Boston High School: Owen Rocket

Leftover quick-hit thoughts from the weekend

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
12:38
PM ET
Some leftover quick-hit thoughts from last weekend's action of football:

1a. If St. John's Prep running back Johnathan Thomas -- who left the second half of Saturday's game against Everett with a knee injury -- is out for any extended period of time, the Eagles might be in trouble. Much of the offense funnels through Thomas, and with plays like this it's easy to see why. In my 10 years covering high school football in Massachusetts, I have no problem saying he is the best I've ever seen.

If there's a silver lining, it's that this could open things up for two promising juniors on the perimeter, receiver Owen Rocket and tight end Jake Burt. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Burt has a high ceiling of potential, even drawing comparisons to Prep legend Jon Loyte, and has been a matchup problem in the short to intermediate passing game thus far. Rocket is a smooth route-runner, able to weave in and out of traffic and exploit coverage holes.

You obviously cannot replace a special kid like Thomas, but perhaps this could make the Eagles more unpredictable.

1b. It now bears asking. If Thomas -- who seemed to be running away with the ESPN Boston Mr. Football award at his current clip -- is out for the considerable future, is the race for title of the state's best player wide open again? Lots of names to consider here, most notably Springfield Central quarterback Cody Williams, Natick quarterback Troy Flutie, Leominster quarterback Neil O'Connor, Plymouth South running back Dylan Oxsen, and Millis/Hopedale two-way lineman Jon Baker.

2. An historic year for Mansfield continues to get better, as they ascend to the No. 1 spot in our statewide poll for the first time in our four seasons of coverage. As impressive as the North Attleborough win was, the upset of Baltimore-area powerhouse Dunbar continues to strengthen with the passing weeks. As Dave Redding points out on Mansfield football's website, (www.mansfieldfootball.org) since losing to Mansfield on Sept. 6, the Poets have won three straight outscored their opposition 136-18.

3a. If you missed the thrilling conclusion to the Fitchburg-St. John's of Shrewsbury battle on Saturday afternoon, you missed one of the best endings to a high school football game in years. Fitchburg quarterback Darius Flowers hit Manny Payton for a 16-yard touchdown strike with 13 seconds to go, then tailback Julio Gonzalez ran in the two-point try to give the Red Raiders a 15-14 lead. The ensuing kickoff, a high-hopping squib, was then returned 65 yards to the house by Mike McGillicuddy for walk-off 20-15 Pioneers win.

I'm not sure Fitchburg has endured a special teams heartbreak like that since the 1994 Division 1 Super Bowl, when North Middlesex pulled off a Boise State-esque fake punt for the 50-yard game-winning touchdown run, a play forever known in Central Mass. folklore as simply the "Norman Special".

3b. If there's anything to take away from that game, besides the incredible gumption of McGillicuddy, it's that much like Barnstable in Division 2 South, Fitchburg is not a team you want to draw in the first round of Division 2 Central action. Their defensive front four is impressive, and they controlled the line of scrimmage against St. John's for much of the afternoon.

4. There's a lot of talk early in the ISL season about running backs and linebackers, but keep an eye on Belmont Hill junior quarterback Harry Kraft. He had a field day on Saturday in a 38-11 win over Groton, completing 17 of 27 passes for 250 yards and four touchdowns, and running in a fifth score.

5. A year ago, I mentioned the Cape & Islands area as an area of particular interest for under-the-radar talent, with a number of prospects earning Division 1 roster spots: Nantucket's Terrel Correia (UMass), Nauset's Derrick and Nathan Holmes (Rhode Island) and Dakota Girard (Brown), Mashpee's Jordan Keli'inui and Zak Orcutt (UMass), Dennis-Yarmouth's Joe Tyo (UMass) and Barnstable's Nick Peabody (Princeton), Andrew Ellis (UMass) and D.J. Crook (Penn State).

The Cape appears to be brewing again. Barnstable receiver/cornerback Derek Estes is one of the state's breakout stars of the first half of the season, making back-breaking plays on both sides of the ball in upsets of BC High and Xaverian. Two of his teammates, running back/safety Hayden Murphy and quarterback Kristian Lucashensky, deserve some praise for the way they've improved since the season-opening rout by D-Y.

Further down Route 6, keep an eye on two prospects from the lowest classification of MIAA football, Division 6. Defending D5 Super Bowl champ Upper Cape Tech is looking good with its flex offense, and at the forefront is Jon Dumont, who had 26 carries for 216 yards and four touchdowns in Saturday's win over Nantucket. At Pope John Paul II, they might have one of the most unheralded 2015 prospects in quarterback Ryan Barabe. Through four games the 6-foot-4, 175-pound Yarmouth resident is among the state's most efficient passers, completing 68 percent of his throws for 776 yards and eight touchdowns to just one interception. A good chunk of the Lions' plays involve option routes for their receivers, which to me demonstrates a lot of maturity when you consider Barabe's completion percentage.

Recap: No. 4 St. John's Prep 40, No. 13 Central 21

September, 21, 2013
9/21/13
2:24
AM ET
LAWRENCE, Mass. –- Another week, another incredible game from Johnathan Thomas.

Thomas, St. John’s Prep’s highly-touted running back, exploded for 228 yards on 27 carries on Friday night—lifting the Eagles (2-1) over Central Catholic (2-1), 40-21. He even made his presence felt on the defensive side of the ball too, returning an intercepted Mike Milano pass 107 yards for a touchdown to put a ribbon on the victory late in the fourth quarter.

Central Catholic got off to a quick start on their first drive, flying downfield on a seven play, 80 yard drive that took less than two minutes off the first quarter clock. Central’s star back, University of New Hampshire commit D’Andre Drummond-Mayrie (13 carries, 88 yards, TD) got the ball five times and anchored the first scoring drive.

“The first drive was ridiculous,” Prep coach Jim O’Leary said, “and the last [Central] drive and a half was a little disappointing. But inbetween that we got some points, and then the defense showed a lot in the second half. They’re a good football team, 40 is deceiving.”

Prep answered back later in the first quarter though, as Mike Geaslen (7-of-9, 94 yards, 2 TD) threw a 24-yard pass to Owen Rocket, Rocket fumbled the ball at the five yard line, but it rolled into the end zone and was recovered by Michael Calascibetta for a Prep TD. Geaslen ran in a touchdown in the second quarter, and later threw a touchdown pass up the sideline to Logan Mahoney for a 35-yard touchdown.

“We stretched the field a little bit -- Jake Burt had a catch early, Rocket had an catch early. We did enough to get people out of the box…and then the offensive line could do their thing,” O’Leary said, “I think Michael [Geaslen] is growing considerably. He’s been steady, almost 70% completions in the first games—great touchdowns and yards and we because need him to get those people out of the box, it helps our running game.”

Thomas takes it back: On the following Central drive, Thomas caught an interception in the back of Prep’s endzone, and what happened next will in all likelihood live in folklore.

Instead of kneeling the ball down in the end zone, Thomas took the ball out and shed tacklers all the way to the opposite goal line -- a 107-yard interception return for a touchdown.

“I didn’t even realize it was in the end zone, I thought it was at the one, but then I went out of the end zone and I had to bring it out or it would have been a safety,” Thomas said.

The star back had his coach scratching his head on the sideline, but O’Leary was able to breathe a quick sigh of relief when Thomas flew up the middle of the field and brought back the score.

“I don’t think he knew where was because of all the lines on the field. I was telling him ‘go down, go down, go down,’ and then about half way up Michael Fawehinmi threw a crushing block right in front of it and broke it even more,” O’Leary said.

200 yards, again: This makes back-to-back weeks that Thomas has rushed for over 200 yards, totaling 263 yards last week in a win over Brockton. He didn’t get to 200 in week one, but he managed 161 yards in a losing effort against Bridgewater-Raynham. Thomas thanked his offensive line for his big gains, but also half-jokingly talked about Prep’s new tightly-fitting Under Armour jerseys.

“Over 200 again...the offensive line I have to give all the credit to them. They did a great job of making holes,” Thomas said, “The new jerseys, skin tight, so if they’re trying to arm tackle me they can’t -— can’t grab that. So they have to frame me up.”

O’Leary, while in awe of yet another exceptional performance from Thomas, made sure to point out that the passing game as an integral piece of Prep’s attack.

“We know what [Thomas] is, clearly he’s our star, the star of the game, but we had a lot of guys make some good plays today," O'Leary said. "Brandon Kahari on a couple screens made big plays. Michael Geaslen threw the touchdown pass...that kind of opened it up for us right there."

Thomas agreed, noting that the passing game forced Central’s defense into check.

“It definitely helps because the linebackers have to look for the pass, they can’t just come all the way up and look for me," he said. "They have to drop because we have guys like Jake Burt, Owen Rockett, who can make great plays...Logan Mahoney. It definitely helped me.”

Defensive adjustment: After giving up 21 points at halftime and watching Drummond-Mayrie and Milano (11-of-21, 183 yards, TD) make plays all over the field, O’Leary’s assistants went to him with the idea of playing a Cover 2 in the second half to help stop the bleeding. With Thomas switching from outside linebacker to safety, Prep was able to essentially take Central’s passing game away across half of the field.

“I had a deep path. It worked out, we shut them down pretty good. I personally had deep path, so I had to make sure a guy didn’t get behind me,” Thomas said.

The move was a bit of improvisation by O’Leary and his staff, but Drummond-Mayrie only rushed for 32 yards in the second half, while Central’s offense didn’t score a single touchdown after the half.

“We don’t run Cover 2, but we had to pressure those guys on the outside and put Johnny back there. It takes the wear-and-tear off [Thomas] too,” O’Leary said. “It was a change-up that we didn’t do in the first half.”

Northeast 7v7: North Regional cut short, but stars impress

July, 21, 2013
7/21/13
12:01
AM ET
EXETER, N.H. -- The first of four Under Armour Northeast 7-on-7 football tournaments commenced this morning with the North Regional, at Exeter (N.H.) High, where over three dozen squads from high schools in New Hampshire, Maine and Northern Massachusetts squared off.

Due to inclement lightning, the tournament was called in the early afternoon, with one game left in pool play, and will not be re-scheduled. Instead, what was initially supposed to be a 10-team "New England Championship" on July 30, at Bishop Fenwick High, will expand to potentially as many as two dozen; any team that had a chance at advancing from their pool in today's tournament is invited to participate in the de facto title game.

Some notes and observations from pool play of the shortened tournament:

Air Javier: Lynn English is always an intriguing program to watch, because it's never short on athletes at the skill position. And if Jordan Javier's performance today is any indicator, the Bulldogs should have a lot of fun in the preseason figuring out how to optimize their personnel.

Javier transfers into English as a junior from Haverhill High, and at 6-foot-4 and 198 pounds he is an obvious matchup problem at wide receiver. In the Bulldogs' final game of pool play, Javier lined up wide for the first offensive series and made a tight grab near the sidelines.

After that first series, Javier moved to quarterback and was impressive, demonstrating a quick release, above-average arm strength and playmaking ability when flushing out of the pocket. Utilizing interlocking square-in routes at different depths, Javier made a handful of completions to senior receiver Chris Lessard for quality gains.

His most impressive throw might have been his deep ball to junior receiver Lucas Harris early on in the game. Running a deep corner route to a first down marker some 35 yards down field, Javier let it rip with a simple flick of the wrist, a high-arching floater that dropped softly into the bread basket as Harris planted and turned 45 degrees northeast, his feet coming along for the ride as he fell just over the marker.

Simply put, Javier can make the difficult look effortless. English will have an interesting time figuring out what to do with the quarterback spot -- Harris and Lessard also split time at the position last season -- and obviously it's a whole different look when the pads are on. But the Bulldogs should have fun figuring themselves out in August.

Juniors on the rise for Prep: St. John's Prep was without Maryland-bound running back Johnathan Thomas, the state's No. 1 Class of 2014 prospect, who was having minor cosmetic surgery on his right temple. He might have been missed, as the Eagles dropped their first contest and was trailing by two scores to Winnacunnet (N.H.) when play was halted.

That said, two juniors impressed for the defending Division 1 Super Bowl champs, who could potentially enter the preseason as the top-ranked team in Massachusetts. Wide receiver Owen Rocket excelled in the open field, running great routes and making tight catches in traffic.

Folks over on Spring St. are excited about the potential of tight end Jake Burt as well. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Lynnfield resident didn't see a lot of time behind All-Conference tight end Anthony Bongiorno last year, but expect him to be an integral part of the offense this season. With a powerful frame that still has some maturing to do, he is an ideal player for these 7-on-7 type tournaments, able to box out his defender in goal line situations.

Hillies have some promise: It's going to be tough for Haverhill to replace quarterback Tommy Morgan and running back Chance Brady from last year's dynamic record-setting offense, but there are some pieces in place to potentially have another good season.

The Hillies went 3-0 in their pool before play stopped, and senior Shane Finn made some good throws at quarterback. Utilizing a pistol set with trips and 2x2 formations, Finn made some quality reads and while he may need to improve his arm strength, had a few frozen ropes deep for scores.

On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Michael Kwegyir-Attah will be one of the more interesting prospects to watch in the Merrimack Valley Conference this season. Originally hailing from Ghana, last year was Attah's first year ever playing organized football. Still, his junior highlight film is impressive, filling gaps adequately in run support and squaring up well at the point of attack.

At 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, Attah is a tweener prospect, getting varying amounts of interest from FCS programs such as New Hampshire and Albany. He has long arms, and in pass coverage today he used them well, delivering a good punch in press coverage and staying in front of his man, though he did give up a touchdown.

Warriors roll: Winnacunnet was among the more impressive looking squads from the Granite State today. Quarterback Ing Hao Veasna, he of the heroics in last year's run to the Warriors' first state championship in 12 years, proved his mettle and is set for another terrific season.

Meanwhile, senior wideout/safety Alec Boucher, who caught a handful of nice balls against Prep, should be in for a bigger campaign this fall. Standing 6-foot-1 with a 6-foot-4 wingspan, and also a basketball star during the winter, he is another tweener prospect who is getting looks from UNH, Fordham, Assumption and Merrimack. If there's anything that speaks to his athleticism, it's this: Last spring, he picked up a third sport -- track and field -- for the first time in his life, and finished third in New Hampshire in the high jump.

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