Boston High School: Ian Kessel

D2 North: Haverhill 42, Newton South 12

November, 2, 2014
11/02/14
12:27
AM ET
HAVERHILL, Mass. -– On offense, it was dash. On defense, it was brash.

In their second straight year hosting a first round playoff game at Trinity Stadium, the No. 4 seed Haverhill Hillies jumped on Newton South from the opening kickoff, and rolled to a 42-12 win and a date with Reading in the Division 2 North tournament.

The Hillies scored on their first offensive touch when Patrick Yale took a Newton South punt back 52 yards for a touchdown. After that it Haverhill punished the Lions on both sides of the ball, opened up a 21-0 lead 28 seconds into the second quarter, and cruised the rest of the way.

Haverhill's defense wreaked havoc all night for Newton South quarterback Austin Burton. The Hillies had wrinkles in every defensive package they showed, and the front seven was able to shoot the interior gaps of the line consistently from start to finish. Burton threw for 169 yards and a touchdown, but the Hillies were able to pick him off four times and sack him four times.

“[Our goal was] to be active, move around, and play several coverages and not have him pick us apart,” Haverhill coach Tim O'Connor said. “We played several coverages within coverages tonight. I relied on seniors across the board, and we were healthy this week which was good.”

The manic defensive attack was led by senior linebacker Phillip Panici. Panici along with Albert Maldonado and Abraham Kann kept rushers contained on the inside while also bringing pressure up the middle using a variety of looks.

“We were just more physical up front,” Panici said. “That's what it came down to. Yeah [Burton's] good, but a sophomore's going to have some nerves. We were able to fly around, be physical up front and get to him.”

Pick your poison: Haverhill's offense is bare bones, but its simplicity is complemented by depth where it's needed.

The rushing attack of Ian Kessel, Pedro Santiago, Samie Al-Siab, and Broughean McGovern combined to rush for 254 yards. Kessel led the charge with 119 yards and a touchdown. Santiago rushed for 67 yards and a score, and he caught a 13-yard touchdown pass from McGovern. McGovern and Al-Siab rushed for 36 and 32 yards, respectively, and each had a touchdown. Two of those touchdowns came off of a pair of Hillie interceptions.

Having such a breadth of capable runners allows O'Connor, and the Hillies, to use decoys to keep opposing defenses at bay while the ball carrier chugs along behind Haverhill's large offensive line.

“You want to take the edge we'll run inside; you want to take away inside we'll go outside,” O'Connor said. “They gave us several looks and we adjusted to every one of them.”

“It's great to have three good tailbacks in me, Pedro, and Ian,” Al-Siab said. “They never know what's going to come. Guys are started to key me as the fullback so we'll fake [to] me and run tosses or sweeps. It works great because they never know what's coming."

The rise of Haverhill: Between 2006 and 2010 Haverhill was an afterthought in the Merrimack Valley Conference. Winless seasons in 2007 and 2009, and six total wins over that period, seemed to be more harbinger of things to come then a passing phase. Yet, since this year's senior class stepped onto campus in 2011 the Hilles have won 25 games, and they've capped it off with the program's first MVC Small title since 2001 and their first trip to the sectional semifinals.

“When us seniors came in freshmen year we wanted to change the program; that was our goal,” Al-Siab said. “So to finally win an MVC title, we're going to make a playoff run now, it's really something special. I hope we can keep it going.”

Roundtable: Predicting MIAA Football District Champs

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
4:21
PM ET
EDITOR'S NOTE: Picks for Western Mass. are omitted, as the district concludes its final week of regular season this weekend)

Brendan Hall
ESPN Boston High Schools Editor


Division 1 North: Everett
Plain and simple, I just don’t see John DiBiaso getting outcoached in this field.

Division 1 South: Attleboro
One of several surprise picks I’m going to lay down here. The Blue Bombardiers’ program has long been a sleeping giant, and they’ve finally awoken this fall with a slew of skilled athletes, including quarterback Tim Walsh, tight end Luke Morrison, receiver Brenden Massey and promising young two-way lineman Kyle Murphy. The key may be junior Damon Belin, a speedy pass-catching running back who is elusive in space.

Division 2 North: Haverhill
Hard to think just two years after an 0-11 campaign, the Hillies are the No. 1 seed in a playoff tournament. Sophomore running back Ian Kessel, one of the area’s leaders in yards from scrimmage, has been at the forefront of the renaissance, and I expect him to have a breakout campaign this next month.

Division 2 South: Natick
If there is one player capable of carrying his team on his back, it is quarterback Troy Flutie, who has put up video game numbers yet again (2,500-plus yards, 35 TD) with an assortment of supporting cast members.

Division 2 Central: Leominster
This is the most talented team of Dave Palazzi’s tenure, and it may be his best coaching job yet. They are not the most physically intimidating team, but they are one of the most disciplined, and they squeeze every inch out of their talents, led by dual threat QB Neil O’Connor. The Blue Devils brought the biggest crowd ever to Gillette Stadium two years ago. I can only imagine what kind of caravan from this football-mad city would show up this year.

Division 3 Northeast: Tewksbury
There may be some bumps in the road in this field, but at the end of the day there isn’t a team as deep as the Redmen in this field. They were the most dominant team in the MVC this season, and with a stable of running backs led by James Sullivan and Eddie Matovu, along with a scheme that draws formations from seemingly every family of offense throughout history, I just don’t see how anyone knocks these guys off.

Division 3 Northwest: Arlington
Two Dubzinskis are better than one, and the father-son duo of head coach John Jr. and his father John Sr. as defensive coordinator has taken the Middlesex by storm this fall after showing promise a year ago. I don’t know what direction this bracket is headed in, but the Spy Ponders are a safe pick.

Division 3 Southeast: Plymouth South
As long as Dylan Oxsen is carrying the rock, I don’t see anyone but the Panthers taking this bracket. It’s a different story after that, though.

Division 3 Southwest: Walpole
The Rebels’ ground game has come along well, after hitting a few bumps. As long as the defense can hold up, their multi-dimensional stable of backs can do the rest.

Division 4 North: Bedford
Another field that can go in an assortment of directions, the ground game dictated by Olan Abner could be the difference.

Division 4 South: Dennis-Yarmouth
The Dolphins typically hit their stride in the second half of the season, and the way this offense is clicking, it’s going to take a flawless defensive performance to shut down Spencer Tyler, Michael Dunn and company.

Division 4 Central: Doherty
Twitter follower and familiar 98.5 The Sports Hub caller “Aidan From Worcester” guarantees Shepherd Hill beats Doherty in this bracket. The Rams are a dangerous bunch, but the Highlanders have arguably the best grouping of pure athletes statewide across Division 4, so I'm sticking to my gut.

Division 5 North: Bishop Fenwick
Rufus Rushins gets much of the glory in this dominant run for the Crusaders, and deservedly so, but quarterback Nick Bona is the catalyst of this offense, and will be the difference in a close game somewhere down the line.

Division 5 South: Abington
The Green Wave lost some key bodies to start the year, but have been rolling ever since, capped with a convincing 36-7 rout of East Bridgewater. The versatile backfield of Al Freeman, Jason Halpin, quarterback Bryan Dwyer and promising sophomore Shawn Donovan will wear front sevens down.

Division 5 Central: Leicester
Tom Rodrick has been the driving force on both sides of the ball, but quarterback Drew Mazzeo puts the Wolverines over the top.

Division 6 North: Latin Academy
There are trendier picks in this field, such as Boston Cathedral, but the Dragons have one of the better overall athletes in this field in quarterback/safety Kyle Dance. He will be the difference.

Division 6 South: Upper Cape
Mike Hernon has done a fantastic job with this program, and while the Rams are a low seed headed into this wide-open field, Jon Dumont is a dangerous asset to this triple-option scheme who can take them deep.

Division 6 Central: Blackstone Valley Tech
Nic Wojnar is as elusive with his feet as he is throwing the ball in the Beavers’ read option scheme. Expect big numbers from the senior this postseason.

***

Scott Barboza
ESPN Boston High Schools Editor


DIVISION 1 NORTH: Lowell
I’ve gone on record since the summertime months saying the Red Raiders are making an appearance at Gillette Stadium this year. Lowell has a tough road there, staring with a first-round road game at St. John’s Prep in the No. 4 vs. No. 5 swing matchup, but I’ve like the strides this defense has made behind Alex Quintero and Shyheim Cullen.

DIVISION 2 NORTH: Haverhill
One of the tougher races to project in Eastern Mass., the Hillies enter as the No. 1 seed. Preseason favorite Reading, a buzz worthy Waltham team and old stalwarts Lincoln-Sudbury could all claim the prize, but I’m going with the upstart Hillies, vindication for the terrific job Tim O’Connor has done since taking over the program.

DIVISION 3 NORTHEAST: Tewksbury
Marblehead might have the best athlete in the field with two-sport standout Brooks Tyrrell, but Tewksbury proves too much to handle, with a three-headed rushing attack and a stout defense.

DIVISION 3 NORTHWEST: Melrose
The Red Raiders lone loss of the regular season came against Middlesex Freedom division rival Wakefield, coming on a late field goal, but I like Melrose the second time around. The teams couldn’t meet until the sectional final and who wouldn’t love ensuring a third meeting of the season by Thanksgiving rivals.

DIVISION 4 NORTH: Watertown
Perhaps a surprise pick coming out of the division, the Red Raiders have some athletes on the boundaries with T.J. Hairston. I think Bedford might be the team to watch here, but just playing a hunch.

DIVISION 5 NORTH: Bishop Fenwick
Pick the Crusaders to go all the way, on a tear through Gillette. They haven’t just beaten teams, they’ve annihilated the CCL’s best, including St. Mary’s (first-round opponent) and Austin Prep, which they both will/can see down the road.

DIVISION 6 NORTH: Cathedral
Another North-based team I have running the field. As I mentioned earlier in the state championship Roundtable, I think the Panthers are just hitting their stride now. This could be the second championship of more to come.

DIVISION 1 SOUTH: Xaverian
Almost wanted to pull the trigger and go with Bridgewater-Raynham here, but I think the Hawks’ defense, which has carried them through the regular season, continues to be the story in the postseason, leading them to Gillette.

DIVISION 2 SOUTH: Mansfield
If this were the World Cup, this would be referred to as the “Group of Death.” Seriously, whichever team survives this gauntlet will be battle-tested. Ever since Week 1, it seems as though Mansfield’s been a team of destiny; they follow through.

DIVISION 3 SOUTHEAST: Plymouth South
An intriguing bracket, littered with some of the Atlantic Coast League’s finest, so look no further than the Panthers, the league’s playoff representative from last season. Nauset and Plymouth North are lurking, but also don’t look past an underrated rivalry game between Somerset-Berkley and Dighton-Rehoboth as a first-round appetizer.

DIVISION 3 SOUTHWEST: Oliver Ames
Another division strongly influenced by the presence of one particular league, in this case the Hockomock. OA and Stoughton drew the top two seeds, but let’s not sleep on No. 4 seed North Attleborough, which plays up in the Kelley-Rex division. Whichever team emerges from the Red Rocketeers’ first-round duel with Walpole could be a dark horse for the sectional title.

DIVISION 4 SOUTH: Westwood
Tons of Tri-Valley League talent to go around here, but I’m sticking with the regular-season champion. It wouldn’t shock me in the slightest if Dennis-Yarmouth wears the sectional crown, but the Wolverines are a team that simply seems to get it done when the chips are on the table, led by dynamic senior quarterback Bo Berluti.

DIVISION 5 SOUTH: Cardinal Spellman
Old Rochester Regional enters the tournament with the No. 1 seeding, having posted some gaudy offensive numbers throughout the year behind running back Richie Phillips. I picked the Cardinals to win the state title from the start of the season, and while I like Fenwick a little more in terms of the state championship, I still envision Spellman returning to Gillette.

DIVISION 6 SOUTH: Millis/Hopedale
Perhaps no injury will have a greater impact on the outlook of the division than that of the Mohawks and lineman Jon Baker. Granted, I still like M/H’s chances emerging from a wide-open field, thanks to running back Chris Ahl. That being said, the Mohawks’ first-round date with Mashpee could determine the sectional champion.

DIVISION 2 CENTRAL: Leominster
I like the Blue Devils to advance to Gillette, but the sectional field is fraught with peril, too. Marlborough and St. John’s (Shrewsbury) can score with the best of them, but I don’t think anything short of an act of god slows down the Leominster caravan.

DIVISION 4 CENTRAL: Doherty
From season’s start, I’ve tabbed the Highlanders as my statewide Division 4 championship favorite. However, the toughest matchup in the path might very well in their first-round test against No. 6 seed Quabbin.

DIVISION 5 CENTRAL: Leicester
Coming into the season, it would have been easy to project Auburn running away with another championship of sorts, but I’m going with the No. 1-seeded Wolverines, led by linebacker Tom Rodrick – a strong Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

DIVISION 6 CENTRAL: West Boylston
This is a case of what have you done for me lately? While No. 1 seed Littleton rolled through its Mid-Wach schedule undefeated, scoring at a clip of nearly 43 points per game, West Boylston notched a thorough win over previously mentioned Leicester two weeks ago. Granted, the Lions’ lone loss of the season came at the hands of Littleton, but after a one-possession loss in Week 1, I’m banking on the second meeting having a different outcome.

Recap: No. 10 Tewksbury 28, Haverhill 14

October, 19, 2013
10/19/13
12:28
AM ET
TEWKSBURY, Mass. –- With the lights shining bright, for the first time in Doucette Stadium, it would be business as usual for the hometown Tewksbury Redmen on Friday night.

Tewksbury (6-0) secured their third consecutive Merrimack Valley Conference Division 2 title as they defeated Haverhill 28-14 in the first ever night game played in the history of Doucette Stadium.

The Redmen brought in the portable lights for the “Friday Night Lights” event and the players responded, coming out strong on their opening drive of the game.

The 12-play, 70-yard drive was capped off by a 5-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Johnny Aylward to fullback Tom Casey, out of the backfield, to give Tewksbury a 7-0 lead with four minutes remaining in the first quarter.

Haverhill would respond with 7:57 on the clock in the second quarter, as running back Ian Kessel scored to tie the game at 7-7. The sophomore showed off his speed and explosiveness on the 14-yard touchdown run that concluded an 85-yard Haverhill scoring drive.

Kessel’s touchdown was set up by a beautiful 33-yard completion from quarterback Shane Finn to wide receiver Piero Garcia. Kessel rushed for 43 of his team-high 65 yards on the scoring drive.

“They are a strong team up front,” Tewksbury head coach Brian Aylward said of Haverhill’s offensive line. “They have three very good backs and have a lot of good, hard-nosed kids.”

Tewksbury would regain the lead on the following possession, as they would execute another 70-yard scoring drive that Casey would complete, as the junior took it in from three yards out to give Tewksbury a 14-7 lead with 3:23 remaining in the half.

Key Moment: With time running out in the first half Tewkbury backed Haverhill up deep in their own territory and forced a punt that gave the Redmen favorable field position at the Haverhill 27 yard line with 2:47 remaining in the half.

James Sullivan (124 rushing yards) would capitalize on the short field, as the junior running back would take it in from two yards out, with 1:17 on the clock, to give Tewksbury a 21-7 lead that they would take to the half.

“That was huge,” Aylward said of the final scoring sequence. “It ended up being real huge with how the second half played out. That was a critical time there. We were pretty conservative right there with the timeouts and we have a tremendous amount of respect for that coaching staff at Haverhill.”

Both teams would exchange fourth quarter touchdowns as Johnny Aylward tossed a 38-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Dick for Tewksbury and Kessel would run in another touchdown (18 yards) for Haverhill, as both teams turned up the defensive intensity and limited each other’s scoring opportunities in the second half.

Winning Balance: With the win the Tewksbury continued to show a balanced team approach of using a strong running attack, timely passing, strong special teams and a staunch defensive effort.

Tewksbury is now averaging 35 points per game and has outscored their combined opponents 206-82 through their first six wins.

“All around I think our guys made plays when we needed to make plays,” Aylward said. “Special teams too; I thought they made some great plays on the kickoffs.”

The defensive effort and the running game (280 yards rushing) were the stories all night as both factors seemed to eventually wear down the big and strong Haverhill front lines.

Haverhill received strong defensive performances on the night from seniors Michael Kwegyir-Attah (2 Sacks) and Matt Burns.

Tewksbury middle linebacker John Saunders was everywhere for the Redmen on the night as he patrolled the field, going sideline-to-sideline, and exploding through the line to tackle Haverhill ball carriers.

Eddie Matovu also had a big game for the Redmen on both sides of the ball as he had 70 yards rushing on the night along with a strong defensive performance in which he held the edge all night from his outside linebacker/rover position.

Recap: Haverhill 17, Methuen 0

October, 5, 2013
10/05/13
12:55
AM ET
METHUEN, Mass. – It was all about team defense on Friday night as the Haverhill Hillies received a balanced and poised effort from their defense to shut out the previously unbeaten Methuen Rangers, 17-0.

Haverhill (3-1) used a ground-and-pound approach offensively to complement their staunch defensive effort as running back Tommy Maguire exploded for 160 yards rushing on 17 carries to go with two fourth-quarter touchdowns to lead the Hillie offensive attack.

Proving to be one of the state’s most dynamic one-two punches, Maguire and Ian Kessel (20 rushes, 91 yards) ran around and though the Methuen (4-1) defense, doing the majority of their work in the second half of play.

“We knew we were going to have to win close games this season,” Maguire said after the game. “We pride ourselves in our defense and we came out and played hard to earn the win.”

Despite a scoreless first half Haverhill defensive back Josh Dion made a big interception at the Haverhill goal line to thwart a promising Methuen drive deep in Hillie territory.

With the teams scoreless, Haverhill mounted their strongest drive of the game late in the third quarter, highlighted by a spectacular 35-yard reception by John Ramsdell (5 receptions, 52 yards) on a deep toss from quarterback Shane Finn.

Still scoreless, deep in to the third quarter of play, Patrick Yale calmly stepped in and nailed a 36-yard field goal to give Haverhill the game’s first points and a 3-0 lead with 53 seconds remaining in the third.

It would be all Haverhill and Maguire in the fourth quarter as the senior ripped off touchdown runs of 26 and 61 yards to help solidify the team win.

“I think it really just came down to preparation this week,” Haverhill head coach Tim O’Connor said after the game. “The game was supposed to be Saturday and got moved to Friday and we ended up practicing a little longer than usual ad we put it on the kids and they came though.”

Running back Will Weinhold (85 yards from scrimmage) and linebacker Luis Sanchez played well for Methuen in the loss.

Game Balls and Team-D: O’Connor handed his game balls in the post-game talk to linebacker Phil Panici and defensive lineman Matt Burns. Both players helped lead the shutout effort and played strong games up front. The did a good job stuffing the Methuen run, forcing long third downs and providing pressure in the Ranger backfield all night long.

“If you want to be the best you need to beat the best,” O’Connor said. “They were the best at 4-0 and that is what we did tonight.”

It was a true team effort on defense as a number of Hillies stepped up and made big plays. Whether it was linebacker Michael Kwegyir-Attah setting the edge, linebacker Stephane Bristol making big hits over the middle, or defensive lineman Sammy Al-Ziab firing in to the Methuen backfield for a sack, the Hillie defense was up to the challenge.

“We knew that we were going to be strong defensively this year,” O’Connor said. “We returned nine kids on the defensive side of the ball and I told people, that if we start clicking, watch out.”

The Hillie defensive backfield also played a disciplined game as they stayed at home and read their keys with Dion and Chiedozie Onwuka (big late-game INT) also stepping up to secure two of the three Methuen turnovers on the night.

“We did a lot of film study,” O’Connor said. “It is a credit to the staff, and a credit to the kids. These kids work real-hard in the film room, staying late and just preparing.”

Despite a 40-0 loss to Central Catholic two weeks back, Haverhill has defeated two strong offenses in Beverly and Lawrence and held both teams below 20 points at 19 and 12 points, respectively.

MVC D2 Race: Both teams were coming off big Merrimack Valley Conference Division 2 wins last weekend, as Haverhill defeated Lawrence, 26-12, and Methuen shut down Dracut, 35-20.

The victory on Friday night was an important one for Haverhill as they look to keep pace with No. 17-ranked Tewksbury (4-0), at the top of the MVC Division 2 standings.

The Hillies will get their crack at the Redmen on Oct. 18, as The Redmen host the Hillies in a Friday night game at Doucette Stadium in Tewksbury. The Hillies must first tangle with Dracut next Friday as they play host to the dangerous and upset-minded Middies in a 7 p.m. kickoff.

Methuen will travel to Tewksbury next Saturday at 1:30 p.m. and will play their final MVC D2 contest at home against North Andover on Oct. 18 at 7 p.m.

ESPN Boston Week 5 football picks

October, 3, 2013
10/03/13
2:53
PM ET
No. 14 PLYMOUTH SOUTH (3-0) at DENNIS-YARMOUTH (1-2), Friday 6 p.m.

Scott Barboza: I think Dylan Oxsen could play on one leg, with arm tied behind his back and the Panthers will be just fine. Plymouth South, 14-7.

Brendan Hall: I think South’s archrival, Plymouth North, laid out a good game plan for shutting down D-Y after the Dolphins looked like world-beaters in Week 1. Like their cross-town enemies to the North, much of South’s running game is predicated on power and counter sets; spliced in with all of the misdirection element the pistol offense brings, and I think the Panthers can stay in control here. Plymouth South, 24-14.

No. 7 BROCKTON (2-1) at BC HIGH (1-2), Friday 7 p.m.

Barboza: I like the Boxers’ chances at controlling the line of scrimmage behind Aaron Monteiro and Co. Brockton, 30-21.

Hall: Given BC High’s difficulties defending the pass, but stout ability at defending the run (for the most part), the Eagles can pull off the upset here as long as they stay disciplined. The bye week has been pretty kind to teams looking to re-charge the batteries or clean up some deficiencies – just look at what it did for Everett, Barnstable and Springfield Central. BC High, 18-16.

LONGMEADOW (2-1) at No. 3 SPRINGFIELD CENTRAL (2-1), Friday 7 p.m.

Barboza: The Lancers are wont to play ball-control and keep the Golden Eagles’ offense off the field; it’s just a matter of whether they can keep pace with them. Central, 21-14.

Hall: I think the Lancers end Central’s shutout streak, but the Golden Eagles have made a habit lately of dispatching opponents early in the game. This is the premier non-Thanksgiving rivalry in Western Mass. right now, but if the Lancers get into a track meet with these guys this could get untracked. Central, 35-21.

No. 11 ST. JOHN’S OF SHREWSBURY (2-1) at NASHOBA (3-0), Friday 7 p.m.

Barboza: Credit to the Chieftains who simply reload year after year, but the streak comes to a halt at No. 29. St. John’s, 34-28.

Hall: I have a feeling this could be a high-scoring game, with the amount of possessions St. John’s offense surrenders to the opposition. Andrew Smiley and Co. do just enough to stay ahead of the Chieftains, and end their state-best 29-game win streak, but this Wing-T offense for Nashoba is fluid. Helps that the coaching staff went from one Tucker to another this past offseason – continuity is pivotal. St. John’s, 40-30.

HAVERHILL (2-1) at METHUEN (4-0), Friday 7 p.m.

Barboza: Hillies RB Ian Kessel can play foil, but the Rangers keep sailing along. Methuen, 28-20.

Hall: Just because it’s the MVC, let’s set the over/under at 65 total points scored in this one. Haverhill, 35-30.

BISHOP FENWICK (3-0) at No. 21 CARDINAL SPELLMAN (3-0), Friday 7 p.m.

Barboza: The Crusaders do not have an answer for Rory Donovan. Spellman, 32-27.

Hall: Talk about adapting to your talent. It wasn’t too long ago the Crusaders’ leading receiver caught 106 passes. Now, they have a bull in the backfield by the name of Rufus Rushins, and they are unleashing him thoroughly. Fenwick, 28-17.

No. 1 MANSFIELD (3-0) at No. 23 ATTLEBORO (3-0), Friday 7 p.m.

Barboza: If the Blue Bombardiers can force turnovers the way they did last week against Franklin, the Hornets could be in for a real fight. But otherwise … Ding, dong, the curse is dead. Mansfield, 42-38.

Hall: Not sure if my brain can process the spectre of having a sixth straight week with a new No. 1. Mansfield, 20-13.

No. 12 DUXBURY (2-1) at HINGHAM (2-1), Friday 7 p.m. (At Scituate H.S.)

Barboza: This was supposed to be the Harbormen’s night to shine, with a new field, new attitude and all. But the karma just sides with the Dragons somehow. Duxbury, 13-10.

Hall: Every year we keep saying the same narrative: “The Dragons still have one more good run in them”. At some point, we’re all going to have to accept the fact that these guys just re-load every year. Still, this has always been a difficult matchup for the Dragons. Duxbury, 10-7.

CATHOLIC MEMORIAL (1-2) at No. 5 XAVERIAN (2-1), Saturday 2:15 p.m.

Barboza: Think the bounce-back factor is in play here, after the Hawks saw their No. 1 ranking go up in smokes at Barnstable. A.J. King will come in even greater focus in Xaverian’s attack with the loss of D.J. Sperzel. Xaverian, 34-21.

Hall: Even with the loss to D.J. Sperzel, the Hawks have more than enough in the tank to stay ahead of CM in this one. Xaverian, 24-10.

No. 25 WALPOLE (2-1) at WELLESLEY (1-2), Saturday 2:30 p.m.

Barboza: I think the Rebels’ defense is better suited to shutting down Wellesley’s offense, as opposed to Needham a few weeks ago. Walpole, 16-10.

Hall: Upset City, part 2. We saw what a team with spread packages like Needham can do to the Walpole defense, and the Rebels are going to have their work cut out for them trying to solve Wellesley quarterback John Fadule. Like Chris Sarni last year, Fadule is a gunslinger who is as unpredictable as he is creative. Good luck, gents. Wellesley, 31-28.

LAWRENCE ACADEMY (1-1) at MILTON ACADEMY (2-0), Saturday 3:30 p.m.

Barboza: Justin Yoon comes in clutch with the last-minute field goal. It’s formulaic but effective. Milton Academy, 23-20.

Hall: Good start to the season for Milton, but I like LA’s athletes on the perimeter a little bit more. LA, 20-7.

GOVERNOR’S ACADEMY (2-0) at ST. SEBASTIAN’S (1-1), Saturday 7 p.m.

Barboza: Akin to Nashoba, the streak ends this week. St. Seb’s, 14-10.

Hall: Arrows are looking mighty impressive after that commanding win over Roxbury Latin, but the Governors just continue to cruise along. Will they ever lose again? There is some voodoo going on up there in Byfield. Govs, 27-17.

GAME OF THE WEEK – HOLLISTON (4-0) at No. 20 WESTWOOD (2-1), Friday 7 p.m.

Barboza: Wolverines head coach Ed Mantie really likes his linebacking corps, led by Scott McManus, this year. They’re the difference. Westwood, 31-27.

Hall: Zach Elkinson is averaging a touchdown for every 2.8 touches, and 21.3 yards every time he gets the ball. That’s just insane, I don’t care who the opponents have been. Holliston, 28-24.

Last Week’s Picks:
Barboza: 8-4 (31-16 overall)

Hall: 9-3 (31-16 overall)

Mr. Football Watch: Week 4

October, 1, 2013
10/01/13
5:03
PM ET
Here is our latest "Mr. Football Watch" following Week 4 of the 2013 season. Statistics can be sent to editors Brendan Hall (bhall@espnboston.com) and/or Scott Barboza (sbarboza@espnboston.com)

THE CONTENDERS*

Troy Flutie, Sr. QB, Natick
Did it all in the Redhawks’ 35-14 win over Wellesley, completing 20 of 30 passes for 236 yards and five touchdowns, and adding 170 rushing yards.

Brandon Gallagher, Jr. RB, Bridgewater-Raynham
Carried 20 times for 232 yards and three touchdowns in the Trojans’ 32-0 shutout of New Bedford.

Jack Galvin, Sr. WR, Lowell
Caught four passes for 39 yards and a score in the Red Raiders’ 32-6 win over Billerica.

Brendan Hill, Jr. TE/DE, Mansfield
Caught four passes for 31 yards in the Hornets’ 35-14 win over North Attleborough, but where he did most of his damage was on the defensive side, setting the edge and containing.

Neil O’Connor, Sr. QB, Leominster
Threw for 188 yards and three touchdowns, and added 40 rushing yards, in the Blue Devils’ 41-14 win over Shepherd Hill.

Dylan Oxsen, Sr. RB, Plymouth South
Ran for 191 yards and a touchdown, and added a 90-yard interception return – his second pick-six and three games – in the Panthers’ 21-14 win over cross-town rival Plymouth North.

Mike Panepinto, Sr. RB, Needham
Carried 12 times for 147 yards and two scores in the Rockets’ 41-12 rout of Newton North.

Andrew Smiley, Sr. QB, St. John’s (Shrewsbury)
Completed 12 of 21 passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns in the Pioneers’ wild 20-15 thriller over rival Fitchburg.

Johnathan Thomas, Sr. RB, St. John’s Prep
Carried 19 times for 96 yards in the Eagles’ loss to Everett. But even worse, he is reportedly undergoing season-ending knee surgery later this week after getting hurt in the second half of the game.

Cody Williams, Sr. QB, Springfield Central
In another easy rout, this one a 49-0 drubbing of Holyoke, Williams completed 9 of 12 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns.

Ju’an Williams, Sr. WR, Springfield Central
Caught two passes for 42 yards and score in the Golden Eagles’ 49-0 blanking of Holyoke.

Kyle Wisnieski, Sr. QB, Mansfield
Completed 11 of 16 passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns in the Hornets’ 35-14 win over North Attleborough.

FIVE ON THE RISE

Ryan Barabe, Jr. QB, Pope John Paul II
In the Lions’ 26-22 loss to Boston Cathedral, completed 18 of 25 passes for 279 yards and three scores and an interception. On the season, he is completing 68 percent of his passes for 776 yards and eight scores, which is among the state’s best.

Derek Estes, Sr. CB, Barnstable
Came up with two interceptions in the Red Raiders’ upset of then-No. 1 Xaverian last Friday, helping seal a 15-14 win at the end. He leads the Raiders with three interceptions through three games.

Ian Kessel, Soph. RB, Haverhill
Slowly establishing himself as one of the premier pass-catching tailbacks in Eastern Mass. Through four games he has 245 receiving yards and three touchdowns to go along with 331 rushing yards and five more scores.

Dylan Kierman, Sr. QB, Quabbin
Currently leads all passers in Central Mass. with 774 yards and nine touchdowns.

Brooks Tyrrell, Jr. RB, Marblehead
The Notre Dame lacrosse commit continues his torrid tear through the first half of the season, the latest a 27-carry, 181-yard, two-touchdown performance in a 35-7 win over rival Swampscott.

TOP STATISTICAL LEADERS IN MASSACHUSETTS

Rushing
Johnathan Thomas, Sr., St. John’s Prep – 748 yards, 8 total TD
Mark Wright, Sr., Auburn – 728 yards, 8 TD
Isaiah White, Sr., Beverly - 682 yards, 6 total TD
Brooks Tyrell, Jr., Marblehead – 634 yards, 7 total TD
Dylan Oxsen, Sr., Plymouth South – 609 yards, 10 total TD

Passing
Jordan Bolarinho, Sr., Billerica – 955 yards, 7 TD
Troy Flutie, Sr., Natick – 807 yards, 13 TD
Matthew Jeye, Sr., Holliston – 785 yards, 8 TD
Michael Whitsett, Jr., Chicopee Comp – 781 yards, 4 TD
Ryan Barabe, Jr., Pope John Paul II – 776 yards, 8 TD

Receiving
Cole Bernier, Jr., Old Colony – 339 yards, 3 TD
Mike Bombard, Sr., Chicopee Comp – 335 yards, 3 TD
Brian Daly, Sr., Marblehead – 328 yards, 7 TD
Jack Galvin, Sr., Lowell – 322 yards, 7 TD
Jeff Trainor, Soph., Billerica – 317 yards, 3 TD

Dual Threat**
Troy Flutie, Sr., Natick – 807 passing yards, 269 rushing yards, 14 total TD
Matthew Jeye, Sr., Holliston – 785 passing yards, 156 rushing yards, 10 total TD
Cody Williams, Sr., Springfield Central – 647 passing yards, 169 rushing yards, 10 total TD
Jermal Brevard Jackson, Jr., Boston Cathedral – 262 passing yards, 514 rushing yards, 6 total TD
Neil O’Connor, Sr., Leominster – 542 passing yards, 193 rushing yards, 12 total TD



*Not including teams who were idle last weekend.
**To qualify, quarterbacks must have rushing yards account for at least 15 percent of their total offensive production.


ESPN Boston Week 1 football picks

September, 5, 2013
9/05/13
7:28
PM ET
ESPN Boston High Schools editors Scott Barboza and Brendan Hall give their Week 1 MIAA football picks:

No. 19 BC HIGH at NORTH ATTLEBOROUGH, Friday, 7 p.m.

Scott Barboza: I really like this Eagles linebacking corps, led by Steve DiCienzo. BC High, 27-17.

Brendan Hall: What better way to kick off BC High’s redemption tour than with a team that ran circles around them last year. Methinks Eagles coach Joe Gaff has a few tricks up his sleeve for this one. BC High, 21-7.

No. 4 MANSFIELD at DUNBAR (Md.), Friday, 7 p.m.

Barboza: I think the Hornets keep it close for a half, then the Poets’ depth bears its head. Dunbar, 35-27.

Hall: There isn’t a quarterback in New England as gifted as Dunbar’s William Crest, a West Virginia commit and one of the Old Line State’s top prospects. Hornets are already snakebitten, but injuries aside this is not a matchup you want to make a track meet out of. And unfortunately for the Hornets, I feel their game plan plays right into the Poets’ hands. Dunbar, 35-14.

No. 12 BARNSTABLE at DENNIS-YARMOUTH, Friday, 6 p.m.

Barboza: I still maintain the Dolphins will be a playoff team in Div. 4 South, but damn this Red Raiders’ secondary is going to be tough for anybody to beat this year. Barnstable, 33-27.

Hall: The three games prior to last year’s blowout were decided by a total of five points. I think we’re in for another thriller here, but the Barnstable secondary does just enough in the end to preserve the win. Barnstable, 25-21.

ANDOVER at NORTH ANDOVER, Friday, 7 p.m.

Barboza: Sounds as though the Golden Warriors were another squad hit hard by the injury bug in the preseason. I’m going with the “upset” here. North Andover, 17-10.

Hall: I predict a big night on the ground for whoever gets the start at tailback, and an even bigger night on defense for Will Eikenberry. Andover, 24-10.

No. 14 WALPOLE at FOXBOROUGH, Friday, 7 p.m.

Barboza: Man, this one shapes up as an appointment viewing date for years to come. It’s a shame we never got a chance to see these games earlier. Walpole, 20-13.

Hall: Clean, old-fashioned border rivalry. This one has lots of potential. Lots. Walpole, 10-7.

ABINGTON at No. 13 DUXBURY, Friday, 7 p.m.

Barboza: Having picked against the Dragons in last year’s playoffs, I fear I’m going to have to lay low in Duxbury for a while. Abington, 12-7.

Hall: Losing Matt Kilmain hurts Abington in this one, but their defense is going to keep them in the game. But it’s just a simple matter of being overpowered at the line of scrimmage. Duxbury, 20-10

No. 9 LOWELL at WESTFORD ACADEMY, Friday 7 p.m.

Barboza: Watch for wide receiver/ defensive back Keagan Latta to have a breakout year this year. Lowell, 28-20.

Hall: Expect gaudy numbers for Brian Dolan in his first start under center for the Red Raiders. Lowell, 38-31.

TEWKSBURY at CHELMSFORD, Friday, 7 p.m.

Barboza: Watch out for the Redmen as a sleep for the Division 3 state title. Mark it down. Tewksbury, 17-10.

Hall: It’s not every year the Redmen are favored in this matchup. But that’s the kind of power Brian Aylward has built at Tewksbury. Expect a big game from Eddie Matovu. Tewksbury, 28-17.

HAVERHILL at BEVERLY, Saturday, 1 p.m.

Barboza: Panthers’ cupboard isn’t completely bare after their historic 2012 season, but the winning streak ends against the Hillies. Haverhill, 21-13.

Hall: All preseason, all we kept hearing with regards to Haverhill is “How do you replace Chance Brady”? Two words: Ian Kessel. The young sophomore is going to one to watch in the coming years. Haverhill, 21-13.

No. 10 BRIDGEWATER–RAYNHAM at No. 1 ST. JOHN’S PREP, Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

Barboza: I think there are some defensive questions the Eagles will have to answer against a top-flight ground game such as B-R’s on Saturday, but I give the edge to the Prep’s passing game. Prep, 14-7.

Hall: Trojans play ball control and put together a monster drive early to stay ahead in what should be some trench warfare. You can’t cage Johnathan Thomas, the state’s most explosive player, but somehow they’ll limit his trips to the end zone. B-R, 14-7.

No. 6 SPRINGFIELD CENTRAL at No. 2 EVERETT, Friday, 7 p.m.

Barboza: The Golden Eagles will show they belong at the state’s big boys table, but I’m giving the edge to the home side – with the advantage of not having to shack off Friday night bus legs.Everett, 24-21.

Hall: The Golden Eagles are going to have to control the line of scrimmage in this one if they are going to keep pace. But something tells me Cody Williams has some more magic up his sleeve after last season’s historic run. Springfield Central, 24-23.

 

Roundtable: Best players, breakout stars, sleepers

August, 21, 2013
8/21/13
6:03
PM ET
Brendan Hall
ESPN Boston High Schools editor


Best QB: Cody Williams, Springfield Central
Best RB: Johnathan Thomas, St. John's Prep
Best WR: Brian Dunlap, Natick
Best TE: Brendan Hill, Mansfield
Best OL: Jon Baker, Millis/Hopedale
Best DL: Jon Baker, Millis/Hopedale
Best LB: C.J. Parvelus, Everett
Best DB: Lubern Figaro, Everett
Best passing offense: Natick
Best rushing offense: St. John's Prep
Best offensive line: St. John's Prep
Best defensive line: Reading
Best linebackers: Reading
Best secondary: Everett

THREE TEAMS THAT WILL SURPRISE

Medway
Coach Dave McSweeney's affinity for power football isn't a secret, and this season he'll have two road-graders to run behind in Kevin Sheehan (6-4, 285) and Cam Smith (6-5, 290, Lafayette commit). If there's any exhibit for why we needed to change the postseason format, the most glaring sample might be the Mustangs, who went 19-3 from 2009-10 with no playoff berth. In this new playoff system, a gameplan like the Mustangs' is built for the long haul.

Lynn English
Perhaps this isn't a surprise pick so much as an affirmation. In a Division 2 North that is perceived to be wide open after heavy favorite Reading, the Bulldogs have enough talent to make a deep run. There has always been elite talent at the skill positions, but Preseason All-State selection Chris Tinkham gives them a presence in the trenches they've lacked the last few years, a rare "war daddy" type who overpowers the interior gaps. The biggest question will be where the Bulldogs put junior Jordan Javier, a 6-foot-4 transfer from Haverhill who is a matchup problem at his natural split end position but also throws one of the prettiest balls you'll see on the North Shore.

Quabbin
The Panthers struggled to a 4-7 tune last season in a weak league, but there is some promise. Quarterback Dylan Kierman is an underappreciated talent, who should get a boost from the return of slippery receiver Nick Thyden. The Panthers run a unique "Air Raid" scheme, and another year of experience with it could surprised teams in Division 4 Central.

THREE BREAKOUT ATHLETES TO WATCH

Lukas Denis, Jr. ATH, Everett
After an injury-shortened 2012 season in which he was the assumed successor to record-setting quarterback Jonathan DiBiaso, but barely saw the field, Denis is moving to the perimeter, where he will take a role similar to the hybrid slot-back role that Manny Asprilla made legendary in 2010. Defensively, he should serve as a terrific compliment in the secondary to highly-touted safety/cornerback Lubern Figaro, and has already begun to pick up some Division 1 FBS interest.

Alfred Adarkwah, Sr. WR, Doherty
Standing a long 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-7 wingspan, Adarkwah has an unusually large catching radius for a high school receiver. This summer in passing leagues, the Highlanders toyed with Adarkwah and Boston College-bound receiver Isaac Yiadom on the same side of 2x2 formations. Head coach Sean Mulcahy has to be excited with the possibilities that opens up -- just imagine sending those two on a post-wheel combo route. Or better yet, imagine running them on a bubble screen, taking advantage of both Yiadom's elite speed and Adarkwah's great downfield blocking skills.

Taj-Amir Torres, Jr. ATH, Amherst
Already a household name in track and field, where he was named the state's Gatorade Player of the Year last spring as a sophomore after winning New Englands in the 100-meter dash, he's about to get a whole lot more attention. Boston College, UConn and UMass have already offered Torres, who made just 24 catches last season but made some incredible feats of athleticism. Hurricanes head coach David Thompson told us earlier this month "[We're] trying to get the ball in his hands every opportunity we get", so expect bigger numbers in 2013.

WAY TOO EARLY STATE CHAMPION PICKS

Div. 1 - Everett
Div. 2 - Springfield Central
Div. 3 - Walpole
Div. 4 - Doherty
Div. 5 - Auburn
Div. 6 - Millis/Hopedale

***

Scott Barboza
ESPN Boston High Schools Editor

Best QB - Drew Belcher - Sr. Reading
Best RB - Johnny Thomas - Sr. St. John’s Prep
Best WR - Brian Dunlap - Jr. Natick
Best TE - Rory Donovan - Sr. Cardinal Spellman
Best OL - Jon Baker – Sr., Millis/Hopedale
Best DL – Joe Gaziano – Jr., Xaverian
Best LB – Eddie Motavu – Sr., Tewksbury
Best DB - Lubern Figaro - Sr. Everett
Best passing offense - Natick
Best rushing offense - St. John's Prep
Best offensive line – Bridgewater-Raynham
Best defensive line - Reading
Best linebackers - Leominster
Best secondary - Everett

THREE SURPRISE TEAMS

St. Mary’s (Lynn)
OK, so a team coming off an 11-2 season and a Super Bowl appearance might not exactly be a surprise, but with a couple of other Catholic Central teams garnering the buzz in the preseason, let's not forget the Spartans have another season with Jordan Collier (1,495 yards, 18 TD).

Hingham

We've heard them knocking, but can they come in? The Harbormen have whittled the gap in recent years, particularly against Patriot League nemesis Duxbury, but they're still waiting to break through. They could have an in-road in Division 3 Southwest. An early non-leaguer against Oliver Ames should be a bellweather for things to come, but the real proof will come Oct. 5, against those aforementioned Dragons.

Wakefield
The Warriors fell short of their goal of winning the Middlesex League's Freedom division last year, but should be in the mix in a wide open Division 3 Northwest race. We'll have a better impression after a visit from Lynn English in Week 2.

THREE BREAKTHROUGH ATHLETES

Joe Johnston, Sr. RB/S, King Philip
Anybody who saw Johnston's hard-nosed 157-yard, 2-touchdown performance against North Attleborough last year knows Johnston's style. He's a burden for would-be tacklers inside the box, and once he kicks it outside, he's also very hard to catch.

Grant Kramer, Sr. OT, Duxbury
The younger brother of Boston College tackle Aaron Kramer, Grant is now ready to assume the role as the next great lineman on the Dragons' line (and there have been some very good ones in recent memory). He currently holds offers from Coastal Carolina and Villanova but has also expressed interest in attending West Point.

Connor Moriarty, Sr. RB, Walpole
When Rebels starter Mike Rando went out with an ankle injury near the midway point of the regular season last year, it was Moriarty who carried the load down the stretch. Expect even bigger numbers this year.

WAY TOO EARLY CHAMPIONSHIP PREDICTIONS:

D1 – St. John’s Prep
D2 – Springfield Central
D3 – Walpole
D4 – Doherty
D5 – Auburn
D6 – Millis/Hopedale

***

Josh Perry
ESPN Boston correspondent


Best QB - Drew Belcher, Reading
Best RB - Jonathan Thomas, St. John’s Prep
Best WR – Brian Dunlap, Natick
Best TE – Brendan Hill, Mansfield
Best OL – Jon Baker, Millis-Hopedale
Best DL – Andrew Bourque, Reading
Best LB – Kevin Bletzer, Catholic Memorial
Best DB – Lubern Figaro, Everett
Best passing offense - Natick
Best rushing offense – St. John’s Prep
Best offensive line – St. John’s Prep
Best defensive line - Reading
Best linebackers – Catholic Memorial
Best secondary - Everett

THREE TEAMS THAT WILL SURPRISE:

Attleboro
A new coaching staff, the energy of a new field complex, and a strong crop of returning seniors could make the Bombardiers the surprise team of the Hockomock League. Attleboro has always been a sleeping giant and the program continues to find solid athletes, it’s now up to the new staff to build a system that fits the talent on the roster. With a couple of league rivals dealing with injuries and suspensions, Attleboro could sneak up on people.

Barnstable
Everyone assumes that there will be a significant drop off for the Red Raiders due to a big graduating class, but there is still potential to be a solid team in D2 and in the OCL. This may not be a another season with Barnstable holding the top spot in the poll, but it shouldn’t be written off either.

Stoughton
The Knights are expected to finish behind Oliver Ames in the Davenport, but don’t be surprised if they pull an upset or two and give the Tigers a run at the title. Watch out for running back Malachi Baugh, who will be getting the majority of the carries this season and is a beast to try and bring down.

THREE BREAKTHROUGH ATHLETES TO WATCH

Luke Morrison, Sr. TE/DE, Attleboro
Attleboro’s giant tight end/defensive end is a monster match-up on both sides of the ball and could be a real threat as Tim Walsh’s favorite target in the Bombardiers passing attack.

Ryan Charter, Sr. QB, Needham
Mike Panepinto has deservedly drawn praise as the star man on the Needham offense, but the senior quarterback, who has been under center for 1-1/2 seasons already, will have high expectations as the Rockets try to get back on top in the Bay State.

Kyle Wisnieski, Sr. QB, Mansfield
With the graduation of running backs Robbie Rapoza and Kevin Makie and the continued injury problems for wide receiver Michael Hershman the key cog for the Hornets offense will be its senior quarterback. Wisnieski’s ability to spread the ball around and pick the right options out of a still talented receiving corps that includes Brendan Hill is going to be the key for Mansfield’s run at a Hockomock title.

WAY TOO EARLY STATE CHAMPION PICKS:

Div. 1 – St. John’s Prep
Div. 2 - Nashoba
Div. 3 – Bishop Feehan
Div. 4 - Doherty
Div. 5 - Auburn
Div. 6 – Millis-Hopedale

***

Ryan Kilian
Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Massachusetts Prep Stars


Best QB - Drew Belcher, Reading
Best RB - Johnathan Thomas, St. John's Prep
Best WR - Brian Dunlap, Natick
Best TE - Rory Donovan, Cardinal Spellman
Best OL - Jon Baker, Millis/Hopedale
Best DL - Alex Quintero, Lowell
Best LB - C.J. Parvelus, Defense
Best DB - Lubern Figaro, Everett
Best passing offense - St. John's (Shrewsbury)
Best rushing offense - St. John's Prep
Best offensive line - St. John's Prep
Best defensive line - Reading
Best linebackers - Duxbury
Best secondary - Everett

THREE TEAMS THAT WILL SURPRISE

Bedford
While Wayland and Concord-Casrlisle have earned the DCL Small Championship the past few years do not sleep on Bedford in 2013. The Bucs play one of the toughest schedules in Division 4 and the return All-DCL running back Olan Abner.

Chelmsford
While Lowell, Central and Andover are getting most of the early press in the MVC Large, the Chelmsford Lions return one of the State's top running backs in Jeff D'Auria, a seasoned young quarterback in Jack Campsmith and a nice nucleus of tough experienced defenders.

Archbishop Williams
If Archies can find early offensive balance to take some of the work load off the shoulders of star senior back Kylan Philbert-Richardson, they could make some noise in the D5 playoff hunt.

THREE BREAKOUT ATHLETES TO WATCH

Ian Kessel, Soph. RB, Haverhill
The St. John's Prep transfer saw late game carries last season as a freshman for Prep's Super Bowl Champion squad. The speedy halfback is now back home in the MVC Small, and with the graduation of work horse, All-State RB Chance Brady (Tufts), there should be plenty carries to go around.

Devin Lekan, Sr. DE/TE, Chelmsford
D'Auria and Campsmith return to lead the offense for Chelmsford's but it is the Lion defense could be the story if they stay healthy. The Lions feature the 2nd team all-MVC performer was the most impressive player in the games I saw last season.

Nick Orekoya, Jr. DB/RB Billerica
Orekoya saw a lot of playing time as a two-way starter for Billerica last season. With another year under his belt Orekoya should thrive in coach Rich McKenna's high octane offense.

WAY TOO EARLY STATE CHAMPION PICKS

Div. 1 - Everett
Div. 2 - Reading
Div. 3 - Tewksbury
Div. 4 - Dennis-Yarmouth
Div. 5 - Auburn
Div. 6 - Boston Cathedral

***

John Botelho
Editor-in-Chief, South Shore Sports Journal


Best QB - Troy Flutie, Natick
Best RB - Dylan Oxsen, Plymouth South
Best WR - Brian Dunlap, Natick
Best TE - Rory Donovan, Cardinal Spellman
Best OL - Jon Baker, Millis/Hopedale
Best DL - Steve Manning, Abington
Best LB - Kervin Jean-Claude, Brockton
Best DB - Lubern Figaro, Everett
Best passing offense - Natick
Best rushing offense - St. John's Prep
Best offensive line - St. John's Prep
Best defensive line - Auburn
Best linebackers - Brockton
Best secondary - Everett

THREE TEAMS THAT WILL SURPRISE

Brockton
They're ranked pretty high in any poll you look at because people have just come to accept the fact that Brockton generally reloads. They graduated 18 starters from last season's Super Bowl team, including quarterback Austin Roberts, who was one of the best in school history. Roberts, Micah Morel and Joe Previte are all playing ball at prep schools this year, and Anthony Davis has moved on to Div. 1 Central Connecticut. Still, the Boxers will very solid again. They have a number of athletes and playmakers, including returning do-it-all Aaron Leclair. Transfer Jamal Williams is going to compliment him well, and sophomore Kerry Raymond is physically imposing at 6-foot-1 and 205. Aaron Monteiro's 6-foot-5, 295-pound frame gives Brockton an anchor on the offensive line. They have plenty of guys ready to step forward on the other side of the ball as well, led by Kervin Jean-Claude, Justin Ahanon and Leclair.

Abington
The Green Wave went unbeaten in their march toward a Super Bowl crown last year, but saw a slew of stars graduate. QB Brandon Cawley, TE/DE Pat Dwyer, FB Jack Malafronte, RB Babila Fonkem, DB Mike Walsh, OL Tyler Perakslis and OL Matt Diver are just some of the elite players Abington graduated. These guys won't miss a beat though, as they have a ton of talent back. Matt Kilmain broke out for more than 400 yards on 27 carries in two postseason wins last year, and he might not even be the best player back this season. Abington returns its top three tacklers from a year ago and has most of their front seven back on defense. Jim Kelliher has one of the best coaching staffs going at this point, and these guys look like they're headed back to the playoffs. (For bold prediction purposes, I'm also going to go ahead and say I think they beat Duxbury on opening night, because that's how good I think this team can be).

Stoughton
The Black Knights missed the playoffs last year because of the wrong day for a let down game, taking a tough defeat to eventual Super Bowl champ Sharon. The Knights lost some very good players, but leading running back Malachi Baugh is back in the fold and they return four starting offensive lineman, so there's no reason to think the offense won't be up to par again. The Hockomock League has proven in recent years to be one of the toughest to win, but a second guaranteed playoff berth can only help a team like Stoughton.

THREE BREAKTHROUGH ATHLETES TO WATCH

Aaron Monteiro, Jr. OL, Brockton
Monteiro has something that can't be learned, or even worked toward. His 6-foot-5, 295-pound frame is one that will draw the interest of coaches at the next level. Coach Peter Colombo is very excited about plugging the junior into his offensive line, and it's not just because of the size. Monteiro worked during the off-season to get himself stronger and is primed to be one of the best lineman in the state. He plays basketball in the winter, something that has helped him develop quick and agile feet for a guy his size.

Sam Malafronte, Jr. LB, Abington
Started at linebacker a year ago as a sophomore for the Div. 4 Super Bowl champs, and finished second on the team in tackles. A very good athlete who is a work-out warrior, Malafronte will team with Matt Whelan to lead a solid corps in the middle of the field for the Green Wave.

James Shea, Sr. WR, East Bridgewater
The Vikings have benefited from having tremendous athletes in the backfield the last few years (think Casey DeAndrade, Tim O'Brien, Andrew Benson and Kevin Lynch), but in 2013 their most dangerous player will be splitting out wide. Shea can run with just about anyone -- he finished sixth in the 100-meter dash in the South Shore League last spring -- and is going to wreak havoc pulling in passes all year.

WAY TOO EARLY STATE CHAMPION PICKS

Div. 1 - Everett
Div. 2 - Natick
Div. 3 - Plymouth South
Div. 4 - Doherty
Div. 5 - Abington
Div. 6 - Millis/Hopedale

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