On Monday, we unveiled our fifth annual statewide preseason Top 25 poll. Today, we continue our annual countdown of the poll with Nos. 10 through six.
NO. 10 ST. JOHN’S PREP
Coach: Brian St. Pierre (First season)
2013: 6-5, lost in Division 1 North Quarterfinals.
Returning Starters: 12 (3 offensive, 8 defensive, 1 special teams)
Key Players: Jake Burt, Sr. TE, 6-5, 235 lbs.; Cody Harwood, Jr. RB, 5-7, 189 lbs.; Owen Rockett, Sr. WR/CB, 5-9, 185 lbs.; Hayden Rockett, So. CB, 5-8, 150 lbs.; Brandan Kahari, Sr. LB, 5-10, 187 lbs.; Jack Lambert, Jr. DL, 5-10, 210 lbs.
Strengths: Skill positions, secondary.
Weaknesses: Offensive line, quarterback.
Outlook: St. John’s Prep might have the toughest schedule in Division 1, as they open the season against four of the top 10 teams in our preseason polls. They’ll start the season at No. 6 Bridgewater-Raynham, at No. 9 Brockton, hosting No. 2 Central Catholic, and finishing September with a game at No. 3 Everett. With only three offensive starters returning, and a new head coach on the sidelines, the Eagles will have to learn on the fly during this brutal stretch. Oliver Eberth, a junior transfer that threw for 967 yards as the starting QB for Andover high school last season, is competing with senior A.J. Carrigan for the right to replace Mike Geaslen as the Eagles starting QB. Throwing to playmakers like Burt and Rockett will make life easier for whichever quarterback wins the starting job, as those two standouts paced the Eagles with a combined 62 receptions for 788 yards and six touchdowns last season. However, head coach Brian St. Pierre is more concerned about blocking considering sophomore James Carnevale is the only offensive lineman that is returning from the 2013 season. Both the coach and Burt insist that the line’s potential deficiencies won’t keep the future BC Eagle from splitting out as a “move” tight end, leaving the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder free to cause matchup problems for defenses across the Catholic Conference. Cody Harwood filled in admirably when All-State running back Jonathan Thomas was lost for the season early in 2013 with a knee injury, as he averaged 118 yards in 7 starts. Now a senior, Harwood will look to sustain that success in a very tough conference. Prep’s defense will be led by Kahari, and strengthened by several talented cornerbacks including sophomores Hayden Rockett and Joe Masterson. The linebacking corps will be bolstered by the addition of senior transfer Arthur Churchwell, who joins his younger brother, John, on the front seven. It will be a tough season for the Eagles, but 4 of the 5 teams in the Catholic Conference qualified for the postseason under the new format last season, and they’ll have a great chance to earn a decent seed in the D1 bracket.
NO. 9 BROCKTON
Head Coach: Peter Colombo (84-35, 10 seasons)
Returning Starters: 9 (3 offense, 6 defense)
Key Players: Aaron Monteiro Sr. OL/DL, 6-6, 308 lbs.; Uzziah Hilliard Sr. C, 6-0, 280 lbs.; Marcus Bullard, Jr. MLB/TE, 6-0, 215 lbs.; Dan Estrella Sr. OL/DL, 6-2, 280; Aaron Williams, Sr. QB/FS, 5-10, 160 lbs.; Kerry Raymond, Jr. RB/DL, 5-11, 215 lbs.; Jon Derolus, Sr. WR/SS, 5-10, 170 lbs.; Ben Cowart, Jr. OT, 6-4, 250 lbs.; Ryan Clifford, Jr. K;
Strengths: Offensive and defensive lines, secondary.
Weaknesses: Experience at skill positions.
Outlook: Peter Colombo’s squad looks to bounce back from a down season in 2013. The Boxers, one of the perennial powers in Massachusetts high school football, will rely on strong play along the line between Monteiro, Hilliard and Estrella. The beginning to the 2014 slate will present a difficult road for the Boxers. Colombo’s squad opens against St. John’s Prep, the first of four games against Catholic Conference opponents in the first five contests. The Boxers were solid at home in 2013, going 4-1 on its own turf. Colombo’s team will have very strong line play. Highly-touted Boston College recruit Aaron Monteiro, a hulking road grater, will lead the way on both sides of the ball. He will be the key protector for QB Aaron Williams. The offense was the biggest reason for the team’s struggle in 2013. The Boxers were shut out in four of the team’s six losses last season, including the last two games of the season. A 20-0 Thanksgiving Day loss to archrival Bridgewater-Raynham left a sour taste in the team’s mouth that has motivated them to be better in 2014.
NO. 8 SHEPHERD HILL
Coach: Chris Lindstrom Sr. (14th season, 95-65 overall)
2013: 9-2, lost in Division 4 Central Final
Returning Starters: 14 (6 offense, 8 defense)
Key Returnees: Chris Lindstrom Jr., Sr. OG/DE, 6-5, 250 lbs.; Chase Flibbert, Sr. OT/DL, 6-5, 265 lbs.; Austin Jones, Sr. C, 6-2, 300 lbs.; Cam MacDonald, Sr. OT/DL, 6-0, 245 lbs.; Gage Nutters, Sr. OG, 6-2, 220 lbs.; Drew Jean-Guillaume, Sr. QB/FS, 5-10, 195 lbs.; Brady Ravenelle, Sr. RB/LB, 6-1, 220 lbs.; Sean McKeon, Jr. TE/DE, 6-5, 220 lbs.; Dan Gilligan, Sr. TE, 6-1, 205 lbs.; Nick Ostrowski, Jr. WLB, 5-10, 180 lbs.
Strengths: Offensive line, defensive line, intelligence, size, speed at lineman positions
Weaknesses: Depth, speed at running back
Outlook: One area the Rams won't be deficient in is size, but it's the way they wield it which makes them so dangerous. Led by the Boston College-bound Lindstrom Jr., a long and wiry pulling guard with 4.9 speed, this is among the biggest and most mobile offensive lines the Bay State offers this fall. Combined with some big tight ends, a bull in Ravenelle, and a quarterback with sprinter's speed in Drew Jean-Guillaume, this should be one of the more explosive rushing attacks outside of I-495. We're a decade into the "Double Wing" offense in the Lindstrom Sr. era, but in the last few years it has diversified with some shotgun looks to better suit Jean-Guillaume. The Urban Meyer-like formations have given way to some effective screens and sweeps, but the passing game might be at its best when Jean-Guillaume is on the run, extending the pocket to the sideline. Coaches have high hopes this year for McKeon as a breakout candidate -- the junior has seen interest so far from BC, Rutgers, Harvard and Yale -- and with his long frame streaking across the field, the Rams like his chances in the passing game as well as setting the edge in the run game. Defensively, with virtually everyone back on the defensive line, the Rams will remain in a 4-3 front, with Lindstrom Jr. setting the edge. Jean-Guillaume is being recruited by Division 1 FCS schools as a safety, but last season he wasn't an every-down player in the secondary. Expect him to get a lot more snaps on defense this season.
-BRENDAN C. HALL
NO. 7 LOWELL
Coach: John Florence (4th season, 22-11)
2013: 7-4, lost in Division 1 North Semifinals.
Returning Starters: 9 (3 Offense, 6 Defense)
Key Players: Shyheim Cullen Sr. RB/ILB, 6-1, 210 lbs.; Nicolau Coury Sr. WR/ILB, 5-11, 205 lbs.; Chris Mansour Sr. QB/LB, 6-0, 180 lbs.; Theo Bryant Sr. WR/DB, 5-10, 171 lbs.; Malik Settles Jr. LB/DB, 5-8, 190 lbs.; Angelo Brito Sr. NG/OL, 5-8, 245 lbs.
Strengths: Athletic linebackers; offensive and defensive line play; running back
Weaknesses: Inexperience at quarterback and skill positions
Outlook: Lowell will come into this season with arguably the most athletic linebacking corps in the state, lead by Syracuse commit Shyheim Cullen. His bruising style at both 'backer and running back helped the Red Raiders make a run to the Division 1 North semi-finals last season. “Teams are going to start game planning for him, so other guys around him are going to have to step up and play,” said Florence. His running mate Ngaiiva Mason graduated, so it remains to be seen whether another back will step up to continue that two-headed attack or whether Cullen will shoulder more of the load this season. Nicolau Coury will return alongside Cullen to form a stud linebacking tandem, but the team is still searching for that third player to defend the short and intermediate part of the field. The team came into last season with five new starting offensive linemen, so having two returning starters there will help an offense predicated on creating time and power up front. Since Florence took over as head coach, he has had one-year starters at quarterback each season. This year is no different. Chris Mansour was the odds-on favorite to take over under center with last year’s starter Brian Dolan lost to graduation, but Florence noted the competition is wide open. “There’s some pluses and minuses,” said the coach of the quarterback competition. “There’s no clear frontrunner this year like we’ve had in the past with (R.J.) Noel, (Cam) Latta, and Dolan. This year we seem to have a little more depth than we did. There’s more competition in camp, which makes it good.” Juniors Matt Smith and Shaymus Dunn are also in the running for the job. Whoever wins the job will also have a new receivers corps since Jack Galvin graduated. Galvin terrorized Merrimack Valley Conference defenses and was one of the main cogs in Lowell’s spread offense. The team will be tested early in the schedule against Leominster in the third week of the season. After a bye in the first week of October, it will face defending Division 1 state champion Central Catholic. How the Red Raiders come out of those two games will say a lot about how their season will go. “With the playoff system and the points, you have to shoot to get every possible win you can,” said Florence. “It’s a short, short season when you look at those seven weeks. But after that, it determines the playoffs. So you can’t really have too much of an adjustment period, you have to be ready to roll that first week.” If the right pieces come together, the potential is certainly there to make a postseason splash again.
NO. 6 BRIDGEWATER-RAYNHAM
Head Coach: Dan Buron (22nd season, 161-68-2)
2013: 7-3, lost to Attleboro in Div. 1 South semifinal
Returning starters: 11 (6 on offense; 5 on defense)
Key Players: Brandon Gallagher, Sr. RB, 5-10, 185 lbs.; Connor Reagan, Sr. TE/DE, 6-2, 205 lbs.; Matt Clement, Sr. QB, 6-1, 175 lbs.; Nick Whittemore, Sr. G/DE, 6-1, 230 lbs.; Will Fuller, Sr. OL/DL, 5-11, 220 lbs.;
Strengths: Experience at skill positions.
Weaknesses: Lack of game experience at linebacker.
Outlook:You could say that this isn’t your typical Bridgewater-Raynham squad. The Trojans’ strength in their returning ranks comes more at skill positions, rather than in the trenches. But, if history has proven anything with a program that has churned out offensive lineman with consistency under Dan Buron, B-R will find a way. “I think we’ll be good around the perimeter on both sides of the ball,” Buron said. “We’re inexperienced up front, but we’ve been in this situation before, we’ll find guys. We’ve come into camp in pretty good shape, so that helps. Now we’ve just to find the right people in the right combinations.” For the Trojans, it will all start with preseason All-State running back Brendan Gallagher. But, as B-R has exhibited in recent years, they’re able to take chances downfield behind returning starting quarterback Matt Clement. Buron also said he expects tight end Connor Reagan to see a greater perecentage of targets within the passing game. The cause for concern on defense is at linebacker, where all of B-R’s four starters from last year graduated. However, as on offense, Buron is content with his mix on the perimeter. “We lost some good guys up front, but we’ve got some of the younger kids who’ve worked hard behind them,” Buron said. “We’ll be counting on them.”