Boston High School: Davon Jones

SHREWSBURY, Mass. –- Hard to believe it’s been nearly three years since St. John’s last won a football contest over neighboring rival Shrewsbury, and so this one had been circled on the Pioneers’ calendar from the first day of training camp this summer.

And for senior running back Shane Combs, there was an extra jump in his step -– literally.

[+] EnlargeTim Cassidy
Brendan Hall/ESPNSt. John's QB Tim Cassidy (3 total TDs) turned in an admirable performance just hours after the burial of his great-grandfather.
The Notre Dame baseball commit didn't just juke, jive and plow his way to a 19-carry, 201-yard, three-touchdown performance in the Pioneers' 52-20 drubbing of the Colonials. He also discovered just what kind of leaping ability he has in his arsenal, too.

Combs had never hurdled anybody before in a game, and teammates say there wasn't anything the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder has done in practice to suggest he was capable of hurdling straight over defenders. Yet there he was on the first carry of the game, taking a pitch-out eight yards and taking even himself by surprise when he jumped straight over a Shrewsbury linebacker.

"They were ankle-biting a little bit," Combs said. "If you’re gonna go low. . .The first time, I don’t even know why I did it at all -– I was like, ‘Oh God, that just happened’. And then after a while, they kept going low, so I just kept going over them I guess. I don’t know how to explain it, just reaction I guess."

Combs did this five more times in the first half, including what ought to be one of the top highlight-reel plays of the season, taking a 22-yard screen pass from Tim Cassidy (7 of 15, 155 yards, 3 total TD) and hurdling one defender after another down the sideline before being pushed out at the Colonials seven. That would set up Cassidy's seven-yard plunge on the very next play that made it 21-7 Pioneers midway through the second quarter.

After that run, Combs recalled, "I came off the field and said, ‘I’ve got to stop doing this, because someone’s going to come in high and stick me in mid-air’."

"He’s a pretty athletic kid," St. John's head coach John Andreoli said. "If you see him at the tailback spot, that’s why when he gets the ball in the open field he’s dangerous. He can run you over, he can jump over you, he can cut and go the other way. He’s a guy you need to get the ball in his hands."

That they did, early and often. On the Pioneers' second offensive drive of the game, Combs took the first three carries, including a 32-yard toss capped with a hurdling of a defender to set up first and 10 at the Colonials' 18. The drive ended with a three-yard Cassidy keeper, following junior right guard Sean Ragan over the goal line for the 7-0 advantage.

"It’s real easy when you can follow a 285-pound kid who’s getting looked at by D1 schools," Cassidy laughed.

The Pioneers put another score on the ground, this one a 15-yard Combs dive, before the Colonials cut the lead in half just before the end of the first quarter. Quarterback Jack Campanale tossed up a fade to sophomore Brian Moura, who hauled it in and juked across a defensive back's face for a 61-yard completion that set up Anthony Laramee's two-yard scoring plunge two plays later.

Combs' final hurdle of the day made it 28-7 with under two minutes to go in the first half, taking a direct snap and leaping his way to a 51-yard scamper, before Jack Campanale threaded a jump ball to his brother Casey with time expired, getting his feet just inbounds near the back pylon for a 24-yard score.

St. John's dominated the second half, starting with an 80-yard strike from Combs to Davon Jones (5 catches, 194 yards, 2 TD), the Boston College commit wriggling himself free of several arm tackles to break downfield and set up first and goal at the Colonials' 7. Combs rumbled in one play later for the 35-14 advantage.

That was followed by two dazzling scores from Jones, a 30-yard inside zone and a 40-yard catch-and-run.

"Sometimes you can over-adjust, but we didn’t want to do that," Andreoli said. "I thought we had a solid game plan. We knew they were gonna come out and try to throw a little on us in the second half, so we got a little less aggressive in some of our blitzes and played a little more man coverage to try to take away the quick throws. But overall, I thought it was a good defensive effort."

The 52 points scored by St. John's is the most since last November, when they snapped a losing skid to Leominster by winning a 52-42 track meet on the Blue Devils' home turf for the inaugural MIAA Division 2 Central Championship. After a slow start out of the gates -- highlighted by a 10-3 loss to Catholic Memorial back in Week 3 -- the Pioneers feel like they are coming into a groove, having now outscored the opposition 87-20 in the last eight quarters.

"[This was] hugely gratifying. We worked really hard this week," Combs said. "I think we had a completely new level of intensity in our preparation. We prepared for this one like we haven’t prepared for a game all season."

Heavy hearts for Cassidy: This week was an especially difficult one for Cassidy, whose great-grandfather, Frank Nosek, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 95 to natural causes. The funeral for Nosek was held this morning in his hometown of Clinton, and Cassidy came straight from there to Pioneer Field.

"It was a really nice funeral, my uncle did a really nice eulogy. It really motivated me today," Cassidy said.

Choking up ever so slightly as he recounted his week to a group of reporters, Cassidy fondly recalled his final visit with Novak, last Sunday, and the honor he felt on the field this afternoon.

"We walked in and he smiled. He couldn’t say anything, but just the expression on his face meant so much to me," Cassidy said of the Sunday visit. "It was a pretty emotional week, between practice and having to come home and help my mom, who was pretty close with him, and my grandmother was having a really hard time. To be able to play today for him was the best thing possible."

Noting that this game had already been circled long ago, he added, "I did the best I could to make him proud."

Player of the Game: St. John's Davon Jones

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
8:58
PM ET
SHREWSBURY, Mass. -- Senior Davon Jones was a force on both sides in our Game of the Week for No. 5 St. John's, leading the Pioneers to a 42-13 rout of rival No. 16 Leominster.

But it's his performance from the free safety position that put them over the top. The Boston College commit recorded 10 tackles and two interceptions, to go with 39 offensive yards and a touchdown, to rule the day.

For that, Jones was named our "Player of the Game". ESPN Boston High Schools editor Brendan C. Hall caught up with Jones following the win.

(Video by Greg Story)

ESPN Boston state football championship predictions

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

Scott Barboza, ESPNBoston.com High Schools Editor

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

Brendan C. Hall, ESPNBoston.com High Schools Editor

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 25 Countdown: Nos. 5-1

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
8:26
PM ET
Last Monday, we unveiled our fifth annual statewide preseason Top 25 poll. Today, we continue our annual countdown of the poll with our final installment, featuring our top five teams.

In case you missed our earlier installments: 25-21 | 20-16 | 15-11 | 10-6

NO. 5 ST. JOHN'S (SHREWSBURY)
Coach: John Andreoli (11th year, 92-31)
Last season: Division 2 state finalists, lost 28-14 to Mansfield
Returning starters: 11 (4 offense, 7 defense)
Key returners: Davon Jones, Sr., RB/DB, 5-10, 185 lbs; Sam Norton, Sr., DT, 5-9, 210 lbs, Nick Calvano, Sr., WR/DB, 5-7, 175 lbs; Shane Combs, Sr., QB/RB/DB, 6-1, 210 lbs.
Strengths: Defense, physical strength
Weaknesses: Experience
Outlook: Another year, another deep and talented starting lineup boasted by the Pioneers, last year’s Central Mass. Division 2 champion. The Pioneers lost some major contributors off of last year’s team, including all-state quarterback Andrew Smiley, but coach John Andreoli is confident especially in the ability Combs, Jones, and Calvano to make big plays on the offensive side of the ball. Currently, Combs is splitting equal reps at quarterback with Tim Cassidy. “The jury is still out,” Andreoli said on the quarterback decision, “Both he and Tim Cassidy are taking equal snaps. They both have very different skillsets...it’s a different look when each one of them is in there.” Jones, a hard-hitting Boston College-committed safety, has proven to be one of the state’s top players over the past couple of years, but it’s his on the field leadership that is standing out so far this fall. Jones is the only four-year starter in the history of the program. “The thing that impresses me most about him is that he's really assumed a leadership position, with the way he conducts himself on the field, and the way he takes control of the defense,” Andreoli said, “And offensively the level of maturity that he has brought takes him to the next level.” Several players have found a way to make a name for themselves early on in camp, partly too because of the work they put in over the offseason. Andreoli said that this year’s team has the most physical strength collectively of any squad that he’s coached at St. John’s: “The amount of guys that we had were able to bench 185 for multiple reps was the most we ever had here. That's kind of been the foundation as the first thing. On the defensive side of the ball, our secondary has really shown a tremendous amount of speed, athleticism, and physicality in our first week.” Keep a close eye on Marc-Eddy Paul, Michael Corinna, Mitch Earley, and Sam Kloczkowski – all of whom have made a big early impact early on in practice.
-CHRISTIAN BRADLEY


NO. 4 MANSFIELD
Coach: Michael Redding (27th, 217-66-4)
2013 Record: 13-0, Division 2 State Champions
Returning Starters: 11 (5 offensive, 6 defensive)
Key Players: Brendan Hill, Sr. TE/SE 6-5, 228 lbs; Mike Carpino, Sr. OL/DL 5-9, 210 lbs; Tyler Smith, Sr. OL 6-1, 205 lbs; Andrew Horstmann, Sr. OL 6-2, 225 lbs; Curtis Boisvert, Sr. RB/DB 5-8, 180 lbs; Joe Moreshead, Sr. LB 5-10, 180 lbs; Q'ra Guichard, Sr. LB 5-8, 195 lbs; Connor Finerty, Jr. LB 5-11, 195 lbs; Nick Borsari, Sr. DL 6-2, 270 lbs; C.J. Daniel, Sr. LB 5-11, 170 lbs.
Strengths: Offensive line, linebackers, defensive line, running backs/receivers
Weaknesses: Inexperience in the secondary, adapting offense to personnel
Outlook: The Hornets completed their own version of a revenge tour last year, turning a loss in the 2012 D2 EMass Finals into an undefeated 2013 season and winning the first ever Division 2 State Championship. The biggest concern for the Hornets will come on offense and finding the pieces to replace quarterback Kyle Wisnieski, receivers Michael Hershman and Kyle Hurley and the elusive Miguel Villar-Perez. But to counter that, Mansfield possesses one of the most talented tight ends in the entire state in Brendan Hill, a member of the ESPNBoston Preseason All-State Team. Hill, who has received interest from multiple D1 programs, will likely garner the majority of attention from defenses so Mansfield will need to develop other options. Matt Carafa will likely step in and be QB1 for the Hornets while Curtis Boisvert will see a good amount of carries out of the backfield. Last year, Michael Redding talked about having some inexperience on the offensive line but this year they return three starters – Carpino, Smith, and Horstmann – and will rely on their line to help carry the offense. Defensively, the front seven is very strong led by linebackers Q'Ra Guichard and Joe Moreshead, arguably two of the more underrated players in the Hockomock League. They also return linebackers Connor Finerty and CJ Daniel as well as Brendan Hill and Nick Borsari, who will both be on the defensive line. The question on defense will be about replacing the strong defensive backs they had a season ago, led by Mike Barresi and Aurien Dawkins. Boisvert will likely be called on to be the anchor of that group. It won't be an easy start either for Mansfield as they begin the season on the road in New York against powerhouse Archbishop Stepinac.
-RYAN LANIGAN

NO. 3 EVERETT
Head Coach: John DiBiaso (23rd season at Everett, 271-66-1 overall)
2013: 8-2, lost Division 1 North final to Central Catholic
Returning starters: 13 (6 offense, 7 defense)
Key Players: Lukas Denis, Sr. Ath./DB, 6-0, 175 lbs.; Nick Orekoya, Sr. RB, 5-10, 200 lbs.; J.J. Colimon, Jr. TE/DL, 6-4, 250 lbs.; Erick Browne, Sr. OT/DT, 6-3, 270 lbs.; Mark Cardwell, Sr. 6-0, 225 lbs.; Jordan McAfee, Soph. QB.
Strengths: Athleticism in offensive and defensive backfield; size and physicality on offensive line.
Weaknesses: Lack of game experience at key positions.
Outlook: Perhaps more than any Everett team in recent memory, this year’s edition of the Tide is full of X-factors. The hype is abundant, but there are lingering questions. The athletic potential is apparent, but there’s a lack of on-field experience together. The one surefire thing the Crimson Tide do have returning is Lukas Denis, who joined the long lineage of Everett defensive backs to give their commitment to Boston College. Denis, who’s on-ball coverage skills are unparalleled in the region, will again be relied upon heavily as a hybrid back/wide receiver. Of course, that too depends on which form Everett’s offense will take. There are big things predicted for sophomore signal-caller Jordan McAfee whose yet to make a start. Meanwhile, Billerica transfer Nick Orekoya provides a stout presence at running back – one that can both break tackles and out-run hits. On defense, the Crimson Tide are short on game experience at linebacker, but should be able to generate on the pass rush with senior Mark Cardwell.
-SCOTT BARBOZA

NO. 2 CENTRAL CATHOLIC
Head Coach: Chuck Adamopoulos (18th season, 123-62)
2013: 11-1, won Division 1 State championship
Returning starters: 11 (5 offense, 6 defense)
Key Players: Michael Milano, Sr. QB, 6-1, 170 lbs.; Michael Balsamo, Sr. RB/S, 6-1, 202 lbs.; Markus Edmunds, Sr. RB/ILB, 5-11, 210 lbs.; Jorge Elias, Sr. G/DT, 6-0, 215 lbs.; Pat Dziedzic, Sr. OT/DT, 6-1, 220 lbs.; Dan MacDonald, Sr. OT/DT, 6-3, 260 lbs.; Justin Landry, Sr. C/ NG, 5-11, 270 lbs.
Strengths: Experience at quarterback, inside linebacker and safety; defensive front seven; big game experience.
Weaknesses: Lack of game experience at wide receiver and outside linebacker; kicking game.
Outlook:The Raiders rolled through Everett and Xaverian on the Road to Gillette and snuck up on some observers – we’re included – en route to the state’s first true state championship in Division 1. This year, they’ll be the targeted team, with a good mix of returning key contributors from last year’s title team. The added good news for Central is that many of its returning starters are back at its most important positions. That includes senior four-year starting quarterback Michael Milano, who was among the statistical statewide leaders in just about every category during last year’s playoffs. “He led our team in rushing last year and, I think for the people that followed us every week, that while [Cody] Demers made a lot of the big plays, Michael [Milano] did a lot of the things that made us successful, making such a big jump from his sophomore to his junior season.” The Raiders also return a few key members of its vaunted 3-4 defense, including free safety Michael Balsamo and inside linebacker Markus Edmunds. Edmunds, who led the team in tackles last year while eclipsing the century mark, will be working beside a new-look linebacking corps, but “I don’t know if he’s going to have a better year statistically this year because he was so good last year, but he’s going to have a lot more on his shoulders. We had two seniors at outside linebacker last year, who were both pretty smart kids as football players and they helped him make calls. So he’s got a little bit more on him in a leadership role.”
-SCOTT BARBOZA

NO. 1 XAVERIAN
Coach: Charlie Stevenson (21st season, 172-62-1)
2013: 10-2, lost in Division 1 State Championship
Returning Starters: 15 (6 offense, 9 defense)
Key Returnees: Joe Gaziano, Sr. TE/DE, 6-4, 242 lbs.; Damion Wood, Sr. WR/FS, 5-11, 200 lbs.; Joe Parsons, Sr. OT/DT, 6-5, 285 lbs.; Jake Farrell, Sr. QB, 6-3, 185 lbs.; Noah Sorrento, Sr. RB/OLB, 5-9, 185 lbs.; Kenny Kern, Sr. FB/MLB, 6-0, 227 lbs.; Elijah Pierre, Jr. OL/NG, 6-0, 260 lbs.; Mekhi Henderson, Soph. CB, 5-9, 175 lbs.; D'Aundre Holmes, Jr. RB/FB/OLB, 5-11, 205 lbs.; Coby Tippett, Jr. WR/CB, 5-9, 165 lbs.; Ernest Simon, Sr. WR/CB, 5-9, 180 lbs.; Nick Allsop, Jr. C/DT, 6-3, 248 lbs.
Strengths: Defense, experience at quarterback, skill position depth
Weaknesses: Experience at offensive line.
Outlook: There’s no hiding it, and there’s no way the coaching staff can sandbag it: This defense is going to be pretty good. Led by the Northwestern-bound Gaziano, the reigning ESPN Boston Defensive Player of the Year, the Hawks return virtually everyone defensively, and are solid at just about every position in the front seven. The strength of the defense may lay in the secondary, where the Coastal Carolina-bound Wood has been playing with a violent chip so far this preseason, and the quick-twitched Henderson figures to be the top draw at corner after a promising freshman campaign. "He’s a fierce competitor," Stevenson said of Wood. "He likes to make plays against the opponent, and I think he’s serious about that. He’s playing hard when he’s out there, that’s a good thing to have." Offensively, the Hawks have a few holes to fill, but on the right side they should be fine with the UMass-bound Parsons returning at right tackle. Gaziano was mostly used in-line for run support last season, but the Hawks have so far experimented with him in a "flex" role, lining him up in the slot or splitting him out wide. He made a few dazzling grabs in Saturday’s scrimmage with B-R, and it’s hard to imagine a scenario where the traditionally conservative Hawks don’t get him more involved in the passing game this fall. "When he gets inside a cornerback, that’s a big body for the cornerback to come through," Stevenson said. "He’s a big guy who can run and catch, and once he catches the ball –- I’m not gonna say he’s quick –- but he brings a pretty good load with him. Clearly, we’re going to get him more involved in our pass attack." Farrell, a baseball star during the spring, is entering his second year under center and demonstrates above-average arm strength. He won’t be depended upon to run the ball, with the entire backfield back, but his improvisational skills are noteworthy.
-BRENDAN C. HALL
ESPN's Scouts Inc. division has completed its evaluations and rankings for the top high school players in the 2015 class for Massachusetts. While there are no four-star recruits in this year's class, there are certainly some intriguing picks.

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
This is the second in our annual "Impact Player" series, taking a closer look at some of the state's top players as we draw closer to the start of MIAA football season. To see past Impact Players, CLICK HERE. As always, the names of opposing high school coaches commenting are withheld.

If the body is a sword, St. John's two-way star Davon Jones knows how to swing his violently.

The book on Jones has been out for a while, ever since he showed up in the secondary as a freshman against Xaverian in 2011 and launched downhill to meet star running back Maurice Hurst Jr. -- a two-time All-State defensive tackle, now playing at Michigan -- squarely for one of the year's most brutal collisions. Since then, he's only blossomed, as much a force on the gridiron as he is on the hardwood (he's led the Pioneers to two basketball district titles, starting at point guard).

Jones is coming off a brilliant 2013 campaign in which he racked up 125 tackles and eight interceptions from the free safety position, earning ESPN Boston All-State honors as the Pioneers reached the inaugural MIAA Division 2 State Championship at Gillette Stadium. He was also a problem on offense, where he was the Pioneers' second-leading receiver with 50 catches for 680 yards and seven touchdowns. Last month, he gave a verbal commitment to Boston College, the latest FBS-level commit for a program that has become a steady pipeline for Division 1 college programs in the Northeast.

This fall, Jones will be the first four-year starter for St. John's under the regime of head coach John Andreoli -- something even NFL rookies Richard Rodgers (Packers) and Rob Blanchflower (Steelers) didn't do in their time with the program.

With a knack for menacing hits and a sometimes freakish high-pointing ability, Jones is expected to be among the early contenders for this year's ESPN Boston Mr. Football Award, given annually to the state's top player. He'll be saddled with high expectations, but if history means anything, he should be up to the task.

Player: Davon Jones
School: St. John’s of Shrewsbury
Hometown: Worcester, Mass.
Listed Height/Weight: 5-foot-11, 185 pounds
Scouts Inc. Grade: 3 Stars (72 overall)
Scouts Inc. Rank: 8 -- Mass.
College: Boston College
Key 2013 stat: Playing deep as a free safety, registered 125 tackles and eight interceptions.
Workout stat: Has a 38-inch vertical leap.

Highlight Film:
Opposing Coaches: "Davon is a pure defensive back, he has all the tools to succeed in the ACC. The thing I love about Davon is that he also plays with a chip on his shoulder and takes the game to his opponents. Big plays have always been his calling card, and will be in the future playing for coach Don Brown. ... That’s my dude, one of favorite guys, he’s so explosive. I love the edge he had to him, I loved that attitude. I thought he was electric. What a player. His physical ability, his ability to change direction, his vertical leap, he is a big time talent. ... In terms of his physicality, I thought he brought it, he came downhill very well. I haven’t seen in our area a kid with his skill set and ability in a while. I really like him him a lot, and I told everybody about him. Every school I went to with my kids on the recruiting trail, I said ‘Hey, you gotta see this kid play’. ... His ability to explode off the ground is tremendous. I think he’s one of those guys that it’s going to take until he actually gets into camp to figure out which side of the ball he belongs, because he’s really effective. I almost think he’d be really tough to cover in the slot position."

Scouts Inc.: "Jones has the minimal size requirements for the defensive safety position at the Power Conference level of play. This is an athletic prospect who shows production as a deep safety, wide receiver and special team's punt/kickoff return specialist; shows quicker than fast playing speed rather than a breakaway burst. ... This is an instinctive player who plays his position efficiently; reacts quickly to the pass but tends to sit back a little when defending against the run. Doesn't get out of position or let the ball get behind him. ... Displays good zone coverage ability; plays off the hash, showing good route awareness with eyes on the quarterback; reacts quickly to the outside, demonstrating the ability to crossover and gain vertical depth; overlaps to the outside, showing outstanding high point interception ball skills. Is quick to plant and break on underneath throws. ... Jones does a good job locating and getting into creases when returning punts and kickoffs. Handles the ball cleanly while demonstrating the elusiveness needed to make the first man miss. Runs an elementary route tree efficiently (stop/stop and go, bubble screen package); displays elusive, quicker than fast playing speed. Most likely will need a red shirt year to grow physically while polishing technique."

Bottom Line: You don't rack up 125 tackles playing 15 yards off the ball if you're a passive kid. Part of Jones' allure is his aggression, and the abandon with which he arrives at the point of attack. But he's also got the natural physical tools to go along with it, high-pointing passes like few others we've seen in our time covering high schools for ESPN Boston. We know his capabilities on defense, but where he lines up on offense will be one of the more interesting subplots of the preseason. He was a home run threat at "X" receiver last season in Andreoli's "Blur" offense, but he's also shown eminence at running back and slot receiver during his time with the program.

Our 2014 Summer Football Primer

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

Brendan Hall
ESPN Boston High Schools Editor


FIVE PLAYERS ON THE RISE

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

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

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

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

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

FIVE TEAMS THAT WILL SURPRISE

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

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

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

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

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

Hall's Preseason Top 10:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FOOD FOR THOUGHT:

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

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

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

***

Scott Barboza
ESPN Boston High Schools Editor


FIVE PLAYERS ON THE RISE

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

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

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

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

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

FIVE TEAMS THAT WILL SURPRISE

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

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

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

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

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

Barboza's Preseason Top 10:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FOOD FOR THOUGHT:

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

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

Lawrence Academy's Garrison commits to BC

June, 26, 2014
Jun 26
5:33
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Chris Garrison and the Boston College football program had been flirting with each other for a long time before Garrison committed to BC last weekend. So long, in fact, that Frank Spaziani was BC’s head coach when the school offered Garrison a scholarship.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I was comfortable with Duke, but I was more comfortable with BC,” he said. “BC was where I wanted to go.”
St. John's of Shrewsbury incoming senior two-way star Davon Jones verbally committed to Boston College today, he announced earlier this afternoon on his Twitter account.



The 6-foot, 185-pound Jones, a Worcester resident, was offered by the Eagles today while on campus. At the time of his commitment he held one other offer from the Division 1 ranks, from FCS upstart Coastal Carolina, which offered back in April. Jones also had interest from UMass, which has taken two of his former teammates -- running back Shad Abrokwah and wide receiver T.J. Kelley -- as walk-ons over the last two years.

Jones is the sixth in-state prospect to pledge to the Eagles for the 2015 recruiting class, joining Shepherd Hill offensive guard Chris Lindstrom, Brockton lineman Aaron Monteiro, Everett cornerback Lukas Denis, St. John's Prep tight end Jake Burt and Lawrence Academy tight end Chris Garrison.

"The school itself had a great atmosphere," Jones told ESPNBoston.com. "I know a lot of close friends that attend BC, it's a great school to earn a degree from. I have a lot of family in the Boston area, and my mother and older brother Jonathan played a huge role in my decision."

Jones is also close with former Doherty High star Isaac Yiadom, who enrolled at BC in January after leading the Highlanders to the MIAA Division 4 State Championship. He has also grown close with BC defensive coordinator Don Brown, a Spencer native and David Prouty High graduate.

"Isaac and I are close friends," Jones said. "We both have worked out together, just pushing each other to get better."

When he arrives at The Heights, he will likely fit in at either a safety or cornerback position. At St. John's, he is regarded as one of the state's most feared hitters, racking up over 100 tackles last year for the second straight season to earn ESPN Boston All-State honors. This fall will be Jones' fourth year starting for the St. John's varsity. He has reportedly measured a 38-inch vertical leap.

In 2013 Jones was a menace, registering 125 tackles, eight interceptions, eight tackles for loss, and five forced fumbles from the free safety position as the Pioneers reached the inaugural MIAA Division 2 State Championship. Jones was also the Pioneers’ second-leading receiver, catching 50 passes for 680 yards and seven touchdowns.

Courtesy of Hudl, here are Jones' highlights from last season:

St. John’s of Shrewsbury junior two-way star Davon Jones received his first Division 1 offer today, from FCS upstart Coastal Carolina, the Pioneers coaching staff told ESPNBoston.com this afternoon.

The 6-foot, 180-pound Jones was an ESPNBoston All-State selection last fall after recording 125 tackles, eight interceptions, eight tackles for loss, and five forced fumbles from the free safety position. It was his second straight season registering over 100 tackles, as the Pioneers reached the inaugural MIAA Division 2 State Championship. Jones was also the Pioneers’ second-leading receiver, catching 50 passes for 680 yards and seven touchdowns.

Boston College and UMass have also shown varying degrees of interest in Jones, who also stars at point guard for the Pioneers in basketball.

There is also a local connection at play in this offer for Jones. Former Assumption head coach and Xaverian standout Cory Bailey joined the Chanticleers coaching staff in January 2013 as recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach.

D1 Central: St. John's (S) 61, St. Peter-Marian 59

March, 3, 2014
Mar 3
1:43
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WORCESTER, Mass. –- Just when it looked as if St. Peter-Marian might finally get past archrival St. John’s in the Division 1 tournament, the Pioneers had one more comeback up their sleeve.

In front of an electric, standing room-only crowd at Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Harrington Auditorium on Sunday night, the Pioneers overcame a seven point halftime deficit to knock SPM out of the Division 1 Central tournament for the second time in three years, sealing a 61-59 victory via two free throws by senior captain Charlie Murray with ten seconds left.

“I never look at the guy at the free throw line, 'cause it doesn’t do you any good,” St. John’s coach Bob Foley joked after the game, “He’s a kid who sometimes struggles from the free throw line, but our kids have the confidence to put the chips on the table and put those [free throws] in...and he put those right down the middle.”

Murray, the Pioneers’ “energy-guy” who is known for his ferocity on the defensive glass and his ability to get to the free throw line, got to the free throw line in the closing moments following a perfect no-look pass from sophomore Adham Floyd (14 points).

“It’s hard, it’s definitely hard,” said of the pressure of hitting the free throws, “Just a lot of practice. It’s great that I got to the line and made the free throws, hard work pays off, but at the end of the day it takes the hard work of all 15 of us to get where we are now. It’s great I made them, but I wouldn’t be able to do it without anyone else.”

Floyd leads Pioneer defense: Floyd, who suffered a serious injury to his knee last spring, helped anchor a second half where St. John’s was able to dictate the pace of the game. The Pioneers struggled to keep up with Guardians’ star sophomore Makai Ashton-Langford (25 points) in the first half, but Foley made the decision to go to a man defense in the second half.

The decision paid dividends quickly for St. John’s, as they forced turnovers on the first three SPM possessions of the second half. Following each turnover, the Pioneers added two points quickly on the other end. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, the Guardians’ lead had disappeared.

“It’s a chess match. We had played zone most of the first half and came out man-to-man, and played a whole lot of man-to-man in the second half. You never know what’s going to work until you try it in a game, you just have to bounce back and forth,” Foley said.

Floyd made two big stops for the Pioneers in the closing moments of the game, blocking a putback attempt by SPM senior Connor Brown that would have put the Guardians ahead. After he found Charlie Murray in the post and Murray converted the free throws at the other end, it was on Floyd to stop Ashton-Langford, one of the best scorers in the state, from getting a basket.

“I thought Adham Floyd did a great job, he played great defense coming off a bad knee injury. His speed isn’t there yet but he’s so good with his hands and getting his hand on the ball,” Foley said.

Murray added: “[Floyd] stepped up, he had a great game. Even on that last play, he made that drive and made a great dish to me – very unselfish. He’s a great player, he played hard today.”

The streak continues: The win puts the Pioneers in the Central Mass. Division 1 title game this coming week against Franklin. The game will be St. John's seventh consecutive appearance in the Division 1 Central title game. As a program they have made the championship game 31 times. Foley was quick to point out that not all of those championship games were his teams, but getting deep into the tournament all those times has given him plenty of experience in tuning out crowds.

“You pray a lot,” Foley said with a laugh, “I don’t hear the crowd, I never hear the crowd at the game because I focus on what’s happening. It’s no problem for me, you’re just hoping that your kids do the right thing. I thought we just did everything right at the end of the game.”

They’re a great group of kids, they hung together. It’s a game that just drains you emotionally, physically, and whatever, but they hung in there at the end.”

Floyd agreed, saying that the Pioneers’ confidence in Foley’s gameplan was the difference down the stretch:

“We just listen to coach. It comes with confidence...and being a team. I think we’re a better team than them, we stayed together.”

Far from his first appearance at WPI, Murray said the Pioneers are motivated to avenge their loss to Milford in last year’s Central Mass. final.

“We’re back, it seems to be a habitual thing, but I’m just happy I get to play another game with these guys. I love the team I’m on.”

TJ Kelley and Davon Jones scored 13 and 12 points, respectively, while Greg Kuakumensah contributed 13 points for the Guardians.

Recap: No. 18 SPM 64, No. 7 St. John's (S) 57

January, 25, 2014
Jan 25
12:36
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WORCESTER, Mass. – Having lost five of its last six games going into Friday night’s showdown with Central Mass. Conference rival St. John’s, St. Peter-Marian had hopes that its brutally tough schedule the past couple weeks would benefit in the end.

On Friday the Guardians, led by sophomore phenom Makai Ashton-Langford’s 26 points, did what they were unable to do on the road against St. John’s (12-2) a few weeks ago -- put the Pioneers away in the closing minutes. The result, a 64-57 victory for the St. Peter-Marian (6-5).

St. Peter-Marian suffered a devastating loss on Jan. 7 against the Pioneers, blowing an 11-point lead with three minutes to go. As if SPM didn’t have reason enough to circle this game on their schedule, losing to St. John’s in dramatic fashion only added fuel to the fire.

“We were hungry for this game, we’d been looking forward to this game ever since we lost to them,” Ashton-Langford said. “After we lost to them the first time we kind of went into a little slump, we were just inexperienced down the stretch. With four minutes to go we gave up…we knew that couldn’t happen again.”

In the past few weeks the Guardians have played against some of the state’s best teams, including the heartbreaking loss to No. 24, St. John’s three weeks ago, as well as losses to No. 1 Putnam, No. 6 Catholic Memorial and No. 9 Cambridge.

Though a tough stretch for the Guardians, the schedule gave them an opportunity to come together and fix their mistakes in a hurry. Their coach has seen progress each game, yet every loss too was a fresh reminder that the young Guardians weren’t quite “there” yet.

“We had a five game stretch where we played one of the toughest schedules in Central Mass.," SPM coach Marcus Watson said. "Through those lumps and bumps and lessons, we learned. We learned last time against St. John’s with four minutes to go up 11, that we can give a game away. It was these kids learning, persevering, and coming together as a group.”

Brown, Sweeney bring the hustle: Seniors Connor Brown and Sean Sweeney brought just the mentality that Watson had been looking for against St. John’s. The two each made several hustle plays that eventually swung the score in the Guardians’ direction.

Sweeney helped set the tone early in the first half, first diving out of bounds to save a ball that would have otherwise resulted in a St. Peter-Marian turnover. Minutes later, it was Sweeney who dove on the floor to beat St. John’s point guard Davon Jones to a loose ball, drawing a roar from the Guardians’ fan section.

“We’ve talked about [hustle] from day one, but they’re the ones that have to go out and do it. Sean, to get on the floor for the loose ball and kick it up the court to someone else who got fouled—that’s tremendous,” Watson said.

Brown had plenty of hustle plays as well, on several occasions diving on the floor for the loose ball or jumping to save a ball that was bouncing out of bounds.

His biggest play came with about 45 seconds to go in the fourth quarter. Up 59-54, Brown pulled up for a jumper to beat the shotclock, then got into the lane to pick up his own rebound to reset the clock and give SPM an opportunity to burn even more time off the clock -- much to his coach’s delight.

“And again, those are all thing we learned through our five losses. The kids realize that every time we step on the floor we’re going to get the other team’s best shot,” Watson said. “We’ve learned from our mistakes. We run a lot of drills running out the clock and executing...We’ve really prepared, through our losses, how to deal with things.”

Murray cleans up the glass: The Guardians were able to keep St. John’s forwards Alex Fisher and Drew Vittum very quiet, but they couldn’t do the same to Charlie Murray. Finishing with 13 points and 13 rebounds, Murray proved to be one of the most impactful players on the floor, using his body to create space and finish through contact in the paint.

Sophomore Adham Floyd, who is still adding strength after seriously injuring his knee during last spring’s AAU season, had perhaps his best game of the season, knocking down two treys and backing up Murray with 13 points of his own.

“Give St. John’s credit, they’re not gonna’ roll over and die. We jokingly said you have to be up by 30 to win by two,” Watson said, “I have nothing but respect for that locker room and for Coach Foley and all he does for those kids. This is a great win, but it’s just another win, just another game for us.”

Recap: No. 10 St. John's (S) 68, No. 11 SPM 62

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8
12:51
AM ET
SHREWSBURY, Mass. -- When Davon Jones got fouled and fell hard on his elbow late in the fourth quarter, St. John’s (Shrewsbury) head coach Bob Foley asked his star point guard a question that the coach probably already knew the answer to.

“Davon, you OK?” Foley shouted from the end of the bench.

Wincing in pain and holding his elbow, Jones jumped up and waved off his coach — he wanted to be the one to shoot the free throws. He swooshed the first, then the second, giving the Pioneers their first lead of the second half, 64-62, with less than a minute to go in the game.

As an encore, he nailed two more from the charity stripe to put the game out of reach just moments later. Senior T.J. Kelley (14 points, 10 rebounds) sealed the deal by hitting two free throws of his own with 12 seconds left, giving the No. 10 Pioneers a 68-62 victory over rival No. 11 St. Peter-Marian in front of a standing-room only crowd.

The standout defensive back has taken plenty of hits in his career though, and for Jones the hard foul certainly wasn’t worse than some of the hits he’s taken on the gridiron.

“I’m fine," Jones said. "I play football, so I’m kind of used to it."

Jones is a rare breed in Foley’s system — a junior point guard who is also a three-year starter. An exceptional on-ball defender with lightning-quick bursts of speed with or without the ball, Jones’ poise and hard-nosed style of play gave Foley no choice but to put him in the starting lineup nearly from the time he arrived at St. John’s.

“He’s such a tough kid that he banged it really good and I was all set to send a sub in … and he just goes ‘No, no, no,'" Foley said. "It’s great to have tough kids."

The Pioneers’ comeback was one that will be talked about for a long time.

When St. Peter-Marian coach Marcus Watson called timeout with 3:23 left in the game, the Guardians (4-2) led St. John’s, 62-51. Despite the eleven-point deficit, Foley encouraged his team to stay together and stick to their gameplan of putting ball pressure on SPM and get the ball inside the paint offensively.

“Coach Foley just told us to stay together," Jones said. "Whenever we listen to coach, good things happen. I just think we came out and said together that we’ll play defense, we’ll talk, and we just played together."

To little surprise, it was Jones (11 points) who helped set fire to the comeback. Shortly after the timeout, Jones drove into the paint and fed big man Alex Fisher (15 points) with a beautiful no-look pass, Fisher finished off the conventional three-point play after getting fouled. The next time down Jones did the exact same thing, this time feeding sophomore guard Nick Lukasevicz, who hit two free throws after getting fouled.

“The kid I thought did a great job tonight was Nick Lukasevicz — the sophomore who had barely even played in the game,” Foley said, “he played a couple minutes earlier, but he got in there and we feel like he’s a very steady kid who never turns the ball over. When he was in there we didn’t turn the ball over.”

The Pioneers (7-1) were able to capitalize on SPM’s inexperience down the stretch, putting a trap on their guards defensively while the Guardians forced shots and got away from the ball movement that helped them pull away at the end of the first half.

“The kids believe in each other and I believe in them," Foley said. "We threw that half-court trap at [St. Peter-Marian] and got them to turn the ball over. They took a couple long shots and we got every rebound off that situation, we got every rebound, I thought we got every loose ball at the end, and everyone just kind of did their job.”

St. John’s had no answer for Guardians’ star sophomore Makai Ashton-Langford (18 points) in the first half. Ashton-Langford, a heralded Division 1 recruit who was playing in front of University of Maryland assistant coach Scott Spinelli, got to the rim nearly at will in the middle quarters — enabling SPM to go on a 15-1 run spanning from the end of the second quarter to the middle of the third.

Another sophomore, Greg Kuakumensah (13 points, 8 rebounds) was the only other Guardians’ player who finished in double-figures. Tom Annan and Jamal Smith each scored eight points for SPM, which will face No. 1-ranked Putnam in Springfield on Sunday.

The Pioneers, who have now won five in a row after losing to Leominster in their second game of the year, will host another league foe, St. Bernard’s, on Friday night.

“[Beating St. Peter-Marian] doesn’t boost our confidence as much as it just makes us work harder. We understand where we stand now,” Jones said, “tomorrow we’ll be back at practice ready to go.”

Recap: No. 10 St. John's (S) 63, Fitchburg 51

December, 24, 2013
12/24/13
1:01
AM ET
FITCHBURG, Mass. –- St. John’s coach Bob Foley has no problem admitting it. The inside toughness was lacking in the Pioneers’ loss to Leominster last week, especially with Co-captain Charlie Murray out of the lineup.

But the opposite was true on Monday night’s showdown with rival Fitchburg. Behind a spirited post attack led by Alex Fisher (16 points, 9 rebounds), Drew Vittum (8 points, 12 rebounds), and Murray (8 points, 8 rebounds), the Pioneers (2-1) knocked off the Red Raiders (3-1) on their home floor at Doug Grutchfield Fieldhouse, 63-51.

"I was just so happy with this game, Fitchburg’s got a heck of a club and [Fitchburg coach] Jack Scott’s doing a great job with them," Foley said. "They’ve got a very, very good team. To come out of the gates, get our lead...in their gym you kind of wait for them to make their run, and every time they started to make a run our kids responded."

With two practices in the days following the Leominster loss, St. John’s made a concerted effort in those two practices to get the ball into the paint more often offensively, as well as ease the transition from football to basketball for point guard Davon Jones (8 points, 5 steals) and forward T.J. Kelley (12 points) -- both of whom were integral members of the Pioneers’ MIAA Division 2 State Finalist football squad.

“They seemed like they were ready to go tonight. They let us make runs to get it to nine, 11, and then they’d make a couple plays to stretch it out to 12 or 14 -- and that’s the sign of a good team,” Scott said. "They’re playing like we want to be playing in February, they’re playing like that right now -- at least they did tonight."

Fitchburg was led in scoring by junior guard Anthony Salome, who nailed four 3-pointers on his way to 16 points. The Red Raiders’ usual go-to scorer, Mick Snowden, was contained to just three points -- an outside jumper that came midway through the first quarter.

Murray, Jones the backbone for Pioneers: Jones and Murray may not have led the Pioneers in scoring against Fitchburg, but Foley came away most impressed by the play of the duo whom he considers to be the Pioneers’ leaders. Playing with a wrist that was heavily taped up didn’t stop Murray from making hustle plays -- whether that was pulling down offensive rebounds, or nearly tackling the players on the Pioneers’ bench in pursuit of a loose ball.

"He’s our co-captain, he’s a pretty tough kid under there -- a real competitor. He’s a leader, he’s encouraging all the other players. We still don’t play that many seniors, he’s always encouraging the other kids, he mixes it up under the boards, he’s always on the floor rolling around," Foley said. "The big thing there is that the other kids on our team see that…it makes them raise their level of toughness a little bit."

Jones has built a reputation for making plays all over the football field the last two years, but it was his playmaking ability on the hardwood that gave Scott and the Red Raiders headaches all night.

Scott called a timeout in the third quarter for the sole reason of strategizing how to keep Jones out of the paint, as the point guard was penetrating the Red Raiders’ defense at will, giving the Pioneers’ bigs plenty of open looks inside. Jones proceeded to, again, get into the paint on Fitchburg and set up three of the Pioneers’ next five baskets following the timeout.

"We were consciously trying to prevent that, and yet he still managed to weave his way into the lane," Scott said.

Foley had major praise for his point guard.

"Davon is ultimate quickness," Foley said. "It’s not very often you have a kid with that speed, but he’s not only fast, he’s a strong kid out there. He’s our leader out on the court, and Charlie is our emotional leader overall."

SJ owns the glass
The major difference in the game was the rebounding margin, which St. John’s won 37-18. Boasting the aforementioned front line, Foley came away satisfied with the Pioneers’ effort on the glass—particularly on the defensive end.

"I thought the defensive glass in the second half was the key to the game," Foley said. "On the offensive game we got a lot of shots, unfortunately we should have put more of them in, but pounding away out there in that last six or seven minutes they got one offensive rebound."

Scott agreed, mentioning that the box out will certainly need to be a point of emphasis in practice for Fitchburg for the foreseeable future.

“It was just a dominant performance on the offensive glass," he said. "We didn’t do a good job of rotating on the swings around the perimeter and get in good position to get a weak side rebound here and there. It was a combination of us failing to do what we wanted to do on the defensive end and them capitalizing on it."

Defense does it for Mansfield

December, 7, 2013
12/07/13
8:56
PM ET


FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Mansfield made a living off of their vaunted and talented offense this year, but it was the defense that won them the Division 2 state championship against St. John’s (Shrewsbury) on Saturday afternoon.

The biggest focus for Mansfield coach Mike Redding coming into the game was game-planning for St. John’s dual-threat quarterback Andrew Smiley, an offensive player of the year candidate who has torched opposing defenses this year with his feet as well as his arm.

“Oh man, he’s a great athlete, we knew we had our hands full with him and Combs running the zone read, they do that so well and they keep you honest with the four great receivers,” Mansfield coach Mike Redding said.

Smiley has found his deep core of receivers early and often this year, especially junior Davon Jones and seniors T.J. Kelley and Mike McGillicudy. On Saturday though, Jones and McGillicudy were only able to pull in a combined three catches for 22 yards. Smiley, who threw two interceptions and scored a rushing touchdown, was able to muster just 80 total yards.

“The goal was to try to get six in the box to handle the run game, we tried to double Davon Jones because he’s an exceptional athlete. Then we got away from that and we got seven in the box because of the run game and to mix it up,” Redding said, “we played man, we played zone, we mixed in some blitzes. If you stay with any one thing their coordinator and their guys will eat you alive. They hit us now and then and we bent a little at times but never broke, never gave up the big one, and really played tough in the red zone.”

Michael Hershman, who has been playing the majority of this year with a sports hernia, picked Smiley off in the second quarter to help the Hornets stay in it after five first half turnovers—which resulted in a 14-7 halftime lead for the Pioneers. Mike Barresi intercepted a Smiley pass of his own early in the third quarter, initiating an 89-yard drive that brought the Hornets back to 14-13.

“To have five turnovers and only be down seven, we felt good about things at halftime. I thought the big thing in the third quarter was if they scored next then we were in trouble. We were trying to get a stop, we had to get the next one, then Barresi makes the pick and we punch it in. It’s a whole new game, you’ve got your confidence back, you’ve got momentum,” Redding said.

St. John’s was held scoreless after halftime—managing just over 100 total yards in the final two quarters. Shane Combs finished with 100 yards on 14 carries on the afternoon for the Pioneers, one of the lone bright spots for St. John’s in the second half.

“We’ve thrown the ball very well, but tonight it was defense and it was running the football. Bottom line, to win championships you have to do both of those—our O-line did a great job blocking and we threw a little bit, but we just didn’t have to,” Redding said, “to shut them out in a half, I don’t think they’ve been shut out all year, just an unbelievable defensive effort. Mark DeGeronimo just made this young defense so good over the course of the year—it won us a championship today.”

Smiley, a Navy lacrosse commit, received high praise from Redding after the game for his play this year, as well as a very bright future waiting for him:

“The thing I’m most proud of playing against a guy like that who goes off to Navy to play lacrosse, he’s gonna serve his country. It’s so neat to compete against young men like this who are great athletes and will be doing even bigger things after high school.”


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