Boston High School: Boston English

Early Sunday morning, Boston English two-way star Emmanuel Almonte gave a verbal commitment to the University of Maine, just before he headed back to Boston from his two-day official visit on the Orono, Maine, campus.

The last two years, Almonte has been one of the state's most productive quarterbacks, leaving the Blue & Blue program with a career average of 10.1 yards per carry, over 5,000 offensive yards, and this past fall recording 98 tackles and seven interceptions at cornerback.

Still, the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Almonte didn't too get many looks; his pledge today to Maine, his only D1 scholarship offer, was about opportunity.

"Other schools considered me too small, or not what they were looking for," Almonte told ESPNBoston.com this evening.

So then, what did Maine, one of the steadier powers among the Division 1 FCS programs in the Northeast, see in him?

"I guess the way I carry myself. I'm serious about the game," Almonte said. "I always give it 100 percent. When I met with [head coach Jack] Cosgrove, he felt that in our conversation. I told them I'll play any position they ask me, just give me the opportunity."

Almonte offered a few more comments tonight on his commitment:

Deciding factors: "Just when they paired us with our player hosts, they were mad cool. It felt like family the second I got there. It's a real welcoming place, the campus is big, they have great football, and the coaching staff is amazing. I met Coach Cosgrove, I've only known him for a few days and I'm pretty impressed."

What Maine liked about him, and where he'll fit: "They liked how diverse of a player I was. They see me as an athlete; they've been talking about how I could play receiver or corner, bounce around. Right now, they see me as a corner. I might switch, but I don't know yet -- which I don’t have a problem with at all."

On being the first English player under coach Brian Vaughan to go D1: "I wouldn’t be able to get there without him, without [assistant coach Tom] Lamb. I feel privileged, you know, because it's tough to get exposure in the city. There's not a lot of guys that get the opportunity to play D1. There are guys that will look up to me in future and strive fot that. That’s what people want in high school football, they want that D1 school, hopefully we can get more city guys looing forward to maybe doing the same thing."

On Maine's history of player development: "It was big, it intrigued me a lot. When I talked to Coach Cosgrove, he told me how at UMaine they usually get guys that are usually overlooked, and develop them into big time players 3-4 years down the line. I feel I'm not at the best I can be yet. I'm excited to see where UMaine takes me in 3-4 years."

Player of the Week: Fenwick's Rufus Rushins

October, 21, 2014
10/21/14
12:36
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PEABODY, Mass. -- Bishop Fenwick senior running back Rufus Rushins has already carved out a niche among the program and the state's most prolific rushers.

Already over the 1,000-yard mark for the season, Rushins is within sight of Crusaders legend Bobby Tarr and his program record for rushing yards in a career. Rushins inched closer to that mark with 273 yards in a 22-0 win over Catholic Central rival St. Mary's (Lynn), along with three touchdowns on Friday night.

ESPN Boston High Schools editor Brendan C. Hall caught up with our Player of the Week, presented by New England Dairy, for this interview on Monday:

*****
TOP PERFORMERS FOR WEEK 7:

Emmanuel Almonte, Sr. QB, Boston English - Compiled more than 300 yards of all-purpose offense, throwing for 172 yards with two TD, while rushing for 156 yards in a 46-12 win over West Roxbury.

Mike Buffoni, Sr. RB, Monument Mountain - Needed just seven carries to rack up 202 yards (28.8 yards per carry average), including two touchdowns in a 34-0 win over Drury.

Jeff Costello, Jr. QB, Lexington - Threw for 362 yards and four TD while completing 23 of 30 pass attempts in a 42-28 win over Winchester.

Brian Dunlap, Sr. WR, Natick - Tallied 122 receiving yards and two touchdowns to run his career total to 56, breaking the school's all-time scoring record in a 28-7 win over Milton.

Rufus Rushins, Sr. RB, Bishop Fenwick - Ran for 273 yards and three TD in the Crusaders' 22-0 win over St. Mary's (Lynn).
NEWTON, Mass. -- Don't look now, but something special might be brewing at Newton South.

Led by sophomore quarterback Austin Burton, the Lions notched their first win over Dual County League rival Acton-Boxborough in more than a quarter decade with a 32-28 win. Burton, one of the state's top statistical passers on the season, threw for 425 yards and five scores in the victory over the Colonials.

For that, he was named our ESPN Boston Player of the Week, presented by New England Dairy. Editor Brendan C. Hall caught up with Burton on Monday for this interview:


*****
TOP 5 PERFORMANCES FROM WEEK 5:


Emmanuel Almonte, Sr. QB, Boston English – Rushed for 219 yards and 2 TD while throwing for another 103 yards and pocketing an interception on defense in a 22-6 win over O’Bryant.

Ryan Barabe, Sr. QB, Pope John Paul II – Went a perfect 10-for-10 on passing attempts with 241 yards and 4 TD in a 54-20 win over Lowell Catholic.

Austin Burton, Soph. QB, Newton South – Threw for 425 yards and 5 TD in a 32-28 win over Acton-Boxborough.

Cole O’Connor, Sr. QB, BB&N – Threw for 351 yards and two touchdowns on 12 of 22 passing in a 35-28 win over St. Paul’s.

Brandon Swain-Price, Sr. WR/S, Stoughton – Hauled in 4 catches for 135 yards and 3 TD, and pocketed an interception in a 40-19 win over Oliver Ames.

Player of the Week: English's Emmanuel Almonte

September, 22, 2014
9/22/14
11:10
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BOSTON -- Boston English senior quarterback Emmanuel Almonte is one the most feared dual-threat signal-callers in the state.

He continued his hot start to the season on Friday, throwing for 264 yards and three touchdowns while running for 135 yards and another score in a 36-18 win over Burke.

ESPN Boston High Schools editor Brendan C. Hall caught up with Almonte, our New England Dairy Player of the Week for Week 3, for this interview on Monday:



*****

TOP 5 PERFORMANCES FROM WEEK 3:

Emmanuel Almonte, Sr. QB, Boston English – Completed 16 of 18 pass attempts for 264 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 135 yards and a touchdown in a 36-18 win over Burke.

Dexter Andrews, Sr. RB, Brighton – Ran for 302 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-6 win over East Boston.

Christian Brady, Sr. QB, Scituate – Scored four rushing touchdowns while running for 190 yards in addition to two touchdowns passes on 64 yards in a 56-20 win over Dennis-Yarmouth.

Austin Burton, Soph. QB, Newton South – Threw for 451 yards and five touchdowns while completing 21 of 25 pass attempts in a 49-20 win over Boston Latin.

Mark Wright, Sr. RB, Auburn – Rushed for 393 yards and five touchdowns in a 40-21 win over Oakmont.
The 2014 high school football season is finally upon us. As we enter our fifth season of high school football coverage for ESPN Boston, we unveil our fifth annual gallery looking at some of the top teams around the state. From the farms of Dudley to the bridges of the Cape Cod Canal, we stretched far and wide this summer for a series of photo shoots. Here are the teams for this year's gallery:

St. John's High School FootballBrendan Hall/ESPNBostonST. JOHN'S (SHREWSBURY): No. 5 Pioneers have been busy drawing up "The Winning Formula". This could be one of their most talented squads in years, between BC-bound safety Davon Jones (sitting, 2nd from right), QB/RB Sean Ragan (standing).

Shepherd Hill Brendan Hall/ESPNBostonSHEPHERD HILL: Led by guard Chris Lindstrom (2nd from right), No. 8 Rams are "Country Strong", boasting one of state's largest offensive lines. Behind QB Drew Jean-Guillaume (2nd from left), they'll also have one of the fastest backfields across D4.

XaverianScott Barboza/ESPNBostonXAVERIAN: The No. 1 Hawks made an appearance at Gillette Stadium last year in the D1 championship, but senior captains (clockwise from left) Ernest Simon, Noah Sorrento, Joe Gaziano, Kenny Kern and Jake Farrell want to make sure the ending's different.

Pope John Paul II Brendan Hall/ESPNBostonPOPE JOHN PAUL II: Between RB Diego Meritus (4th from left) and QB Ryan Barabe (4th from right), Lions should have one of the best offenses among lower divisions. They figure to be a state title favorite in 2014.

Plymouth NorthScott Barboza/ESPNBostonPLYMOUTH NORTH: Behind a school record-setting rushing performance from Christian Carr, No. 19 Plymouth North made an appearance in the D3 Southeast final. The new year that finds the Eagles in a new conference (Patriot), but expectations remain high.

DYBrendan Hall/ESPNBostonDENNIS-YARMOUTH: Michael Dunn (center, holding ball) will follow in his Super Bowl-winning cousin's footsteps by taking over at quarterback, looking to lead the No. 12 Dolphins to a return trip to Gillette after reaching last year's D4 State Final.

Boston English Brendan Hall/ESPNBostonBOSTON ENGLISH: One of the nation's oldest public high schools has found new energy under second-year coach Brian Vaughan. Led by QB/DB Emmanuel Almonte (holding ball), the Bulldogs beat Boston Latin last Thanksgiving for the first time in 15 seasons.

Attleboro Scott Barboza/ESPNBostonATTLEBORO: Blue Bombardiers have rekindled thoughts of championships in the "Jewelry City." Behind captains (l-r) Kyle Murphy, Brendan Massey, Matt Elliott, Nick Desmaris and Nick Christensen, No. 18 Attleboro hopes to make a return visit to the playoffs.

ESPN Boston state football championship predictions

September, 4, 2014
9/04/14
12:53
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Before the MIAA football season kicks off this weekend, ESPN Boston editors Scott Barboza and Brendan C. Hall give their state championship predictions for the season:

Scott Barboza, ESPNBoston.com High Schools Editor

Division 1: Xaverian
The Division 1 field could look a lot as it did last year; I think there’s a real potential for Central Catholic vs. Everett and Attleboro vs. Xaverian rematches in the North and South districts, respectively. But this race all comes down to depth, and the Hawks have plenty of it across all positions. This time, Xaverian will not be denied at Gillette Stadium.

Division 2: Mansfield
Once again, Division 2 South should prove one of the most tightly contested sectional races across the state this year, but I see the Hornets moving through. With a defensive core that returns starters such as Curtis Boisvert, Connor Finerty, Q’Ra Guichard and Brendan Hill, the Hornets are built for the postseason. That bodes well if they are to meet St. John’s (Shrewsbury) in the state final again, as the Pioneers are primed for another Gillette visit.

Division 3: Marblehead
The Magicians ran into a loaded and experience Tewksbury squad in the North final last year, but this is their year. The Southern districts will be extremely competitive – particularly with many of the Hockomock League’s Davenport Division’ s entrants (Oliver Ames, Stoughton) loading up for this season. However, with Brooks Tyrrell running behind a hulking offensive line, including UMass commit Derek Dumais and Dan Marino, Marblehead is running all the way to the hardware.

Division 4: Dennis-Yarmouth
The Dolphins were denied of the title last year by a talented Doherty squad in the game of the day during championship Saturday. They won’t get fooled again. D-Y is likely to see another challenger from the Central district again – perhaps Doherty once again, or Shepherd Hill – but the Dolphins will come away champions behind Mr. Football candidate Michael Dunn, just as they did a few years back with his cousin Matt Montalto under center.

Division 5: Auburn
The Rockets are a few years off their historic winning streak, but they’ll climb back to the top of the hill with another impressive rushing attack led by preseason All-State Mark Wright. Watch out for Bishop Fenwick to again make a run at Gillette behind returning All-State Rufus Rushins, but Auburn wins out.

Division 6: Pope John Paul II
Had the Lions made the cut in the South sectional playoffs, they might have been the favorite last year. The one-two punch of Ryan Barabe and Diego Meritus will propel one of the state’s top offensive units – regardless of division – to a championship. Of course, PJP will not be without challengers, however, particularly in their own sectional playoff, where challengers Diman, Mashpee and Millis lurk.

*****

Brendan C. Hall, ESPNBoston.com High Schools Editor

Division 1: Xaverian
Hard to pick against the Hawks and their loaded crop of scholarship-caliber talent as they seek to avenge last year’s state final loss. When the smoke clears, this could be one of Charlie Stevenson’s best defenses in a long time, led by Damion Wood and defending ESPNBoston Defensive Player of the Year Joe Gaziano. The North bracket should be a tough battle, but I think Everett has enough talent to outlast that field.

Division 2: St. John’s (Shrewsbury)
Going with the vengeance theme here again in D2, as one of the state’s most feared hitters, Boston College-bound safety Davon Jones, looks for another swing at it. Mansfield should be the prohibitive favorite in Eastern Mass., but once again the power is in the South portion and it’s a cauldron. Don’t be surprised if Natick or Marshfield makes it out of the bracket.

Division 3: Marblehead
Jim Rudloff loves to play the underdog card, but there’s no way the Magicians aren’t the lead dog in this race, with returning All-State tailback Brooks Tyrrell once again running behind an offensive line with Division 1 scholarship talent. This race gets interesting in the southern districts, where a number of teams have a good shot at reaching Gillette, and I have no idea who to pick. Walpole? Oliver Ames? Stoughton? Plymouth North?

Division 4: Shepherd Hill
Plain and simple, this is a Division 1-sized offensive line playing in Division 4, led by one of the state’s best hoggies in Chris Lindstrom, with an impressive blend of power and speed at the skill positions. They should get a tough battle from Doherty in the Central district. Once again, it could come down to Holliston and Dennis-Yarmouth in the East, but I like D-Y’s chances of returning to Gillette.

Division 5: Auburn
I picked the Rockets to win last year, and that sputtered. But on the heels of an explosive breakout campaign from Mark Wright, here’s hoping second time’s a charm. A number of Catholic Central teams could stake their claim in the East, led by St. Mary’s and Bishop Fenwick, but keep an eye on Northbridge out of the Central district as well.

Division 6: Pope John Paul II
A year after getting left out of the inaugural South football playoffs, Lions come back roaring with an even more explosive offense, triggered under center by Ryan Barabe and led in the backfield by workhorse Diego Meritus. Wouldn’t be surprised to see Millis come out of the South either, and Boston English is my favorite in the North with slippery dual-threat QB Emmanuel Almonte.

Our 2014 Summer Football Primer

July, 8, 2014
7/08/14
11:52
AM ET
Don't look now, but the first day of MIAA football practices is just 40 days away. Per our tradition every summer, ESPN Boston High Schools editors Brendan C. Hall and Scott Barboza whet your appetite for the gridiron with some players on the rise, surprise teams to watch, top teams and some food for thought.

Brendan Hall
ESPN Boston High Schools Editor


FIVE PLAYERS ON THE RISE

Drew Jean-Guillaume, Sr. QB/DB, Shepherd Hill
With a powerful frame and impressive speed honed during track and field season, Jean-Guillaume is a throwback-type option quarterback, a converted running back who’s as adept at powering through defenders as he is at evading or blowing by them. The Rams will be heavy favorites in Division 4, and Jean-Guillaume will have plenty of room to work behind a reportedly heavy line led by Boston College commit Chris Lindstrom.

Mekhi Henderson, Soph. DB, Xaverian
In a defense full of household names, Henderson is one of the Hawks’ brightest young stars. Often last season, he was left on an island against an opponent’s top target, and often he held his own. With his coverage skills and raw ability, the coaching staff has a luxury to get creative in the secondary.

Shane Combs, Sr. ATH, St. John’s (Shrewsbury)
It’s assumed that Combs, a Notre Dame baseball commit and ESPN Boston All-State selection during the spring, will take the reins at quarterback from last year’s Mr. Football finalist Drew Smiley. The Missouri transplant was one of the state’s most productive rushers during the playoffs, going over the century mark in all five postseason contests as the Pioneers reached the Division 2 state final.

Mike Maggipinto, Jr. RB, East Longmeadow
Somewhat quietly, the 5-foot-5 scatback eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark last year for the Spartans, running behind a great blocking scheme that continued to find unique ways to get him in space. Between Maggipinto and Plymouth North’s Christian Carr, this could be the year of the pint-sized running back.

Jahkari Carpenter, Sr. RB, Doherty
Among the area’s most elusive, Carpenter was a weekly highlight reel during the Highlanders’ run to the Division 4 state title, with runs like THIS, or THIS, or THIS. Junior Tavian Vassar is expected to have a bigger role in the backfield this year, which could make for an imposing thunder-and-lightning combination.

FIVE TEAMS THAT WILL SURPRISE

Billerica
The Indians hit a home run this offseason with the hiring of Duane Sigsbury as their new head coach, though they are considered a year or two away. Still, Sigsbury is one of the area’s brightest offensive minds, with a track record of making programs relevant in a hurry (see: Boston Cathedral). Similar to his other stops, there are already some terrific talents coming up the pipe.

Boston English
The Blue and Blue made history last fall to end Brian Vaughn’s first season at the helm, beating Boston Latin for the first time since 1997. Now, with dynamic dual threat Emmanuel Almonte leading the offense, they’ll look to continue last year’s momentum.

Cambridge
Long considered a powder keg for skill talent, head coach Ryan Saulnier has tapped into it, and found a lot of success running his brand of spread offense in his first season last fall. With Marcus Collins returning under center, and a new home in the Dual County League, the Falcons ought to be one of the most entertaining teams to watch in Division 2 North.

Leominster
Blue Devils graduated one of their most talented classes ever, but this is a program built to reload, not rebuild, under a great offensive mind in Dave Palazzi. Defensive coordinator Charlie Raff left to take over at Oakmont, but in his place comes former North Middlesex coach John Margarita. It’s too early – not to mention, lofty – to make any Neil O’Connor comparisons yet, but keep an eye on sophomore Noah Gray this fall.

Springfield Central
Similar to Leominster, the Golden Eagles have many holes to fill on the heels of its most successful season in school history. But they should have a solid defense again, led by lineman Kaleb Hunter-Sams, and the coaching staff should get a boost from the addition of former Putnam head coach Bill Watson.

Hall's Preseason Top 10:

[+] EnlargeJoe Gaziano
Brendan Hall/ESPNESPN Boston's reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Northwestern commit Joe Gaziano, leads a stacked Xaverian defense.
1. Xaverian
Little drama here as to who’s the top dog. With a star-studded defense that includes the likes of Northwestern commit Joe Gaziano, ESPN Boston’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2013; linebackers Noah Sorrento, Kenny Kern and D’Aundre Holmes; and defensive backs Damion Wood and Mekhi Henderson; as well as a potent running game behind UMass-bound tackle Joe Parsons, and an innovative playmaker in quarterback Jake Farrell; the Hawks figure to start the year No. 1 in many polls.

2. Everett
Crimson Tide are licking their chops after a disappointing end to 2013 season, and as usual they reload with some of the most gifted skill players in the area. The interesting question is how they’ll fit Boston College-bound cornerback Lukas Denis into the offense; originally slotted as the successor to Jonathan DiBiaso at quarterback before injuries derailed his sophomore season in 2012, Denis showed flashes of brilliance in a multitude of positions last year.

3. Central Catholic
The Raiders’ featured one of the state’s best defenses a year ago in their D1 state title run, and they’ll be held in high regard again thanks to linebacker Markus Edmunds and safety Mike Balsamo, who is fielding multiple Division 1 FCS offers at the moment. Also keep an eye on Matt Milano, who was statistically one of the state’s most productive quarterbacks in the playoffs last year.

4. Mansfield
The Hornets dramatically altered their offense on the fly late in the season following a season-ending injury to wideout Brendan Hill, and it worked out as they took the D2 state title. A fully healthy Hill and another year of running back Miguel Villar-Perez, one of last fall’s most pleasant revelations, should make the Hornets the favorite in a tough D2 South.

5. Bridgewater-Raynham
Trojans always get the benefit of the doubt for their powerful running game and their “anyone, anywhere, anytime” approach to scheduling, and they’ll be a force again with Brandon Gallagher returning at tailback. But the question is whether the Trojans can sustain momentum and avoid last year’s fate, when they reached No. 1 in our statewide poll early, only to sputter in the second half.

6. Shepherd Hill
In short, Boston College-bound offensive lineman Chris Lindstrom Jr. is a force. But the fact that he is the Rams’ most dominant, yet possibly their lightest, should tell you something about what to expect in 2014. They’re arguably Central Mass.’s most talented team this fall, and while there’s a couple other heavy hitters contending in D4 – Holliston, Dennis-Yarmouth and Wahconah, for starters – these guys are my odds-on favorite. Look for them to put up a ton of rushing yards in head coach Chris Lindstrom Sr.’s double wing scheme.

7. Lowell
The Red Raiders made one of the biggest statements of the playoffs last fall in blanking St. John’s Prep 41-0 in the first round of the D1 North tournament. Syracuse commit Shyheim Cullen was exceptional at interior gap blitzes, baiting and confusing potential blockers to create chaos up the middle, and he’ll lead a talented defense that includes linebacker Nicolau Coury and defensive back Theo Bryant.

8. St. John’s (Shrewsbury)
Boston College-bound free safety Davon Jones is one of several early candidates for Defensive Player of the Year after recording 125 tackles and eight picks a year ago. Offensive coordinator Chris Moriarty is as creative as they come, and how he utilizes Jones and athlete Shane Combs in the offense will be one of the more interesting storylines of the season’s earlygoings.

9. Brockton
We’re still in wait-and-see mode after another season of unrealized expectations in Brockton, but it’s hard to deny the talent the Boxers have coming back. Keep an eye on Boston College-bound lineman Aaron Monteiro, who has some raw potential and a powerful frame at 6-foot-6 and nearly 300 pounds.

10. Dennis-Yarmouth
Division 1 recruit Michael Dunn lined up at nearly every offensive position last year for the Dolphins in their run to the D4 state final, and he may very well do it again. Defensively, this kid is a treat, regarded as one of the state’s premier shutdown corners. As usual, Paul Funk’s frenetic read option scheme will be a tall task to keep up with.

Others to Watch: Attleboro, Barnstable, BC High, Doherty, Holliston, Marblehead, Oliver Ames, Plymouth North, Pope John Paul II, St. John’s Prep, St. Peter-Marian, Tewksbury, Wahconah, Walpole

FOOD FOR THOUGHT:

1. Spread offense has been the growing trend in Massachusetts over the last decade, and we’re now seeing its influence at all levels of the game. But at the other end of the spectrum, we’re seeing more and more teams dip into playbooks from decades and decades ago for some wild success in the running game. We’ve romanticized Nauset’s Single Wing offense for years. At Holy Name, Mike Pucko dug into Dutch Meyer’s World War II-era playbook and installed a fullback-less “Triple Wing” offense for the Naps’ Thanksgiving contest with Milford, a game they won 35-14. Last year’s D5 West Final featured a Pistol Flex Bone (Hoosac Valley) versus a Wishbone (Easthampton). Tewksbury, last year’s D3 state champ, calls running plays out of an encyclopedia of formations from every family of offense. Factor in all of the traditional Double Wing success stories like Shepherd Hill, Holy Name and Somerset-Berkley, too. Running offense continues to diversify in this corner of the country, and if you’re an X’s and O’s junkie like me, you are having a blast watching it.

2. LSU took some negative backlash last fall when they received a verbal commitment from a freshman early in his season after an apparently intense summer of recruitment from a number of SEC schools, but this doesn’t appear to be a trend going away any time soon. Early offers are still fairly uncommon for football prospects in this part of the country, though it’s worth noting St. Sebastian’s incoming sophomore Blake Gallagher received an offer from Nebraska last month. Beyond the concerns about pressure and bloated expectations, the biggest question I have is this: What if the recruit stops growing, or has just peaked earlier than his peers? I’m interested to see if Maryland head coach Randy Edsall’s proposals for recruiting reform gain any traction. Among other things, his plan stipulates schools can’t make a written offer until a player’s senior year, and that the offer must come with permission from the school’s admissions department.

3. I’m on record as saying I hope the true state championship format the MIAA rolled out last year is here to stay, but I’m also in favor of giving it some tweaks. First and foremost, get rid of the second automatic qualifier for leagues. Weak leagues were rewarded at the expense of teams like Medway and Pope John Paul II, teams who finished with winning records in qualification period but were pushed all the way out of the eight-team field in their respective divisions to satisfy undeserved automatic berths. Leagues should be restricted to one automatic qualifier, or two if it is a two-tier league. I also question whether a seven-game regular season is enough of a window to properly gauge a team’s strength. Expanding to an eight-game season and starting it on Labor Day Weekend could satisfy that, and could be a good gate opportunity for many schools as well.

***

Scott Barboza
ESPN Boston High Schools Editor


FIVE PLAYERS ON THE RISE

Michael Balsalmo, Sr. RB/FS, Central Catholic
A standout on the Raiders’ Division 1 championship season a year ago, the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder holds a couple of offers (Bryant, Wofford) entering the season. Here’s better there will be more to follow.

Christian Carr, Sr. RB, Plymouth North
For what Carr might lack in stature, he makes up for in elusiveness. A consistent 100-yard-per-game rusher in his junior season, he broke out with a 351-yard performance in the Eagles’ playoff win against Dighton-Rehoboth.

Jake Gibb, Jr. QB, Stoughton
In his first season under center, Gibb led the Knights to the Division 3 South final before falling to Plymouth South. Gibb will have them contending for the Davenport division title again.

Kyle Murphy, Jr. OL/DL, Attleboro
The two-way lineman was a driving force behind the Blue Bombardiers’ breakout season last year. It’s only a matter of time before the 6-foot-4, 240-pounder starts getting colleges’ attention.

James Sullivan, Sr. RB/S, Tewksbury
Sullivan announced himself to a statewide audience on the biggest stage last year, racking up 125 yards and three touchdowns in the Redmen’s win over Plymouth South in the Division 3 state title game. With graduations, Sullivan will take on an even bigger role this year.

FIVE TEAMS THAT WILL SURPRISE

Braintree
The Bay State Carey should again be one of the more interesting races to watch across the state this year, and the Wamps might be primed to take a big step forward after last year’s 4-7 mark. One to watch is inside linebacker Derek Anson, who’s only added to his 6-foot-2, 225-pound frame.

Doherty
The Highlanders were historically good in 2013, capturing their first state title while beating Dennis-Yarmouth for the Division 4 championship. Although several key contributors have graduated, they can still make a run

Natick
It might not be the aerial display we’ve seen in recent years with Troy Flutie at quarterback, but the Redhawks will be one worth watching as Brian Dunlap returns from a season missed due to injury (Lisfranc fracture) last year.

Quincy
After a 7-4 campaign last season, are the Presidents ready to challenge for the Patriot Keenan title? With promising running back Jhave Handsom-Fields (8 TD as a sophomore) and quarterback James Lam returning, the time could be now.

Somerset-Berkley
The Raiders return a big class of juniors, including feature back Chip Wood back in the fold and Jacob Cabana rushing off the edge. Another EAC title could be in the cards.

Barboza's Preseason Top 10:

1. Xaverian
The Hawks will have some questions to answer on offense, but deserve the top spot on defense alone, with Defensive Player of the Year Joe Gaziano returning along with the state’s best secondary group.

2. Central Catholic
The Raiders peaked at precisely the right time last year, capturing the first true statewide Division 1 title. Some of their biggest playmakers have graduated, but Michael Balsamo’s primed for a breakout year.

3. Everett
The Crimson Tide are undoubtedly still smarting over last year’s home playoff loss to Central Catholic. We all know what that means.

4. Bridgewater-Raynham
Here’s betting tight end/defensive end Connor Reagan is one of next year’s breakout performers.

5. St. John’s (S)
You never know what you’re getting from the Pioneers’ offense game to game, and it’ll be intriguing to see how the group develops this season. But you have to like any group with athletes of ilk of Shane Combs and Davon Jones.

6. Lowell
I’ll take my chances with the linebacking corps the Red Raiders have returning, anchored by Shyheim Cullen and Nicolau Coury.

7. Brockton
The Boxers will not be pushed around inside the tackle box, with perhaps the biggest returning offensive line in the state, including Aaron Monteiro (6-6, 300) and Uzziah Hilliard (6-0, 280)

8. Mansfield
Mike Redding will come up with creative schemes to avoid Brendan Hill being double-teamed on both sides of the ball. Connor Finerty will also look to expand on a promising sophomore season.

9. Dennis-Yarmouth
The Dolphins fell just shy of the Div. 4 state title in a riveting matchup with Doherty. They might not be denied this year.

10. Tewksbury
The Redmen might not match the size and physicality of last year’s state championship squad, but having James Sullivan in the backfield is still enough to win.

Others to watch: Arlington, Attleboro, Billerica, BC High, Holliston, Leominster, Oliver Ames, Shepherd Hill, Stoughton, Wahconah, Walpole.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT:

1. The football playoff system is here to stay – well, at the very least for two more years. While there are still pockets of dissent, the sentiment across the state is that the first year determining true state champions across six divisions was a success. It even drew over some who’d been opposed to the playoff proposal originally and voted against the measure. The build up and drama of the first seven weeks leading up the start of the tournament brought a different dimension of intrigue to the season. Still, detractors remain and, as Brendan ruminated earlier in this feature, there’s still room for improvement regarding the means of automatic qualifiers and the discrepancies that exist between the respective athletic conferences’ rubrics – including, most importantly, the weight of league games. But with one year in the books, I declare the system to be a success. Now, let’s start tweaking the framework.

2. Which brings me to my next point: get rid of Thanksgiving. This is going to be a highly unpopular opinion in some neck of the woods, but it’s simply a reality of what’s put in front of us. At the end of last season, I talked to many athletic directors who complained about a diminished gate return from their Thanksgiving Day games. That’s a natural feedback of the playoff system – which in some place requires teams to “double up” with their Thankgiving rivals. In change, that has deemphasized the pomp and circumstance surrounding Turkey Day. As a result, that left some Thanksgiving Day matchups to resemble more of an exhibition game in tone – althought don’t tell that to St. John’s Prep and Xaverian, or Foxborough and Mansfield. The result is a hodgepodge of situations that follow teams into what used to be the biggest day of the regular-season football calendar: ie a non-playoff team vs. a team that’s bound for a championship game, or two teams who are playing out the string on a season that’s already ended. I counter those scenario’s are really no different than what existed in the year B.P. (Before Playoffs), but the current arrangement has only emphasized was already apparent – Thanksgiving is an exhibition. Minus the Catholic Conference or Merrimack Valley Conference duels which resulted in playoff berths in previous years, Thanksgiving largely was such. Only now have the detractors used the playoff system to highlight the faults in Thanksgiving Day that already existed. What Thanksgiving Day has always been about is the rivalry. I ventured to North Attleborough last year when the Red Rocketeers (already eliminated from the playoffs) hosted Attleboro (who were just eliminated the previous week in the sectional final). The scene was what you’d become accustomed to – with an overflow crowd at Community Field. They were all there to watch an exhibition game. Why not make that game mean something more again? Why not play the game before the first frost?

English's Brian Vaughan named Patriots Coach of Week

December, 3, 2013
12/03/13
3:17
PM ET
After beating Thanksgiving rival Boston Latin for the first time since 1997, thanks to a thrilling game-winning touchdown pass with time expired, first-year Boston English head coach Brian Vaughan was named New England Patriots Coach of the Week today.

Here is the official release from the Patriots:



Boston English High School’s Brian Vaughan has been named this week’s New England Patriots High School Coach of the Week in recognition of his team’s 14-12 come-from-behind victory over rival Boston Latin on Thursday, Nov. 28, at Harvard Stadium. Trailing 12-8 late in the fourth quarter, Boston English capped a 78-yard drive by connecting on a 7-yard touchdown pass with no time remaining to earn their first victory over Boston Latin since 1997. The New England Patriots Charitable Foundation will donate $1,000 to Boston English’s football program in Vaughan’s name in recognition of his Coach of the Week selection.

Patriots and Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Andre Tippett, the team’s Executive Director of Community Affairs, visited Coach Vaughan’s team on Tuesday, Dec. 3, at Boston English High School. The visit and check presentation will be featured on the Patriots weekly television magazine show, “Patriots All Access,” which airs at 7 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 6, on WBZ-TV in Boston and will be available immediately after on Patriots.com.

This is the 18th year in which the Patriots join the National Football League in conducting the High School Coach of the Week program, which recognizes outstanding high school coaches and promotes youth football throughout New England. Tippett oversees the program as part of the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation’s commitment to youth football initiatives.

“Congratulations to Coach Brian Vaughan and his team,” Tippett said. “Boston English staged an incredible comeback by converting on a last-second touchdown pass to pull off the upset and beat Boston Latin for the first time in more than 20 years. This was a historic win for the Bulldogs.”

At the end of next week, one high school coach will be named the New England Patriots High School Coach of the Year and will receive an additional $2,000 contribution toward the school’s football program.

For the third straight year, Tippett has taken the award on the road and visited the schools that benefit from the program. This year is also the third year the Patriots will accept nominations for High School Coach of the Week. Anyone who knows a high school football coach in New England who has a great week or reaches a personal career milestone is encouraged to submit a nomination to nominatecoach@patriots.com.

The New England Patriots Charitable Foundation is the non-profit through which the Patriots support charitable and philanthropic organizations throughout New England. This support comes in the form of direct grants, in-kind donations and player appearances. The foundation assists a variety of charitable organizations and programs throughout New England by supporting their educational, family and health initiatives.



Mr. Football Watch: Week 7

October, 23, 2013
10/23/13
12:58
AM ET
Here is our latest "Mr. Football Watch" following Week 7 of the 2013 season. Statistics can be sent to editors Brendan Hall (bhall@espnboston.com) and/or Scott Barboza (sbarboza@espnboston.com)



THE CONTENDERS*

Troy Flutie, Sr. QB, Natick
Completed 13 of 25 passes for 257 yards and four touchdowns, in a 42-19 win over Milton.

Brandon Gallagher, Jr. RB, Bridgewater-Raynham
Carried 24 times for 100 yards and a touchdown, in the Trojans' 20-14 loss to Barnstable.

Hayden Murphy, Sr. RB/WR, Barnstable
In the Red Raiders' thrilling win over Bridgewater-Raynham, carried 14 times for 124 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning 43-yard TD run with less than a minute to go.

Neil O’Connor, Sr. QB, Leominster
In the Blue Devils' 40-15 rout of Nashoba, completed 11 of 19 passes for 236 yards and three touchdowns, and also had 50 yards rushing with a fourth score.

Mike Panepinto, Sr. RB, Needham
Ran for 120 yards and two touchdowns in the Rockets' 33-6 win over Brookline.

Rufus Rushins, Jr. RB, Bishop Fenwick
Carried 19 times for 160 yards and two touchdowns in the Crusaders' 34-6 rout of St. Mary's of Lynn.

Andrew Smiley, Sr. RB, St. John’s (Shrewsbury)
Completed 6 of 6 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns, and added 91 rushing yards with two more scores, in the Pioneers' 34-9 win over Wachusett.

Cody Williams, Sr. QB, Springfield Central
Was 5 of 11 passing for 140 yards and two touchdowns, and added a rushing touchdown, in the Golden Eagles' 34-6 win over Putnam.

Kyle Wisnieski, Sr. QB, Mansfield
Completed 12 of 27 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown in the Hornets' 20-7 win over King Philip.

Isaac Yiadom, Sr. WR/DB, Doherty
Boston College commit caught a touchdown pass and threw for another, in the Highlanders' 28-0 shutout of Worcester North.



FIVE ON THE RISE

Emmanuel Almonte, Jr. QB/DB, Boston English
Totaled 254 yards of offense (190 rushing, 64 passing) and three touchdowns in the Blue & Blue's 24-6 win over West Roxbury. Through six games he is one of the state's leading rushers (1,025 yards, 8 TD, 9.5 yards per carry), in directing a read-option attack; he's also the team's leader in tackles (43).

Shaquille Anderson, Sr. RB, Cambridge
Led the way for the Falcons with 219 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries in their 34-20 win over Medford.

Dan Henrickson, Sr. WR, St. Peter-Marian
Totaled 123 receiving yards and a touchdown in the Guardians' 14-13 loss to Shepherd Hill.

Chris Lindstrom, Jr. OL/DL, Shepherd Hill
Leading a double-wing rushing attack that has accounted for 1,661 yards, 21 touchdowns and 7.2 yards per carry through six games, the 6-foot-5, 245-pound interior guard has been a road grader so far for the Rams.

Jack Sylvester, Sr. RB, Andover
Carried 14 times for 198 yards and two touchdowns, and also hauled in a 15-yard TD catch, in the Golden Warriors' 49-32 win over Rhode Island power La Salle Academy. In the last weeks, he's gained 402 yards with five touchdowns; on the season, he's averaging 8.3 yards per carry.



TOP STATISTICAL LEADERS IN MASSACHUSETTS

Rushing
Chris Ahl, Sr., Millis/Hopedale – 1,098 yards, 14 TD
Mark Wright, Sr., Auburn – 1,084 yards, 12 TD
Emmanuel Almonte, Jr., Boston English – 1,025 yards, 8 TD
Zered McCoy, Sr., Ware – 963 yards, 7 TD
Rufus Rushins, Jr., Bishop Fenwick – 957 yards, 15 TD

Receiving
Zach Elkinson, Jr., Holliston – 662 yards, 10 TD
Nick Thyden, Sr., Quabbin – 643 yards, 9 TD
Jake Bradway, Sr., Belchertown – 638 yards, 7 TD
Dan Henrickson, Sr., St. Peter-Marian – 559 yards, 7 TD
Isaac Yiadom, Sr., Doherty – 534 yards, 3 TD

Passing
Dylan Kierman, Sr., Quabbin – 2,070 yards, 21 TD
Troy Flutie, Sr., Natick – 1,617 yards, 26 TD
Matthew Jeye, Sr., Holliston – 1,543 yards, 18 TD
John Rumney, Sr., Marlborough – 1,499 yards, 19 TD
Andrew Smiley, Sr., St. John’s (Shrewsbury) – 1,320 yards, 15 TD



*Does not include players who had a bye week


Football Notes: High praise for breakout candidates

August, 26, 2013
8/26/13
12:01
AM ET
A few notes and observations from the first week of MIAA preseason football:

Lofty, Loyte-y Comparisons: It's probably the worst-kept secret at St. John's Prep that junior tight end Jake Burt had one of the best summers in the program. All summer long, the 6-foot-4, 224-pound Lynnfield native dazzled in passing leagues and 7-on-7 tournaments, out-muscling defenders on 50/50 balls and boxing out others on goal line plays.

All summer long, coaches at the Prep program have raved about his development; and melded with his prowess on the school's basketball and volleyball teams, many are projecting highly for Burt, who is entering his first season as full-time starter after serving in part-time duty with the varsity last fall.

But perhaps no praise yet has been as high as the name head coach Jim O'Leary dropped on Tuesday morning, following a press conference to introduce the school's new baseball coach. Making a comparison to former great Jon Loyte -- an All-American who starred at Vanderbilt and Boston College, and had a brief cup of coffee with the New York Giants in 2010 -- O'Leary was blunt.

"I love Jon Loyte, but he [Burt] is more athletic," O'Leary said. "He's not as physically imposing as Jon was. Now, he weighed in last night [Monday, Aug. 19] at 6-4-1/2, 224 pounds, [and] he ran a 4.8 40. I thought that was impressive last night."

Burt dabbled last year in an H-back role, lining up both in the backfield and on the perimeter, and also took some snaps at quarterback in "Wildcat" packages. Expect him to take a similar role this fall, as the Eagles try to live up to their preseason billing as the state's No. 1 team and capture a second straight Division 1 title in the first year of a true MIAA State Championship.

It could be a similar situation to what St. John's of Shrewsbury had in 2010 with Richard Rodgers, the monster tight end/defensive end currently entering his third season at Cal. The 6-foot-4 Rodgers lined up both in the slot and split out wide, creating a matchup problem compounded with the added running threat of quarterback Dan Light, a converted tight end who is now manning a similar spot at Fordham.

"It's not our first rodeo here, we're probably going to use the talents that our people have," O'Leary said. "I think that you saw that situation last year, running some wildcat stuff. The trouble is, he sets the edge so well blocking, that it's going to be difficult to take him out of that tight end position. And his ability because he's 6-foot-4-1/2, to be split out as a wideout, similar to what St. John's Shrewsbury did with the kid that went to Cal, Rodgers, they used to split him out.

"It's a good matchup for us out there. Honestly, as weird as this sounds, we're probably gonna have to throw the ball more than we did last year. We need to take people out of the box."

High remarks from a former coach: One week of preseason in the books, and senior transfer Joe D'Onofrio is already making his presence felt at Everett High, scoring twice in yesterday's scrimmage with Lynn English. That comes as no surprise to his former coach at Pope John XXIII, which has since co-oped its program with Chelsea due to lack of numbers.

"You can quote me, Joey’s a stud. He’s a stud, man," said Brian Vaughan, now the head coach at Boston English. "Not a lot of people know about him, people try telling me he's not gonna play at Everett, and I laugh. I'm shocked he was with me at Pope John -- he's a stud. Some of the things he's done for me the last two years is just ridiculous. He's a perfect fit for them."

After his freshman season at Everett, D'Onofrio transferred across town to Pope John, and made his impact felt immediately in Vaughan's patented spread attack. In D'Onofrio's sophomore season of 2011, he ranked second on the team in receiving behind ESPN Boston All-State selection Malcolm Brown, while also rushing for 1,106 yards on just 105 carries.

Last fall, D'Onofrio earned Catholic Central Small MVP honors after carrying 174 times for 1,356 yards and 16 scores. Offensively, blessed with high-4.5 speed, he got touches in every skill position, including quarterback; defensively, he was just as vicious, making downhill plays from both the safety and outside linebacker spots.

Among the most talented players he's worked with in his two-plus decades of coaching, Vaughan recalls back to his time as an assistant at his alma mater Lynn English, and to former defensive tackle Matt Curtis, an athletic savant who overcame dramatic hardships to captain Harvard's football team in 2008.

"[Joe] would always wow you on offense, but when he'd come upfield from an outside linebacker or safety spot, he comes up and he's laying the wood," Vaughan said. "I've been coaching high school sports for a long time, and he's up there with my favorite athletes. He’s up there with Matt Curtis from the early 2000's. Obvioulsy he was a defensive tackle, but his athletic ability was crazy. He was a defensive tackle that returned kicks for us."

So what should folks in Everett expect from D'Onofrio this fall?

"What they should expect is someone who will work hard and do whatever it takes to win," Vaughan said. "He's definitely a team player, whatever you ask him to do he's gonna do it 120 miles an hour. Personally, I expect nothing but a lot of good things over there. [Everett head coach] John DiBiaso does an excellent job with the talent that he has, and Joe is going to fit right in and continue to have the success he's had at the high school level."

Secret ingredient? The first touchdown of No. 21 Needham's preseason came from a name familiar to the hardwood.

John Madsen, the 6-foot-6 senior star forward for the Rockets' basketball squad, is back out for football for the first time since his freshman year. You could say he's made his impact felt already, scoring the first of two Rockets touchdowns in Saturday's scrimmage with Newton South, hauling in a pass from senior quarterback Ryan Charter.

Needham is one of those programs that typically draws unique crossover talent, led this year by Mike Panepinto, a 2,000-yard rusher last fall who is committed to UMass for lacrosse. Two years ago, lacrosse star Mark Riley was a stud on the gridiron, stretching the field vertically as a flex tight end to earn ESPN Boston All-State honors.

Basketball backgrounds typically translate well to the tight end position -- see Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, and Jimmy Graham at the NFL level. It's a work in progress, but you can't teach size, and so far Madsen has demonstrated a wide catching radius. He will likely stick at wide receiver, and won't play defense.

"He can catch, and he’s tall, and in terms of playing wide receiver those are two very good intangibles," Rockets head coach David Duffy said. "If we can get him up to speed on the offense...I'm hoping he improves every week, but he’s working hard at it. He's gonna be another weapon we can utilize, because everybody is going to be keying on Mikey [Panepinto]."

With strong young talent, future bright for MIAA hoops

March, 26, 2013
3/26/13
5:52
PM ET
In the biggest game of the year in MIAA hoops, the Division 1 state title game, it seemed as if the sophomores were hitting all the big shots. With hundreds of Mansfield fans directly behind the basket screaming and waving, Putnam sophomore Ty Nichols nailed two free throws with eight seconds left in overtime to seal the Beavers’ first state title in school history.

But let’s not forget how the game got to that point. Rewind to the end of regulation.

Mansfield sophomore Ryan Boulter put on one of the gutsiest performances that we saw all season. After he was fouled on a three-point attempt with five seconds to go in the fourth quarter, Boulter went to the line with an opportunity to tie the game and send it into overtime. Miss one, and his team, in all likelihood, would lose the game.

Not only did Boulter hit all three free throws, he did so without ever taking his eyes off the rim -— not even to catch the bounce passes that came from the referee following each of the first two free throws. He sent the game into overtime, then hit a three-pointer from the wing to give Mansfield the lead.

Following a four point swing by Putnam, Boulter put the team on his back one last time -— draining a three-pointer to tie the game with just seconds to go in overtime. Enter Nichols, and game over.

While Putnam’s entire team circled around their trophy in the pressroom after the game, a few of Mansfield’s players sat across the room waiting to be interviewed. Boulter fought back tears. Brendan Hill -- a sophomore who was Hockomock League MVP and considered to be a Division 1 prospect in both football and basketball -- stared at the floor, head in hands.

While listening for Putnam senior KayJuan Bynum talk about the pride that Springfield has in basketball, I couldn’t help but glance over at Hill and Boulter across the room. Both fierce competitors with unbelievable poise, they sat in the shadows of the pressroom while Putnam’s players hugged each other in celebration.

That was the ringing overtone talked about for days following the state title game: Mansfield will be back.

It was the same reaction seen on the floor of the Tsongas Center only a week earlier. After a crushing defeat to a more experienced Central Catholic team, Lynn English sophomore guard Stevie Collins pulled his jersey over his face as the final buzzer sounded, hiding tears from watching Central Catholic celebrate the Division 1 North championship.

The playoff run was an unexpected one for the Bulldogs, and English can be expected to be back next year. With Collins’ classmates Johnny Hilaire (6-foot-6 forward) and Erick Rosario (6-foot guard) both returning, as well as juniors Freddy Hogan and Danny Lukanda, expect a big run from English once again. The Bulldogs' run to the North final almost wasn’t possible, mainly because of 20 points from Everett sophomore Gary Clark in the quarterfinal match -- a high-scoring, back-and-forth match that left English the 94-87 victors.

English, Putnam, and Mansfield, and Everett are not alone in boasting talented young players, though. Statewide, the MIAA’s depth in the 2015 and 2016 classes is one of the best we have seen in recent memory.

***

DAVIS, COLLINS LEAD LONG LIST OF POINT GUARDS

Collins leads a long list of talented floor generals in the 2015 and 2016 classes. Those included (and very close behind him) are Lowell sophomore Kareem Davis, who ignited one of the state’s most exciting offenses this year; New Mission's Randy Glenn, a left-handed playmaker who was pivotal in helping the short-handed Titans make a run to the Boston City League championship; St. Peter-Marian freshman Makai Ashton, a fearless point guard who is considered to be the best long-term guard prospect in the Worcester area; and Melrose frosh Sherron Harris, whose "on-court killer" style of play is scarily similar to his cousin, Cushing Academy star Jalen Adams.

-- St. John's (Shrewsbury) sophomore Davon Jones has more big-game experience than any of the point guards listed above, as he has helped lead Bob Foley’s Pioneer squad to WPI each of the last two years. As mentioned with Hill, Jones is considered to be a Division 1 football prospect.

-- Boston English freshman Ernie Chatman will win a lot of games for Boston English over the next three years, Chatman is a great ballhandler who is also lightning quick and a great floor leader.

-- Along with Glenn and Chatman, Brighton freshman Javaughn Edmonds will make a major impact in the Boston City League in the coming years. Edmonds will be looked to to step in and help fill in some of the production missing from departing ESPN Boston Mr. Basketball Malik James.

***

MIAA’S TOP PROSPECT HEADS FORWARDS

There is no question who has the highest ceiling of any player in the MIAA. It is Springfield Central’s 6-foot-8 sophomore Chris Baldwin. A sureshot Division 1 prospect who can block shots, rebound at a high rate, and score in a variety of ways, Baldwin will make sure Central remains one of the state’s best hoops programs after making the Western Mass. Division 1 championship game once again this year.

St. Peter-Marian freshman Greg Kuakumensah will have big shoes to fill next year for the Guardians, especially as they soon graduate forward Tim Berry, the heart and soul of their offense. Kuakumensah, the younger brother of Brown University forward Cedric Kuakumensah, will join Ashton in what should be a very bright future for St. Peter-Marian. At 6-foot-4, he is a great shot blocker like his older brother, but is also tremendous athlete and competitor.

-- SPM isn’t the only squad returning a talented young duo though. Brighton, the Division 2 state champion, will, alongside Edmonds, return 6-foot-5 sophomore forward Jason Jones, who played a lead role in helping the Bengals to their first Boston City League championship.

-- Andover's 6-foot-5 sophomore forward Connor Merinder was limited in minutes this year as he recovered from a severe wrist injury. However, he was able to recover by playoff time and led the Warriors to the Division 1 North semifinals, knocking off Medford and St. John’s Prep in order to do so.

-- For all the attention to the prospects at larger Division 1 and 2 schools, keep an eye on 6-foot-5 sophomore forward Jake Wisniewski out of Quaboag. After averaging over 20 points per game for Quaboag this past year, the already-experienced post scorer is one of the state’s top prospects in Division 3. A talented forward at Division 3 New Leadership, 6-foot-6 freshman Davidson Pacheco, will take his talents elsewhere after averaging 10 points per game this year, what with the expected closing of the Springfield-based charter school.

***

MOBLEY, JUDSON CAN MAKE IT RAIN

Newton North sophomore Tommy Mobley was one of the state’s most feared scorers this year, leading the Tigers to a 20-4 record and picking up Bay State Carey MVP. Mobley and St. John’s Prep sophomore guard Ben Judson showed that they can be two of the MIAA’s best scorers again next year. Like Mobley, Judson’s three-point range extends all the way out to 25 feet—as both were known to drop a barrage of three-pointers on opponents this year, heavily guarded or not.

New Mission's Juwan Gooding, New Bedford's Tyree Weston, and Catholic Memorial's Guilien Smith, were all early exits from the state tournament this year. But as three of the MIAA’s most talented pure scorers in the 2015 class, they’ll be back for big runs next year. Smith and Gooding are finesse guys who use their quick first step to get to the rim, while Weston uses his sculpted frame to overpower opponents and score inside-out.

-- One other Springfield product to keep an eye on is Cathedral sophomore Darrick Boyd. The young, talented sharpshooter scored 19 points per game this year, leading Cathedral to a 13-9 record. Danvers sophomore Vinny Clifford, also a dead-eye shooter, will be looked at to be a leader for the two-time defending Division 3 state champion. Clifford, the younger brother of Merrimack College forward Mike Clifford, was an integral piece this year for a team led by Eric Martin, Nick Bates, and Nick McKenna.

-- Yet another two-sport star, Wakefield sophomore Bruce Brown, helped the Warriors make a deep run in the Division 2 North tournament this year, eventually falling to a deeper, more experienced North Andover team. Brown is an elite athlete who, at his best, is nearly unstoppable because of his upper body strength. On the football field, Brown caught seven touchdown passes as a wide receiver last fall.

-- Two 14-seed over 3-seed upsets in the first round of the Division 1 North tournament should be remembered going forward. Freshman Saul Phiri’s heroics in a first-round upset win helped lead Haverhill past Westford Academy, while frosh Keyshaad Dixon’s three-pointers sparked perhaps the most surprising win of the first round, as Braintree knocked off heavily-favored BC High.

-- St. John's (Shrewsbury) freshman Adham Floyd, was a very important piece for the Pioneers’ run to the Central Mass. Division 1 title game, starting several games during the season. Bishop Feehan freshman Mike Nelson, a teammate of Floyd's with the Shooting Stars AAU program, showed great poise in leading his team to an impressive run in the Division 3 South tournament, falling narrowly in the quarterfinals to eventual D3 South champion Martha’s Vineyard.

***

Picking the Super Team for this year's ESPN Boston MIAA All-State Team sparked as much debate as any Super Team selection in recent years. The statewide parity, talented young players bolting to prep school, and lack of scholarship-level talent in the upper classes forced careful consideration and a never-ending debate about picking out the MIAA’s elite upperclassmen.

However, with the amount of freshmen and sophomores who made a name for themselves on a big stage this year -- the instant-classic Division 1 state final between Mansfield and Putnam being the prime example -- it's likely we won’t spend too much time worrying about the pipelines of scholarship-level talent coming up the ranks in MIAA basketball.

Boston English taps Vaughan as new football coach

January, 24, 2013
1/24/13
10:20
PM ET
Pope John XXIII's Brian Vaughan confirmed to ESPNBoston.com tonight that he has been named the new head football coach at Boston English High.

Vaughan is a 1992 graduate of Lynn English and played four years at Northeastern University. He was on Lynn English's coaching staff from 2000-2008, serving as offensive coordinator the final four seasons of his tenure. In four years as head coach at the Everett-based Pope John, he went 30-9.

For Vaughan, coaching in the Boston City League has been "a dream of mine", admitting that it will be challenging but fun -- "I think the challenge will be worth something," he said.

English's struggles as of late are well-documented. When the Bulldogs beat New Mission this past fall in Week 2, it was their first non-forfeit win over an opponent since 2009. They started this past year off 3-2, but finished with five straight losses. Still, the future looks bright.

"I feel that way [coaching in the city "a dream"] for the simple fact that I think Boston has huge potential to be...I think it's a sleeping giant," Vaughan said. "Not to be an Everett or one of those big-time programs, but I think there's so much talent in the City of Boston. I think it's a great opportunity to help build pride in the City of Boston football-wise. I'd love to be a part of that."

Vaughan was known for his spread principles during his time at Pope John, which included a record-breaking career for wide receiver Malcolm Brown. Brown finished his career with 192 receptions for 3,447 yards and 44 touchdowns, and 56 total scores, and was named to ESPN Boston's All-State Team in 2011. Vaughan said he plans on bringing the same philosophy to English with a balanced attack between run and pass.

For the last two seasons, English has also been aided by the presence of the legendary Tom Lamb, who went 248-65-2 over a span of four decades between Natick and Norwood, winning four Super Bowls and sending several players on to the NFL, most notably Alfred Fincher and brothers Doug and Darren Flutie. Vaughan played under Lamb at Northeastern, where he was Barry Gallup's offensive coordinator, and plans on retaining him.

"Tom is a friend of mine, he was a second father to me when I was at Northeastern," Vaughan said. "He was a father away from my father, we built a great relationship in those years. Coach Lamb and coach Barry Gallup, they were the ones who gave me the opportunity to play college football. A lot of schools looked at my height, my 40 time and weren't too impressed. But coach Lamb and coach Gallup gave me the opportunity to play college football.

"I'll always owe Coach Lamb for that. His knowledge of the game, his history alone as a football coach in Massachusetts, he's gonna make me that much better of a coach. I'm not quite sure yet what the titles will be [for assistants], we're gonna sit down and figure that stuff out soon."

Recap: Boston Latin 44, Boston English 15

November, 22, 2012
11/22/12
4:41
PM ET
BOSTON -– When a high school list among its graduates names like famous physicist Edward Charles Pickering, renowned astronomer Benjamin Gould and computer scientist Guy Steele, Jr., it’s not surprising that the students might be known for precision and efficiency.

On Thanksgiving morning, that translated to the gridiron.

The Boston Latin Wolfpack scored 44 points, despite running just 18 plays from scrimmage, cruising to a 44-15 win over rival Boston English in the 126th edition of the nation’s oldest continuous high school football rivalry.

The key turning point in the game came early in the second quarter. Leading 14-0 on a pair of touchdown runs by senior Jhalen Bien-Aime, Latin scored two offensive touchdowns in a span of 44 seconds to open a 30-0 lead.

After English went three-and-out on its second possession of the game, a bad punt gave Latin solid field position at the English 33. One play later, quarterback Patrick Fahey ran a keeper, taking the ball 33 yards for the touchdown. Bien-Aime’s two-point conversion run expanded the Latin lead to 22-0.

English’s glimmer of hope came on the ensuing kickoff, when senior standout Daquawnn Gunter returned the ball 50 yards to the Latin 39. But the very next play, the Wolfpack forced a fumble that senior Mike Surdek pounced on.

On the ensuing play Surdek kept the momentum, scampering 59 yards on just his second carry of the game with 7:31 remaining in the half.

Suddenly a close game became a runaway.

“We just gave up that long kick return, they called a timeout and our coach called us over and said we needed to make a play,” said Surdek of the fumble recovery. “We blitzed the two inside linebackers and scared the center or something. That was a big change.

“Then it was my second run of the game and I saw the hole opposite of where it was designed, so I cut back and all I saw was green.”

Said Surdek, the feeling of making those plays on what is the team’s biggest stage of the season was unmatched.

“There’s hundreds of alumni here to watch, people who played in the game, so it’s unbelievable,” Surdek said. “Our coach talked about next year and what this game can say about the program. That’s our legacy right there.”

Despite the hefty deficit, English showed little quit and, from that point, was actually the better team on the field.

The Blue-on-Blue engineered long offensive drives to calm the Wolfpack’s momentum. English drove 37 yards on 15 plays in 7:23, but couldn’t punch the ball in before the halftime whistle.

To being the second half, English put together a 13-play, 60-yard drive over 9:07 that concluded in a Dhe’Jour Relerford quarterback sneak from 1 yard out to get the Blue on the board.

After another 13-yard touchdown run for Surdek capping a five-play Latin drive, English again moved the ball successfully, going 64 yards in nine plays before Relerford found Gunter for an 11-yard touchdown with 2:43 remaining.

Again, though, Latin had its final answer as Mike Cronin returned the ensuing kickoff 60 yards for a touchdown, accounting for the 44-15 final.

When the game was over, English had possessed the ball for 29:22 of the 40 minutes and run 50 plays. But it was Latin’s efficiency that got the best of the Blue on this day.

“We want to play a ball-control type of game,” said English head coach Chris Boswell. “We’re trying to slow down the game and we did it in the second half. I’m pleased that we finished the game. It was ironman football.”

English continues to improve under Boswell, Lamb: English head coach Chris Boswell was quick to point out his team’s improvements in Thursday’s game, one where the final score wasn’t indicative of the game on the field. The 15 points English mustered against Latin is the most since 1999, when Latin won, 42-20.

“We haven’t put up 15 [points] in my three years,” said Boswell. “And that’s the lowest points we’ve allowed [to Latin] in my three years.”

Some perspective on these superlatives are necessary. Two years ago, Latin won 54-12, a game in which English’s offense looked non-existent. The team’s two scores in the game came on a game-opening kickoff return and one run that broke for 60-plus yards.

Last year was even worse as English was shutout, 50-0, the most lop-sided decision in the storied rivalry.

This year’s English offense looks considerably more mature. Most of the snaps that Dhe’Jour Relerford took came under center as opposed to an unsuccessful Wildcat formation that the Blue had run in Boswell’s first two seasons.

Some of the credit certainly goes to English assistant Tom Lamb. The retired Natick legendary head coach has been helping Boswell run the offense for the past two seasons. Given some more depth, this is one football team that could continue to get better.

Ball, responsible for first forward pass in rivalry, presented pre-game: Mary-Nel Allen, widow of former Boston Latin football captain Bob Allen (class of ’64), was on hand to make a special presentation prior to Thursday’s 126th edition of the Latin-English rivalry.

Allen presented Boston Latin headmaster Lynne Mooney Teta with the game-ball from the 1912 Latin-English game. It is said that ball was used to throw the first forward pass in the storied rivalry.

The Allen family came into possession of the ball in 1965, when Tom Craven, the Latin quarterback in the 1912 game, gave the ball to Allen after the 1964 team finished the season undefeated.

Boston Latin 44, Boston English 15
ENG 0 0 7 8 --- 15
BLS 14 16 0 14 --- 44


1st Quarter
BL - Jhalen Bien-Aime 26 run (rush failed) 7:17
BL - Bien-Aime 14 run (Patrick Fahey run) 0:32

2nd Quarter
BL - Fahey 33 run (Bien-Aime run) 8:05
BL - Mike Surdek 59 run (Bien-Aime run) 7:31

3rd Quarter
BE - Dhe’Jour Relerford 1 run (Daquawnn Gunter kick) 0:46

4th Quarter
BL - Surdek 13 run (Kevin Chen run) 7:25
BE - Gunter 11 pass from Relerford (Gunter run) 2:43
BL - Mike Cronin 60 kickoff return (kick failed) 2:32

OTL shines spotlight on Boston English

October, 22, 2012
10/22/12
1:24
PM ET
video

On Sunday’s edition of ESPN’s “Outside the Lines”, reporter Paula Lavigne looked into the new academic standard being enforced for athletes at Boston English High School this academic year (video above).

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Previously, English students had to maintain a 2.5 GPA to participate in athletic activities. This year, the school dropped its standard, reverting to the school district’s prescribed 1.67 GPA, in other words what equates to a C-minus average. English head master Luisa B. Noriega-Murphy made the adjustment to keep more athletes in English’s programs and off the streets, but critics of the move had questioned what message the adjustments sends to students.

What do you think? Is it more important to keep student athletes off the streets and involved in extracurricular, or are athletics a privilege that only should be enjoyed by those who’ve kept a high academic standard?

Vote in our Sports Nation poll and leave your take below in the Comments field.

New initiatives helping shape BPS turnaround

November, 26, 2011
11/26/11
6:32
PM ET
Dorchester Boston HSBrendan Hall/ESPNBoston.com ESPN's RISE UP series breathed new life into Dorchester Academy's fledgling athletics program when it paid a visit two months ago.
ROXBURY, Mass. -- “Get that homework out, we ain’t sittin’ on no luxury chairs today!”

It’s 10 a.m. on a Saturday at the Vine Street Community Center in Roxbury, and hulking basketball coach Larry Merritt is taking no excuses.

“Tell them if they’re done with their homework, they can get a book to read. Write down the names of the kids who say they got nothing to do, some of them are repeat offenders.”

Upon hearing Merritt’s booming pronouncement, twenty pairs of eyes shift nervously to the floor as worksheets and textbooks begin to line the table. Careful to avoid the ire of their intimidating coach, the pre-teen boys start working on their assignments, under the watchful eyes of several volunteer tutors.

Merritt’s AAU basketball program, called Meritting Attention, is just one of a host of athletic initiatives complementing ESPN’s recent Rise Up project, helping Boston students succeed both on the field and in the classroom.

This past summer, ESPN identified Dorchester and TechBoston Academies, both of whom used the same dilapidated public field, as candidates for an athletic facility renovation courtesy of the network’s ‘Rise Up’ program. According to ESPN High School editor Margaret Myers, the station “contacted school authorities and the city of Boston, finding community contractors and local businesses who wanted to help with the project.” Volunteers from construction companies around the city re-sodded the baseball fields at Roberts Playground, installed a new walking path, and put in lighting and fencing to increase safety. Workers also built a new cardio room inside the school, and constructed a women’s locker room.

Although the final unveiling of the transformed facilities received great publicity and was the subject of a September 27 special on ESPN, the recent renovation has only served as one small part of renewed academic and athletic progress at Boston’s public high schools. Local initiatives such as Meriting Attention, the Boston Scholar-Athlete Program, and Red Bull’s “Boston’s got Wings” project, have combined with Rise Up to lift achievement among the city’s student-athletes.

Building from the ground up
Merritt described his organization as Boston’s “out of school time student-athlete program,” and sums up the club’s entire philosophy with his slogan, “we study before we play.”

“Students must be doing well in the classroom in order to participate in our program,” Merritt explained. “We hold tutoring and homework sessions before all of our practices, and all participants must have an ‘action plan’ in order to improve academically.”

In addition to coaching AAU teams for children in grades three to 11, Merritt holds Saturday morning basketball camps before the season starts. Since he frequently uses BPS facilities for homework sessions, practices, and games, the coach was quick to emphasize the universal value of Rise Up’s facility restoration in Dorchester.

"The renovations have brought a new life to the world of sports for the entire Dorchester Educational Complex community," Merritt said. "Having quality facilities to play on is huge for inner-city kids. Normally, they would have to travel to the suburbs to experience a game on state of the art facilities.”

Merritt’s program combines basketball instruction with academic tutoring and leadership development, and the coach assures that “each student-athlete will understand the importance of being a student in the classroom first, and then a student of the game.”

Most importantly, however, Merritt believes in the power of athletics as a springboard to achievement.

“Sports are a necessity for youth in general,” he said. “If kids are in good athletic programs, they should be able to encompass all the life-skills that they need to be successful.”

Jamal Allen, a recent graduate of Merritting Attention, exemplifies the coach’s sentiments.

“Larry’s program helped me improve academically,” he said. “It gave me the confidence to ask for help and succeed at school.”

Allen has since enrolled in Lincoln Middle School as part of the METCO Program, and stars on the school’s basketball team. He plans on attending Lincoln-Sudbury High School next fall.

Allen also highlighted Merritt’s role in supporting the community.

"Larry brings them together to do something productive, instead of spending time at home watching TV or wasting time on the streets," he said.

Volunteer mentor and Boston International senior Jesse Barbosa agreed, pointing out that the program "takes kids from [dangerous areas] and helps them do something that they really like and are interested in."

"Larry is helping to build a stronger community," she said.

Academic success through athletics
Elementary and middle-school aged children make up the vast majority of Meritting Attention’s players, and those who don’t later receive scholarships to private secondary schools must navigate the BPS system. However, the Boston-Scholar Athlete program (BSA), implemented in 2009 as a result of a Boston Globe article condemning the state of high school sports in the city, has made an effort to increase athletic participation and eligibility.

Partnering with Boston mayor Thomas Menino and the BPS, Suffolk Construction CEO John Fish pledged an unprecedented $5 million over five years to "support academic achievement through athletics."

As of the 2011-12 school year, the BSA has established academic “Zones” in all 19 Boston public high schools, complete with outside tutors and work stations equipped with computers and graphing calculators. In addition, the BSA sponsors numerous showcasing events to increase exposure for star athletes, and has made several equipment and facility improvements throughout the city.

"We know through research that there exists a direct correlation between participation in athletics and academic achievement," said Evan Davis, the BSA's executive director. "Our goal is to help make athletic programs in BPS schools as attractive as possible, and to get as many kids playing sports as possible."

By all accounts, the BSA program has been successful. Participation in fall athletics has increased by three percent since 2009, and almost 3,200 student-athletes are currently enrolled in Zones across Boston. In addition, graduation rates in the city’s high schools are at an all-time high, with 63.2 percent of students graduating on-time in 2010, up 1.8 percent since the implementation of the BSA program.

Barbosa, an avid softball player, described how the new Zone in her school has helped initiate academic improvement.

“[Before the Zones] Many kids didn’t participate in athletics because they didn’t think it was worth it,” she said. “But as time went by, they decided to give it a chance because there were new programs to help them academically. Participating in athletics became a way for kids to help get their grades up, and they became eligible to do things that they really liked, such as sports.” (Depending on the school, BPS students currently need between a 1.67 and 2.5 GPA to compete in athletics.)

The BSA also gave students at English High School in Jamaica Plain the support system they needed to meet the school’s landmark new GPA requirement of 2.5 to participate in sports. Barry Robinson, the athletic director and boys' basketball coach at English, explained that the school needed to raise the athletic prerequisite from a 1.67 because "when the season was over, the players’ interest level in school went down. Most of the time, they were just getting by and doing the minimum to get a 1.67."

Robinson emphasized that the BSA "really, really helps [the school] out.” The student-athletes benefit from the “laptops and tutors” in English’s Zone, and the BSA has allowed coaches to “look at students’ grades on a daily basis and monitor their progress in class,” he said. The program has even let Robinson establish a four hour Saturday study hall for student-athletes in the school’s Zone.

“The students need the extra support,” he said. “It’s not as if they leave on Friday, and we don’t see them again until Monday morning.”

Additionally, Barbosa explained that at Boston International, “many teachers volunteer to be in the Zone, which gives kids more contact with them and lets them feel more comfortable asking for help.”

“Kids are getting more focused,” she said. “The number of students who did really well on MCAS exams has increased a lot.”

From 2009 to 2010, Boston International High School saw a 47 percent improvement in passing scores for English, and a 10 percent increase in Math.

“With the BSA program, kids have found some kind of spark within themselves and have decided to stay focused on school,” Barbosa said. “Most have graduated and are now in college. Many students are just trying to find a hand to hold onto, so they can succeed.”

She recounted the story of one mentor in particular, Aly Azor, who has risen above and beyond his obligations to make sure students at Boston International feel cared for.

“Mr. Azor is always there for us,” she said. “Even when we are not in the Zone, he shows that he cares and that he is going to be there for us. He always has his hands open to support us.”

Barbosa explained that Azor, who graduated from Boston College in 2009, monitors the progress of student-athletes both inside and outside the Zone, and can frequently be seen smiling from the stands at games. In addition, Boston International headmaster Nicole Bahnam added that Azor’s frequent “homework sessions” and “SAT prep classes” have had “a great impact on the men and women” of her school.

Tutors like Azor are said to exemplify the qualities that the BSA hopes to instill in all BPS’ volunteers and coaches. In order to meet this goal, the program offers a free professional development course for all high school coaches in the city in addition to their student-based projects. The BSA Coaches Academy, as the program is called, “has helped coaches increase their skills in working on and off the court with student-athletes,” Merritt explained.

“Having coaches who are passionate about kids and competent about the sport in which they are coaching will help the kids stay in BPS schools,” he said.

Justin Rice, founder of the website BPSsports.com, shared Merritt’s opinion about the importance of capable coaches.

“Athletics in urban schools sometimes serve as a double-edged sword for disadvantaged youth if schools don't have the proper support systems in place to put sports in context for students,” he said. “Without solid coaches to promote a healthy sports environment, many students start to think that athletics are all about flashy dunks and fancy dribbling, and believe that they are destined to become NBA players.”

Rice made clear that when only 0.15 percent of high school athletes make it to the professional level (according to the NCAA), sports can sometimes give students “a sense of false hope” without qualified coaches to put athletics in perspective.

“The more education coaches receive, the better,” he said.

Boston celebrity gives back

Complementing the BSA’s model of identifying and renovating deteriorating public athletic facilities, Celtics star Rajon Rondo decided to launch his “Boston’s Got Wings” program at the beginning of the last NBA season.

[+] EnlargeBoston Court
Andrew McFarland/Jamaica Plain PatchAs part of the Boston's Got Wings program, Rajon Rondo raised more than $80,000 for the extensive restoration of 13 courts within five city parks.
For every steal Rondo logged on the year, his sponsor Red Bull donated $500 to the Boston Parks and Recreation Department, with the purpose of refurbishing public basketball courts around the city. Rondo raised almost $80,000 after recording 153 steals last season, and 13 courts within five city parks received extensive restorations as a result of his efforts. Malcolm X Park in Roxbury -- featured in Chris Ballard’s “Hoop Nation” as one of the top-30 national sites for pick-up basketball -- and the Back Bay Fens -- just steps from the Green Monster and storied Fenway Park -- were some of the more prominent courts to be repaired.

Cesar Adim, a ninth grade Boston resident and basketball standout at Xaverian Brothers High School in Westwood, has witnessed firsthand the positive impact that the newly restored courts have had on the city’s young players.

“The renovations have given the kids around Boston a better, safer place to play,” he said. “They aren’t slipping on the court all the time, and the courts are not all messed up like they used to be.”

Last August, at the opening ceremony of the newly revamped courts at Malcolm X Park, Rondo echoed Adim’s reaction to Dime Magazine: “Having a place to play is very big. Anything for kids, I’m all with, and for.”

Rondo also explained to the magazine that the Boston’s Got Wings project “means a lot” to him, as a kid who was raised in inner-city Louisville.

Still a long road ahead

Nearly all the constructive initiatives recently put into operation around the city have been privately financed, and there remain numerous unfunded athletic needs within the BPS. Even with the substantial improvements made possible by Rise Up, the BSA, and Boston’s Got Wings, athletic facilities in many city schools are still decrepit.

Only six of the 19 BPS high schools have their own football fields; the rest are forced to play chronically under-attended “home” games in Jamaica Plain’s White Stadium. Once spring rolls around, nearly all the city’s baseball players will find themselves competing in public parks, with some teams, such as Boston International’s squad, hosting games as far as five miles from where they go to class. Consequently, the public schools appear an unattractive option to Boston’s most gifted athletes, many of whom are offered scholarships to one of the copious New England prep schools with powerhouse sports programs.

"BPS athletics have very talented athletes, but the challenge is that the private schools have better facilities," Merritt said. "It’s like comparing apples to oranges when a family is asked to make a decision between a state of the art facility, and a facility that needs a make over. Prep and private schools use their facilities as the recruiting hook when they invite candidates on their campus."

Antonio Menefve, a member of the New Mission High School basketball team in Roxbury, helped his team bring home the Division 2 State Championship last year. But the team still practices on a rented floor at the Tobin Community Center, because the school lacks its own gymnasium.

Barbosa, however, explained that her school lacks the resources for students to even participate in the city’s most popular sport.

“We are trying to start a basketball team, but the gym is too small,” she said. “It brings down hope for kids that are interested in basketball. Getting every public school the same facilities and equipment would make the community stronger.”

Robinson said that in spite of the BSA implementation, some “parents think the grass is greener on the other side.” They believe that private schools will help their children “focus better, and concentrate on academics,” he said.

Reflecting the feelings of some Boston-area parents, Menefve maintained that the most urgent problem affecting his school is that “kids are not being pushed hard enough to become true student-athletes."

"The BSA motivates some kids, and is giving students a chance to succeed, but I would go one step further and push up the athletic GPA requirement [at New Mission] from a C-minus to a B,” he said.

According to the Boston Globe and the BPS Superintendent’s Office, the city has actually cut the school athletic budget from $3.9 million in 2009 to $2.7 million for the 2012 Fiscal Year. When queried on the issue, Mathew Wilder, the Director of Media Relations for BPS, admitted that Boston schools “have a limited budget and are not able to do this work alone.”

“When you have so much money going into education, and such great emphasis on standardized test scores, you have to look for athletic funding elsewhere,” Merritt said. “Educating kids is so expensive.”

Wilder said the BPS athletic programs have largely been able to survive the budget shortfall because "good partners like Suffolk Construction have stepped up to the plate to help our students." But city schools still have a long way to go in developing new facilities and keeping kids academically motivated. The quality of athletics and academics in BPS schools have so far managed to improve considerably in an era of financial cuts, but it will take years to fully asses the city’s progress.

Most of the progress to date has been made possible because a coalition of large corporations such as Red Bull, ESPN, and Suffolk Construction, have aligned with local volunteers and together built a foundation for achievement in the city’s public schools. By helping to mentor student-athletes and renovate athletic facilities in Boston's inner-city, this partnership has started to "put in time to make the community better,” as Dorchester teenager Earl Stephens explained.

The companies have also helped to inspire a new wave of change -- from students at Dorchester and TechBoston Academies fixing up a neighborhood playground as part of Rise Up’s corporate outreach program, to Zone members in the BSA’s community initiative participating in local service projects. Although conditions in city schools remain nowhere near perfect, each selfless act, whether a complete overhaul of a playing field, or the simple step of showing up to a game, will continue to fortify the Boston community and increase athletic and academic opportunities for local children.

The experience of the Dorchester Bears Varsity football team, a beneficiary of the Rise Up program, epitomizes the continuing efforts of city charities and volunteers to improve athletic conditions for Boston’s youth. Even though the Bears currently reside at the bottom of the Boston City League standings and still play home games at White Stadium, nearly 3 miles away from their newly renovated school facilities, the players feel a new sense of preparedness and drive to succeed as a result of ESPN’s support.

“The Rise Up program has given us more hope," said senior quarterback and captain Michael Belifore. "We were coming off of a 3-7 season from last year, and we have been doing much better (the Bears are 4-3 so far in 2011); we stepped our game up. Everything they have done has benefited our season in a huge way, including the new weight room so we could get stronger, and the new track so we could condition.

“Even though 'Rise Up' is gone, we all still have that sense of pride because out of many schools, they chose ours, so its kind feels as if they never left. Even though they did little with the field, next year [the city] will be inserting turf and making it look more like a stadium. I think that [the project] was successful because it gave me more hope, showing me that anything is possible.”

Jillian Smith, the athletic director at TechBoston Academy, home of Bears athletics, accurately summed up the present state of BPS athletics when describing the atmosphere of her school.

“Programs like Rise Up and the BSA have provided a steppingstone to get athletics at our school where they need to be,” she said. “But we’re not there yet. Despite the renovations, we still lack our own full-length field. Students at TechBoston would like nothing more than to eventually play home football and soccer games under the lights, with teachers and friends cheering them on."

Overall, however, Smith maintained that the projects “have let kids know that we care about what they are doing, and want to help them succeed.”

Buckling down

It’s 11 a.m. at the community center, and the sound of excited giggling engulfs the first floor as twenty kids sprint up the stairs to the basketball court. Study hall is over, and it’s time to play ball.

The boys split up into two lines, each eagerly awaiting his chance to demonstrate a perfectly executed left-handed lay-up for the beaming coach at center court. Balls careen off the backboard as one by one the players twirl and leap, awkwardly attempting to complete the most subtly difficult of basketball plays.

Soon enough, the drills come to an end and the scrimmage finally begins. For these few minutes, there is no violence, no drugs, and each child is free to exalt in the supreme joy of competition.

But noon comes all too quickly. Time for the kids to stop playing.

“Don’t forget your homework next week,” Merritt reminds them.

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