Thanksgiving is over, and therefore the seasons for most of the MIAA teams in this state. Every NEPSAC squad is also done.
Before we move on to the state titles, Super Bowls, or whatever you want to call them, we wanted to highlight some of those who won't be playing next Friday or Saturday Gillette Stadium, yet need to be kept in mind for 2019.
We kept it at 11 entries, and tried to limit them to one per league.
Basically anyone in the Atlantic Coast League — OK, right out of the gate, we are breaking our only rule, but it's true. Falmouth loses a lot, especially up front, but brings back an experienced quarterback in Kyle Connolly, who just rushed for over 300 yards in his team's win over Barnstable. Dennis-Yarmouth gave Scituate its toughest game of the entire playoffs and returns a boatload. Marshfield was junior-laden and got markedly better as the season progressed. And Nauset, with a junior quarterback named Bobby Joy, beat both Dennis-Yarmouth and Marshfield this season. With this type of parity, don't be surprised to see Sandwich pull an upset, too.
BC High — BC High went 4-7 this year. Let's look at those losses: Everett, St. John's Prep, Xaverian twice, Catholic Memorial, Tewksbury, and Mansfield. The only team on that list that isn't playing next weekend or participated in a sectional final is Everett. So, when the "other" team is Everett, that's not an easy slate. Again, perspective. Among others, junior back Brendan Cassamajor and junior two-way lineman Ozzy Trapilo should make for a quick turnaround. Trapilo already has an offer from Boston College, and that will not be his last one.
Bridgewater-Raynham — The Trojans had an uncharacteristic losing season, going 3-7, but a little context needs to be applied. Of those seven losses, four of them came against either sectional champions (St. John's Prep, Duxbury) or sectional finalists (Xaverian, Mansfield). The other three were all against teams with winning records (Whitman-Hanson, Brockton, Barnstable), and those latter defeats came by a combined total of 10 points. Also, this, by and large, was a young team, and that youth has promising faces. The Trojans have not just one, but two young quarterbacks worth getting excited over. Sophomore Anthony Morrison started most of the season, and freshman Austin Hartsell started against Brockton on Thanksgiving in one of the better games of the day. Both are good players, and this is a program that has bounced back from little dips in the past and come back stronger. It will happen again, most likely sooner rather than later.
Brockton — Brockton was a curious case this season. The Boxers were inconsistent, but finished on a high note, and has some pieces to build around over the next two years. Although quarterback Mike Norman and plenty of experienced linemen graduate, a lot remains. The Boxers will return their five top pass-catchers, a deep running back stable, and a solid core on defense. Keep an eye on sophomore Nayvon Reid. He's 6-4, just starting to fill out, and made major contributions both on offense and defense over the latter half of the season. And, yes, even though he also plays basketball and is good enough to play that sport at the next level somewhere, he's already garnered the attention of some local gridiron colleges. As he should, because it's not difficult to see that he's got a bright future in football.
Franklin — You could put almost anyone in the Hockomock League on this list, but we'll stick with one team. No, this year's 7-4 mark from the Panthers is not a one-off fluke. Again, let's look at the resume. The only losses were to King Philip twice, Mansfield, and Xaverian, where the Panthers nearly pulled off what would have been a major upset. Franklin also owns some nice wins, including a dominant win over Brockton, and another convincing victory over Natick. Franklin loses a good quarterback in Nick Gordon, but some of his best weapons return, and the way this team finished can only improve its confidence going forward.
Methuen — In 2017, a middle-of-the-road Dracut team beat Methuen on Thanksgiving, and the Middies went on to have a solid 2018 that included a win over top-seeded Marblehead in the Division 4 North playoffs. This year, Methuen earned a bit of revenge on Dracut to finish 8-3, and now you're looking at one of the best-looking squads in the Merrimack Valley Conference for 2019. The Rangers return a terrific quarterback in Connor Bryant, and running back Ricky Brutus also had a bit of a breakout campaign this season. Both are juniors, and even though Central Catholic will be the clear-cut favorite in the MVC Large next season, the Rangers will be in the conversation.
Nantucket — You could go with a lot of Division 7 South teams for this spot, and regulars like Abington, Cohasset and Mashpee will always be there, but the Whalers will be worth the price of admission. This was a junior-heavy team, including players like Devonte Usher and Torane Burton, who can change the game in an instant from either side of the ball.
Natick — No, the Redhawks did not dazzle down the stretch, but that should not dampen excitement over what this program has ahead of it. One of the themes we noticed over the course of the season was how many talented sophomore quarterbacks dot the landscape. You can make an argument that Natick has the best one in Will Lederman. And if you're looking for sophomore linemen to keep your eyes peeled for, Josh Atwood isn't a bad place to start.
Tantasqua — Oh, this team had a good season, highlighted by two wins over a quality Grafton program and a trip to the Division 4 Central finals, but it can take things a step further next year. This was another team that wasn't as experienced as some of the teams it faced over the course of the season, but still competed and, at times, excelled. Junior running back Ryan Sears is one of the most punishing ball-carriers in the state, and this team in general can be described as such in their style of play.
Wachusett — The Mountaineers are always one of the most physical teams in the state, and their line play is always exceptional. Well, that's not going to change next season, and it might be even better than usual because so many of those linemen will be back. The Mountaineers went 8-3 this year with two losses to St. John's of Shrewsbury and the other to Doherty, a defeat which they avenged two weeks ago. Other wins included dominant performances against Tantasqua and Nashoba, the two Division 4 Central finalists, and Shrewsbury, another one of the best teams in Central Mass. Again, St. John's (S) brings back a lot, but we wouldn't be surprised if next year's Division 3 Central rep is from Holden.
West Springfield — This team lost about everyone from its 2017 Division 5 Super Bowl finalist. The result was a 2018 that ended with a 4-7 record. But don't cry too many tears for West Side, because it should be back in business in 2019. Essentially, you can chalk up a lot of this team's losses to inexperience and youth. One such youngster who will be a lynchpin of the team's turnaround will be sophomore running back Josiah Griffin, who had some impressive performances over the course of the fall.