Boston High School: Football preview capsules

BB&N looks to reload for another ISL run

September, 22, 2010
9/22/10
2:29
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The Buckingham, Browne & Nichols football program has been a powerhouse under coach John Papas since he took over eight years ago, as the Knights have won and won big — especially lately — losing just three times in the last four years.

Their average margin of victory over that span has been 24.5 points, with most of the scoring done in the first half before Papas takes his starters out for the second.

But this fall, BB&N comes in having lost the majority of its starters – and five Division I athletes – from a team that lost to Lawrence Academy last season, 28-26, denying the Knights an undefeated season and a shot at a NEPSAC bowl berth. In other words, the perception around the ISL is that BB&N is in for a down year, and teams are lining up for their chance to even the score.

“Our kids have to realize that a lot of people that want to get back at us,” Papas said. “[Schools around the league] pretty much think that there’s nothing left. I think we have a bull’s eye on our chest. There’s a lot of payback they want to get. We’ve got to take on all comers right now. We’ve done a lot of punching the last few years. They want to punch us now.”

While BB&N will only have three seniors and will be short on experience, there is going to be enough talent on this team to weather the haymakers the rest of the league will be throwing its way.

Eric Bertino (an ISL-leading 24 TD passes in 2009), a returning starter at quarterback, fullback/outside linebacker Peter Savarese (an ISL leading seven TD receptions in ’09) and newcomer to the sport James Diblaisi, a 6-foot-6, 225-pound hockey player who will play defensive end, make up that small but talented senior class.

Papas raves about Diblaisi’s potential and compares him to Blake Barker, who held several BCS offers last year before committing to Harvard.

“This is his first year of organized football, but I’ll tell you what, he’s been unbelievable in preseason scrimmages,” Papas said of Diblaisi, a Winchester native. “He plays with a flat back and is really tough off the edge. He really has the chance to be a Division I football player if he matures.”

Papas, who previously coached in the college ranks for 13 years at Tufts, Harvard and Bentley, knows a thing or two about sending players onto the next level. In his tenure at BB&N, 31 of his former players have gone on to play college football. There are currently seven ex-Knights on Ivy League rosters, the most of any school in the country, according to Papas.

“We’ve been able to attract a lot of kids that want a first-rate education at an urban prep school,” Papas said of the Cambridge institution that is just a stone’s throw away from Harvard Square. “It’s unique in that you don’t have to board, it’s co-ed and in Cambridge. There are a lot of kids that have come looking for that education and football experience.”

Two new additions to the program are juniors Chris Coady and Dan Connaughton, who transferred in from St. John’s Prep and Lincoln-Sudbury, respectively. Coady, who is also a tremendous lacrosse player, will take over at tailback and outside linebacker, while Connaughton will be a two-way tackle. Both players are receiving early interest from Boston College.

Another junior, Nick DiChiara, younger brother of Mike, a former Knight quarterback who is now at Cornell, will start at middle linebacker and is one of the team’s few returning starters.

Papas believes classmate Eric Olson, a 6-foot, 6-and-one-half-inch, 255-pound offensive tackle, may end up being the most highly sought-after recruit of the bunch, as he is already receiving early interest from BC, Stanford and Notre Dame.

“He’s got great feet,” Papas said. “He plays basketball, as well. He’s just kind of figuring it out. He’s a late bloomer in football.”

Papas’ two starting cornerbacks, junior Rhett Weisman and sophomore Willie Peoples, probably won’t play football in college, but are both Division I athletes. Weisman, Mansfield native, will play baseball at Vanderbilt, while Peoples, who hails from Cambridge, is a budding tennis star.

“He’s a ridiculous tennis player, unbelievable,” Papas said of Peoples, “and he’s out there banging with us.”

While everyone around the league will be focused on a Lawrence team that already has four BCS-committed players, Papas insists his team is focused solely on Saturday’s opener at Belmont Hill. The Hillers, who were the league’s premier program in the years leading up to the emergence of BB&N and Lawrence, had beaten their neighbors 21 consecutive times before the Knights won the last three meetings.

“They have a great tradition and great players as well,” Papas said of Belmont Hill. “If you ask our kids, the biggest game they circle is Belmont Hill.”

It’s safe to say that there are plenty of school’s that have BB&N circled, as well.

BB&N AT A GLANCE
2009 record: 7-1
Coach: John Papas (47-13)
Players to watch: Eric Bertino, Sr., QB, 6-1, 200; Chris Coady, Jr., RB/OLB, 6-2 , 220; Dan Connaughton, Jr., OT/DT, 6-3, 265; Nick DiChiara, Jr., MLB, 6-0, 205; Eric Olson, Jr., OT, 6-6 , 255; Rhett Weisman, Jr., CB, 6-1, 180; Willie Peoples, So., CB, 6-0, 175; James Diblaisi, Sr., DE, 6-6, 225; Peter Savarese, Sr., FB/OLB, 5-10, 190.
Strengths: Line play, experience at QB, linebackers.
Weaknesses: Inexperience.
Outlook: The Knights were decimated by graduation, losing five Division I athletes off a team that only lost to a loaded Lawrence Academy squad last fall. Although Papas’ charges will be breaking in a lot of new starters, the cupboard isn’t exactly bare, as a bevy of highly-touted juniors are in the fold to restock the roster. Papas likes what he sees up front on both sides of the ball, and the Knights should be strong enough there to control the line of scrimmage against most of the teams on their schedule. Bertino returns at quarterback, and he will be giving most of his handoffs to Coady, a transfer from St. John’s Prep that is getting major interest in both football and lacrosse. Savarese led the ISL in touchdown receptions a year ago, as Papas likes to use a power run game to set up the play-action pass. The defense operates out of a 4-3 cover two base, and Papas thinks he has one of the best groups of linebackers in Eastern Mass. in Coady, DiChiara and Savarese. Lawrence comes in as the heavy favorite in the ISL, but despite their inexperience, it would be a mistake to dismiss the Knights and their upcoming talent.

Lawrence Academy not short on talent

September, 22, 2010
9/22/10
2:08
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Lawrence Academy coach Michael Taylor was asked what he considered the weakness of his defending Independent School League and New England Prep School Athletic Council Samson/Lorden Bowl champion.

“Hmmmm,” Taylor said, clearly stumped by the inquiry.

Long pause.

“I’d say, with any ISL school, depth,” Taylor said. “If we had to play the schedule like Brockton and Xaverian and Everett, we don’t have the depth on the roster. We don’t have the long numbers because of student population. There’s somewhere around 160 boys in the school. It would be tough to compete on a longer schedule like the public schools do because we don’t have the student population.”

Taylor said about 60 players play from the freshman level up, but only 20-to-25 get significant varsity reps from offense to defense to special teams.

“In that regard, we’re a tiny team,” Taylor said.

Well, that’s the only regard in which this team can be described as “tiny.” In everything else – from pure physical size, speed, talent, you name it – the Spartans are the exact opposite. This team is huge. A colossal. There isn’t a “look test” that this team doesn’t pass.

The most obvious example is the offensive line. From tackle to tackle, the heights and weights of the Spartans are as follows: 6-feet, 5-inches, 360 pounds; 6-1, 300; 6-6, 235; 6-5, 278; and 6-5, 340. And it’s a group that has an athleticism that belies its bulk.

Tyler Cardoze (the 6-5, 340-pounder from Queens, NY) has the best feet out of all of them. A young senior who just turned 17 on Aug. 10, Cardoze holds an offer from Bryant but might have the most upside of any player on a team that already has four BCS verbally committed athletes.

“He’s our best offensive lineman,” Taylor said, “which is saying a lot.”

Max Ricci, a 6-5, 360-pound verbal commit to Boston College and native of Jamaica Plain, also has seemingly limitless potential. According to Taylor, Ricci first played organized football just two years ago.

“When it’s really driving rain and windy, we’re an opponent’s worst nightmare,” he added. “With our line, we’re not just a finesse offense. We are a fundamental group. We’re going to line up and we’re going to come right at you. We have both options available. That’s one of the benefits of having a good, athletic line like that.”

It doesn’t hurt to have a 6-3, 220-pound running back in Anthony Knight who clocked a 4.55 forty-yard dash at NC State’s camp and committed to the Wolfpack shortly thereafter. Not surprisingly, Knight averaged over 14 yards per carry last year.

The Spartans’ most explosive skill player is Marcus Grant, a speedy wideout who burns defenses both on sweeps on handoffs from Michael Orloff or catching passes from the senior Danvers native. Both players are verbally committed to Iowa.

Defensively, Orloff is a hard-hitting safety and middle linebacker Dan Giovacchini of Acton returned six interceptions for touchdowns last year.

“He’s somebody that flies under the radar a little bit,” Taylor said of Giovacchini, who is receiving heavy interest from the Ivy League and Boston College.

Senior guard and nose guard Ryan Welch (6-1, 300) suffered a hamstring injury over the summer but still owns a New Hampshire offer already and is one of the most physical linemen in New England.

This is a Lawrence team that can play with anyone on any given day and will be a huge favorite against everyone on its schedule, including BB&N — the only team to beat the Spartans in the last two years. But Taylor does his best to keep what happens on the field in perspective.

“Winning is nice. It is,” Taylor said. “But I’ll tell you what. If we lost all of our games but were able to get every senior free education by playing football, I’d sacrifice it in a second, because that education is going to last them a lifetime.”

LAWRENCE ACADEMY AT A GLANCE
2009 record: 9-0, won ISL title and beat Kimball Union in Samson/Lorden Bowl
Coach: Michael Taylor (3rd year, 16-1)
Players to watch: Michael Orloff, Sr., QB/S, 6-3, 220 (verbal commit to Iowa); Anthony Knight, Sr., RB/CB, 6-3, 220 (verbal commit to NC State); Marcus Grant, Sr., WR/CB, 6-3, 190 (verbal commit to Iowa); Max Ricci, Sr., OT/DT, 6-5, 360 (verbal commit to Boston College); Dan Giovacchini, Sr., MLB, 6-5, 225; Tyler Cardoze, Sr., OT/DT, 6-5, 340; Ryan Welch, Sr., G/NG, 6-1, 300; Clay Horne, Sr., WR/TE, 6-7, 220; Nevin Cyr, Jr., WR/TE/OLB, 6-6, 230; Tyler Beauschesne, Jr., G/DL, 6-5, 278; Matt Boone, Sr., C, 6-6, 235; Jack Michaels, So., DL, 6-1, 260; Dominik Kozlowski, Jr., CB/WR/K, 6-1, 190; Owen Moore, Jr., FB, 6-0, 230; Peter Taylor, Sr., FB/DE, 6-1, 200.
Strengths: Line play, skill positions, speed, physicality, overall talent level, experience.
Weaknesses: Depth.
Outlook: It is by no means hyperbolic to suggest that this year’s version of the Spartans is the most talented in ISL history, as four seniors are already committed to BCS-level schools and the likelihood of more to come. Offensively, Lawrence is versatile and explosive. The Spartans can stretch the field vertically and horizontally or pound the ball between the tackles with Knight behind an overpowering and college-sized offensive line. On defense, Lawrence runs a 50 front that is strong up the middle with Welch over center, Giovacchini (6 INTs returned for TDs last season) at middle linebacker and Orloff at safety. With BB&N looking at a relative rebuilding year, the question isn’t whether or not anyone on Lawrence’s schedule can beat the Spartans, it’s whether or not anyone on its schedule can stay within four touchdowns of them, as the Knights were the only team to do so last year.

Rodgers' little things add up for No. 5 SJS

September, 10, 2010
9/10/10
12:14
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SHREWSBURY, Mass. -- The football spiraled through the air as long as a punt normally would then hit the grass and made a large thud. It bounced back above a player’s head as he looked at the spot where the ball hit, and then counted back the yard marks to its origin.

"78 yards!" he shouted, to the handful of players left after practice.

Richard Rodgers laughed, smiled and looked back at the face of his St. John’s starting quarterback Dan Light. Light shrugged his shoulders and then playfully poked fun at his tight end because he knew he was beaten.

The competition was for bragging rights, but Rodgers was not going to lose.

That was the mentality that was passed down to him at St. John’s over the past three years. That is the mentality that he wants to pass down.

"When you’re a freshman, sophomore or junior you look up to kids and wonder when you’re going to be in those senior’s shoes," said Rodgers. "Now is that time for us and we need to step up, be leaders for the younger kids and leave our own legacy as a class."

Rodgers, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound wide receiver, committed to the University of California at Berkeley to play football in the fall of 2011. He has been clocked with a 4.6-second 40-yard dash time but because of his size, will play tight end in college.

However, the most impressive aspect about Rodgers is noticed off the field.

If you ask St. John’s head coach John Andreoli about Rodgers' talents on the field, surely he’ll say a few words. But then he’ll tell you about what a stand-up person Rodgers is in the locker room.

"He is a leader on and off the field -- which is really his nature," said Andreoli. "When I look back at the things he’s done over the past four years, what I remember the most, are all the small things that no one sees."

Whether the small things are trying to sit with the freshman basketball team when Rodgers was a starter on varsity as a freshman or just screwing in the facemasks of the helmets of younger players, the tight end has certainly learned how to be mature. While the California-bound senior is hoping for another super bowl win this season, he doesn’t sweat the little things either.

"When I go out on the field I know that a lot of people will know that I am going to Cal and they’re going to try say stuff and get to me like that," said Rodgers about his reputation. "But I just have to make sure I pay attention to the things happening around me and I’ll be fine."

ST. JOHN’S AT A GLANCE
2009
: 10-2, won Central Mass Division 1 Super Bowl
Coach: John Andreoli (seventh year, 54-17)
Key Players: Richard Rodgers, Sr., WR/DE, 6-4, 230 lbs., (49 catches, 722 yards, 17 touchdowns); Dan Light, Sr., QB/DE, 6-4, 235 lbs.; John Vassar, Sr., RB/LB, 5-10, 200 lbs.; Brendan Melanson, Jr., C/DL, 6-3, 230; Tyler Pike, Sr., LT/DT, 6-1, 270 lbs.; Shaun Burlanson, Sr., LB/RB, 5-10, 200 lbs.; Mike Hogan, Sr., LB, 6-0, 210 lbs.; Efraim Montalbo, Jr., WR/PR, 5-8, 160 lbs.
Strengths: Size, Speed
Weaknesses: Inexperience
Outlook: St. John’s is a very strong team. They are once again a favorite in Central Massachusetts, and look to take their talents to the Division 1 Super Bowl again. Although the Pioneers do have a tough schedule, they have the depth to overcome it. While Light does look like he will have a seamless transition from H-back to quarterback, he is still unproven. However, with Rodgers and Montalbo on the outside of the quads package, and Vassar as the running back, the chances are high that the Pioneers will return to the top.

Mansfield poised for playoff return

September, 10, 2010
9/10/10
11:16
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MANSFIELD AT A GLANCE
2009: 9-2 (7-2 Hockomock)
Coach: Mike Redding (22nd season, 175-58-4)
Players to watch: Jamel Marshall, Sr., RB, 5-11, 190 lbs; Sean Otto, Sr., LB, 6-1, 195 lbs; Anthony Todesco, Sr., OL/DL, 6-3, 240 lbs; Kyle McGuire, Sr., OL/DL, 6-1, 225 lbs; Jeff Hill, Sr., SE, 6-3, 190 lbs.
Outlook: Last year's Hockomock slate of games were, in a word, quite the anomaly. The Hornets' two losses came by a combined four points, one of which (Franklin) went on to win the league and clinch its first postseason berth since 1982. Heck, the league title came down to a Thanksgiving clash, but not Mansfield-Foxborough. Things could be coming back down to earth in 2010, as the Hornets are once again a favorite to win the league. They graduate 1,350 rushing yards in Sean Doherty, but Redding thinks his backup Marshall is more than capable of filling those shoes. Marshall, who is garnering looks from schools in the CAA, has a balanced blend of power and shiftiness in his running game. Defensively, the Hornets graduated size, but will play fast.

No. 1 Brockton's secondary always inspired

September, 10, 2010
9/10/10
11:15
AM ET

BROCKTON AT A GLANCE
2009:
9-2 (2-0 Big 3), lost in Eastern Mass. Division 1 playoffs
Coach: Peter Colombo (Eighth year, 64-20-1 overall)
Players to watch: Albert Louis-Jean, Sr., WR/DB, 6-1, 180 pounds; Trevon Offley, Sr., RB, 5-6, 175 lbs; William Carruthers, Sr., DT, 6-3, 300 lbs; Zach Apotheker, Sr., ILB, 5-11, 225 lbs; Brien Massie, Sr., DE/TE, 6-2, 230 lbs; Saquaan Louis, Sr., DE, 6-1, 220 lbs; Davidson Barthelmy, Sr., CB, 5-11, 170 lbs; Jacques Janvier, Sr., OT/DT, 6-1, 300 lbs; David Hylton, Sr., OG/DT, 6-2, 270 lbs; Ralph Cherry, Sr., WR/TE/OLB, 6-1, 215 lbs.
Strengths: Running game, team speed, defensive line.
Weaknesses: Inexperience at quarterback.
Outlook: The Boxers’ only two losses last year were to undefeated Super Bowl champion Xaverian, and there is enough talent and experience on both sides of the ball to win the program’s first title since going back-to-back in 2004 and 2005. The offense should revolve around Offley early, as the offensive line will be much improved over a year ago. Three quarterbacks – sophomores Austin Roberts and Micah Morel and senior Paul Mroz – are battling for the job, and while Roberts will most likely get the first start, expect all three to see playing time. Defensively, the front four is an imposing group, while Apotheker is an aggressive playmaker at linebacker. The secondary features the speedy Louis-Jean, a three-year starter and University of Miami verbal commit. The always-tough schedule begins with BC High, Taunton, Xaverian and St. John’s Prep, so expect to know right away whether the Boxers can live up to their preseason hype.

Correspondent Adam Kurkjian contributed to this report.

No. 4 BC High eyes Catholic championship

September, 10, 2010
9/10/10
11:14
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BC HIGH AT A GLANCE
2009:
6-4 (3-1 Catholic Conference)
Coach: John Bartlett (third year, 17-5)
Players to watch: Obum Obukwelu, Sr., OT/DL, 6-2, 265 lbs.; Preston Cooper, Jr., RB/CB, 5-9, 170 lbs.; Jameson McShea, Jr., TE, 6-4, 225 lbs.; Gordon McLeod, Jr., WR, 5-11, 170 lbs.; Mike Gaffney, Sr., LB, 6-1, 200 lbs.
Strengths: Size and physicality of offensive and defensive lines.
Weaknesses: Lack of experience at quarterback.
Outlook: On offense, the Eagles can do it by ground or by air. Running back Preston Cooper is small, but hard to tackle running the ball. Meanwhile, Gordon McLeod and tight end/H-back Jameson McShea are primary targets in the passing game. On the flip side of the ball, it all starts up front with UConn commit Obum Obukwelu. The Eagles are strong at linebacker behind senior Mike Gaffney and sophomore Ryan Tufts.

Colton, Tamasi are the pulse of Xaverian

September, 10, 2010
9/10/10
11:13
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When the Xaverian Brothers coaches and players look back at last season’s 13-0 run that culminated in the program’s first Eastern Mass Division 1 Super Bowl title since 1998, one game in particular stands out as the springboard.

In Week 3, the Hawks traveled down to Brockton's Marciano Stadium to face the undefeated Boxers. In the first half, Xaverian did next to nothing on offense. The Hawks turned the ball over several times and gained less than 50 total yards as they fell behind, 7-0, at the break.

But in the final 22 minutes, the casual fan who didn't know the names Joe Colton and Chris Tamasi couldn't ignore them any longer.

First it was Colton who took a swing pass from quarterback Alex Phelan for a 25-yard gain – Xaverian's biggest to that point – before getting up off the sideline and pumping his arms in excitement. Moments later, Phelan dropped off a screen pass to Colton on the visitors’ sideline and he rumbled into the end zone to help tie the score.

Tamasi, who was all over the field from his weakside linebacker position all game, then made his presence felt on offense in the fourth quarter. On an option play to the short side of the field, Tamasi took a pitch from Phelan and cruised to the left pylon for the game-clinching score, as the Hawks won, 14-7.

The game served as a microcosm for the season, as the Hawks continually looked to Colton and Tamasi in the second halves of games to put opponents away. Colton finished with over 1,600 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns, while Tamasi had 92 tackles and two interceptions to go along with over 500 yards rushing and five scores.

"I think, from my perspective, and I’ve probably said this to you before, a real turning point for us was the second half of the Brockton game," said Xaverian coach Charlie Stevenson. "We've been in that stadium with a lot of football teams who got beat up in the first half like we got beat up that night in the first half and didn’t come out and win the football game in the second half like last year’s team did. That was a big plus for us as a team. That was a big confidence-builder as a team. That was a big thing.

"We've gone in there with teams that, wouldn't you say, Al, have done just about the opposite," he added, turning to defensive coordinator Al Fornaro, who simply nodded his head. "In the second half (of those games), me and Al are standing there like, 'I don't think we want to be here for this night.' For whatever reason, (last year's) team came out in the second half and said, 'We got punched in the mouth, but you know what? We’re going to punch back right now.' And they proved to themselves they can do that. That was a big plus for them. I've coached teams that couldn’t do that. Not that they were bad teams or bad kids, but they just couldn’t do it. Last year’s team could. And I've had other teams that could, too. I’ve had teams that never had to do that because they just punched them out from the get-go."

Tamasi remembers his touchdown vividly.

"That touchdown, I can still replay it in my mind over and over," he said. "Like I said, tremendous amount of respect for Brockton, but one of the special parts about last year were the away games. The away games were all the biggest games. And coming to Brockton with the band, the flashing lights, and all the big crowd… There’s something, that energy just consumes you and you get in this mode where you’re just lights out.

"I think it got into the both of us, we just knew what we had to do when we went into the game and fortunately we came out on top," he added. "That touchdown, I mean, once I got the ball, I did what I could to get to that pylon. And it just came out that we held them off. That was the pinnacle of our season that just skyrocketed us into the postseason."

Yet while each player is among the best in the state at his respective position on either side of the ball (Colton also plays cornerback), neither holds a scholarship offer at this point. To Stevenson, it highlights the age-old battle that all college recruiters grapple with: production vs. potential.

"(Colton’s) such a great kid and he’s so deserving of it all. And, in my opinion, he’s as good as a lot of high school running backs that get offers from college,” Stevenson said. "However, as we mentioned earlier, colleges recruit on potential moreso than what you did in high school. And that’s what happens to guys like Joe or the kid down at Walpole (Ryan Izzo) or the (Nathan) Scherr kid up at Austin Prep a couple years ago. Kids who are just great high school guys and great productive players, but then colleges go, 'Well, can we get a kid who’s 5-10, 190 pounds and say that his potential is going to be better than the kid that’s 6-1, 215, 220?’"

But if Colton or Tamasi are frustrated by the lack of attention from college coaches, they’re not showing it. At this stage, Colton says he is hearing the most from the University of New Hampshire, while Tamasi is in contact mainly with Ivy League and NESCAC schools.

"(I don’t care about) statistics, anything like that. I just want to win. That’s all I care about," said Colton, who stands 5-feet, 10-inches, weighs 185 pounds and was clocked with a 4.54 40-yard dash time at the UNH camp. "All I care about is having fun, hopefully have a good season, win most of our games and you just take it from there. The colleges, that will all come in later. I’m not really thinking about that."

"I mean, props to those guys (who have offers already). We play Brockton, Everett, BC High, and they all have tremendous athletes," said the 6-foot, 205-pound Tamasi, who ran a 4.57 at this spring’s Northeast Five-Star Showdown. "There’s a tremendous amount of respect on our part for them. I’ve gotten the chance to meet a few kids from Everett and they’re great kids. I wish them all the best up there. I try not to focus on (recruiting). I have my own personal goals that I want to achieve and I’m kind of just doing my own thing and whoever will notice that and take me for who I am, I’m OK with that."

Stevenson, though, doesn’t share the same attitude. In his opinion, Colton and Tamasi are being overlooked.

"Like I said, the (Boston College) level, that’s one thing," Stevenson said. "It’s the level right below that is probably more frustrating to me. I think that high school kids like Joe have become the final stop for those guys. They want to see who’s dropping out of BC, who’s dropping out of UConn, or who’s dropping out of Syracuse, you know what I’m saying? Who’s dropping out of USC, who the heck knows where? They want to see who’s graduating from a junior college. They want to see who’s 20-years old already trying to be a freshman in college.

"So the 17-year old high school senior is their last stop," he continued. "Whether that’s the good way to go about recruiting or not, you’d have to ask the colleges that question. But it’s unfortunate to me, in my opinion, for our game, that the college coaches are becoming a lot like the hockey college coaches. They’re not looking to recruit high school players. I would hate to see our college football coaches become as stupid as the college hockey coaches are. Quote me on that, please. OK, but, who knows? Maybe they will."

Those schools that do end up taking either player will do so in part because each one shows an incredible amount of versatility and thrives on being more physical than his opponent. While Colton gets most of his notoriety from his rushing abilities, he’s also one of the best cornerbacks in the area. Colton’s specialty is jamming receivers at the line and playing physical press coverage.

"I like to play physical," he said. "Coach Fornaro gave me the choice most of the time. If he’s big and you want to get in his grill, you know, go ahead. Most of the time if we’re playing off, I’d probably be playing press. So I think that’s definitely, I think, a strength."

"We're not a traditional Cover-2, Tampa-2, where he’s just the force guy all the time. But he loves the physical aspect of the game," Fornaro said. "But, yes, it makes it easier when, instead of trying to match up one guy to cover their best receiver man-to-man, if we can delay him by maybe throwing the timing off, using Joe to press, or even just press-and-chase, it makes it a lot easier. But he takes that as a challenge. He wants to play against the best guy. But if he had his druthers, I think he’d rather put gloves on, go into a ring and whack around a few rounds with the guy, because that’s the type of kid he is."

Tamasi is an instinctual player on defense who simply always finds himself around the ball.

"Chris is an athlete who plays well in space. He’s a guy that, as I tell our linebacker coach, you don’t over-coach him, because he’s just going to play," Fornaro said. "There were things that happened in that Brockton game, on the plus side for us, where he was able to run to the ball and beat the man who was assigned to block him. In the playoff game they tried something different to neutralize that. It was a different offensive set, but he was able to (make plays) because he is a good athlete and he can run and he has power and he can still make the play."

And when Tamasi gets to the ballcarrier, he does so with authority. Or, as Fornaro said, "Chris comes and he comes with business. There’s a purpose when he gets there."

When asked about this season, each player dutifully toes the company line about not getting caught looking ahead.

"This year, I think it’s play-by-play, practice-by-practice, game-by-game," Colton said. "It’s just work hard, play hard, game-by-game."

"I think as Joe said, we’ve got to take it game-by-game and do what we can do best and just hope that everything turns out the way we want it to in the end," Tamasi said.

As two of the five Xaverian captains, those answers are expected. But everyone outside the program – and even some inside it – will be eyeing a Week 3 rematch with top-ranked Brockton, this time in Westwood.

And maybe if Colton and Tamasi produce in that game like they did at Marciano Stadium, an offer could be just around the corner. At the very least, the potential is there.

XAVERIAN AT A GLANCE
2009: 13-0 (4-0 Catholic Conference), won EMass. Division 1 Super Bowl
Coach: Charlie Stevenson (18th season, 144-44-1)
Players to watch: Joe Colton, Sr., RB/CB, 5-10, 185 lbs (1,600+ yards rushing, 21 TDs); Chris Tamasi, Sr., OLB/RB, 6-0, 205 lbs (92 tackles, 2 INT, 500+ yards rushing, 5 TDs); Kevin Ihlefeld, Sr., DE/OL, 6-0, 205 lbs (68 tackles, 5 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries); Harry King, Sr., OL/DT, 6-3, 280 lbs; Mike Muir, Sr., WR/S, 6-1, 180 lbs (250+ yards receiving, 2 TD receptions).
Strengths: Running backs, Wide Receivers, Secondary, Speed
Weaknesses: Inexperience at quarterback, Replacing Starters on the offensive line.
Outlook: A year ago, the Hawks entered the fall as the consensus No. 1 team and never relinquished the top spot, as they ran the table to win their first Super Bowl crown since 1998. Although Xaverian will have to replace quarterback Alex Phelan (Brown) and three starters on the offensive line, there is enough talent and experience returning to make a run at a repeat. Taking the reins at quarterback will be speedy junior Chris Calvanese (6-2, 180), and he will have two of the more productive runners in the state to hand off to in Colton and Tamasi. Wide receiver is always one of the deepest position groups for the Hawks and will be again this season, as Muir will lead an athletic and sure-handed unit. Tamasi and Ihelfeld were both Catholic Conference All-Stars a year ago, while Colton, Muir, junior safety Ryan Farrell and senior cornerback Nick McDaniels highlight a superb secondary. A Week 3 tilt with Brockton on Clapboardtree Street will serve as a great early litmus test, while late-season showdowns with BC High, Catholic Memorial and St. John’s Prep will decide if another postseason run is in the cards.

After fine-tuning, No. 3 Everett polished

September, 10, 2010
9/10/10
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In a city where the school's football team is expected to run the gauntlet unscathed, year in and year out, three losses in a year is virtually an anomaly.

Yet, with the new blend of athletic skill players coming up to the ranks that commanded a changing of the guard, that's what happened at Everett High, the lumps of such a dramatic transition in offensive philosophy came at an unexpected rate. Early on in 2009, the Crimson Tide suffered their worst regular-season loss since the early 1990's, a 47-14 drubbing by Dracut, with interception after interception yielding to an avalanche of points.

That's all in the past, though. The Tide have looked steady so far leading up to tonight's season-opening clash in Leominster.

"Offensively, I think we're looking real good," said senior wide receiver Matt Costello. "Last year, as I said, it was more of a growing season, and our connection is starting to click. Our offensive line's getting better…defensively, we're coming in with a different mindset, more of speed defense. We get to the ball and rally on the ball. Our defense needs a little refining, but it's still early."

Jonathan DiBiaso, son of head coach John, looks polished headed in his junior season, his third under center. The long, sometimes Leftwich-like release has been tightened up, not to mention he's grown a bit since last December.

"He's had two good scrimmages, so I don't want to jinx anything," the elder DiBiaso laughed. "There's a big difference from being 15
years old, 155 pounds, to now you're 16 and 190, 195, and you look more like a man, know what I'm saying?"

Between deep-ball threat Matt Costello, athlete Manny Asprilla and workhorse junior running back Vondell Langston, there has been plenty to like about the Tide's offense in year two of the spread. In two scrimmages, they've scored five times each. Certainly, another year in the offense hasn't hurt.

"I think it means a lot. We're on the same page on alot of things," the elder DiBiaso said. "Making the reads on pass routes, picking up blitzes, we experienced that last year, and this year we've been a little more more experienced when teams have tried to do it in the preseason. We've had success against it, we've run alot of good routes, option routes, when do this gotta do that, guys are going to the right spots and making plays out of it."

EVERETT AT A GLANCE
2009: 8-3 (4-0 Greater Boston), lost in Division 1 Super Bowl
Coach: John DiBiaso (18th season at Everett, 226-63-1 overall)
Players to watch: Matt Costello, Sr., WR/DB, 6-1, 165 lbs; Manny Asprilla, Sr., RB/WR/DB, 6-0, 170 lbs; Jonathan DiBiaso, Jr., QB, 6-1, 195 lbs; Vondell Langston, Jr., RB/LB, 6-1, 200 lbs; Shaquille Taylor, Sr., OL/DL, 5-11, 270 lbs; Ralph Jonathas, Sr., OL/DL, 6-2, 195 lbs; Nick Chiarello, Sr., C/DL, 5-10, 205 lbs.
Strengths: Skill position players, experience, familiarity with offensive system.
Weaknesses: Youth on offensive and defensive lines.
Outlook: The Crimson Tide have lost just five regular season games over the last 10 seasons. So 2009's 8-3 campaign, to say the least, was an anomaly for what is typically one of the state's four or five best teams. By the looks of the preseason, the Tide have so far overcome the growing pains of transitioning to a spread from the double wing-T that dogged them last fall. Costello is one of the state's best deep-ball threats, and could have an even bigger year if DiBiaso's improved mechanics hold up -- "They've been trying to blitz him and they haven't had much success," says the elder DiBiaso. Asprilla and Langston, who combined for nearly 1,700 yards last season, will once again share the load in the backfield. Defensively, speed is key in what figures to be a youth movement.

No. 8 Gloucester ready for title defense

September, 9, 2010
9/09/10
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Gloucester football head coach Paul Ingram describes preseason practices as such: “It’s a drudgery.”

Soon enough the Fisherman will embark on their quest to defend their Division IA Super Bowl title.

Is there a chance for a letdown? Not likely.

Are they looking past preparation toward the season ahead? Not so much.

But expectations are high and Ingram’s team has emerged from the summer doldrums focused on the tasks at hand.

In a moment of candor, Ingram remarked to a question related to his defense, “Maybe we can do a little better than we did last year.”

That’s a tall agenda to set for a team coming off a 13-0 season. But Ingram’s answer was an honest response.

He believes in his group — not in a cocky or haughty way — but because he believes in his players. After all, there’s no such thing as perfection. Things can always be better. That can only be accomplished by a group that is not only talented, but innately driven.

“They have the skills,” Ingram said. “We can teach them blocking and all of those things, but they’re the ones who just seem to have the vision to play, the toughness. They work incredibly hard as a group.”

Lately, there just seems to be an endless pipeline of football players who call Gloucester home.

No Conor Ressel? There’s Gilbert Brown to step into the backfield. The senior running back and linebacker runs a 4.6 40; he’s also gotten bigger and stronger entering his final season.

Gus Margiotta was the backbone of the Gloucester offensive and defensive lines in 2009. This year, Anthony Latassa will take over the center position and Bryan Ingersoll fills the hole at nose tackle.

One of the Fishermen’s best players, tight end and defensive end Chris Unis, didn’t even play last year due to an arm injury. But the 6-foot-2, 225-pound senior captain is healthy now and creates a formidable pair of defensive bookends with the athletic 6-foot-4 Andrew Mizzoni.

Maybe there’s something in the water.

Whatever it is, the Fishermen come to compete every year.

“What happens from year to year is that the kids see opening for the upcoming year and know they’re going to get a chance to play or get a good shot at it,” Ingram said. “Every year, we have kids that come into camp and play better than we’d have projected they would.”

Even though his group is focused, Ingram admits it’s easy for them to get caught up in the monotony of two-a-days and summer practices. So they’re itching to get back to meaningful play.

As the hours click away to opening day, Gloucester looks ready to go.

“It’s tough keeping kids focused through it all,” Ingram said, “but I think we’re further along than we’ve been coming back as we have in a long time.”

GLOUCESTER AT A GLANCE
2009: 13-0 (5-0 NEC Large)
Coach: Paul Ingram (eighth year, 71-10)
Players to watch: Chris Unis, Sr., TE/DE, 6-2, 225 lbs.; Andrew Mizzoni, Sr., OT/DE, 6-4, 220 lbs.; Gilbert Brown, RB/LB, 5-11, 185 lbs.; Mike Tomaino, Sr., TE/S, 6-2, 180 lbs.; Anthony Latassa, Sr., C/DL, 6-0, 210 lbs.; Bryan Ingersoll, Sr., NT, 6-2, 250 lbs.
Strengths: Knowledge of offensive and defensive schemes, team unity.
Weaknesses: Experience at quarterback and cornerback.
Outlook: There wasn’t much that could be improved upon from last year’s Super Bowl squad, but the Fishermen will be without a couple of key contributors who have moved on. Brown will take a majority of the carries that Ressel saw last year. Also gone is quarterback Brett Cahill. It will fall to senior Joe Avila to take the reins of the Gloucester Wing-T. “I’d say that he’s won the job so far,” Ingram said. “He has a good arm and he’s really quick. He’s also done a good job of managing the team in practice and managing the game.” Although it will have a slightly different look, the offensive line will have Zach Bettencourt Chris Burke, and Marc Sutera stepping in beside Latassa and Mizzoni. The Fishermen return many of key contributors to last year’s defense. And Ingram likes what he’s seen thus far. “It’s like we never missed a beat from last year. It’s been a lot of fun for the coaches. This has certainly been fun for us because we can install some more advanced looks early because they already know the system.”

Plenty of leftovers for No. 7 Wachusett

September, 9, 2010
9/09/10
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HOLDEN, Mass. -- The heat and humidity finally got to Mike Dubzinski at some point this summer. And so one July night, he found himself tossing and turning as he tried to sleep in his Rutland home, walked downstairs to his living room around midnight, and flicked on the television. The town's community access channel just happened to be playing the Division 1 Super Bowl win over Holy Name from last December, the one that capped his Wachusett Regional Mountaineers' flawless 13-0 season.

Some teams can't bear to watch the film after coming out on the short end of an overtime loss or regulation beatdown. But that chance happening last July, Dubzinski says, is the only time he's even thought about 2009, one of the most remarkable campaigns in program history.

"We haven't spent one sentence or one moment talking about last season," Dubzinski said. "That's not to diminish anything that's happened, but once it's over, we've moved on. You have to.
[+] EnlargeQuarterback Matt LeBlanc of Wachusett Regional High School
Brendon Hall/ESPNBoston.comSenior quarterback Matt LeBlanc embraces the collisions that made him a respected linebacker in years past.

"I have a whole new group of kids, and we owe it to them as a coaching staff to put forth that same effort. They deserve that full attention to detail."

Coachspeak? At first glance, decidedly so. But then out comes his diminutive senior kicker unloading prodigious blasts from his right foot that land in touchback territory nearly every time. When the time comes for point-after and field goal attempts, the JV players don't just huddle behind the goalposts. Dubzinski sends them out to the parking lot down the hill, and then watches as the little guy's kicks sail two, maybe three stories high into the air.

You get the idea. The Mountaineers may only return eight starters (three offensively), but the talent is still there in the most unconventional ways. And perhaps nobody embodies that defiance of convention better than senior Connor McDavitt.

At just 5-foot-6, 145 pounds, the baby-faced senior looks more suited to be carrying water for the freshman team than he does launching footballs a considerable distance. Yet there he is, connecting on field goals in practice from as far out as 60 yards; taking Central Mass. indoor track titles in the 55-meter dash (6.77 seconds) and hurdles (7.98); covering a vast plain of ground as a centerfielder and beating out the throw to first base out of the leadoff spot (some believe that's his best sport); and, at the end of the day, turning out as the nation's 50th best kicker and the state's 12th-best prospect by ESPNU's scouting service, ahead of big-time BCS commits like Lawrence Academy's Anthony Knight (NC State) and Mike Orloff (Iowa).

"He's a complete athlete. The kid's a total package," says senior quarterback and co-captain Matt LeBlanc. "I know he doesn't look it, but he's an athlete...he comes out here before practice and drop-kicks it from about 60 yards."

Not often does a kicker set the tone. But in Holden?

"It's huge," LeBlanc said. "Almost every kickoff is a touchback. If we're in a hole at our own 10, we can count on him to kick it back to their 30. I mean, he's got a great leg, such a small kid, I mean...I grew up with him, and he's just an athlete. You should see him play baseball. Just a stud."

There's pedigree in the McDavitt clan -- his father, Tom, punted at Amherst College in the early 80's; his brother, Tom, punted for Tufts earlier this decade -- and since he was about eight years old, he's been practicing under their tutelage. Some kids hone their skills through soccer, but McDavitt only took two years of it before deciding on Pop Warner. Rather, he got his kicks in just hanging around the open fields on the campus of Anna Maria College, not too far from his Paxton home, and booting the ball around -- "Beats here, running through the parking lots or into the swamp," McDavitt laughs.

McDavitt and his deceptive speed will also play a role in the Mountaineers' offense, where he will look for open space as a slot receiver; and in the return game, where he is fielding kickoffs for the first time.

He admits size is somewhat of a motivating factor -- "a little bit," he smiles sheepishly -- but Dubzinski's prose speaks to deeper intangibles.

"Let me say this. I don't care how big you are," he starts matter-of-factly, with a pause. "OK? I don't care how big you are, but I do care how tough you are...McDavitt? He's going to leave Wachusett with 12 letters. He's a versatile athlete. Mentally, he's tough."

For the soft-spoken LeBlanc, there is considerable bite to his relatively muted bark. Defensively, he is calling the shots at inside linebacker, and relishes in being right in the middle of the collisions. That same mentality carries over to an offense that will be more of a run-oriented attack in 2010. LeBlanc embraces the contact he takes on carries around the edge.

"There's nothing more that I like to do," he smiles. "Just that feeling, you know. I like to hit. Whether it's blocking, or making the tackle, carrying out a block on offense, as long as I'm hitting I'm happy...I'm lowering my shoulder, I'm not trying to sidestep them.

"I love it, that's the kind of football I play. I grew in a tough football family, and that's the way I've always played since Pop Warner."

WACHUSETT AT A GLANCE
2009:
13-0 (5-0 Division 1A), won Central Mass. Division 1A Super Bowl
Coach: Mike Dubzinski (11th year at Wachusett, 74-49; 16th year overall, 99-77)
Players to watch: Matt LeBlanc, Sr., QB/LB; Shane Murray, Sr., OL; Connor McDavitt, Sr., WR/K; Alex Goodhile, Sr., OL/DL; B.J. Foley, Sr., RB/LB; Eric Darko, Sr., RB/LB; Nick Champlin, Sr., RB/LB; Matt McMillen, Sr., RB/LB; Tyler Catalina, Sr., DL/OL; Steve Trychon, Sr., QB/DB; Rocco DiVerdi, Sr., DB; Sean Goehle, Sr., DB; Alex Turgeon, Jr., TE/LB; Zack Mazyck, Sr., OL/DL; Josh Anderson, Sr., OL.
Strengths: Speed, linebackers, kicking game.
Weaknesses: Inexperience on offensive and defensive lines.
Outlook: The Mountaineers return just eight starters from last season's Super Bowl winning squad, but the perception around Central Mass is that Dubzinski's boys still have plenty left in the tank to defend their title. LeBlanc is an inside linebacker who happens to play quarterback, and he leads the offense as such, with a bullish running style around the edges. Also look for the diminutive McDavitt -- who happens to be the defending Central Mass. indoor track champ in the 55-meter dash and hurdles -- to be active with the ball, returning kicks and creating space for himself off underneath routes (a.k.a. the Welker). McDavitt is considered one of the state's best placekickers, too. Defensively, the line is young but Catalina has been a stalwart in the middle thus far. The Mountaineers are long in the tooth at the linebacker spots, and will switch off between 4-4, 5-2 and 3-5 looks accordingly based on personnel.

Gorman's last go-around with No. 9 CM

September, 8, 2010
9/08/10
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WEST ROXBURY, Mass. – At some point this season, hopefully later rather than sooner, John Gorman will have played the last football game of his career. Next fall, he will be at Boston College and, next spring, he’ll slip on the Eagles uniform as a part of the baseball team at Chestnut Hill

But, before any of that happens, the Catholic Memorial senior has business to complete with the No. 9-ranked Knights this fall.

“People tried to say to me, ‘What are you doing playing football? You’re risking a lot.’” Gorman said.

The 6-foot-1, 220-pounder is an inside linebacker and running back for Catholic Memorial. He captained the Knights last year as a junior carries another heavy responsibility as the defensive play-caller in the huddle.

Gorman has played football since he was 8 years old and, while his future may lie on the diamond, there was no doubt in his mind that he would give it one last go-around this fall.

“It’s something I do during the fall, that’s always football season,” the Norwood resident said. “This is what I want to do. I’ll get ready for baseball later on. I feel almost like this helps me on the baseball field.”

During football season, Gorman will hit and throw once a week before take around a month off from throwing. In the winter months, he’ll start throwing bullpen sessions four or five times per week to get ready for the season.

The reigning Catholic Conference MVP will hope to lead the Knights to a repeat performance as league champions. While pitching, Gorman was the staff ace with an 8-0 record and 1.18 ERA. At the plate, the corner infielder put up a .395 average with three home runs and 25 RBI.

He’d always dreamed of playing at BC. Gorman has attended games at The Heights with his family for years — doesn’t matter whether the sport is baseball, football, hockey, basketball, whatever. For a time, when he was younger, he was a batboy for the Eagles during Pete Hughes’ tenure.

“It’s always been a place that I’ve wanted to go,” Gorman said. “I have a few friends that have gone there and they love it there, so there wasn’t any doubt.”

The only question that could have crossed his mind was whether he wanted to fore-go his final gridiron season to play it safe and not jeopardize his future at BC with a potential injury.

But there’s a major motivation behind his decision.

“The goal has got to be the Catholic Conference,” Gorman said. “If you’re not shooting for that, there’s no reason to be playing unless you want to do that.

CATHOLIC MEMORIAL AT A GLANCE
2009:
5-5 (0-4 Catholic Conference)
Coach: Alex Campea (seventh year, 74-56)
Players to watch: Armani Reeves, Jr., WR/DB, 5-11, 170 lbs.; Camren Williams, Jr., RB/S, 6-2, 185 lbs.; A.J. Doyle, Jr., QB/LB, 6-3, 210 lbs.; Donovan Henry, Jr., KR/RB/S, 5-10, 175 lbs.; Brendan Keohan, Sr., OL/DL, 6-5, 280 lbs.
Strengths: Team speed, athleticism.
Weaknesses: Offensive line depth, defensive line experience.
Outlook: The Knights can ride their young horses to do many good things on offense, but it will take renewed focus on defense for CM to move to the top of the Catholic Conference. “All the teams in the conference, and I think all of the coaches of the other teams, feel the same way and that’s that everyone one of our games is a Super Bowl," head coach Alex Campea said. "We play so few games in the conference that each game is vitally important.” CM has more young, quality offensive players than just about any team in the state with juniors Armani Reeves, Camren Williams and Donovan Henry returning. Junior quarterback A.J. Doyle enters his second full season as starter. Things have shuffled a bit on the offensive line with returning starter Sean Lampron moving from guard to center. Still, it will come down to how well the Knights defense will hold, particularly up front against the running game, that will dictate how their season goes.

It's LaSpada-mania for No. 10 Billerica

September, 8, 2010
9/08/10
12:26
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BILLERICA, Mass. -- "Right on the money, attababy Nicky!" repeats Billerica's long-time head coach to his Golden Boy, with each practice throw from his gifted right arm into outstretched hands.

On Peter Flynn's watch, the Indians have built a storied history of quarterbacks, from Gil Ynostroza to Craig Flynn, Tim Darcey to Justin Connors, all the way back to Mike Mastrullo, the 1993 Gatorade Player of the Year national runner-up (the winner that year? Peyton Manning).

Yet these days, Flynn can't sing enough praises about his current signal-caller, going so far as calling him the best athlete -- period -- to walk through the halls since Tom Glavine.

And with good reason. If one is not sold on the hype surrounding Nick LaSpada, the reigning state Gatorade Player of the Year -- and first sophomore to win it in state history -- one only needs to look at the suitors. Starting this past Sept. 1, the first day juniors are allowed to receive mail from colleges, the letters poured in from all over -- Notre Dame, Alabama, Illinois, Minnesota, Penn State, Oregon, Wisconsin, Boston College, you name it.

"It'd be easier to tell you who hasn't," chuckled Flynn, who had another 20 letters sitting in his office to give him after practice. Heck, Flynn says Oregon head coach Chip Kelly emailed him recently to tell him he thinks LaSpada will be one of the most sought-after recruits nationwide in the Class of 2012.

Nearly every throw from the arm of LaSpada is placed perfectly into the hands of his targeted receiver, no matter the route -- fade, comeback, slant, post -- and Flynn loves what he sees. In this particular drill, LaSpada tossed a 35-yard fade perfectly in stride to senior co-captain Ryan Donohoe, in his first action in a week thanks to a right achilles heel injury, only to watch it slip off the hands of his top returning receiver.

Donohoe shook his fist and cursed to himself softly.

"Was that Ryan?" Flynn turned to LaSpada. "Lie to me and say it wasn't."

He then yelled across to Donohoe, "Ryan! They lied to me, said it wasn't you!"

LaSpada's teammates speak highly of the energy their hot-wired general brings to the huddle, and the perfectly-placed balls he delivers. So what about when there's a drop?

"You feel bad when you do it, because there's not too many times where it's not a perfect pass already," Donohoe says. "So when you drop that pass, you come back to the huddle, and Nicky doesn't say anything to you -- I mean, he might give you a look every once in a while, and you're like, 'Hey, I'll catch it next time for you'."

It'd been a trying offseason in 2010 for LaSpada. When we last saw him, he was grimacing in pain on the sideline in the first quarter of a Division 1 playoff loss to Everett, with a torn ACL and meniscus and partially torn MCL in his right knee. He underwent a grueling, six-month rehabilitation following surgery on January 29; he dons the brace out there, but shows no gait with his stride. Without the knee brace, he looks almost brand new.

"His work ethic is second to none," Flynn said. "The agony he went through those first few weeks in his rehabilitation, and you wouldn't have even known it. He's so tough, he's so hard-working, he's blue-collar all the way. Definite blue-collar kid, all the way."

The most exciting thing to watch last year was his playmaking ability once the play broke down. LaSpada could dart and weave with the best of them, and somehow found the open man downfield to keep drives alive. But as Donohoe notes, this is how it's been since the days of young.

"Pop Warner? Oh man, it was like a man playing with boys," Donohoe recalls, laughing. "You'd come watch a game, and you would think 'Who's the kid that they've kept back three years in a row?' But that was Nick, playing with kids his age, even older than him.

"He played anything. He'd play center, he'd play linebacker, receiver, long snapper..."

Interrupted senior defensive end Justin Hood, "Mr. Everything."

The talent was always evident, but the progress he's made from year one to year three in his head has the Indians thinking highly again.

"Freshman year, they'd be throwing out Cover-3, Cover-4, and in Pop Warner you don't really learn that kind of stuff," LaSpada said. "From freshman year to junior year, you get all your reads, pre-snap and post-snap, everything's just alot faster and alot quicker. You make the reads alot quicker."

Last night, LaSpada celebrated his 17th birthday with a trip to The 99 in town with Flynn and assistant Dan Mackay. The conversation barely strayed from football -- "Once I'm out there, I can't wait to roll," LaSpada smiles. "I've been held up the last six or seven months."

And out in the practice field yesterday afternoon, behind the high school, that jacked-up fervor continued with the Indians' daily ritual at the end of warmups. One by one, the captains went down the line, pointed to a player in line, called them by name and bellowed "Whaddaya say?" The customary response is the player's best war cry.

All the while, Flynn walked through the lines, showering his boys with encouragement, complete with his own quirky twists.

"Visualize those swarming defensive tackles, visualize those great Billerica hits," he repeated.

Or...

"Attitude, that green and white attitude...you're here 'cause you love the game of football, 'cause you wanna be here...nobody outworks a Billerica kid! Nobody out-hustles a Billerica kid!"

Or...

"You're not part-time achievers, you're full-time achievers...whaddaya gonna do to get better today, boys! This is not the Riviera!"

And on and on the prose went, all afternoon.

Hey, when you've got a gifted arm in your arsenal, it's tough holding back.

BILLERICA AT A GLANCE
2009
: 10-2 (8-1 MVC), lost to Everett in Division 1 playoff
Coach: Peter Flynn (21st season, 140-80)
Players to watch: Nick LaSpada, Jr., QB, 6-2, 180 lbs (98 of 156, 1,483 yards, 21 touchdowns, five interceptions; 131 carries, 1,059 yards, eight touchdowns); Justin Hood, Sr., DE/OT, 6-4, 230 lbs; Ryan Donohoe, Sr., WR/FS, 6-2, 180 lbs; P.J. Metzler, Sr., OT/DT, 6-3, 325 lbs; Brandon Coello, Sr., FS/WR, 6-2, 190 lbs; Justin Fritz, Jr., LB/SB, 5-11, 175 lbs; Brian Thompson, Jr., LB, 5-11, 195 lbs; Matt Robinson, Jr., LB, 6-1, 210 lbs.
Strengths: Speed, athleticism.
Weaknesses: Kicking game.
Outlook: In a word: LaSpada. The reigning Gatorade Player of the Year and the Indians' all-everything quarterback is entering his junior season with a boatload of hype, but a heightened sense of humility. This year, the Indians are hoping to give him more support, especially given Donohoe's 4.5 speed and soft hands. Super-back Fritz, who will usually trail LaSpada in the backfield in Flynn's spread look, is one player expected to step up and make an impact. Defensively, the Indians will stick with 50 and 4-3 fronts, while Hood is expected to be an impact player once again. The senior is considered one of the MVC's quickest pass rushers off the edge.

No. 11 Methuen no longer an underdog

September, 7, 2010
9/07/10
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METHUEN, Mass. -- Here in this blue-collar city, nestled on the New Hampshire border, lies a certain reputation -- an identity, if you will -- that has come to be embraced.

Some call it toughness, others a chip on the shoulder. At Methuen High, it's a pathos of never initiating, but never relenting.

"It's like our swag, you know. It's kind of a Methuen thing," said Rangers quarterback Cal Carroll. "Kids around school have it, too, not just the football players...I wouldn't say 'cocky', but we never back down. That's a good way to put it."

Says head coach Pat Graham, "We've been known as a tough, scrappy group, which I think is a pretty good description of us. We're usually alot smaller than other teams, but we tend to just play really hard. I think last year, what happened is we won alot of games we weren't expected to win, and this year people have given us more credit."

In a relatively short time, Graham turned the Rangers from the Merrimack Valley Conference's welcome mat (33 straight losses before his hiring in 2007) to a lunch-pail gang capable of pulling the upset on anyone (see: Dracut, Thanksgiving 2008; Andover, Central Catholic, 2009). So try as they might, after quietly going 15-7 over the last two seasons, the Rangers are no longer perceived as the little engine that could.

Spearheading that change of winds is Carroll. The Rangers favor a zone-read look on offense, and without a consistent running game in 2009, the 6-foot, 180-pound signal-caller took matters into his own hands, eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark in rushing and passing and totaling 26 touchdowns (15 rushing). Lacking the speed of an outside runner and the size to handle continuous punishment up the middle, Carroll merely bulls his neck and plows ahead without regard for his safety -- "I'm here to play, not here to worry about bumps and bruises," he said.

"I'm always trying to crawl for the extra yards," he continued. "Even if it's just a spin move or that extra half-yard, I'll get that. No matter what it takes, I'll get that."

So perhaps it makes sense that Carroll dons the No. 16 in honor of a former Ranger player, wideout Dave Koerner -- "6-3, jumped through the roof," Carroll recalled of Koerner, who currently plays at Coastal Carolina. Carroll fondly recalls Koerner breaking his ankle midway through the 2007 season, and arriving Thanksgiving morning in full gear, taping his ankle "max, as if he was going to try to walk out there and play". He didn't, but two captains carried him out to midfield for the coin toss.

Graham, whose coaching career has taken him extensively through the college ranks before Methuen, doesn't hesitate to call Carroll one of the most competitive players he's ever coached.

"It's just one of those things, I know people like to make the joke, but he's the type of kid that would dive on the ground scraping, no matter what you were playing," Graham said. "His wanting to win, his overachieving, you can just see it. He just practices really hard every day, diving to get that extra inch in practice. Just a very serious kid who's driven and wants to win."

Helping relieve the load this year is senior Raudy Minaya, a close friend and basketball teammate of Carroll's. The two go back quite a ways, and their chemistry pays off on their timed routes. Able to jab-step and turn his hips on a corner route just as well as he can break a tackle, the Rangers will be putting the ball in Minaya's hands in a variety of ways after seeing him get pressed in double-coverage late last season.

With these newfound declarations of respect, of course, come the voices of reason hammering down egos with the stick of humility. But sometimes, you can't help but let that swagger leak through a little bit. Asked about their preseason together so far, Carroll grins about the touchdowns he's connected with his buddy in three scrimmages.

"Five times, right?" Carroll asked Minaya, with a bump of the fists.

It's a Methuen thing.

METHUEN AT A GLANCE
2009:
8-3 (6-3 MVC)
Coach: Pat Graham (fourth year, 17-16)
Players to watch: Cal Carroll, Sr., QB/S, 6-0, 170 lbs (1,058 rushing yards, 15 touchdowns; 1,035 passing yards, 11 touchdowns); Raudy Minaya, Sr., WR/DB, 6-2, 195 lbs; Mike Harper, Sr., LB/RB, 5-10, 200 lbs; Jason Doyle, Sr., OL/DE, 6-0, 195 lbs; Ryan Savastano, Jr., RB/DB, 5-9, 170 lbs; Tyler Bolduc, Sr., OT/DE, 6-1, 190 lbs; Sean Whittaker, Sr., OT/DL, 6-1, 265 lbs; Matt Whittaker, Jr., OG/DL, 6-0, 215 lbs; Dan Cormier, Sr., OL/DL, 6-4, 300 lbs; Steve Dizazzo, Sr., OL/DL, 6-3, 250 lbs; Kevin Higgins, Sr., WR/DB, 6-2, 165 lbs; Jimmy Staples, Sr., TE/DB, 6-2, 200 lbs; Jeff McAndrew, Sr., WR/DB, 5-11, 175 lbs; Eric LaCroix, Jr., DB, 6-2, 170 lbs; Matt Delmonte, Sr., LB/RB, 5-9, 200 lbs.
Strengths: Offensive experience, offensive line.
Weaknesses: Inexperience on defense, secondary.
Outlook: The Rangers will be looking for more balance in their offensive gameplan after leaving Carroll to shoulder most of the load as a dual-threat quarterback. Savastano has emerged as the front-runner at running back, but look for Minaya to get involved in a variety of ways, including taking handoffs out of the backfield and -- for the first time -- returning kicks. "He's a special kid as far as making plays and doing big things," Graham said. The experienced offensive line, led by the Whittaker brothers, will be counted upon to open up running lanes again, and match up favorably at the point of attack. Defensively, it will be tough to replace last year's MVC Small Co-Defensive Player of the Year, John McCarthy, and the Rangers may experiment with a three-man front at times. But they will remain a blitz-oriented squad, perhaps even up to 50 percent of the time.

No. 12 Wakefield is physical as they come

September, 7, 2010
9/07/10
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WAKEFIELD, Mass. -- Separate, the two are a handful. Together, they are a headache.

The Warriors' duo of Brandon Johnson and Anthony Fabiano, at left tackle and tight end respectively, are one of the biggest tackle-tight end combinations in New England. Johnson, who checks in at 6-foot-4 and 295 pounds, is a brutish tackle that will aggravate opposing defensive tackles on down blocks. He is a strong anchor on the offensive line for Wakefield, but is also quick.

Fabiano is also a strong run-blocker, but will also impose his will on the Middlesex League’s linebackers in the passing game. The 6-foot-5, 265-pound tight end is regarded as one of the state’s premier players at the position, and ranked as the No. 5 overall prospect in Massachusetts by ESPN. Fabiano currently holds scholarship offers from Bryant and New Hampshire, but also interest from a number of schools including Connecticut and Boston College.

"[Fabiano]'s really talented," senior co-captain Adam Bruzzese said of the tight end. "He’s big, he can block and he’s got great hands. He can also move for a guy that is 265 pounds."

Wakefield High coach Mike Boyages will not only use these two as a powerful double-team on linemen in the five-technique, but also looks to pull and trap with the duo as much as possible.

"We have two big guys that we can run behind," Boyages said of his weapons. "If we had a few more big guys it would obviously be better, but generally speaking I think it’s just nice to have those two."

The Warriors will rely a lot on the offensive line with a new quarterback this year.

Last season the Warriors got off to a 1-5 start and were very inconsistent. Boyages then sparked up the Warriors’ run-game and -- even with a barrage of injuries -- finished the season on a 5-game win streak.

With the duo of Johnson and Fabiano on the left side, all signs point to Wakefield’s run-happy offense starting right where it left off.

WAKEFIELD AT A GLANCE
2009 record:
6-5
Coach: Mike Boyages (14th year, 96-39-3)
Players to watch: Anthony Fabiano, Sr., TE/DE, 6-5, 265 lbs.; Brandon Johnson, Sr., OT/DT, 6-4, 295 lbs.; Brendan Looby, Sr., DB/WR, 5-10, 165 lbs.; Adam Bruzzese, Sr., LB/WR, 5-9, 185 lbs.; Greg Ledin, Sr., LB/TE, 6-0, 175 lbs.; Josh Puccio, Jr., RB, 6-1, 185 lbs.; Nick Calderon, Jr., DB, 5-9, 165 lbs.; Vinny DiSciscio, Sr., RB/S, 5-9, 175 lbs.; Ervin St. Jean, Sr., RB/DB, 5-10, 185 lbs.
Strengths: Skills position, size
Weaknesses: Inexperience, speed
Outlook: Wakefield has a lot of returning running backs from last year’s team. They also have the two big-men on the offensive line returning. However, after that, the Warriors are looking to fit in a lot of new players into the lineup. Connor O’Brien is coming off of major knee surgery and is projected as the team’s starting quarterback. While Wakefield does not have any players that will necessarily blow teams away with their speed, the team has a deep secondary

No huddle, no problem for No. 13 Westford

September, 5, 2010
9/05/10
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WESTFORD, Mass. -- The pieces are fitting together.

Whether it is the no-huddle offense, his team’s skill set or just the right equation of players, Westford Academy head coach Rich McKenna is achieving great success to start off his tenure with the Grey Ghosts.

[+] EnlargeWestford Football
Neil Carroll for ESPNBoston.comWith Zack Ingalls, Patrick Dugan and Mark Cornelius in the backfield, Westford is a favorite to capture its second straight Dual County League title.
Last year, McKenna took over the team after the departure of long-time coach Mike Parent and led the Grey Ghosts to an 8-4 season and a playoff berth. Although Westford lost to Gloucester in the first round of the Division 1A playoffs, the team’s statistics were impressive.

Before the season, McKenna evaluated the personnel he had at Westford, and decided that running an audible-based offense would benefit his players.

"I looked at the other sports here, and how successful the skill-sports were," McKenna said of the switch. "...I knew we had a lot of skill, so I thought we could play an up-tempo style of football here."

Quarterback Patrick Dugan had 25 passing touchdowns to go along with 12 rushing touchdowns last season. Dugan mastered the art of the no-huddle and was exactly what McKenna needed in a quarterback.

"Basically the quarterback makes sure everybody is on the same page," McKenna said of Dugan. "It all stems off of him, and he’s pretty much the straw that stirs the drink."

Dugan has a variety of weapons to choose from at Westford. Whether it is his favorite target Mark Cornelius at wide receiver, or returning running backs John Hennessy or Mark Ingalls out of the backfield, Dugan spreads the ball well.

"I love [the no-huddle offense]," Dugan said of the playbook. "It gives us a chance to tire our opponents out, score fast and put up a lot of points per game."

While it does not appear that he has the speed to be a top wide receiver, Cornelius is still very quick, and at 6-foot-3 has phenomenal hands. Last year, he and Dugan two hooked up for 17 touchdowns through the air; and with all the hype and excitement since, week one can’t come soon enough.

"We have our set plays that we can go to, but I can always look out to [Cornelius] and give him a variety of different options," Dugan said of the chemistry he has with his wide receiver. "We can always tell what the defense is in so he knows what I’m going to call and we’re always clicking."

Said Cornelius, "We have a pretty good chemistry. He knows when I’m open to throw me the ball, and he yells at me, I yell at him, but we’re good."

WESTFORD AT A GLANCE
2009 record:
8-4 (lost to Gloucester in the first round of playoffs)
Coach: Rich McKenna (Second year, 8-4)
Players to watch: Patrick Dugan, Sr., QB, 6-0, 200 lbs., (25 passing TDs, 12 rushing TDs) ; Zack Ingalls, Sr., WR/RB/LB, 5-11, 210 lbs. (23 all-purpose TDs); Mark Cornelius, Sr., WR, 6-3, 190 lbs. (17 TDs); Mark Hennessy, Sr., RB/LB, 6-0, 200 lbs.; Joe Donnelly, Jr., NT, 5-7, 210 lbs.; Mike Doran, Jr., S, 5-10, 165 lbs.; Mike Mizzoni, Sr., OG/DT, 6-0, 240 lbs.; Ralph Barisano, Sr., LB, 6-3, 200 lbs.
Strengths: Up-tempo offense, skill positions.
Weaknesses: Size, physicality.
Outlook: This year the Grey Ghosts have a lot of positions to fill at the offensive line. While the lineman they have now fit McKenna’s system, they are definitely inexperienced. However that may go unnoticed if Dugan can keep up the chemistry with his offensive options. The quarterback is one of the best in the DCL, and has a lot of talent around him. On defense, Westford is again lacking in lineman but experienced at linebacker and in the secondary.

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