Today, we begin our MIAA football Top 25 preview capsules, checking in with each of the teams represented in our preseason poll.
We’ll run five entries per day for the next five days, counting down to No. 1.
To keep tabs on our progress, click on over to the Top 25 poll, as we’ll update each team’s entry as it is posted:
No. 25 Millis/Hopedale Mohawks
Head Coach: Dana Olson (2nd season, 8-3)
Last year: 8-3, lost in Division 6 South championship
Returning Starters: 16 (8 offense, 8 defense)
Key Returnees: Peter Fallon, Sr. OG/DT, 6-4, 282 lbs.; Josh Pierre-Charles, Sr. RB/LB, 5-9, 195 lbs.; Brian Espanet, Jr. WR/DB, 6-3, 170 lbs.; Tom O'Brien, Sr. OL/DL, 6-1, 270 lbs.; Jay Wenzel, Sr. OL/DL, 5-10, 280 lbs.; London Artis, Sr. LB/FB, 5-8, 205 lbs.; Saga Desai, Sr. WR/DB, 6-1, 175 lbs.; Ryan Smith, Sr. QB/DB, 6-1, 175 lbs.; Billy Barrett, Sr. LB/FB, 5-10, 200 lbs.; Brendan Lortie, Sr. QB/DB
Strengths: Offensive line play, big-game experience, skill position speed.
Weaknesses: Inexperience at quarterback, health.
Outlook: Across high school football, most teams adhere to a "one-game-at-a-time" mantra to deflect expectations and pressure. At Millis-Hopedale, the Mohawks are embracing them.
With 16 starters returning, six of whom are entering at least their third year starting on varsity, second-year coach Dan Olson knows he has a group that can not only handle the pressure, but actually use it as motivation.
"(Getting to Gillette Stadium for the state title game) was like the elephant in the room," Olson said. "Talking about state championships and things like that, we normally don't do it, but this year I feel like we need to talk about it. The last two years, with the new playoff format, we've been so close, we've started to talk about it and work for it this year."M-H has come tantalizingly close the last two seasons, dropping a pair of Division 6 South sectional finals to Cohasset, a team that would go onto make two Gillette appearances, winning the state title a season ago. This year, with its most experienced – and possibly talented team – in program history, M-H will certainly not sneak up on anybody.
And how could they? With an offensive line averaging over 260 pounds across the board, led by Villanova-bound Peter Fallon and classmates Tom O'Brien and Jay Wenzel, all of whom are entering their third year starting on the line, the Mohawks will be hard to miss.
They'll clear the way for returning ESPN Boston preseason All-State running back Josh Pierre-Charles, a speedy playmaker that Olson believes has All-State potential this year and could end up with 5,000 total rushing yards for his career by season's end. Touchdown machine Brian Espanet returns at receiver to give whomever starts at quarterback a big target. Olson feels confident that, whether it is senior Ryan Smith or classmate Brendan Lortie under center, his bruising, efficient offense is in good hands.
The Mohawks are equally physical on defense, with one of the state's more underrated linebacking groups led by seniors London Artis and Billy Barrett, but don't lack speed on the back end either.
Three questions loom large for M-H coming out of camp: Who will snag the quarterback position (Olson says he won't name a starter until opening game week)? Can anybody in a supremely talented, and blazing quick, sophomore class can find their way onto the field? Finally, can the Mohawks find a replacement for injured left tackle Gerry Crepeau, who tore his ACL playing lacrosse last spring?
Obviously, many of those questions will be answered Week 1 when the Mohawks open up at home against reigning Division 4 state champion Holliston.