SHREWSBURY, Mass. -- While teams around the state may have gotten started with football practices on Monday, the unofficial beginning of the season is the annual scrimmage between perennial state powers Brockton and St. John’s of Shrewsbury. This year, the game was up in Shrewsbury, and, as usual, it was a physical affair with some outstanding plays on both sides of the ball for each team.
The first units played four series apiece, and in that span, the host Pioneers scored four touchdowns to Brockton’s two. When the second units took the field, the Boxers held the advantage, scoring twice and keeping St. John’s out of the end zone. Overall, the Pioneers’ starters looked further along at this stage than Brockton’s, but the teams were generally evenly matched.
Here are some other quick thoughts:
-- Last season, Dan Light came on in relief of starting quarterback Griffin Murphy at times and mostly ran the ball. This year, the senior showed against the Boxers that he can throw the ball, too. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound southpaw throws a beautiful deep ball and can still run over defenders when he scrambles. He threw a 55-yard touchdown pass to Richard Rodgers, a 35-yard score to Drew Ortone and rushed for a pair of scores as well.
"It's a process, definitely," Light said of his development throwing the ball. "We have a couple offensive coaches that have told me reads and other things. It's not just get the ball and try and gain 10 yards. It's where is this coverage going to leave open? Where's the holes in this coverage? So, definitely a learning process, but I think we’re picking it up well."
His performance humbled the much-heralded Boxer secondary.
"It’s perfect, because we’'e used to playing against teams that run the ball a lot," said Brockton safety and University of Miami commit Albert Louis-Jean. "The defense was a little confusing, because I had to give help to one side, but I would still have to be on the other side at the same time. But it was a good experience, a good learning experience, a good way to get better."
-- It seems like this is the case every year, but the St. John’' defensive line looks to be a strength once again. At the ends, Light and the 6-4, 235-pound Rodgers make up an athletic pair that will be tough for any offensive line to keep off the edge. The Pioneers are just as strong at tackle, with junior Ryan Anger (6-2, 250) and seniors Michael Abraham (6-1, 200) and Tyler Pike (6-1, 270). Even with the loss of Troy Moore (Bridgton Academy) to graduation, this group has the potential to be better than last year's.
"Last year, we moved (Rodgers) from free safety to defensive end at about Game 7 or 8," said St. John’s coach John Andreoli of his standout senior, who has offers from Boston College, Notre Dame and a host of Pac-10 schools. "He makes so many plays even when he’s not in the stat sheet. You look at him, he tips balls, he causes rushes in passes. He’s a very tough guy to block on the edge because he’s very athletic. We feel like if we can stop the run and bounce the ball to him and Light, that’s going to be a good situation for us. It’s tough to block him coming off the edge."
-- Although St. John's mostly worked on its passing game, teams would be mistaken to overlook senior running back John Vassar. The 5-10, 200-pounder runs with a nice, downhill burst and had several nice gains on the first Pioneers' series. If defenses empty the box against the potent St. John's passing attack, Vassar will be add an extra dimension to an already-explosive offense.
-- As for the Boxers, the situation at quarterback is a little bit more muddled at this point, with no clear starter being named by coach Peter Colombo yet. Sophomore Austin Roberts got most of the reps with the first team, but senior Paul Mroz also got his fair share. Another sophomore, Micah Morel, also had a series with the ones. Both Roberts and Mroz led the Boxers on touchdown drives that ended with 16-yard scampers by senior running back Trevon Offley. Don’t be surprised to see more than one signal-caller under center this season for the Boxers.
"Three good athletes and they all bring a little bit (something) different to the table," Colombo said. "I thought they all made their mistakes. They’re all young in terms of varsity experience, so there’s a learning curve. I think you saw Micah is going to be a great young quarterback. He had good velocity for a sophomore. Auggie (Roberts) threw it pretty good at times. I think he runs the option the best and Paul is your drop-back guy. The problem with that is you can’t get good at three different things.
"For right now, it's Auggie and Paul," he added. "But I still think Auggie's got control of the offense the best. But I wouldn’t be afraid to use Paul against certain teams in certain situations. He’s a senior. He’s the only one that’s that age. So there’s a maturity physically that he has. So we’ll see."
-- Brockton's offensive line looks better than it did at this time a year ago with four starters returning. Even against a quality front like St. John’s, the Boxers were able to create some nice running lanes for Offley and junior Josh Brewster. Offley, in particular, looks even faster than he did last fall and still has the lower-body strength to break free from those foolish enough to try and arm-tackle him.
"He's got to have the ball," Colombo said. "And when he does, good luck trying to tackle him. The line is coming together, and we have to get better every day."
-- No matter who takes over at quarterback, he will have a deep and talented group of receivers to work with. Louis-Jean made several nice grabs, including a 70-yarder for a touchdown from Roberts that was called back on a questionable offensive pass interference penalty. However, the player that may have been the biggest surprise was junior Jerrod Shelby. At 6-foot-4 with excellent hands, Shelby came in with the second unit and looked like a man among boys, finishing with a 40-yard catch and run for a score.
"I think this confirms that I’ve got to get him on the field with the starting quarterbacks, as well," Colombo said of Shelby. "We've got a bunch of kids like that, like Albert and (6-4 junior) Carl Joseph, who’s out from the basketball team. (Joseph’s) raw, he’s learning, but he could help us, too, before it’s over. So, we’ll see."