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Top 25 MIAA Football 2016 Preseason Rankings

Jon Mahoney/ESPN

Our preseason rankings of the best teams in the state, as selected by our panel of staff writers and correspondents. (Updated 8/19)

1. Xaverian (Last season: 12-0): The two-time defending Division 1 State Champions need no introduction. Despite losing the likes of Coby Tippett and Pete Thorbhan, the Hawks still posses the top defensive unit in the state heading into the 2016 season behind linebacker A.J. Ryan, defensive back Mekhi Henderson, and lineman Cal Flanders. Should Xaverian receive just adequate production out of running back Devin Piccinnin and wide receiver Sam Laurent, its hard not to see them back at Gillette Stadium for a fourth straight season.

2. Everett (Last season: 5-5): After an underwhelming regular season in 2015, the Crimson Tide made a late season charge - knocking off No. 1 seed St. John's Prep in the first round of the postseason en route to the Division 1 North Final. Jordan McAfee is back under center to run the offense, while wide receivers such as Anthony Norcia and Mike Sainristil are expected to give him some help on the outside. There is no question, however, that with a loaded Division 1 North field season it is going to take quite the performance out of Everett's defense if they hope to get back to Gillette.

3. Duxbury (Last season: 8-3): If you're looking for a showcase of offensive talent, Duxbury is the place to be on Friday night's this fall. Quarterback Bobby Maimoron and highly sought after wide receiver Ryan Reagan combine for one of the most entraining passing attacks in the Bay State. Combine that with the Dragons high level of play on both ends of the ball on a year-in, year-out basis, and Duxbury is one of the top teams heading into the season.

4. Central Catholic (Last season: 10-2): It has been quite the past three seasons for the Raiders, and those who expect them to take a step back in 2016 might be mistaken. Sophomore quarterback Bret Edwards raised some eyebrows last season by helping to lead Central Catholic to the Division 1 State Final after out-gunning Andover's EJ Perry IV in the North Sectional Semifinal. David Onyemen is projected to be one of the top defensive backs in the state, and Carlos Cabrera is sure to provide a boost up front.

5. Billerica (Last season: 10-1): All eyes are on the Indians as they are expected to return 17 starters including defensive lineman Scott Murphy and running back Derek Laundry. Time will tell whether Billerica is a true contender up north, but the Indians have an early opportunity to make a statement to the rest of Massachusetts when they take on Everett in Week 4.

6. St. John's Prep (Last season: 8-3): The Eagles suffered quite the disappointing ending in 2015 when they were upset in the first round of the postseason by eighth seeded Everett. They say so long to quarterback Ollie Eberth, but return one of the top receiving corps in the state in Hayden Rockett, Declan Burt, and Wes Rockett. The Eagles defense will have their hands full this fall against the likes of Catholic Memorial's Matt Marcantano and Everett's Jordan McAfee.

7. Andover (Last season: 8-3): Boston College commit EJ Perry IV showed flashes of why he is ACC bound during the postseason last year, as he threw for 634 yards against Central Catholic. Now, with Perry returning alongside Brown-bound receiver Dan Gemmell, there is no reason to believe that the Golden Eagles offense can't shatter a few state records.

8. Leominster (Last season: 8-3): The focus is on Blue Devils quarterback Noah Gray heading into 2016. After committing to Duke University following the 2015 season, Gray will look to catapult Leominster to the front of the pack in Division 2 when they travel to BC High to take on the Eagles Week 3.

9. Catholic Memorial (Last season: 4-7): All things considered, 2015 was fairly successful for the Knights, as they knocked off Catholic Conference rival BC High in the first round of the Division 1 State Tournament. Playmaker Matt Marcantano returns after missing all of last season with a torn ACL, and Pete Scibilia will look to assert himself as one of the top running backs in the Bay State. The Knights could give No. 1 Xaverian a run for their money in the Catholic Conference.

10. BC High (Last season: 7-4): Is this the year the Eagles get over the hump? Over the past four seasons, BC High has seen their seasons stalled by Catholic Conference rivals come playoff time. Behind Danny Abraham and Bobby DeMeo as well as versatile quarterback Connor Cady, the Eagles are expected to be one of the more athletic teams around.

11. Reading (Last season: 11-2): Reading was stunned in the Division 2 State Final last year at the hands of Nashoba, but this a program with a long history of success, and there is no doubt that head coach John Fiore will have his team ready to go come Week 1.

12. Brockton (Last season: 7-4): The Boxers are a perennial power in Division 1 South and last year was no different as they reached the South Sectional Final. It remains to be seen whether they pose a legitimate threat to the Xaverians of the world, but with size up front and a quick backfield, they are sure to be right in the mix.

13. Springfield Central (Last season: 9-2): In a quest for their third Western. Mass title in four years, little is expected to stand in the way of the Golden Eagles. Quarterback Tank Walker and standout senior Coreese Everett combine to create one of the most dangerous offensive threats outside of Eastern Massachusetts.

14. Holliston (Last season: 13-0): After delivering a second consecutive Division 4 State Title with a perfect season in 2015, the Panthers have their sights set on another banner. Quarterback Jack Barrett is back behind a talented offensive line and there are few teams in the ranks of Division 3A that might stand in their way this fall.

15. Shepherd Hill (Last season: 6-5): The Rams already had one of the best offensive lines in the state led by Boston College commit Chris Lindstrom, and now they have one of the best running backs in the state prepared to churn up yardage behind those road graters with former Holy Name star Kevin Mensah enrolled at Shepherd Hill.

16. Melrose (Last season: 12-1): The Red Raiders suffered a second consecutive heartbreaking loss to Dartmouth in the Division 3 State Final at Gillette Stadium last December and will come into this season with plenty of motivation. Mike Pedrini is a true all-around weapon that will pace this offense while Melrose looks to stake it's claim to the throne in Division 2A North.

17. North Attleborough (Last season: 9-2): Junior quarterback Chad Peterson is one of the most underrated prospects in the Bay State and he's certainly capable of leading the Rocketeers to a Hockomock League Title.

18. St. John's (Shrewsbury) (Last season: 8-3): One of the few programs that might stand in the way of Leominster in the Division 2 Central State Tournament, the Pioneers return some excellent players on both sides of the ball with linebacker Jack Fields anchoring the defense and wide receiver Nick Pallotta ready to make plays for the next man up at quarterback.

19. Bridgewater-Raynham (Last season: 7-4): The Trojans might be a year away from seriously contending for a State Title, but playing in the newly-constructed Division 1A South will give them a chance to avoid Xaverian come playoff time. Senior running back Shawn Noel should rack up some impressive numbers behind an experienced offensive line.

20. Nashoba (Last season: 13-0): After stunning a favored Reading team in the Division 2 State Final last December, the Chieftans will look to reload at the skill positions. Yet they return some key starters in the trenches, including top prospect Bobby Denaro, and still enter the year as the prohibitive favorite in Division 2A Central.

21. Mansfield (Last season: 5-6): The Hornets appear to be a team on the rise with a lot of talent throughout the class of 2017 and 2018. Big-bodied wide receiver Hunter Ferreira is a player to watch on the outside, as Mansfield looks to compete in the Kelley-Rex Division of the Hockomock League.

22. Tewksbury (Last season: 8-2): Stunned by upstart Danvers in the second round of the Division 3 State Tournament last fall, the Redmen will assuredly be motivated to compete for the Division 2 North crown this season. They lost a lot of key players, but their offensive scheme creates issues for opposing defenses regardless of the personnel.

23. Westford Academy (Last season: 8-2): Connor Degenhardt is one of the best quarterback prospects in the state and clearly a huge piece of the puzzle for the Grey Ghosts. We'll see if he can get his team over the hump in his final high school season.

24. Danvers (Last season: 8-4): The Falcons won the first three playoff games in school history last year and return a lot with tight end Kieran Moriarty, quarterback Dean Borders, and all-around weapon Matt Andreas ready to work under new offensive coordinator Bruce Rich.

25. Foxborough (Last season: 9-3): Yet another Hockomock League program on the rise, Foxborough will lean on quick senior quarterback Mark Clagg and a talented corps of wide receivers that are ready to step up this fall.

Last 10 Out: Bedford (5-6), Dartmouth (10-3), Grafton (8-4), Haverhill (6-5), Marshfield (12-1), Malden (5-6), Milton (11-1), Millis (7-4), Northbridge (12-1), West Boylston (11-2)