Invariably any pre-season football preview at least starts – but doesn’t necessarily end – with perennial Division I power Hendricken.
Coach Keith Croft’s Hawks are coming off their third consecutive Division I Super Bowl championship (and ninth in school history) but enter the 2013 season with a dearth of seniors.
Only 13 are listed on the roster which means Croft has his work cut out for him looking to replace First Team All-State selections like tight end/defensive lineman Mario McClain, two-way lineman Nick DeCiantis, linebacker Jarrid Witherspoon and linebacker Marco Delvecchio.
Fortunately, for the Hawks, they could be solid on offense since they feature easily one of the state’s top running backs in junior Remington Blue, plus junior quarterback Patrick Gill. Gill seemingly came out of nowhere last season to earn the No. 1 signal-caller position and in the end was a major factor in the Super Bowl as Hendricken upset heavily-favored La Salle.
The key for Gill will be to remain healthy since the only other experienced quarterback on the Hendricken roster, John Toppa, opted not to play football this season.
Without question La Salle coach Geoff Marcone faces a major challenge in his attempt to replace two of the most productive offensive players in school history – First Team All-State running back Josh Morris (the 2011 Rhode Island Gatorade Player of the Year) and First Team All-State quarterback Anthony Francis (the 2012 Rhode Island Gatorade Player of the Year).
Marcone does have 18 seniors on his roster and will choose his starting quarterback from a group that includes sophomores Jace Pena and John Farley.
Keon Wilson again will be the primary target for whoever lines up under center while the defense will be led by linebacker Brendan Lippe.
The two Cranston teams, Cranston East and Cranston West, also could figure in the playoff picture.
East returns First Team All-State running back/defensive back Marquem Monroe who last season scored a total of 14 touchdowns and also intercepted four passes.
First Team All-Stater Marven Beauvais complements Monroe on offense while Alex Corvese is an experienced quarterback.
Cranston West will be a force if the Falcons received production that’s expected from running back Isaiah Alvarez and linebacker Jack Hammond.
Division II invariably is the most wide-open division in the state – one reason being the format.
Eight teams are in II-A, eight in II-B and top four in each division qualify for the playoffs.
Cumberland qualified for the Super Bowl for the first time since 2005 and waxed Woonsocket, 49-0, for all the marbles led by a pair of graduated All-State picks – wide receive Mitch Baxter and tight end Trent Vasey.
But the Clippers still have talent, especially in the appropriately-named running back Joe Fine plus linebacker Chris Hayes who led Cumberland in tackles last season.
The Villa Novans, who’ve undergone a resurrection in recent years, will be out to avenge that lop-sided loss to Cumberland in the Super Bowl.
Leading the way will be speedster Will Andino who can run and catch the ball plus junior lineman Shawn Ingram, a potential First Team All-State selection.
NOT ALONE ON “ISLAND”: Coach Art Bell’s Middletown Islanders will be pursuing their third Division III Super Bowl title in the last four years and very well could do so if Bell can plug two big holes left by the graduation of All-State picks Randy Butler (running back) and Mitch Sullivan (guard/linebacker).
But two Islanders in particular should give opposing defenses a good look at the back of their jerseys in running backs Connor Ross and Shemar Vincent who each possess outstanding speed.
Arguably the most intriguing team in Division III is Mount Pleasant, which opted to move up a division after capturing three consecutive Division IV Super Bowls.
The Kilties will be led by two of the state’s more exciting players in brothers Randolph and Guel Zleh.
Randolph Zleh, a First Team All-State pick who ran for 1,621 yards and scored 24 touchdowns as a junior, leads the offense while younger broker Guel is the key Kiltie on the other side of the ball.
A defensive back, Guel Zleh last season made 61 tackles and intercepted nine passes.
FLIP A COIN: With Mount Pleasant having moved up a division, Division IV lacks a true returning power.
Ergo, perhaps the teams to beat will be Hope and North Providence who each finished last season with 6-2 records in league play.
Hope’s thin squad features only seven seniors but the best may be running back Marquese Young. Junior Bernard Hardy is expected to be the starting corner back.
North Providence coach Glenn Williams has his most experienced team in years with the return of 17 seniors. Leading the offense will be an all-senior quartet: quarterback Ian Brown, running back Matthew Charles and fullbacks Emmaus Nerny plus Josh Breggin.
Mike Scandura has been covering high school sports, college basketball, football and hockey plus minor league baseball in Rhode Island since the early 1970s. A native of Oswego, N.Y, he’s a member of the Words Unlimited Hall of Fame which is the statewide organization of sportswriters, sportscasters and sports publicists.