Northeast 7v7: St. John's Prep takes New England title

PEABODY, Mass. -- As St. John's Prep quarterback Mike Geaslen walked off the Bishop Fenwick High School football field, a teammate asked whether he was going to be at the next day's morning workout.

Geaslen held up the Under Armour Northeast 7-on-7 New England Championship trophy and said, “No man, I'm going to eat my cereal out of this cup.”

Prep, guided by the steady arm of Geaslen and its impressive list of offensive playmakers, defeated St Paul Catholic (Conn.) in the finals, 16-14, after grinding through pool play and a talent-laden bracket. The Eagles knocked off Chelmsford in the semifinals to set up a showdown with one of Connecticut's top teams.

“As a team we've been coming together lately,” Geaslen said. “We don't pass much, as everyone knows, so it's a little different being out here. As a team we'll be fine, and it helps get us started.”

When Geaslen says Prep doesn't pass much, he's referring to the Eagles' potent running game, which is paced by Johnathan Thomas, an ESPN Boston All-State selection and the Catholic Conference's 2012 Offensive MVP. The Maryland commit lined up at wideout on offense and at linebacker on defense.

On several occasions, Thomas drew gasps from the crowd with a well-timed juke or a highlight-reel catch.

“It feels good to accomplish something before the actual season starts. It gives us an advantage I would say,” Thomas said. “We had good team chemistry. We did a good job.”

During the finals, Thomas was charged with defending St. Paul receivers being fed by Logan Marchi, considered one of the top quarterbacks in Connecticut. Marchi, who verbally committed to UConn back in June, spent most of the day picking apart opposing defenses but was stonewalled by Prep during the final five minutes of the championship.

“That was a good quarterback. He was one of the best athletes on the field,” said Thomas, admitting that Marchi beat him a few times with accurate passes. “He throws some dimes.”

Throughout the tournament, Prep used two change-of-speed receivers to keep opposing defenses off balanced. Jake Burt, the Eagles' 6-foot-4, 220-pound tight end, provided a big target down the sidelines, while the appropriately named Owen Rocket ran tight routes out of the slot position.

While Rocket caught a number of passes over the middle, one of his first catches was a deep-route touchdown in pool play.

“That kid barely misses any catches. He has hands like glue. He might be better than Gerald Kahari,” Thomas said, as he playfully referred to one of Prep's top receivers in 2012.

Burt, who acknowledged that his job during 2013 will be to get jump balls and be an effective blocker for Thomas, was quick to give credit to Geaslen. The senior quarterback got off to a tough start and threw a few interceptions during pool play, but settled in once Prep entered the bracket.

“He did great. He played unbelievable. He went right up against that UConn quarterback, and he won that battle. I don't think we'll be seeing (Marchi) anytime soon, so he's 1-0 for life,” he said.

Reading's Big Gun: While the Reading Rockets were unable to make much noise in the 7v7 bracket, quarterback Drew Belcher impressed with his arm strength and accuracy. The 2014 pro-style passer, who has drawn interest from a number of FBS and FCS programs, picked apart opposing defenses throughout the afternoon.

Reading eventually fell to Chelmsford in the quarterfinals.

“I think we felt pretty good. We had a couple of mental mistakes that really hurt us, but that's stuff we're going to fix during the season,” he said. “I thought, especially with the young guys we had out there today, that we looked pretty good.”

Belcher indicated that he's been working on timing with Reading's wide receivers and said that he's starting to feel “good chemistry” with the unit. He was cautious about naming a top target, and instead said the “whole group” is going to be important.

When asked about the recruiting process, Belcher said he isn't really thinking about it right now.

“It's going good, but I'm trying to focus on the season right now. I talked to some coaches recently, so that's going well, but right now I'm ready for the season,” he said.

Mr. Unassuming: The prototypical high school quarterback is tall and lanky, with a rocket for an arm. Stephen Deane, the signal caller for Manchester Memorial (N.H.), is one of the three.

Let's just say he can put some air under the ball.

At 5-foot-9, Deane doesn't look much like a your everyday quarterback, but at the 7v7 tournament, he was as good as anyone. With impressive arm strength and the ability to extend plays with his feet, Deane went toe-to-toe with the best quarterbacks in the area, including Belcher.

He said his team, which showed up with a number of speedy receivers, is ready for the 2013 campaign.

“We're looking good. We have some guys that are really talented, but overall we just have to come together as a team, and we'll be alright,” he said.

Same Offense, to a “T”: The structure of the 7v7 format requires teams to implement watered-down versions of their offense and really rely on quickness of their receivers. You won't see any option attacks, and the Wishbone would just look out of place.

However, Exeter (N.H.), which runs a T formation, didn't change a thing.

Exeter had two wide and four in the backfield throughout pool play. The three running backs kept their hands in the dirt and jetted out on routes after the ball was snapped. The formation had limited success, but at least the Blue Hawks stick to their guns.