WESTFIELD — Over at the Roots Athletic Center, 18 colleges and two prep schools were on hand to evaluate and meet with over 75 prospects at the Excel Sports Academy Showcase.
The colleges and universities in attendance were as follows: Bowdoin, Central Connecticut, Springfield, Western New England, Framingham State, Bridgewater State, Becker, Bates, St. Anselm, Nichols, American International, UMass-Dartmouth, Westfield State, Middlebury, Worcester State, Norwich, Fitchburg State, and Stonehill.
The two NEPSAC schools in attendance were Deerfield and Williston Northampton.
Here are a few things we picked up and observed in the few hours of the event.
— Spoke to Deerfield coach Brian Barbato, who highlighted some of his young talent coming back next season. Class of 2021 tight end Bennett Pitcher, who stands at a towering, 6-foot-9, 275 pounds, and runs a 4.75-second 40-yard dash, owns Michigan and Boston College offers already. Barbato also mentioned sophomore cornerback Donnie Gray, who runs a 4.52, and junior quarterback Courtland Dicks, who measures 6-2, 190.
— Most of the players in attendance were Class of 2019, '20, and '21, but two eighth graders on hand who are already getting some buzz are Springfield natives William Watson III and Jayden Bass. The two played on the team that just came back from Canton, Ohio, in a national tournament in which it finished second place. Watson, a 5-7, 157-pound quarterback a 26-inch arm length and 8.5-inch hand length, and Bass, a 6-2, 300-pound lineman, will be at Springfield Central next season. One of the players on that team that played in Canton is Joenel Aguaro, a Lynn native who will attend St. John's Prep. The 6-0, 170-pounder is a wide receiver/defensive back of whom everyone is already speaking very highly of.
— Speaking of Springfield Central, there were a lot of Golden Eagles in attendance for the showcase. One player who continues to impress after a spectacular sophomore campaign is defensive end/outside linebacker Tyson Thornton. Likely at the second level in college, Thornton checked in 6-0, 195, with a 28-inch arm length, and 9.5-inch hand length. He worked with the linebackers in drills, and his ability to run with wide receivers in running backs was outstanding.
We caught up with Thornton afterward for a quick Q&A.
MassVarsity: Have any colleges made contact with you, or is still too early?
Tyson Thornton: A couple schools came in last year, like Michigan. The Boston College coaches wanted to come put a face to a name and things like that, but nothing really.
MV: But when you think of that, it's so far away, right?
TT: No, it's something I've been dreaming about since I was 8-years old. I knew this is what I wanted to do with myself.
MV: Did your coaches get any more contact after Gillette, because it was on TV . . .
TT: Yes. Howard, Howard's on me right now, and that's the only school right now that they've told me.
MV: Is a setting like this good for you because you played defensive end . . .
TT: No, all year they moved me around all year. It was just, the St. John's game, the state semifinal game, I was looking at their linemen, and I knew my hands and feet were better than their tackles. So I just told the coaches, put me at d-end the rest of the season. For those two games, I was like, "I'm going to lock in. We're going to get it."
MV: It seems like you can run with these guys really well. How confident are you in your coverage?
TT: I've been working with coach (Julius) Walker, one of the best DB coaches in the state. I've been working with him since I was in the sixth grade, I want to say. Everything he's taught me has worked.
MV: Where do you think you'll end up position-wise, because you're still growing.
TT: (Outside) linebacker, I would say.
MV: What was it like to bring a title home for Western Mass.?
TT: I just did it for my city and my family, and coach (Valdamar) Brower, and all the coaches on the staff. They really deserved it. They do a great job every year. I've been around this program since I was in elementary school, because my family came here, it was a no-brainer. It was a winning culture, and I wanted to be a part of it.
MV: It seemed like there was good chemistry with this year's group.
TT: The kids I played with, we were playing together since we were 8, 6, 5-years old. We don't have to even say anything to each other. We communicate without even talking.
MV: What are your plans for the summer and stuff like that?
TT: Go to as many one-days as I can.
MV: Do you know which ones yet?
TT: I know I've got to at least hit Syracuse, UConn. I'm trying to go to Michigan's one-day. And we have a whole spreadsheet. There's a lot.
— One senior from Central who took full advantage of the setting was Wayman Jenkins. The tight end measured in at 6-0, 204, with a 28-inch arm length and 8.5-inch hand length. After a season where the Golden Eagles mostly based their offense around wide receivers and running backs, Jenkins showed off his talent against the competition, and his size and speed combination could allow him to play any number of positions in college.
— A player who had a terrific showing at Gillette Stadium for Central was senior wide receiver Tyvarius Daniels, and we were told his performance there has more Football Championship Subdivision teams interested than before.
— One player who stood out in coverage was linebacker Damien Diluzio of Easthampton, who measured in at 5-11, 196, with a 28-inch arm length and 9-inch hand length. The senior is certainly someone who both the college and NEPSAC coaches had to be impressed with in terms of how he moved in space against smaller, quicker players.
— As for wide receivers, it came as a surprise to no one that Westfield's Baley Collier, who just received an offer from Stonehill, excelled. One of the top route-runners in the state, Collier puts on a clinic any time he's out there. At 5-6, 165, with a 25-inch arm length, and 8.5-inch hand length, Collier makes up for his lack of height with quickness and precise footwork and body control.
— Speaking of Westfield, junior Mason Collingwood is another one to keep an eye out for. The tight end checked in at 6-1, 200, with a 28-inch arm length, and 9.5-inch hand length. Collingwood and Bombers seniors Dakotah Moynihan (5-7.5, 162, 26, 8), a running back, and offensive lineman Johann Shieppe (6-4, 318, 29, 8.5), were part of a team that was probably the second best in Western Mass. to Central this past season.
— One receiver to keep an eye out for is Longmeadow junior Nathaniel Hunter. He is around the same size as Collier, and has nice explosiveness in and out of his cuts.
— When it came to the linemen, freshman Travis Gause of Springfield Central is still on the smaller side at 5-10, 219, but plays with impeccable technique and won most of his one-on-ones.
— The best battles in the trenches came between Agawam sophomore Joe LoChiatto (6-2, 294, 30.5, 9) and Central senior Collin James (6-0.5, 261, 28, 9). Each player went back-and-forth from offense to defense and won their fair share.
— It is tough to judge quarterbacks in a setting where they are working with receivers they have not played with before, but St. Thomas More senior and Amherst native Miles Foerster (6-3, 209, 27, 9.5) and Winthrop's Jonathan Applebee (5-11, 158, 27, 8) were two of the best at that position.
— Others in attendance to keep an eye on: Brendan Guy (c/o 2022 tight end from Springfield Central, 5-11, 205, 28, 9); Andre Ellison (c/o 2020 wide receiver from Springfield Central); Finn Lubold (c/o 2019 tight end from Holyoke, 6-.25, 261, 27, 10); Julian Bass (c/o 2019 linebacker from Springfield Central, 6-2, 228, 26, 9.25); Jourdan Powell (c/o 2019 wide receiver/defensive back from Bridgton Academy, 5-8, 163, 26, 8.25); Anthony Izzo (c/o 2020 quarterback from Minnechaug, 5-10, 142, 25.5, 8.5); Andrew Carroll (c/o 2019 defensive end from Springfield Central, 6-1, 223, 29, 9); Max Sepulveda (c/o 2020 lineman from Minnechaug, 6-1, 262, 30, 10); Nathaniel LePage (c/o 2020 quarterback from Chicopee Comp, 5-11, 167, 30, 8.5).