Boston High School: Cole O'Connor

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:


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.

Recap: BB&N 14, Lawrence Academy 13

October, 12, 2013
GROTON, Mass. -- Don't look now but Buckingham Browne & Nichols is starting to make a case for itself within the ISL.

Under a steady drizzle, the Knights overcame a six-point fourth quarter deficit to pull out a 14-13 defensive-battle triumph over Lawrence Academy this afternoon.

With just 7:43 remaining, the Knights began their decisive drive. Starting from its own 24-yard line, BB&N senior back Matt Bonazzoli got things going with a 35-yard jaunt. Later in the drive, junior quarterback Cole O'Connor, on a flea-flicker, found eighth-grade receiver Jay Symonds for a 33-yard completion, putting the ball on the Spartans’ 9-yard line.

O'Connor finished by throwing for 105 yards on 6 of 9 passing.

Moments following the gadget play, Bonazzoli ran into the end zone untouched for his second touchdown of the afternoon with 5:40 remaining. Jimmy Cochran's PAT put the Knights (4-0), who came in a bit short-handed due to injuries, ahead to stay.

"We never use injuries as an excuse but we have some key guys who have been down," said BB&N coach John Pappas, his team mustering 260 yards of offense, with 179 coming in the final half. "Our guys just battled today and made plays. We've been able to wear teams down and I cannot say enough about the effort of our guys today."

Averaging 31.6 points-per-game in its three previous outings, BB&N's offense struggle for much of the afternoon against a vaunted LA defense.

However, the Knights managed to show enough fortitude to pull this one out.

After the BB&N score, the Spartans (1-3) had two more opportunities to reclaim the lead. The first one resulted in a punt and the final chance ended with an incomplete pass at the Knights' 20 on fourth down.

"Our kids played very hard and it was a great game," Spartans coach Paul Zukauskas said. "Give credit to (BB&N). They are a really tough team and really aggressive. My hat's off to them. We've played some very good teams and our kids are getting better. They really care about football and we're going to continue to keep going after teams."

After the first 12 minutes, in which neither team could get on the scoreboard, LA fired the first salvo midway through the second quarter.

Quarterback Kyle Howes (9-of-18 for 129 yards) hooked up with Timothy Preston for a 45-yard pitch-and-catch to give the Spartans a 7-0 lead. Throughout the opening half, the Knights offense found the terrain rough going. When they weren't being tackled in the backfield for losses or committing dumb penalties, BB&N failed to sustain any kind of consistent rushing attack. But things started to change after the intermission.

BB&N took the second half kickoff and set out on a mission to seize ball control and eat up as much time as possible off the clock. The strategy worked to perfection as the Knights marched 65 yards on 14 plays, taking 9:30 off the clock, before Bonazzoli barreled in from a yard out to deadlock the game at 7-all with 2:30 left in the third quarter.

"This was a very big game for us and we knew we had to get it," said Bonazzoli, a Swampscott native who finished with 156 yards on 21 carries. "Lawrence is always a tough game for us but this is a great win. In the first half we didn't execute as well as we wanted to but in the second half we were able to execute much better. After the half we tried to line up in different formations and get their defense off-set so we could run the plays we normally run and we were able to do so."

The Spartans, who finished with 248 yards, had their issues moving the ball as well. However, following the Knights’ score, Howes was able to take his club down field, completing three passes in the process, before the senior sprinted into the end zone from 16 yards out just one minute into the final quarter to give the lead back to LA.

A bad snap on the ensuing PAT try resulted in the Spartans having to settle for a 13-6 advantage. The missed boot seemed to light a fire under the Knights, who realized they were just a touchdown and PAT away from jumping ahead.

After failing to execute on its possession following the LA score, the Knights didn't disappoint the next time they had the ball. A methodical 84-yard drive was capped off by Bonazzoli's game-winning score and the defense did their job the rest of the way.

"We just keep on pounding away at opponents," Pappas said. "We keep pounding that sledgehammer against the rock and eventually we know it will break. Coming in, we knew Lawrence Academy was a very good and well-coached team but I am so proud of our guys for continuing to pound away at them and eventually wear them down.

“I thought Bonazzoli was huge for us today. He has the heart of a lion and is just a great player. We're a team of no superstars. We're short and stout but we play with a lot of heart and that's what I love about our guys."

Seniors the strength of BB&N football

September, 17, 2013
It turns out the Buckingham Browne & Nichols football team is indecisive, in a good way.

Back when the Knights sat down to vote for their 2013 team captains, the ballots just didn't add up. One senior would have a smattering of votes, and his classmate would have one or two less. When head coach John Papas sat down and tried to do the math, seven players were within a few votes of each other.

So, he did the democratic thing. He made all seven captains.

“That's totally unusual for us,” Papas said. “We've never had over three captains before, but to be honest with you, that speaks volumes about that group of kids. Instead of us determining who the captains were on our own, we decided to go with all seven. Those seven guys have not disappointed at all.”

With a small army of captains, the obvious concern is that there are too many leaders and not enough followers for BB&N. However, Papas isn't too worried. Despite the votes being so close, the team's leaders couldn't be more different.

“That's the beauty of it all,” he said. “These guys are all different types.”

They have vocal guys like linebackers Mike Samko and Connor Campbell, and then they have the lead-by-example offensive lineman in Connor Coady. Meanwhile, the skill guys – wide receiver Mike McCaffrey, fullback Dante Papas, and running backs Frankie Williams and Matt Bonazzolli – are the quiet types.

Papas believes the team's leadership, combined with a strong offseason, will lead the Knights to their 11th-straight winning season.

“We do it with guys like we have on this year's team – dedicated football players,” he said. “Out of the sixteen seniors on this team, eleven of them will play college football. They're all being recruited, so this is a serious football program.”

The Knights will come at opponents with a pro-style attack led by running backs Williams and Bonazzolli, who combined for 1,998 yards last year. The younger Papas is crucial part of the offense at fullback, and uses a “gritty and tough” approach to open holes for BB&N's backs.

“He's rugged, and he's a key to our run game. Everything comes off of him. He takes after his mom,” Papas said, with a laugh.

Cole O'Connor will start his second season under center for the Knights and will look to improve his passing game. O'Connor, a junior, is 6-foot-4 and “we expect him to be better this year,” Papas said.

McCaffery, a Holy Cross commit, will be a big target for the second-year starter.

On defense, BB&N will run a 3-3 stack and “will blitz 90 percent of the time,” according to Papas. His concern on defense is the team's lack of size, which he plans to make up for with quality athletes at linebacker and in the secondary. One of the defensive leaders will be outside linebacker Pat Champagnie, who is fielding interest from the University of New Hampshire and Bryant.

“He's really good. He's probably the best defensive player we have,” Papas said.

The seniors have already made their mark on the 2013 Knights. The team came into camp in good shape, and after three tough scrimmages, Papas can tell BB&N is ready for another winning season.

“Honestly, they've exceeded my expectations as far as preparation for the season. They came back to camp in great shape. We've had three scrimmages against three very good opponents, and we faired well,” he said regarding BB&N's scrimmages against Malden Catholic, Xaverian and Andover, respectively. “I don't judge scrimmages by the score, I judge them by the quality of play, and we've done really well against some really quality opponents.”

Coach: John Papas (11th season, 67-20)
Last season: 5-3
Returning Starters: 17 (8 offense/9 defense)
Key Returnees: Sr. WR/CB Mike McCaffrey, Sr. RB/FS Frankie Williams, Sr. RB/CB Matt Bonazzolli, Sr. FB/OLB Dante Papas, Sr. OG/DE Connor Coady, Sr. OLB/HB Mike Samko, Sr. MLB/TE Connor Campbell, Sr. HB/OLB Pat Champagnie.
Strengths: Team chemistry, senior leadership, experience, toughness.
Weaknesses: Lack of size, depth.

Overview: The Knights are going to pound the ball, and they don't care who knows it. Williams and Bonazzolli are shorter backs, but both added some strength over the summer and are comfortable in the running-back-by-committee approach. The younger Papas is very tough and has no problem lowering his shoulder into a middle linebacker or a twisting lineman. He plays fullback like a linebacker, which makes sense: Last year he led the team in sacks from that position. If O'Connor grows as a quarterback, the Knights will have a dangerous play-action weapon. Champagnie and the other linebackers are going to have to make up for a lack of size up front, but there is a ton of speed coming in on BB&N's relentless blitzing attack. If everyone stays healthy, the Knights should be in good shape to have yet another winning season. However, with 17 returning starters and a ton of senior leadership, a winning record isn't the goal – it's merely something to check off en route to the Super Bowl.

Northeast 7v7: Reading wins second straight East title

July, 28, 2013
PEABODY, Mass. -- Many are anticipating a different dynamic in Reading this year, with different faces. But there is one constant under center: the rifling arm of rising senior Drew Belcher.

When we last saw the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Belcher, he led the Rockets to a 27-7 win over Mansfield in the MIAA Division 2 Eastern Mass. Super Bowl, brushing the final stroke in what was a dominant 2012 season to earn ESPN Boston All-State honors. With his long, powerful frame accompanying exemplary arm strength, Belcher was one of the most dangerous dual threats in Massachusetts, bulling through the inside gaps on Tebow-like power plays.

Yesterday afternoon at Bishop Fenwick High School, in the third annual Under Armour Northeast 7-on-7 East Regional tournament, Belcher was breaking in some new targets, what with the graduation of deep threat Ryan Maney. For Belcher, the needle hit the groove early in the day, and rolled in clockwork fashion to the Rockets' second straight East Regional championship, beating Chelmsford 29-12 in the final.

Reading and Chelmsford both earned automatic bids to Tuesday night's New England Championship, at Bishop Fenwick. Andover won last year's New England title at Gillette Stadium by beating Reading, 19-7, in the finals.

"It feels great to win it again. I mean, it was much more important this year, because we had a lot of young guys," Belcher said. "We lost all our receivers, so we had a lot of juniors who were great today. It really helped working routes, figuring out our offense, getting all those guys in with the varsity. That was big."

Belcher found success with targets such as Will Murray and Mike Senfuma, but where he scored biggest was with receiver Rob DiLoreto.

In the semifinals against Buckingham, Browne & Nichols, the Rockets continually exploited a seam over the deep middle with vertical routes. DiLoreto continuously ran posts from the slots, splitting the safeties downfield, and Belcher went to him over and over.

Against Chelmsford in the finals, DiLoreto exposed the sidelines for big gains. On the Rockets' second offensive drive, coming after a tip-drill interception, the Rockets marched the entire 40 yards in one play, DiLoreto running a corner route to the first-down marker at the 25-yard line, side-stepping a defender and reversing direction for an easy scamper into the end zone. On the first play of the next Reading drive, Belcher hooked up with DiLoreto deep down the right sideline for first and goal at the nine; Belcher found a receiver for a touchdown on an inside slant the next play.

"After last year, we really know [each other]," Belcher said. "I can just tell him to run a seam, and I'll know if he's going to stop, I'll know if he's going to keep going, if he's going to break out. We have a lot of flexibility with that route, and we have really good chemistry on it, and it worked well today."

Two plays into the ensuing Chelmsford drive, the Rockets defense came up with another tip-drill pick, and Belcher put on the finishing touches. On the first play, the Rockets ran a post-wheel combination down the left sideline, leaving Murray wide open for the final score of the day.

Some other notes and observations from yesterday's tournament:

Fun and Gun: Lowell is a preseason favorite in the Merrimack Valley Conference, thanks to a well-oiled offense that returns many integral pieces from a season ago, when they finished 9-2.

Plain and simple, this is going to be one of the most entertaining offenses to watch, up there with Natick and St. John's of Shrewsbury. Offensive coordinator Brian Christopher draws up some funky stuff, utilizing pistol sets with spread principles as well as some zone read and an array of screens. In pool play yesterday, they put defenses in a bind with layered route combinations, including a unique “double wheel” set that had two receivers breaking off at different depths from the same path.

For an idea of what all of this looks like on film, take a look at rising senior wide receiver Jack Galvin’s Hudl highlights (take note of the packaged plays, particularly the zone read triple option).

The Red Raiders had a good showing, going 3-1 in pool play with their lone loss coming to Lynn English on the final play of the game. They lost to Arlington in overtime in the “Sweet 16” round, but not before impressing those in attendance with their deep arsenal of quality skill players.

Galvin is the biggest name of the bunch, a precise route-runner whose quick reflexes help him get great leverage on defenders and catch difficult balls in traffic. His speed is also a factor -- Galvin was one of the fastest hurdlers during indoor track season, with a 7.94 time in the 55-meter. But also take note of Musa Mansaray, a two-way player who is pretty physical at cornerback, and has recorded a time as fast as 15.5 in the 110-meter hurdles during outdoor track season. Scatback Ndeiva Mason, a waterbug who is shifty in space, will attract attention as well.

The biggest question mark for Lowell will be at quarterback, where they must replace the dynamic Cam Latta. Keep an eye on senior Brian Dolan, a baseball star who transferred from Lawrence Academy midway through last school year and has plenty of zip on his throws. Latta’s younger brother, Keegan, should have a breakthrough campaign as well.

Nothing new on Belcher recruiting: Scouts seem to be divided on how Belcher projects at the next level. He has heard from a wide variety of Division 1 FCS schools, including Delaware, Villanova and Lafayette. There has also been varying degrees of inquiry at the FBS level, including UMass and Boston College (his uncle, Bedford head coach Jack Belcher, is a former BC player). Still, Belcher has no offers to report at this time.

"A lot of them want to see senior film," Belcher said.

Asked about rumors college scouts would consider moving him to another position, such as tight end, Belcher said, "I haven't been talked to for any other position. I've been talked to only for quarterback."

Dream come true for McCaffrey: BB&N's showing at the tournament came less than 24 hours after senior wide receiver/defensive back Mike McCaffrey gave a verbal commitment to Holy Cross, a school where his last name carries some heavy weight.

Both his parents are Holy Cross alums. His father, James McCaffrey, was a basketball standout in the mid-80's, getting picked in the sixth round by the Phoenix Suns in the 1986 NBA Draft and being inducted into the school's Hall of Fame in 1992. Mike has been to the campus many times over the years, mostly for basketball, and has always been fond of the place.

"It was a place I always wanted to go, ever since I was a little kid," McCaffrey said. "It was just a place that I loved. I went there in the winter, and it was just a place I always wanted to go. It's got great people, great football, great academics, it just has it all."

Of his anticipated role with the Crusaders, McCaffrey says he was told by head coach Tom Gilmore he thinks he can fit at cornerback. But more importantly, McCaffrey said, "after the one-day camp in June, he [Gilmore] said I was a very, very competitive kid, and that's what they like in me."

McCaffrey has been timed as fast as 4.52 seconds in the 40-yard dash, and that speed showed well on Saturday, playing mostly split out wide and beating defenders deep. Speed runs in the McCaffrey gene; his brother, Jimmy, is a defensive back for Boston College, and at BB&N established himself as one of the most dynamic kick returners to come through Massachusetts in recent years.

During summers, when Jimmy is home, the two will often head to the FieldTurf at their hometown Winchester High School and work on a number of drills.

"He's been a real big influence in my life," Mike said.

A number of BB&N players stood out on the day in addition to McCaffrey. Quarterback Cole O'Connor timed his throws well with targets like running back Frank Williams, but on the defensive side Augie Lin was among the more impressive coverage players. In pool play against Watertown, Lin was paired against 6-foot-4 receiver T.J. Hairston, a long, lanky prospect with good agility. Giving up half a foot to Hairston, Lin played him tight in press coverage. Hairston had a great rip move to the outside against his press, and towards the end of the game came up with a tip-drill pick on defense. But most of the time, Lin got good shove off the line and jammed him inside.

Small-school stars show well: Hairston figures to be an imposing target with his slender, basketball-esque frame able to out-reach defenders on 50/50 balls. Several other small-school stars stood out as players to keep an eye on the next months.

Boston Cathedral junior wide receiver/safety Trehme Haney gave defensive backs fits all day in pool play, as the 6-foot-1, 184-poounder routinely reaching over or out-leaping double coverage for jump balls. His teammate Justice Turner, who came in third in Massachusetts in the 200-meter dash last fall, will be tough to man up.

Meanwhile, keep an eye on Bedford running back/defensive back Olan Abner, who passes the eye test with his physical maturity. The 5-foot-10, 190-pounder has heard from UMass, UNH and Central Connecticut State so far, and figures to project at strong safety for the next level.

Recap: Governor's Academy 36, BB&N 12

October, 6, 2012
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Jesse Gwozdz new perfectly when to hit the hole and when to wait in what was a multi-layered performance against host BB&N this afternoon.

Shadowing his trap blocker up the field, the junior opened his day by turning a simple dive play into an 80-yard touchdown scramble late in the first half. A drive later, Gwozdz was masterfully bobbing and weaving behind his punt blockers for a 66 yard score and a defining 29-12 halftime lead for the defending ISL champs

Doubling as both a big play producer and the defensive back tasked with covering 6-foot-5 Wake Forest-bound tight end Brendan O'Neil, Gwozdz totaled 173 yards and two touchdowns to drive Governor's (3-0) to the program's 12th consecutive victory with a 36-12 defeat of the Knights (1-2) at Nichols Field this afternoon.

“I stepped up the field real quick and no one was back there so I kept running,” said Gwozdz.

“Might be one of the best high school games I have seen one kid play on both sides of the ball,” added Governor's coach Jim O’Leary.

The Governors were aided by another strong performance from senior Elijah Morrissey who ran 21 times for 127 yards and a touchdown. The senior rushed for the Red Dogs' first score then broke a nine yard dive to set up the winning touchdown.

Down 12-7, Governor's senior quarterback Tate Jozokos found the outside edge on a bootleg sweep and scrambled nine yards for the
winner a 15-12 lead at 4:56 in the first.

“The defense has to take away certain things we do and as soon as they do that we go to the next option,” said O'Leary. “We keep setting each other up.”

Governor's scored 22 points in the final five minutes of the first half.

Early Prowess, Late Trouble: The Knight's looked to be in control early after forcing a pair of first-half turnover's to set up the first score then adding a touchdown to maintain there lead. However, 29 unanswered points and four second half turnovers stunted BB&N.

The Knights opened the scoring by turning a fumbled redzone pitch into a six-yard delayed pass through triple coverage from sophomore Cole O'Connor to O'Neil for a 6-0 advantage at 2:46 in the first quarter.

After allowing an 11-yard trap-play for six points by Morrissey, O'Connor worked a pair of quick passes to O'Neil and senior Willie Peoples, for seven and ten yards respectively, to set up another score.

A two-yard dive by O'Connor put the Knights ahead 12-6 early in the second half.

“We tried to find a couple weaknesses in their defense,” said BB&N coach John Papas. “(Quick passes) are part of our game plan. We just fell apart the last four minutes of the first half.

BB&N failed on an onside kick attempt following the score.

Quest to Repeat: A one yard pass from Jozokos to sophomore Colin Smith with six minutes remaining added the final points in what was another undefeated run to start the season for second year coach O'Leary. The Governor's head man lead his program to a 9-0 record last year, grabbing both the ISL title and a NEPSAC Bowl championship.

“It is just repetition,” said O'Leary. “You just have to keep going and get better and better at everything. We knew we were in for a fight and we came to play.”

GOV (3-0) 7- 22 - 0 - 7 --- 36
BBN (1-2) 6 - 6 - 0 - 0 --- 12

B – Brendan O'Neil 6 pass from Cole O'Connor (kick failed)
G – Eli Morrissey 11 run (Colin Smith kick)
B – O'Connor 2 run (pass failed)
G – Tate Jozokos 9 run (Jozokos run)
G – Jesse Gwozdz 80 run (Smith kick)
G – Jesse Gwozdz 66 punt return (Smith kick)
G – Smith 1 pass from Jozokos (Smith kick)