BOSTON, Mass. — With the early morning sun shining down on the golden helmets of the Boston College High football players, Jon Bartlett was in his element, barking orders and demanding precision from his players.
With a loaded Catholic Conference, and a loaded 11-game schedule for the No. 3 Eagles, Bartlett knows that execution during the last Saturday practice before a Week One visit from Brockton will be essential if the Eagles are to survive and make a run at a league title and their first playoff appearance since 2008.
“The Catholic Conference is always a war,” Bartlett said. “This year, on paper, it may seem a little more equal. But in years past, I think any coach will tell you in the conference, that it doesn’t matter the record. Conference play determines the playoff and it’s a miniature season in itself. You know you are going to get 100 percent from the other team.”
The Eagles success begins on the shoulders of the reigning Catholic Conference Offensive Player of the Year, Preston Cooper. Cooper, an elusive, 5-foot-8-inch tailback, burst on the scene as a part-time player his sophomore season with more than 800 rushing yards and put his name near the top of the class of running backs in Eastern Mass. with a breakout season last year.
Bartlett has seen the maturation of his senior captain.
“He’s a lot stronger now and a little faster now,” Bartlett said of his starting running back. “To get the number of carries he needs to get with the schedule that we are playing he needs to be able to be stronger, which he has been.”
The Eagles have always featured beef on the offensive line (see: Andrew Tallman), but this year the maroon and gold have a lean, quicker look to the offense front. Cooper will still get plenty of touches inside, but he said he will have to work on being better in pass protection and find his spots to hit a big play with misdirection and outside runs.
“They are slimmer and they are faster,” Cooper said of his offensive line. “We are going to probably going to have to run the ball outside with counters, tosses and all that. We will still run between the tackles obviously. Just because we are smaller on the offensive line doesn’t mean these guys aren’t tough.”
Gordon McLeod, Jameson McShea and junior Lincoln Collins will all be recipients of strong-armed quarterback Bartley Regan, who is back as the first Eagles quarterback to start two seasons in a row since 2008.
The ability to open things up on the outside will be a plus to getting Cooper on the fast track towards another big season and the Eagles back to the head of the class in the gauntlet that is the Catholic Conference.
“I think we will have a nice balance,” said Bartlett. “Obviously we are going to be a run team with [Cooper]. You have to feed him the ball. But we have good options with our receiving corps and with our quarterback.”
BC HIGH AT A GLANCE
2010: 6-4 (3-1 Catholic Conference)
Coach: Jon Bartlett (4th year, 23-9)
Players to Watch: Preston Cooper, Sr. RB, 5-8, 175; Bartley Regan, Sr. QB, 6-3, 205; Jameson McShea, Sr. TE/DL, 6-4, 245; Gordon McLeod, Sr. WR, 6-1, 180; Luke Catarius, Jr. FB/LB, 6-2, 215; John Snee, Sr. LB, 6-2, 215.
Strengths: Running back, Quarterback
Weaknesses: Inexperienced offensive line
Outlook: The schedule is loaded this season for BC High, with tilts against Brockton, Everett as well as a trip to DePaul Catholic (N.J.) and a visit from St. Peter’s Prep (N.J.). This all comes before the Eagles dive into a difficult Catholic Conference schedule. However, if the Eagles make it through the nonleague schedule healthy and strong, then there is no reason to believe they won’t be a major player for league bragging rights. The offensive line will have to gel quickly in front of Preston Cooper and Bartley Regan. Jameson McShea (Temple-bound) and Gordon McLeod will be good targets for Regan to help balance out a good Cooper-lead ground game. Luke Catarius led the Eagles in tackles last season and will spearhead the defense as a junior.