Boston High School: David Thompson

Amherst's Torres sprinting up the radar

August, 7, 2013
8/07/13
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From time to time this football offseason, we've made mention on this blog the amount of football talent rising in Western Mass. This time last year, Springfield Commerce linebacker Sha'ki Holines burst onto the scene, getting a number of Division 1 FBS/FCS looks before settling on UConn. Through much of the spring and summer, interest has slowly built for Springfield Central quarterback Cody Williams, who currently holds three FCS offers and could see more.

Is Amherst High rising junior Taj-Amir Torres the next big one out of the 413 area code?

Torres was named Massachusetts' Gatorade Player of the Year for track and field last June after winning state and New England championships in the 100-meter dash, taking the latter with a time of 10.73. One week after his New England victory on June 8, he placed ninth at New Balance Nationals in the 100.

On the gridiron, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Torres saw limited touches, thanks to the explosive emergence of running back Kieran Presley. On the season, Torres caught 24 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns, and made three interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown.

Still, he's got an impressive highlight tape to work with. Check out his Hudl reel by CLICKING HERE.

There is a considerable amount of hype beginning to build. Jim Pignatiello of the Daily Hampshire Gazette reported last month that Boston College, UConn and UMass have all extended scholarship offers; New Hampshire and Rhode Island have also expressed interest. You can't teach speed, and at camps at BC and UConn this summer he recorded 40 times of 4.40 and 4.41, respectively; his fastest 40 time this summer has been 4.38, according to head coach David Thompson.

"Taj is what we say extremely fast," said Thompson, himself a former All-American at UMass who briefly played with the St. Louis Rams. "He can catch the ball and he can turn around and play corner. Colleges are moving to quick, shifty guys in the slot, and he was New England's champ in 100-meter dash -- you can't coach that type of speed.

"The talent level is there. A lot of them are just waiting for him to show out, come out junior year and see how he does. Then they want him to gain 10 pounds, but he's actually put on some weight. They wanted him to get to 170 and he's 175 now. He's working extremely hard, he's a good kid."

Needless to say, Torres will be a focal point of the Hurricanes' gameplan this fall, in all three phases of the game.

"I'm just trying to get the ball in his hands every opportunity we get," Thompson said. "Whether it's out of the backfield, out of the slot, kick returns, punt returns, screens, I just wanna give him the chance to make plays. We're going to use him as much as we can and he's hungry right now, he wants to perform at the highest level possible."

Quick-hit thoughts from Thanksgiving football

November, 23, 2012
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1. The biggest thing that stood out to me from yesterday’s Natick-Framingham game was how efficient the Redhawks’ passing game remained despite limited touches by Brian Dunlap. The sophomore has an unheard-of 30 receiving touchdowns since his first varsity start last season, but for the first time in his career did not register a touchdown catch.

I posed this question to the Framingham defense in my pick Wednesday, and I’ll pose it again to Plymouth South -– how do you cover Brian Dunlap? But now, I’m wondering if bracketing or shading a safety to his side is even the best gameplan. The Natick coaching staff was pretty high on Alex Hilger before he missed most of the season with a broken collarbone, and yesterday we saw why. Athletically, he’s a terrific target who can stretch the field. Between Dunlap, Hilger and the recently-blooming Justin Robinson, it might be a case of "pick your poison".

Still, I think the key on Tuesday will be running back Nick Lee, who injured his ankle last month but looked solid yesterday. He told me yesterday his right ankle was “100 percent”, and anyone who watch Natick’s No. 9 win over Walpole knows that wasn’t the case.

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2. You could make a pretty solid list of elite players sitting at home after Thanksgiving -– Xaverian’s Maurice Hurst Jr., Catholic Memorial’s Peter Ngobidi, Needham’s Mike Panepinto and Nantucket’s Terrel Correia come to mind. But the one I was really looking forward seeing was Amherst running back Kieran Presley, who ended his career yesterday with 175 rushing yards and two scores on just 10 carries in a 35-15 win over Northampton.

We profiled Presley after his ridiculous 359-yard performance in a Nov. 2 win over Chicopee, and you can argue he is playing his best ball right now. He finished with 1,009 yards on the season, but 684 of those yards have come in the last three weeks – including four scores of 56 yards or longer. Head coach David Thompson also says there is varying degrees of interest from a scattering of Division 1 FBS and FCS programs, including UConn, Albany, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and James Madison.

It looks like the Hurricanes finally got their zone-blocking scheme down midway through the season, but unfortunately they’ll be on the outside looking in. Just a hunch, Thompson has a good thing going forward with this program.

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3. I said this on FOX 25 last night, and it bears mentioning again. For the most part, there isn’t an overwhelming favorite among any of the divisions in Eastern Mass. Out in Central Mass., Division 1 is wide open, and on paper Nashoba feels like the overwhelming favorite but this is a team that Doherty nearly upset earlier this season.

However, in Division 3 Central, it’s Auburn, Auburn, or Auburn. The Rockets are No. 9 in our statewide poll, and No. 1 in the Telegram & Gazette’s poll, for good reason. As a team, they’ve run for 2,863 yards and 44 touchdowns, with an average of 10 yards per carry, led by senior Tyler Desjardins (120 carries, 1,560 yards, 23 TD).

Much like USC’s student body right or Nebraska’s I-bone formation, there’s not a lot of trickeration to the domination – everybody knows what’s coming. The Rockets run primarily power sets with jumbo personnel, and have been blowing people off the ball all season. I’ve previously mused that in the past the Rockets have gotten by just on outweighing people at the point of attack (they average about 280 pounds across, after all), but this is a unit that seems to get more mobile every time out. All-State candidate Aaron Dyke is at the forefront of this, able to pull down and lead block on sweeps fluidly.

The rest of the field in Division 3 consists of Hudson, Tantasqua and Groton-Dunstable. To those three teams, I say good luck.

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4. Sharon’s Dave Morse, Stoughton’s Greg Burke and Plymouth South’s Scott Fry are on many short lists for Coach of the Year, and deservedly so. But I think we should also consider Upper Cape’s Mike Hernon for any such nod. In just his second year at the helm, he has the Rams in the playoffs as Mayflower Small champs, with a 10-1 record. The Rams are one of the highest-scoring teams in Division 4A (28.1 points per game), and they have junior running back Jon Dumont to thank for that. He had an impressive start to the season (89 carries, 889 yards, 11 TD in his first five games), and is a hard north-south runner with 40 speed allegedly in the 4.5 range.

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5. If Barnstable and Everett win out on Tuesday, then the Division 1A Super Bowl is by far the marquee game of the Gillette Stadium slate. Some of us -– myself included -– are probably wondering why that got the 3:30 p.m. slot instead of 6 p.m., which has been designated for Western Mass. Division 2. Especially considering the crowd for last year’s Western Mass. Super Bowl, an early-afternoon contest between Springfield Central and Longmeadow, was thoroughly a ghost town.

All of that considered, I might end up eating my words if Wahconah makes it. I had a conversation with noted Berkshire Eagle columnist Howard Herman the other day, and he assured me that if the Warriors make it to the Super Bowl, the town of Dalton “will shut down”. Hope he’s right.

Notes and thoughts from around MIAA football

November, 6, 2012
11/06/12
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Some thoughts and observations from this past weekend’s slate of football around the state:

1. Chris Sarni and the Wellesley Raiders are the darlings of the Bay State this week following their 40-34 win over Natick in one of the biggest upsets of the year, and rightfully so. Sarni is your classic undersized, overachieving high school quarterback, noted for his quick acceleration and vision, but also unafraid to tuck it and run downhill. But let’s give credit to the offensive line, too, which kept his jersey clean all afternoon.

During the preseason, I did a video with correspondent Greg Story for The Wellesley Channel, discussing the Raiders’ chances this season, and pointed out that while it would be an uphill battle for the Raiders under first-year head coach Jesse Davis, history says the best rebuilding jobs start between the hashes. Having been a varsity wrestling coach at Wellesley the last four years, Davis can tell you a thing or two about that.

“The crossover is undeniable,” Davis said. “I’ve been preaching it since taking over the wrestling program. In terms of balance and strengths, close combat, playing with your hands, power angles, tackling, toughness, it’s literally the best thing you can do as an offensive lineman.”

Whereas in his first year he found himself dragging kids out, in year four it’s become as much a staple of the offseason regimen as a bench press. This year’s Raiders line averages roughly 210 across, but features four wrestlers –- left guard Ben Wardwell, center Dan Farina, and wrestling captains Will Dario (right guard) and Zach Zeytonjian (left tackle) –- who make up for lack of size with athleticism and first-step explosion.

“We want athletes on the offensive line,” Davis said. “I don’t want big, tubby, 300-pound kids. We want kids that can run.”

Needless to say, toppling one of the state’s most prolific offenses validates everything Davis has been preaching in year one. The Raiders may be out of contention for 2012 championship hardware, but definitely keep a watch out for them come next fall.

2. I suddenly find myself intrigued with Amherst running back Kieran Presley, who broke the school’s single-game record for yards from scrimmage in a 42-22 win over Chicopee. Presley ran for 359 yards on 21 carries and caught three passes for 60 yards, totaling four touchdowns; in the process he passed one of the Hurricanes’ all-time greats, Marcus Williams, who totaled 402 in a 2001 win over Minnechaug. Williams went on to be the all-time leading rusher at the University of Maine, and had a cup of coffee with the Indianapolis Colts.

“He’s probably one of the best athletes in Western Mass., he’s been underrated,” said first-year head coach David Thompson, himself a former offensive lineman at UMass. “He’s a Hell of a lacrosse player, he can play basketball, he long jumps and ran a leg in the 4x200, that’s the type of athlete he is.

“You can probably put him in any sport and he’ll excel, and he’s not gonna be a non-contributor—he’ll contribute. He can easily go to college in two sports, that’s the type of athlete he is. He has all the tools to play at the next level.”

So why haven’t we heard much about him until this fall? Presley didn’t get many carries last year, running in a three-back system. This year, Thompson has installed a pro-style offense more suited to his strengths, utilizing modified “Ace” personnel groupings (in Thompson’s case, one back with one tight end and three wideouts) with zone-blocking schemes up front. Presley is a patient runner, but a quick accelerator equipped with a few lacrosse-style moves and a gliding stride.

Rutgers is Presley’s dream school, but he has seen varied degrees of interest across Divisions 1 and 2, among them UConn, Albany, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and James Madison. The Hurricanes are currently 5-3, and will go for their third straight win this weekend. They could be one of the more interesting playoff teams to watch, if everything plays out accordingly.

3. Now that Barnstable has claimed the Old Colony League outright for the second straight year, many folks are clamoring for what would be the marquee Super Bowl championship game at Gillette Stadium, a rematch between the No. 1 (and undefeated) Red Raiders and Everett for the Division 1A title game. Not so fast, people. How quickly we all forget what happened last year, when the Raiders met Lincoln-Sudbury down in Taunton for a Tuesday night playoff and fell 14-13, helped by a ridiculous one-handed catch from Jack Harris. L-S appears to be on the inside track for a third straight Dual County League large division title, and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if they’re the ones marching into Gillette.

4. I’ll preface this by saying I am in no position to criticize college coaches for whom they decide to offer athletic scholarships and preferred walk-on spots to. And I'm fully aware how hard it is to get over the size of Holy Name’s Quron Wright, even if he’s the state’s leading rusher. But after watching 5-foot-5 Trindon Holliday return a kickoff 105 yards on Sunday for the Broncos, and enjoying 5-foot-5 Division 2 product Danny Woodhead’s steady place in the Patriots’ running back rotation the last three seasons, you mean to tell me there isn’t a college coach in New England willing to look past Wright’s unmistakably Lilliputian frame and at least see if the kid can handle?

5. If you’re a fan of power running, you have to love Friday’s matchup between Plymouth South and Nauset for pole position in the Atlantic Coast League. South’s Dylan Oxsen leads the state in rushing touchdowns (28) and is two weeks removed from one of the more explosive performances of the season, a 301-yard, six-TD effort in a surprise rout of Dennis-Yarmouth. The Panthers run a modified pistol scheme, sometimes even utilizing two fullbacks in addition to Oxsen at tailback. Based on the highlights I’ve seen, the Panthers are very downhill, and very efficient at running power plays.

Then you have Nauset, masters of the single wing, so respected they even have an entry devoted to them on Wikipedia. At the helm is junior Jimmy Sullivan (972 rushing yards, 491 passing yards), the de facto quarterback in a quarterback-less offense, running behind Brown-bound two-way lineman Dakota Girard. Keith Kenyon’s ancient offense adds another layer of mystique to a program already shrouded in it (Hey, the school is inside a national park, after all).

6. This past summer, I watched Andover win a 7-on-7 tournament at Gillette Stadium running 5-foot-6 speedster Cam Farnham on underneath routes into the perimeters. Two weeks ago, I watched Billerica's Jordan Balarinho carve up the No. 1 team in the land with a heavy bevy of short, quick passes to the sticks. Now I see Lowell wideout Jack Galvin's stat line from last weekend's upset of Andover (15 catches, 159 yards, 4 TD) and it gets me thinking. I know we've joked about it, but maybe we really should consider renaming the Merrimack Valley Conference, "Death By 1,000 Shallow Crosses". Has a nice ring to it, no?

Barrett eyeing another strong U.S. Junior Amateur

July, 15, 2012
7/15/12
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STRATHAM, N.H. -– Keene, N.H., resident Chelso Barrett came within one match-play victory of winning the 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship. This week he'll give it another try.

Barrett, who will be a senior at Keene High School in the fall, is among the 156-player field in this year's U.S. Junior Amateur, which begins Monday at The Golf Club of New England in Stratham, N.H.

“I like [the course],” Barrett said following Sunday's practice round. “It has a lot of New England characteristics design-wise. It favors somebody who plays the percentage shots. It's not a course you can get overly aggressive on.”

Jordan Spieth, the low amateur at last month's U.S. Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, beat Barrett 6 and 5 in last year's championship match at Gold Mountain Golf Club in Bremerton, Wash. Spieth, who also won the U.S. Junior Amateur in 2009, is not in this year's field. Spieth and Tiger Woods are the only players who have won the U.S. Junior Amateur more than once. Woods won the event in 1991, 1992 and 1993.

“There's pressure, but it's a good kind of pressure – not a nervous pressure,” Barrett said. “I don't feel like I have to perform for anybody.”

Barrett, who has committed to play golf at Texas Christian University, is one of seven New England residents who will participate in this week's tournament, which features golfers who have yet to turn 18. The others are Brian Butler (West Hartford, Conn.), Jake Shuman (Needham, Mass), David Thompson (Shrewsbury, Mass.), Connor Greenleaf (Windham, N.H.), James Park (Deerfield, Mass.) and Danny Guise (Greenwich, Conn.).

“Making the cut is the first thing,” Greenleaf said. “The top 64 would be great. From then on the more matches I win the better. I'll try to make it as far as I can.”

The tournament will include two days of stroke play, after which the field will be trimmed to the low 64 scores plus ties. A round of match play will be held Wednesday, followed by two rounds of match play on Thursday and Friday. Saturday's championship match is scheduled for 36 holes.

This is the first time the USGA has held a championship in New Hampshire. The event is open to the public at no charge.

Greenleaf's threesome on Monday will include Beau Hossler, who made a name for himself by turning in a strong performance at last month's U.S. Open. Hossler was four shots behind the leader after 54 holes, but tied for 29th after shooting 76 in the final round.

Hossler was the medalist in last year's U.S. Junior Amateur.

“That'll be fun,” Greenleaf said. “Who didn't see him play in the U.S. Open?”

Jim Liu is the only past champion in the field. Liu became the youngest champion in the tournament's history when the prevailed in the 2010 event at age 14.

“Right now it's all about getting to match play,” Greenleaf said.

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