Boston High School: Matt Whittaker

Power, pizzazz in the trenches at Methuen

November, 24, 2010
11/24/10
10:54
PM ET
METHUEN, Mass. -- Together, they call themselves simply "The Core". Separate, they go by an assortment of names, from Big Steve to Zaz to Stapes or just plain old Big Ugly.

Separate, they are a broad spectrum of personalities around the Methuen High locker room. Some, like brothers Sean and Matt Whittaker, are economic with their words and sit quietly in the moments before kickoff. Others, like 6-foot-4 senior left tackle Steve DiZazzo, are colorful with their language, and are running around the locker room banging heads.

DiZazzo on his pregame routine: "I'm reminding everyone it's 44 minutes of Ranger football, and nobody else's. I'm jumping around, making sure everybody's into it. This is what I live for."

On his liberal application of eye-blackener: "Black paint all over...I do the Ray Lewis, all around."

On this week's atmosphere, leading up to tomorrow's showdown with Dracut for the Merrimack Valley Small title: "I have every Al Bundy coming up to me this week. My dad always tells me, I'm living every high school football player's dream."

Still others, like 6-foot-4, 300-pound senior left guard Dan Cormier, are known to channel their inner Tom Dempsey. After a Methuen touchdown, Cormier hops over to the sideline to switch his right foot into a vintage, solid-black cleat with the toe squared off. The former soccer player then rumbles straightforward on the ensuing kickoff and blasts the ball with a toe kick, with plenty of air, usually all the way into the end zone.

"I must have been dying out there in soccer," Cormier jokes. "But my parents found this online, ordered it, and I've been using it ever since...Because I kick straight on, this works better than a regular curve."

Together, though, they are the biggest reason for the Rangers' 9-1 record headed into the winner-take-all showdown with their archrival. All but one, center Matt Whittaker, are seniors and two-year starters in the trenches; and with former Lowell High coach Al Pare now on head coach Pat Graham's staff, the Rangers have perfected a zone-blocking scheme that emphasizes double-teams and chip blocks to get diminutive junior running back Ryan Savastano up to the second level. With Sean Whittaker and Tyler Bolduc on the right, along with Cormier and DiZazzo on the left and tight end James Staples providing extra coverage in the run game, it's been a flawless run so far.

So much so, even star quarterback Cal Carroll (19 total touchdowns) admits, "Sometimes I feel like me and Ryan are just products of them."

The master stroke may have come in week five, against a Chelmsford squad that to that point in the season had allowed a mere seven points. Much preseason hype had been made of the Lions' linebacking corps led by Zach Hayes and Tim Joy; but with a no-huddle tempo, and flawless technique up front, the Rangers accumulated over 300 yards on the ground. Those linebackers often found a defensive lineman planted right into them, and Carroll -- with his left (non-throwing) thumb in a cast -- called inside zone runs to him and Savastano almost exclusively. Methuen won, 31-21; so far, only No. 25 Plymouth North has been the only team to not only defeat them, but hold the Rangers to a touchdown.

"I keep telling them week after week, you don't go anywhere unless we move the football," Pare said. "It's great to be around these kids. They're tough kids."

And Pare, who thinks this may be his last year coaching after 40 years around the area, keeps it just as light-hearted. Every week, a bone with a chain attached is handed out to the best performing lineman -- "I call it my dead grandmother's thigh," he jokes -- and the award, among other things, is fully embraced.

"I think it's good to have such personalities," said head coach Pat Graham, himself a former lineman at Central Connecticut State. "Usually they're underappreciated, but they take alot of pride in what they do. Their leadership is unbelievable. They've always been in the weight room, always been lifting since freshman year, and it's not like they're rah-rah in practice. They're focused, they're a tight group, they support each other, and I think the best quality about them is their work ethic."

Two years ago, on their home grass at Nicholson Stadium, the Rangers saw their program take a turn for the better when they upset the heavily-favored Dracut Middies on Thanksgiving. The Middies, led by Gatorade Player of the Year Matt Grimard, went on to win the Division 1A Super Bowl in dominant fashion. Now, with as many as 8,000 expected to show at Nicholson, The Core can be the first Methuen squad since 1992 to be playing in the postseason.

Think they're fired up?

"Two years ago, playing on this field, it was just nuts," Sean Whittaker said. "I can't wait for another experience like that. It's going to be crazy, I can't wait."

Carroll leads No. 7 Methuen to 8th straight 'W'

November, 6, 2010
11/06/10
1:21
AM ET
LAWRENCE, Mass. -- Against Central Catholic, Cal Carroll found yet another way to impact a game. And this time, Methuen’s dual-threat quarterback wasn’t even on the field.

With eight and a half minutes left in the fourth quarter, Central Catholic scored on a two-yard touchdown run by quarterback Matt McDermott and trailed, 17-16. Conventional wisdom would have told Raiders coach Chuck Adamopoulos to tie the game with an extra point. But across the field, on the opposing sideline, Carroll loomed.

"I wanted to go for two because I thought our best chance to win the game was to win in regulation," Adamopoulos said. "I didn’t want to have to defend Carroll in overtime."

The Raiders’ two-point try failed and left them trying to catch up for the remainder of a wild fourth quarter that ended with Methuen taking its eighth straight win, 24-22.

"It’s awesome," said Carroll. "Methuen hasn’t been 8-0 in the [Merrimack Valley Conference] in a long time…To be on top feels great."

After Central Catholic’s failed conversion, Carroll made the Raiders’ comeback climb even tougher. He capped a 67-yard drive by hitting Bobby Cole on a 35-yard touchdown pass to make the score 24-16.

Down eight, Central Catholic had one last scoring drive left in them. The second half of the Raiders’ two-headed quarterback attack, Ben Onett (5-11, 65 yards), found Xavier Peralta (4 rec., 86 yards) in the end zone for a 23-yard score with 1:55 left.

Facing a two-point deficit, Adamopoulos was forced to go for two points again. The second try was similarly unsuccessful as the snap sailed over the head of running back Santino Brancato, forcing Brancato (10 carries, 45 yards) to fall on the ball for a loss.

Cole recovered the ensuing Central Catholic onside kick attempt to seal the Methuen victory.

It was a dramatic end to a firework-filled fourth quarter dominated by Carroll. He finished the game with a touchdown and 123 yards rushing on 28 carries, and 6-15 passing for 101 yards and two touchdowns. Both his touchdown passes came in the fourth quarter, and came with the Rangers’ leading receiver, Raudy Minaya, out of the game. Minaya left with a right knee injury suffered on a punt return late in the second quarter. He did not return.

Before Carroll’s touchdown pass to Cole, he started the fourth quarter by rolling out to his right to find Corey Shepherd for a 42-yard score. Shepherd was one of four Rangers receivers to catch a pass.

"Down the stretch everyone’s taking away our run," said Methuen coach Patrick Graham, who also watched his running back Ryan Savastano rush for 123 yards on 16 carries. "So we’re going to have to throw and [Carroll] has done a good job."

Methuen went into the half with a 10-0 lead after a Carroll one-yard touchdown plunge and an Eric Lacroix 29-yard field goal, but Central Catholic got those points back in the third quarter thanks to Cam Walsh.

Walsh kicked a 30-yard field goal to bring the Raiders within a touchdown of Methuen. Just over three minutes later, on Central Catholic’s next drive, Walsh (4 carries, 87 yards) took a handoff, burst through the line of scrimmage and sprinted 78 yards for the game-tying score.

Methuen answered with Shepherd’s touchdown catch and Central Catholic was left to catch up from there after McDermott (5-10, 58 yards passing) scored from two yards out and the following two-point try failed.

"It’s big," said Graham of the win. "There’s a lot of Methuen kids [on Central Catholic]. They grew up with those kids. They grew up playing with them in Pop Warner and other sports. When you lose to someone you don’t know, it doesn’t hurt as bad as when you lose to someone you do know."

Other notes:

- Methuen called up sophomore junior varsity center Dicky Aziz to play in place of starter Matt Whittaker, who missed the game with an injury. He fit into the Rangers zone blocking scheme just fine, helping to pave the way for 268 yards rushing. He also was on point with his shotgun snaps, as the Rangers’ offense almost exclusively uses the shotgun.

“[Aziz] did an excellent job,” said Carroll. “His snaps were all on target, and most of all he did a great job double teaming with our guards. That’s great to see we can trust him.”

- Methuen was unsure if Minaya would miss future games because of his injury. He was on crutches on the sidelines for the entire second half.

- This was Methuen’s third straight win over Central Catholic.

- Central Catholic continued to platoon quarterbacks as McDermott and Onett took the snaps on every other series.

- The national anthem was performed by six-year-old Olivia DiFiore, daughter of Raiders assistant coach Ernie DiFiore.


METHUEN 24, CENTRAL CATHOLIC 22

MET (8-1) 0 10 0 14 --- 24
CEN (6-3) 0 0 10 12 –-- 22

Second quarter
M – Lacroix 29 kick
M – Carroll 1 run (Lacroix kick)

Third quarter
C – Walsh 30 kick
C – Walsh 78 run (Walsh kick)

Fourth quarter
M – Carroll 42 pass to Shepard (Lacroix kick)
C – McDermott 2 run (run failed)
M – Carroll 35 pass to Cole (Lacroix kick)
C – Onett 23 pass to Peralta (run failed)

No. 11 Methuen no longer an underdog

September, 7, 2010
9/07/10
1:26
AM ET
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.

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