EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in our annual "Impact Player" series, taking a closer look at some of the state's top players heading into the fall MIAA football season. To see past Impact Players, CLICK HERE.
Since the inception of ESPN Boston's Mr. Football Award in 2010, given annually to the state's top overall player, a plethora of offensive stalwarts have dominated the field of contenders. As we head into year five, only one true defensive player -- Chelmsford linebacker Tim Joy (2011) -- has made the field of five finalists. Alex Moore, the 2012 winner out of St. John's Prep, was honored for his work both at tailback and safety.
With a number of high-caliber defensive backs and front-seven players, that trend could change dramatically in 2014. Leading the way is Xaverian defensive end Joe Gaziano, who was named ESPN Boston's Defensive Player of the Year last fall as a junior. The Northwestern commit is a special breed of athlete, setting the edge as a run-blocking tight end as well as handling kicking duties on special teams.
The Hawks are licking their chops after getting doubled-up in last year's MIAA Division 1 State Final, but they figure to be at or near the top of many preseason polls next month. Gaziano is the biggest reason, and he'll be among the early contenders for Mr. Football -- a welcome change from years past. Can he live up to the hype and turn in an even more dominant 2014?
Player: Joe Gaziano
School: Xaverian Brothers High School
Hometown: Norwood, Mass.
Listed Height/Weight: 6-foot-4, 240 pounds
Scouts Inc. Grade: 3 stars (75 overall)
Scouts Inc. Rank: 3 – Mass.; 136 – Region; 78 – Position
Key 2013 stat: In addition to 12 sacks, Gaziano blocked three punts.
Workout stat: Times at a 4.8 second 40-yard dash.
Opposing coaches: "He's a dominant player at both ends, goes 100 miles an hour at all times. He's very active -- very, very active. ... His speed, he's pretty quick and strong. His length, and his speed, it’s a nice combination to have as a def player. ... Very physical, goes hard. He goes hard every play, never takes a play off, definitely one you've gotta scheme for. ... A lot of teams try different things against him -- get a bigger body on him, always make sure there's a tight end on him with a running back behind to chip off on him. A good scenario for him is the way people used to pay L.T. Always put a body on him and put a quicker guy behind him to help with the speed level."
Scouts Inc.: “Adequate height and bulk at this stage and looks to possess a frame that can still support additional good mass. Flashes very good playing strength and above-average first step quickness. ... Demonstrates ability to fire out and deliver a good initial pop and displays enough strength to hold ground and set the edge when he keeps pads down. Flashes ability to hold up and battle against double teams. Flashes ability to shoot and separate, but needs to continue to improve hand usage and work to get off blocks quicker at times. ... Physical player that looks to give good effort to stay after the play. Range is adequate. Solid tackler, but can struggle to redirect sharply if he overruns the ball carrier. ... Gaziano comes across as a tough, high effort player. Lacks in some ideals which could limit role, but has some tools that can allow him to productively contribute. Also plays on offense and if defense is not an ideal fit, could still contribute as blocking TE.”
Bottom Line: Gaziano comes into the season as the Hawks' most explosive defensive lineman since two-time ESPN Boston All-State selection Maurice Hurst Jr., and is the biggest name in a defense full of decorated ones. He has reportedly added more bulk to an already impressive frame this offseason, and that should force offensive coordinators to get even more creative. Gaziano is second to none in one-on-one battles, sometimes having to fight through extracurricular to get to his destination, and at times last year the Hawks even toyed with dropping him back into pass coverage. It's assumed he'll see more double teams this fall after such an explosive campaign last year. How he handles it could be a factor in Xaverian's success.