

Leading the way is all-everything senior Connor Strachan, who will play both running back and linebacker for the Arrows. Souza, entering his 36th year, said Strachan is one of the best players “and one of the better people” he has ever coached.

Strachan, who verbally committed to Boston College, is considered one of the top football prospects in New England. However, Souza is confident that his Arrows aren't a one-player team.

“At our level, he's been a special player, but as good as he is, we still have kids that are really good players,” he said. “We're a solid team, so it's not all on Connor. We think our depth is going to make it difficult for other teams. You can't just stop Connor. You have to pay attention to a few other guys.”

Several of those “other guys” will play in St. Sebastian's backfield this season. Running out of the I-Formation, the Arrows have three running backs capable of carrying the load. Strachan is the headliner, but senior James Fiore and junior Edosa Onaiwu will split carries.

Sousa is also particularly impressed with Blake Gallagher, a freshman fullback who is playing well beyond his years.

“He's a lot like Connor. He just has tremendous instincts. I would have to think he's one of the top players in his age group, and not just in Massachusetts,” he said. “I can't imagine seeing too many kids who are as physical with better instincts than him.”

There is a quarterback competition going on at St. Sebastian's, and Sousa thinks both guys could be a good fit. Junior Geoff Wade and senior Andrew Corcoran are duking it out for the top spot, and so far Wade has the edge.

“He's a very talented kid, but until you start playing and get into games, you're never quite sure how people are going to respond. He has to respond to make us good offensively,” he said.

Tight end Dan Fulham, who plays both tight and defensive end for the Arrows, will be a big target for whoever starts under center.

Defensively, St. Sebastian's will come out in its traditional 4-4 base set and hope to duplicate its performance last year. The Arrows allowed the least points in the ISL and did so behind a hulking defensive line, which needs to be replaced.

“We were a good defensive team last year. We gave up the fewest points out of everybody last year. Luckily we got a lot of kids back, but what we're missing is guys on the defensive line,” Sousa said. “We lost three guys to graduation, and all three of those guys are really good football players.”

While there are some questions on the line, the Arrows have a ton of young talent ready to step in. Factor that in with three returning linebackers – including Strachan, the team's leading tackler – and St. Sebastian's looks to be on steady ground.

ST. SEBASTIAN'S SCHOOL AT A GLANCE

Coach: Robert Souza (36th season, 154-104-9)
Last season: 9-0
Returning Starters: 9
Key Returnees: Sr. RB/LB Connor Strachan, Sr. TE/DE Dan Fulham, Sr. RB James Fiore, Jr. RB Edosa Onaiwu, Fr. FB Blake Gallagher.
Strengths: Senior leadership, depth at running back, experienced linebackers, culture of winning
Weaknesses: Inexperience on offensive/defensive line, new quarterback.

Overview: There's little doubt that the Arrows are facing a tougher schedule this season. Games against Buckingham, Browne & Nichols and Governor's Academy are tough tests for anyone. However, St. Sebastian's has good depth at its skill positions, and if it can find some continuity in the trenches, Souza may have himself another championship-caliber team. Of course, it helps when your best player is one of the top athletes in the region. Strachan is the best linebacker in the state, and Souza said “Boston College is going to be very happy with the kid they recruited.” Strachan is a stud, and is the type of kid that can change a game by himself. The quarterback position needs to get settled, but in a run-first offense, that shouldn't be too much of a problem. There is a ton of depth at running back, and St. Sebastian's is going to grind a lot of teams down the old-fashioned way. Factor in freshman phenom Blake Gallagher, and it looks like the Arrows are simply reloading.

A script revision for Flutie, No. 5 Natick

September, 1, 2013
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Stop if you’ve read this script before.

A man named Flutie, under center, tries to will his team to victory during the final minute in an improbable circumstance. It was all there in Natick’s Division 2A Super Bowl versus Beverly at Gillette Stadium last year – that is, except for the fairytale ending.

After the Redhawks lost a classic, 28-21, with Beverly capping its first-ever perfect season after two Natick Hail Mary prayers went unanswered, Troy Flutie couldn’t bring himself to think about football for about a week. Then, he picked up the game film. By his count, he watched it five times from beginning to end, picking over the finer points, noting improvements to make for his senior year.

“It’s tough to look back at this play here, or that play there that might have turned the game out differently, but it is what it is,” the Boston College commit said. “You can only get better from it, that’s all you can do.”

Flutie realizes the path to get back to Gillette has become more difficult. Now in a loaded Division 2 South field in the MIAA’s new playoff scheme, the No. 5 Redhawks will have to muster another season full of magic to reach a championship game.

Again, Natick will rely upon its spread offense, operated by Flutie, to get them there. Aside from the ESPN Boston All-State quarterback, who threw for 3,135 yards and 35 touchdowns against eight interceptions last season, the Redhawks have another All-Stater in junior wide receiver Brian Dunlap. While Dunlap’s been held out of Natick’s most recent preseason scrimmages with a lower leg injury, there’s plenty of depth behind him. Flutie reports that senior Alex Hilger, who was held out of most of 2012 due to injury, has looked great early. He also expects big things from returnees Andrew Boynton and Justin Robinson.

And then, of course, there’s the X-factor to the Natick offense: Flutie’s feet. Adept at making throws on the run, Troy, like his uncle before him, almost seems more at ease when play breaks down around him.

“Coach Mort [Mark Mortarelli] knows how I play the game and he’s 100 percent behind me,” Flutie said of his penchant for scrambling out of the pocket. “That means a lot to me. Usually, it’s our offensive coordinator, Matt Brenneman, or my dad [Darren], who’s yelling at me to stay in the pocket.”

Flutie sees room for improvement in that aspect. It’s among the takeaways he gleaned from watching last year’s Super Bowl defeat.

While he’s most likely to follow his father’s path as a wide receiver at BC, his focus is making himself the best quarterback he can be. He wants to become a more patient passer, one who feels the rush and stands his ground.

“I have to work on that myself to become a better quarterback,” he added.

But no matter which Flutie it concerns, Plan B is never a bad option.

NATICK AT A GLANCE
Coach: Mark Mortarelli (Fourth season, 25-10)
2012: 11-2, lost in Eastern Mass. Division 2A Super Bowl
Returning starters: 10 (six offensive, four defensive)
Key Returnees: Troy Flutie, Sr. QB; Brian Dunlap, Jr. WR; Alex Hilger, Sr. WR; Mike Abbruzzese, Sr. FS/WR; Justin Robinson, Sr. WR; Gus Black, Sr. RB/OLB; T.J. Collins Jr. LB.
Strengths: Returning skill players.
Weaknesses: Experience on offensive/defensive line and running back.

Outlook: While the Redhawks’ offense shouldn’t tail off much from 2012, the key position battle worth looking at is running back, where all-leaguer Nick Lee graduated. “I don’t think we could ever find another Nick Lee,” Flutie said. “He was like another quarterback back there for me. He’d help me a lot back there, checking out of plays. Now, I’m back there by myself.” A Kevin Faulk-kind of presence for Natick’s offense, Flutie lauded Lee’s blitz pick-up ability in the backfield as a key to his success. Look for sophomore Chad Kidd to pick up carries at running back in addition to senior two-way player Gus Black.

Natick’s secondary is deep and talented, with Mike Abbruzzese ready to break out after a solid junior year. Also, the linebacking corps might be a little light in game experience, but possesses play-making potential with a cast of Black, T.J. Collins, Justin Montgomery and Trenton Wright.

Fitzgerald on Bruins: 'A great honor'

July, 1, 2013
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Ryan Fitzgerald became the second generation of his family drafted into the NHL Sunday night, when he was selected by his hometown Bruins in the fourth round (120th overall).

Following in his father’s footsteps (Tom Fitzgerald was drafted by the New York Islanders in the first round in 1986), the Boston College-bound North Reading native realized a childhood dream, joining the team his father finished his NHL career with in 2006. He also got to share the moment with his dad, who was working the Pittsburgh Penguins’ draft table in his capacity as the team’s assistant general manager.

The family connections don’t stop there. His uncle, Scott, is the Bruins assistant director of amateur scouting, so it truly was a family affair.

Fitzgerald, who skated last year with the Valley Junior Warriors of the Eastern Junior Hockey League, graduated from Malden Catholic and, while skating with the Lancers, was part of back-to-back MIAA Super 8 tournament championship teams in 2010-11 and 2011-12.

We caught up with Fitzgerald Monday morning to get the wrap on his draft night experience:

On waiting to hear his name called: “It’s a long night. I was sitting there with my brother, Casey, and his friend, Andrew Brandano (player at St. John’s Prep). My dad was on pin and needles all night, definitely a little nerve-wracking for him. He stayed on the floor the first round, and then came up to sit with us for the second, third, fourth rounds. When it finally happened, it was a big sigh of relief for him.”

On whether he knew Bruins would be destination: “With my uncle, I’m pretty familiar with organization. It’s a team that I talked to a lot during the process. I thought they might be a team that was interested in me. I met with them at the draft combine and met with a bunch of their local guys. I came out and trained with them one time, so I knew they were interested. My uncle told me they had a close eye on me. It’s really a great honor.”

On the draft day experience: “When you walk into the rink, it’s amazing. You’ve seen it on TV, but it’s completely different in person. It’s just a great atmosphere. You wouldn’t think that it’d be that rowdy at a draft, but the fans show up and they get into it. It’s great.”

On what his brother, Casey (also a BC commit), means to him: “He’s been great. He’s a great brother and he was really supportive through everything. He always is. His draft is coming up soon, so he got to sit back and take it all in. I’ll be there for him when he goes through it, too.”

On which team he was rooting for in Eastern Conference final: “You’re always a Bruins fan, growing up here, but you’re a part of the Pittsburgh family with my dad working for them. But when they played the Bruins, it was a stressful time in the Fitzgerald house. After the Bruins won, it was tough, but we wanted the Bruins to win [the Cup] because of my uncle. We were rooting for the team and for him to win it.”

New England Roundup: Rhode Island

May, 31, 2013
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What do the boys’ lacrosse teams from La Salle Academy, East Greenwich and Smithfield have in common?

Rhode IslandEach team is undefeated and is in first place in its respective division and, not surprisingly, is the odds-on favorite to capture a state championship.

The Rams (10-0 in Division I and 12-0), who are coached by Colonel Steven McConnell, the Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police, boast an offense that’s off the charts.

Through matches of May 21, the Rams have out-scored their opponents by a margin of 202-65.

The story within the story is that La Salle attacks Brady O’Donnell and Joe Manown are the top two scorers in the state regardless of division.

O’Donnell, who’s a senior, has whipped home 56 goals and assisted on 33 while sophomore Manown has scored 49 goals and assisted on 38. What makes Manown’s proficiency all the more noteworthy is the fact he missed most of the 2012 season due to injury.

East Greenwich (13-0 in Division II and 13-2 overall), is riding the backs of 15 seniors who have played an integral role in the Avengers’ offense and defense.

Coach Brian Trapani’s team leads the division with 163 goals and has allowed a stingy total of 43.

Senior Colin Watikun and senior Colin Bernier lead the Avengers with 50 points apiece, Waitkun having scored 39 goals and assisted on 11 with Bernier having fired home 40 goals and assisted on 10.

Smithfield (12-0 in Division III and 12-2 overall) hasn’t lost a division game since the 2010 season.

Coach Joe Renzi’s Sentinels weren’t expected to be a contender since the team graduated 16 players from the 2012 squad. But attacks Brendan Benoit, Nick Gerlach and Matt Walker have led an offense that’s tied with Coventry in goals scored with 139.

MOUND KING
Team sport notwithstanding, the baseball program at Hendricken is heavily reliant on arguably the state’s best pitcher, senior Mike King who’s signed a letter of intent to play at Boston College.

King is a major reason why the Hawks lead Division I-North with a 16-0 record since he’s recorded an 8-1 record replete with 46 strikeouts and a mere six walks in 33 innings.

A right-hander, King didn’t allow his first earned run of the season until May 18 when Hendricken beat La Salle, 4-1. King spaced out six hits while going the distance – again.

King also helps himself at the plate with a batting average that’s hovered around .500 all season.

In a recent 5-1victory over Cranston West, King’s RBI single helped key a five-run first inning.

Another Hawk who’s been wielding a potent bat is John Toppa, grandson of the late Rogers High football coaching legend of the same name.

In a 4-3 victory over St. Raphael, Toppa’s fourth-inning double drove home the game-winning run. And in a 6-1 win over Cumberland, Toppa contributed a single, triple and two RBI.

Elsewhere:

* Central Falls pulled off the upset of the season regardless of division when the Warriors won their first game of the season – 5-2 over Division II-North leader Tolman (12-2). Emmanuel Antigua smacked a two-run single during a four-run fourth inning while Brandon Canuto went the distance for the victory. The loss sliced Tolman’s lead over second-place Scituate (13-3) to one game.

* North Kingstown’s Billy Young improved his record to 4-0 by blanking Toll Gate, 7-0, in a Division II-South game. Young allowed only two hits and fanned 10.

* East Providence’s Colin Costa collected two doubles, a single and five RBI as the Townies (14-1) held onto first place in Division II-Central by beating Mount Pleasant, 9-4. Teammate Colin Grant struck out 17 Kilties en route to the complete-game victory.

CLOSE SHAVE
Never let it be said that East Providence softball coach Rob Traverse isn’t true to his word.

A year ago, the Townies won only three of their first 12 games. Traverse made a “bet” with his players that if they won at least seven games this season he’d shave his head. They did and he did.

East Providence currently is in fifth place in the Division I with a 10-5 record – the Townies’ most impressive victory being a 2-0 blanking of North Kingstown (i.e. it was the Skippers’ first loss).

In that win over the Skippers, EP broke a scoreless tie in the eighth inning on Amy DeCastro’s single and Casey Traverse’s subsequent sacrifice fly.

In other games of note:

* Lincoln High to nobody’s surprise clinched the Division I title and the No. 1 seed in the upcoming state tournament by beating La Salle, 4-1. Lindsay Mayer allowed only one run on two hits for the 14-0 Lions.

* Division II-East leader Moses Brown (10-5) blanked Central, 6-0, in a crossover game as Emma Rantanen tossed a one-hitter – losing her bid for a no-hitter when Dianna Torres singled with two outs in the sixth.

ENTERING THE HALL
Even though Central Falls is the smallest city in the state, its high school has produced a host of outstanding athletes.

Nine will be inducted into the Central Falls Athletic Hall of Fame on October 11: former boys’ basketball coach Ed McVeigh plus athletes Albert Cardosa, Jeff Desautel, James Dougan, Brian Goodhart, Kevin Guindon, Carmen Pizarro, Russell Standring, Ken Vaudreuil and Kinga Dobrzychi-Zuromski.

Mike Scandura has been covering high school sports, college basketball, football and hockey plus minor league baseball in Rhode Island since the early 1970s. A native of Oswego, N.Y, he’s a member of the Words Unlimited Hall of Fame which is the statewide organization of sportswriters, sportscasters and sports publicists.

Roxbury Latin's Cohee commits to BC

April, 21, 2013
4/21/13
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Roxbury Latin tight end/defensive end Kevin Cohee has given a verbal commitment to Boston College, he tells ESPN Boston.

The 6-foot-3, 240-pounder is a resident of Chestnut Hill and becomes the third in-state recruit to join Steve Addazio’s 2014 recruiting class.

“Once they gave me the offer, I was learning toward to committing,” Cohee said in an interview Sunday night. “I didn’t want to commit right away, and I wanted to be sure about it, but it’s been a dream of mine. I grew up going to football games [at BC] and it’s been like a second home to me.”

Cohee is the second Foxes player to give his commitment to BC in as many years, joining signee quarterback Mackay Lowrie.

At the time of his commitment, Cohee also held offers from UMass and UConn.

“They were after Kevin after they saw his game tape, and they pursued him with heartfelt purpose,” Roxbury Latin head coach Pat Ross said. “Coach [Addazio] really wants to build from the inside out, and to build a program that attracts the top Massachusetts kids, and make sure they are here to stay.”

Aside from the chance to play within earshot of his home, Cohee cited BC’s business curriculum and the Eagles’ intent to play within a spread offense as influencing factors.

Though Cohee said he was open to playing on either side of the ball and could be used in multiple roles by the Eagles’ coaching staff.

“[BC] was mostly recruiting from outside states, like New Jersey and Pennsylvania,” Cohee said. “But we’re starting to lay the foundation with the players we have coming in from in-state. I wanted to be a part of that.”

Locals making U.S. NTDP U-17 roster

March, 26, 2013
3/26/13
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Three Massachusetts natives have confirmed today they've been offered spots on the United States National Team Development Program U-17 roster for 2013-14.

Malden Catholic defenseman Casey Fitzgerald, St. Sebastian's defenseman Noah Hanifin and Noble & Greenough forward Colin White were among those making the cut coming out of the 52 players invited to last week's evaluation camp in Ann Arbor, Mich. All players invited were of the 1997 birth year.

Fitzgerald had 5-17-22 totals while helping the Lancers to their third straight MIAA Super 8 tournament championship.

All three players are committed to Boston College, with Hanifin scheduled to land in Chestnut Hill in 2015, with Fitzgerald and White following in 2016.

Recruiting Notes: Boyle opts for UConn

February, 11, 2013
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From a New England standpoint, perhaps the most noteworthy item on national signing day was Tim Boyle's decision to remain in his home state and sign with the University of Connecticut.

Recruiting NotebookBoyle, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound quarterback, led Xavier High School (Middletown) to its third consecutive Class LL state championship last fall. He passed for 2,483 yards and 24 touchdowns during his senior season.

Boyle originally committed to Boston College, and remained committed to BC after Connecticut native Steve Addazio replaced Frank Spaziani as BC's head coach. Addazio's offense requires a dual-threat quarterback, however, and although he ran for 295 yards and five touchdowns on 60 carries last season, Boyle is considered to be more of a pro-style passer.

He decommitted from BC and gave a verbal commitment to UConn earlier this month, and made things official on national signing day.

“This is a good day for me,” Boyle said after signing his National Letter of Intent. “It's been a long process because BC was the first school to offer me a scholarship back when I was a sophomore. I'm happy it's over.”

Boyle is one of five Connecticut residents in the Class of 2013 who signed National Letter of Intent to play at UConn. The others are linebacker Cory Jasudowich (Cheshire Academy), tight end Thomas Myers (Coventry), defensive end Cole Ormsby (Windsor) and fullback Matt Walsh (Daniel Hand).

BLOCKS OF GRANITE
The University of New Hampshire brought in a small class – 11 players – but three of them were in-state linemen: Portsmouth defensive tackle Rick Holt, Souhegan offensive tackle Jake Kennedy and Bedford offensive tackle Will McInerney.

Holt and Kennedy have been playing against each other since they were freshmen.

"There was some trash-talking between us when we were freshmen and sophomores, but we developed a level of respect for one another during our junior year," Holt said. "We've played against each other for a long time, but it's pretty cool that we're both going to UNH as friends and teammates."

McInerney, who is 6-foot-7 and weighs 290 pounds, may be the most intriguing prospect of the three. He had surgery on both knees last year, and did not play during his senior season.

"It was unfortunate that he missed his senior year, but he was very impressive in our camps and clinics last spring, so we knew he was the right fit for us," UNH coach Sean McDonnell said.

LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
Bangor (Maine) wide receiver Matt Cosgrove is one of three players who signed a National Letter of Intent to play at the University of Maine. Cosgrove's father Jack is Maine's head coach.

“It’s exciting, I think, for both of us,” Jack Cosgrove told the Bangor Daily News. “It’s something we talked about up front. Matt gets it -- he knows what we’re all about. He’s seen it growing up with big eyes as a little boy and with small eyes as a big boy.”

Defensive back Spencer Carey (Lawrence) and tight end Dakota Tarbox (Thornton Academy) were the other Maine players who signed with the Black Bears.

DELAY OF GAME
Running back Jerickson Fedrick, who grew up in Lawrence but played high school football in Salem, N.H., said he has accepted a scholarship from the University of Maine, but will redshirt next season.

Fedrick graduated from Salem in 2012 and played prep school football for Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Conn., last season. He ran for a team-high 1,268 yards and 16 touchdowns last fall.

Fedrick, who was also a track standout in high school, rushed for 4,568 yards and scored 75 touchdowns for Salem.

SEE YOU NEXT YEAR
Five of the top recruits from New England in the Class of 2014:
  • Jon Baker, OL, Millis/Hopedale
  • Manny Latimore, RB, Pinkerton Academy (N.H.)
  • Arkeel Newsome, RB, Ansonia (Conn.)
  • Connor Strachan, LB, St. Sebastian's
  • Jon Thomas, RB, St. John's Prep

Strachan and Thomas are both on the ESPN Watch List.

Information about high school or prep school recruits in New England can be sent to Roger Brown at rbrown@nhfootballreport.com.

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