The preseason finally arrives tomorrow morning, the first day fall high school teams are permitted to start practicing by the MIAA. There will be plenty of things to watch out for, but here are five of the most intriguing:
When we last saw Billerica's do-everything quarterback Nick LaSpada, he was grimacing in pain on the sidelines with a torn ACL in the first quarter of a Division 1 playoff loss to Everett. We initially penciled in Billerica in the top 10 with the stipulation that his health holds up, but the initial reports from area coaches are that the 6-foot-3, 190-pound LaSpada -- who also returned kicks and played defense last year -- is better than ever. He impressed many coaches in the Middlesex 7-on-7 league this summer, with his own coach Peter Flynn saying it was "like a man playing with boys".
"(He's looking) Absolutely awesome, better than ever, faster than ever," said Flynn, who also says LaSpada's the best athlete to come through the school "since Tom Glavine, and I mean that sincerely." (yes, that Tom Glavine)
The reigning state Gatorade Player of the Year went through a grueling six-month rehab to get back on the field, and he will once again be relied upon strongly in a Merrimack Valley Large that should be competitive -- just like it is every year.
Just how highly is he regarded nationally? Florida, Florida State, Penn State and Oregon are amongst the most high-profile Division 1 colleges who have reached out with interest. Oregon head coach Chip Kelly recently went so far as to email Flynn and predict LaSpada will be one of the top recruits in the country for the class of 2012.
"The ball's just flying off his hand with such RPM, it's a nice tight spiral," Flynn added. "As soon as a kid turns on a 20-yard comeback it's there. He does all the little things right, it's really impressive. He knows exactly where to put the ball, and where all the windows are."
The courtship of Connaughton
First, he said he was "literally 50/50" on playing football this fall for St. John's Prep. Then, it was "70/30". But tonight, basketball/baseball standout Pat Connaughton confirmed to me via text that he will not be suiting up for the Eagles' football squad this fall, as he would miss too much of the season making all his visits. Connaughton previously dabbled at quarterback up to his sophomore year.
Earlier this month, the Arlington resident blew up the scene at AAU Nationals and became a highly sought-after recruit nationally. So much so, that many high-major schools are now calling for his services to play both sports. Connaughton said he will most likely visit Notre Dame, UCLA, Vanderbilt, Boston College and Wake Forest, but "those aren't definite yet".
Big shoes to fill
In the "big shoes to fill" department, pay attention to Natick football coach Mark Mortarelli and Algonquin girls' soccer coach Scott Taggart. Natick went internally to replace legendary head coach Tom Lamb, who had tremendous success in two separate stints at Natick sandwiched around a tenure at Norwood, and tapped the defensive-minded Mortarelli, previously the associate head coach. The Red and Blue graduated one of its most talented classes Lamb says he's ever coached, but the cupboard isn't bare with the likes of tight end Andrew Siden and offensive lineman Liam Porter still in the fold. Meanwhile, Taggart is taking over for Kim Miller, who guided the Tomahawks to their first Division 1 state title in school history last fall.
There are leagues that will always be a slugfest week in and week out (Hockomock, Merrimack Valley, Tri-Valley, South Shore) and others that should be more competitive (Greater Boston, Northeastern). But the Old Colony League battle ought to be an exciting one for not just the talent distribution, but the distinct styles each team brings. Barnstable will air it out with the pitch-and-catch tandem of quarterback D.J. Crook and wideout Jordan Henderson; Bridgewater-Raynham will pound it out on the ground with a bruising style of play; Taunton brings a unique running style led by shake-and-bake tailback Cabrinni Goncalves; and Dartmouth will be tough in the trenches behind Andrew Kestenbaum.
Can Plymouth Regional keep the streak going?
The Bobcats last lost a football contest on November 6, 2004, a 28-10 decision to Souhegan that ended their season. Since then, they've pulled off a run unprecedented in the state of New Hampshire, winning 55 straight. Playing in Division IV, the Bobcats would love to keep the streak going.