Boston High School: Chris Lindstrom
The Blue Devils, who opened their season with back-to-back losses, could've easily bowed their collective heads and let No. 6 Shepherd Hill have its way with them.
Sticking with the old adage “desperate times call for desperate measures,” Leominster fought its way out from a wall of adversity by storming back to collect a 34-20 victory Friday night at Doyle Field.
If there was ever a time when the Blue Devils needed a win to turn their season around, this was it.
"We knew we couldn't afford another loss," said senior running back Eddie Rivera, who ran over and around a talented Rams defense for 119 yards on 15 carries. "They were the No. 1 team in Central Mass. so we knew we had to do something about it. Coming in at 0-2 is not Leominster football. During practice this week the coaches and ourselves put a lot of time and work in and the results show on the scoreboard. That's what it comes down to."
Rivera was the offensive ignition Leominster has been searching for. Over their first two weeks, which resulted in defeats to St. John's of Shrewsbury and Lowell, the Blue Devils averaged just 11.5 points per game. Rivera missed both of those games because of disciplinary rules.
But he returned on this night to give Leominster a solid offensive punch. Rivera found the end zone three times, on runs of 1, 20 and 19 yards, respectively, to solidify his spot in the team's offensive plans moving forward.
"Had it not been for my offensive line I wouldn't have been able to do any of this tonight," Rivera said. "They work so hard and they bleed for all of us. It's all about the line here. They make the holes and I execute with the ball."
Leominster (1-2) finished with 256 yards, with 180 of it coming in the final half.
Shepherd Hill (2-1) tallied 292 yards, with the majority of it occurring over the first 22 minutes when it racked up 191 yards. Nick Ostrowski recovered both on-side kicks for the Rams which set up touchdown runs by running back Luis Martinez (2 yards) and quarterback Drew Jean-Guillaume (32 yards) to give them a 12-0 advantage.
Once the sting of those early scores wore off, Leominster came back ready for business to start the second quarter.
Using Rivera exclusively in the Wildcat formation, Shepherd Hill found great difficulty trying to contain the fleet-footed back. The Blue Devils opened the second frame with a 64-yard march to set up Rivera's first score coming at 6:17. Shepherd Hill, running strictly out of the double-wing, found out quickly that Leominster's defense had changed a few things up.
That, in turn, began make life miserable for Jean-Guillaume, Martinez and running back Brady Ravenelle. Scoring with ease with their first two possessions, the Rams could barely moved the ball in the second quarter. Facing a fourth-and-9 from its own 19, Shepherd Hill went for it only to see them turn the ball over on downs. Leominster got the ball back and needed just two plays before Rivera exploded up the middle from the 20 to give the Blue Devils a 14-12 lead which they would carry into halftime.
"We just thought we had to get something going offensively," Blue Devils head coach Dave Palazzi said. "We saw some things that we thought we could run. Eddie has been working hard and our offense line was blocking. And how about our defense to do what they were able to do after our atrocious start to this game. I loved the way our team responded tonight. They played well and our defense battled against a great football team. That team may not lose another game this year."
Four times during the contest, Shepherd Hill opted to go for it on fourth down, twice inside its own 20. But unbeknownst to many, who seemed perplexed by the strategy, with some injuries, the Rams were down to their third center/long snapper who was young and still inexperienced, Rams head coach Chris Lindstrom did not want to place added pressure on his young player or risk the chance of having ball sail over the punter's head and into the end zone.
He felt the odds at the time were better to go for it. On two of those occasions during the quarter, the strategy looked to have paid off brilliantly as Jean-Guillaume broke around left tackle 76 yards for a score and later would hook up with receiver Sean McKeon for a 39 yard scoring reception. But both scores were nullified because of penalties.
After the Rams went four-and-out on their first possession to start the second half, Leominster had the ball in excellent shape on the Rams 19. Rivera needed just one play to push the lead to 21-12 with a quick dash into the end zone.
As Shepherd Hill began its second possession of the half, Jean-Guillaume remained on the sideline trying to work out some cramping issues. Junior Devin Pietz was inserted into the quarterback slot. Behind some solid running by Martinez (18 carries for 89 yards) and senior Tanner Amico (60 yards on 10 attempts), the Rams drove 51 yards on seven plays before Martinez finished it off with a 9-yard carry. A successful conversion run ensued to put Shepherd Hill down by a point.
After both teams traded fumbles a short time later, the Blue Devils opened up their passing attack. Quarterback Noah Gray (5 of 9 for 94 yards) hit receiver Derek Franks in stride for a 43 yard touchdown to increase Leominster's lead to 27-20 with just over a minute remaining in the third. The Blue Devils would put this one in the bank midway through the final quarter. Driving 59 yards, Gray finished things off with a 13 yard scoring scamper down the left sideline.
Jean-Guillaume returned to the field later in the quarter but even he could not resurrect the Rams from a 14-point deficiency.
"Leominster is a very good football team and they had some good schemes against us tonight," said Lindstrom. "They did a good job changing things up. Overall, I thought our players played very hard against a very good team that is well-coached. Obviously with Drew being out for a bit hurt us some. But that is not an excuse or the reason why we lost. Give all the credit to Leominster in the way they played.
LHS Baseball Team Honored: Leominster head baseball coach Rich Barnaby and several team members who captured the Division 1 state championship were honored prior to the start of the game. The Blue Devils defeated Norwood 6-1, marking the third title in school history. Barnaby took over last season for longtime legendary coach Emile Johnson, who guided the Blue Devils to two state championships.
Milton Academy kicker Justin Yoon is ranked as the top overall player in Massachusetts, with grades of 78 and three stars. This is the first time a kicker has ever top ESPN's player rankings in Massachusetts. With range up to 60 yards and a hang-time as much as 4.4 seconds, Yoon is considered by most scouting services as one of the nation's top kickers. Scouts Inc. regards Yoon, a Notre Dame commit, as the best at his position in the nation.
Once again, Boston College has cleaned up locally. Of the top 10 recruits in Massachusetts, seven are currently committed to the Eagles. Syracuse, UConn, UMass and Northwestern also have commitments represented in the rankings.
To see the complete rankings, CLICK HERE.
Here is the current Top 10 for Massachusetts:
1. Justin Yoon | Milton Academy | K | 78 | Notre Dame
2. Aaron Monteiro | Brockton | OG | 75 | Boston College
3. Davon Jones | St. John's | S | 74 | Boston College
4. Lukas Denis | Everett | CB | 74 | Boston College
5. Joe Gaziano | Xaverian | DE | 74 | Northwestern
6. Shyheim Cullen | Lowell | OLB | 73 | Syracuse
7. Chris Garrison | Lawrence Academy | TE | 73 | Boston College
8. Chris Lindstrom | Shepherd Hill | OG | 72 | Boston College
9. Jake Burt | St. John's Prep | TE | 71 | Boston College
10. Taj-Amir Torres | Amherst | ATH | 70 | Boston College
There's lots of creative adjectives that tend to accompany Shepherd Hill offensive guard Chris Lindstrom. But however you want to dress him up -- wiry strong, country strong -- the operative theme with him is raw power.
The son of one NFL veteran and Boston University Hall of Famer, and nephew of another, Lindstrom was the first in-state offensive lineman to commit to Boston College's 2015 recruiting class last March. He's coming off a brilliant junior season last fall in which he was a finalist for ESPN Boston's Lineman of the Year award, and was named to its annual All-State Team, as the Rams earned a top seed in MIAA Division 4 Central.
The 6-foot-5, 240-pounder's ability can be summed up in one play:
Add 30-40 pounds to that frame, without compromising mobility, and you can understand why BC might be excited about his potential.
Athletically, Lindstrom is a unique breed. It's not uncommon for offensive linemen to dabble in basketball during the winter -- most coaches consider it resourceful for footwork development -- and Lindstrom excelled as a power forward this winter for the Rams, who reached the Division 2 West Final in March. But it's rare for said linemen to take up tennis during the spring (just envision a 300-pound high school kid lumbering back and forth on a cross-court volley).
Scariest of all, Lindstrom could end up being the lightest player this year on an offensive line that's expected to average around 270 pounds across. That, combined with the impressive speed of dual-threat quarterback Drew Jean-Guillaume, has many pegging the Rams as a favorite across the state for Division 4. There's a mound of hype behind these guys this fall, a spot they're not accustomed to, but so far Lindstrom and Co. appear to be handling it well.
Player: Chris Lindstrom
School: Shepherd Hill Regional High School
Hometown: Dudley, Mass.
Listed Height/Weight: 6-foot-5, 240 pounds
Scouts Inc. Grade: 3 stars (74 overall)
Scouts Inc. Rank: 6 - Mass.
College: Boston College
Key 2013 stat: Behind Lindstrom, Rams ballcarriers averaged 6.4 yards per carry and totaled 38 rushing touchdowns.
Workout stat: Recorded a 4.68-second 20-yard shuttle.
Opposing Coaches: "Chris I have known forever. Not only is he a great player now, but he has the upside that could lead to playing on Sundays. Not many linemen have the athletic ability to play basketball and tennis while lifting weights at the same time. He has studied the game and blocking schemes to the point where he is a coach on the field. Chris is also a very, very nice young man who BC will love having on campus. . . If you look at his technique, it’s nearly flawless for our level, and he generates a lot of power because of it. He’s not as big as Ron Brace [Burncoat High alum and former New England Patriots defensive tackle] was at the same age, but he has that same athletic ability. Combined with his size, it’s a force. . . He is a bruising run blocker with great footwork. He literally pancaked at least six or seven of our front seven players over the course of the game. Tough, tough kid, but if there was one thing he has to improve, it’s blocking in space."
Scouts Inc.: "Developmental prospect physically with very good height, but lacking in ideal bulk at this stage and will need to add more mass to his frame though does have room to support additional size. Displays adequate playing strength which should continue to improve as he physically develops. . . . Flashes ability to come off low and deliver an adequate pop and roll hips at contact and generate some movement. Doesn't consistently roll hips and can get top heavy and can fall off blocks. Can wash defenders when asked to block down. Displays adequate pull/trap ability and displays good awareness and can get a hat on second-level targets with good angles. . . . Looks to give good effort to get job done and stay with blocks and displays a physical and aggressive nature. . . . Lindstrom is a developmental prospect who needs to continue to fill out his frame as well as develop and round out his game. He will likely need at least a red-shirt and will need to work to maintain mobility as he adds needed size, but displays some tools to work with. Could be developed at multiple spots along the line, though remaining as an interior player likely his best fit."
Bottom Line: As intimidating and violent on the gridiron as he is polite and articulate off of it, you can make a good case for Lindstrom as the state's most athletic lineman. Considering the depth of this year's line class -- five Bay State linemen currently hold FBS offers or are committed -- that should say something. Lindstrom has reportedly bulked up since the end of basketball season, when he dropped down to 230, so it will be interesting to see how he looks this fall. Under head coach Chris Lindstrom Sr., the Rams have been one of the most prominent Double Wing offenses. This year, they'll have the added pleasure of a target on their back, though it's easy to see why.
Walnut Lane Farm in Dudley was the backdrop for today's setting, where the Rams played up their "country strong" aesthetic for a farmer-themed shoot. (How much pride do they take in it? Word has it when the Rams hosted Doherty in last year's D4 Central playoffs, the city-bred Highlanders were greeted with several bales of hay on their sideline).
The Rams figure to average around 270 pounds across its offensive line, led by Boston College commit Chris Lindstrom Jr. and also including Chase Flibbert, Austin Jones and Cam MacDonald. They'll also be led by quarterback Drew Jean-Guillaume, a true option quarterback with sprinter's speed (10.8 in the 100-meter dash) orchestrating a powerful Double Wing offense. They figure to be among the favorites statewide in Division 4.
Look for the Rams in our annual preseason photo gallery next month. Here are some of the hits from today's shoot:
Fun shoot today with Shepherd Hill offensive line and QB. Special thanks to Walnut Lane Farm for their hospitality pic.twitter.com/8MwSVuuy7N— Brendan C. Hall (@BHallESPN) July 14, 2014
American Gothic pic.twitter.com/7VS7lJmysp— Brendan C. Hall (@BHallESPN) July 14, 2014
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
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.
The Crimson Tide are undoubtedly still smarting over last year’s home playoff loss to Central Catholic. We all know what that means.
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.
I’ll take my chances with the linebacking corps the Red Raiders have returning, anchored by Shyheim Cullen and Nicolau Coury.
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)
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.
The Dolphins fell just shy of the Div. 4 state title in a riveting matchup with Doherty. They might not be denied this year.
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?
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.”
The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Lindstrom, a 2013 ESPN Boston All-State selection, is an intriguing prospect for his projectable frame and his mobility as a pulling lineman in the Rams' "double wing" offense -- a trait that was reinforced this winter as a power forward for the Rams' basketball team, which reached the MIAA Division 2 West Finals. He had one other Division 1 FBS offer at the time of his commitment, from Old Dominion. He also had varying degrees of interest from Maryland, UConn and Kansas State.
Lindstrom's uncle, Eric, played at Boston College from 1984-88 and was a seventh-round draft pick of the New England Patriots in 1989. His uncle, David, and his father and head coach, Chris Sr., are both Boston University Hall of Famers and NFL veterans.
Once again, a Central Mass. recruit is the first in-state pledge for head coach Steve Addazio's recruiting class; last March, Doherty athlete Isaac Yiadom was the first of seven in-state commitments for BC. The Eagles have a handful of offers out to in-state prospects, including Xaverian defensive end Joe Gaziano and Everett defensive back Lukas Denis, and they're hoping Lindstrom's pledge can set things in motion.
Lindstrom spoke with ESPNBoston.com for a few more comments on his commitment and his future with the program:
Deciding factors: "Coach Addazio and the rest of the staff were really loving and caring. My uncle played there as well. Plus, they've got such a proud tradition of linemen in the NFL. I got to watch [line coach Justin] Frye coach and I loved what he was doing, he makes it feel like a family...He was caring, constructive, very energetic, positive. My dad loved him, my mom loved [running backs coach Al] Washington."
Where he projects: "Somewhere on offensive line, they haven’t really given me a specific position. I'm up to do anything, whatever the plan for me is good. I personally do not know if he's gonna move me inside or not."
Similarities between Shepherd Hill and BC's run schemes: "They do a lot of the same things, as far as the gap schemes, everything they do is aggressive. It's a lot similar to ours -- obviously the offense is different, but it's the same aggressive blocking, similar to what I'm doing in high school."
On being the first in-state commit for BC's 2015 recruiting class: "I'm ecstatic. Sitting down and talking to coach, he said he hopes this gets the ball rolling [with other recruits]. It felt right. I knew this was the place I was gonna go. Hopefully this gets the ball rolling on other guys committing."
His current shape: "I'm in my mid-230’s right now, because basketball went longer than usual, but it's gonna go right back up hopefully. I've been moving a lot, but I'm trying to get to 250-255 for the season."
Is there a target weight? "No, they said to have me keep lifting and developing. As long as it's good, lean muscle mass, they're good with whatever. They want to shoot for 300, but they don't want me to be fat, they want it to be muscle."
Where he needs to improve: "Definitely develop my pass blocking, getting stronger, getting weight, I'm not really strong compared to some other offensive linemen."
Did basketball help develop pass protection? "Yeah, it did help a lot with footwork, speed, hand-eye coordination. I shaved a few ticks off my 40."
@BHallESPN Shepherd Hill's Chris Lindstrom was just verbally offered a full football scholarship from Boston College.— Ray Sullivan (@coachsull) December 19, 2013
And integral interior pulling guard in the Rams' vaunted "double wing" scheme, 6-foot-5, 240-pound Lindstrom was voted the Southern Worcester County League Player of the Year after helping the Rams earn the No. 1 overall seed in Division 4 Central. As a team, the Rams ran for over 3,000 yards and 36 touchdowns. Lindstrom was also named to ESPN Boston's annual All-State Team last week.
Earlier this month, Lindstrom received his first FBS offer, from Old Dominion. UMass, UConn and Kansas State are among the other FBS programs showing varying degrees of interest, while a number of local FCS schools such as Bryant have also inquired.
Lindstrom becomes the fourth in-state product from the Class of 2015 to receive an offer from the Eagles, joining Lawrence Academy tight end Chris Garrison, Amherst athlete Taj-Amir Torres and Xaverian defensive end Joe Gaziano, the latter ESPN Boston's 2013 Defensive Player of the Year.
Lindstrom's father, Chris Sr., is the head coach of Shepherd Hill, and a Hall of Famer at Boston University. He spent three seasons in the NFL from 1983-87 with the San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
And integral interior pulling guard in the Rams' vaunted "double wing" scheme, 6-foot-5, 240-pound Lindstrom was voted the Southern Worcester County League Player of the Year after helping the Rams earn the No. 1 overall seed in Division 4 Central. As a team, the Rams ran for over 3,000 yards and 36 touchdowns.
AFter two years membership in the Colonial Athletic Association of Division 1 FCS, Old Dominion spent 2013 as an independent ineligible for the FCS playoffs, and will move into Conference USA next season.
Boston College, UMass, UConn and Kansas State are among the other FBS programs showing varying degrees interest, while a number of local FCS schools such as Bryant have also inquired.
Lindstrom's father, Chris Sr., is the head coach of Shepherd Hill, a Hall of Famer at Boston University. He spent three seasons in the NFL from 1983-87 with the San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
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
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
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
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
Certainly, one week does not allow enough preparation time to handle this style of offense, and during the first half, it showed. Leominster was having trouble figuring out who to key on in this tightly-bunched set-up.
But as good teams learn to do, the right adjustments were made and the Blue Devils threw a net over the Rams in the second half by allowing zero points en route to a 41-14 victory at Carmignani Memorial Field.
"Shepherd Hill grinded us pretty good in the first half but our defense really stepped up in the second half," said Blue Devils coach Dave Palazzi. "That's just getting the job done when you need to get it done. Credit our defensive coaches Charlie Raff, Kevin Murphy and Mike Vaillette for the adjustments they made at halftime. They did a great job coaching these kids up and the kids were listening. There was a lot of violence going on underneath those piles and a lot of big hitting by both teams. I really don't see that team losing to many ball games the rest of the way. They are well-coached and talented."
Leominster, the defending two-time Division 1 Central Mass. Super Bowl champions, improve to 3-0.
But this one did not come easy. As expected, Shepherd Hill (2-1) proved to be a staunch opponent. A Division 4 program, the Rams proved they are a team to be reckoned as the season moves forward. They gave Leominster all it could handle in the opening half, with solid running from junior quarterback Drew Jean-Guillaume and senior running back Jake Gelb. At the half, Shepherd Hill only trailed 20-14.
But the Ram offense looked much different over the final 22 minutes. Leominster showed more patients, waiting to see who would get the ball out of the double wing first and then strike, instead of anticipating. Having rolled up 169 yards in the first half that finished with Guillaume diving in from a yard out to trail by just six points, it appeared as though the Blue Knights had a legitimate fight on their hands.
Getting the ball to begin the second half, the Rams gave it away after failing to convert on a fourth-and-four play. Leominster's offense (438 yards), which has proven that it can score from anywhere on the field, did just that. A 66-yard touchdown run by junior back James Gurley on the ensuing possession had the Blue Devils in front 26-14.
Following a four-and-out by the Rams, Leominster again drove down field, capped off by senior quarterback Neil O'Connor's 38-yard scoring strike to Mayson Williams (3 receptions, 104 yards, 2 TD) to make it a 34-14 contest with a minute remaining in the quarter.
While Shepherd Hill's struggles on offense continued to mount, the Blue Devil offense was chomping at the bit to get the ball back. Late in the final quarter they put a bow on this one after junior Eddie Rivera scored on a 4-yard run around left end.
Leominster opened this tilt off in fine shape. Taking the opening kickoff, the Blue Devils marched 50 yards before O'Connor (9-of-14 for 188 yards, 3 TD, INT) found receiver Jake Allain (3 catches, 62 yards) 10 yards past the secondary for a 47-yard touchdown. Shepherd Hill shook off that score by mounting a drive of its own moments later. The Rams marched 77 yards before Jean-Guillaume (70 yards on 17 carries) busted up the middle from 12 yards away for the score. Jean-Guillaume also added the conversion run giving Shepherd Hill an 8-6 lead midway through the first quarter.
But the Blue Devils responded with another long drive that ended with Gurley (105 yards on 9 attempts) barreling in from the 3. However the conversion pass failed and Leominster had to settle for a 12-8 lead.
"We knew this was going to be a tough game coming in," said O'Connor. "Shepherd Hill is a very tough team that likes to pound it. They're big up front and their running backs and quarterback run hard.
“Our line also played great and were able to open things up for everyone and we were able to create some space. When everything is working we can be tough. Our coaches had us prepared for this one. Coming off wins over St. John's (Shrewsbury) and Lowell last week we were happy to get out of here with a win tonight."
Midway through the second quarter a solid drive by Shepherd Hill, which lost to Nashoba Regional in last year's Division 2 Central Mass. Super Bowl, ended abruptly after coming up a yard short on fourth down. Handing the ball back over to the Blue Devils, they were able to increase their advantage to 12 points after Williams, on a comeback screen, hauled in O'Connor's pass and bolted 57 yards down field into the end zone.
The Rams, once again, didn't fret as they put fourth a sustained drive following the score. They even tossed in a new wrinkle as Jean-Guillaume rolled outside the pocket and connected with Gelb in stride for a 33-yard reception. That, in turn, set up Guillaume's touchdown run in the final minute before halftime, slicing the deficit to six going into the break. Shepherd Hill finished with 273 yards of offense.
"That was a very good, tough football team we played," said Rams coach Chris Lindstrom, a former Boston University standout defensive end who spent three years in the NFL with the Bengals, Buccaneers and Chiefs. "This is new for us to play this level of competition but I thought we held our own for the most part. I feel we're still going to be a very good football team. We just need to re-group but I think we are very explosive. Overall I thought we did a nice job tonight. I felt the longer we were out there playing a very good team on both sides of the ball the better we're going to be."