FALL RIVER — There was a talented group of teams at Saturday's sixth annual Hilltopper Invitational at Durfee High. Overall, there were 15 teams in the 7-on-7 tournament, with the majority coming from the Southeastern Conference and South Coast Conference.
When all was said done, Taunton came away with the title by virtue of a 14-12 victory over West Bridgewater in the final.
It was a well-run event and lots of players had big days. Here is what we picked up along the way.
Taunton won Saturday's Hilltopper Invitational, led by quarterback Jake Leonard, seen here holding the first-place trophy.
— Leading the way for Taunton was quarterback Jake Leonard, who will be a junior in the fall. He was accurate to virtually all the areas on the field he needed to be. He had plenty of success up the seams, and did not lose anything when the field was condensed near the goal line. He was usually on time and in rhythm, and did not push things too much when it came to the four-second timer for sacks.
Other players who looked good for Taunton were Nick Lima (CB/WR), Nate Keenan (S/WR), and Isaiah Williams (WR/DB).
Some other players for Taunton who were not in Fall River but look to make an impact this fall are Trent Santos (WR/DB), Jose Touron (DB/WR), Troy Santos (DB/WR), and Faisal Mass (DE/TE). Mass is 6-feet, 2-inches tall and 225 pounds, and his coaches are excited about his potential.
Taunton is in Division 1 and the Hockomock League's Kelley-Rex Division, so the Tigers will have a difficult schedule. But if Leonard continues to sling it like he showed Saturday, Taunton will compete.
— The runner-up on the day, West Bridgewater, may be a Division 7 team by alignment, but the Wildcats hung with teams of all sizes Saturday.
Quarterback Nathan Razza played well, and he had some help from the likes of Joey LeClerc (WR/DB), Aidan Baker (WR/DB), Will DeLuca (RB/LB), and others.
When the pads come on, look for offensive and defensive lineman Jonathan Hogrell to be one of the Wildcats' top players.
Coach Justin Kogler said he expects anywhere between 40-45 varsity players in the fall, which is a good number for a school that size.
— As for the hosts, Durfee did well, making it to the semifinals before bowing out to Taunton in a good game.
Coach Taylor Brown has done well to put his alma mater in position to compete for the SEC crown.
It all begins with running back/outside linebacker Jason Hall, a player that opposing coaches were raving about all day. Hall is about 6-1, 220, possesses terrific speed, and on film breaks tackles well and runs with a good forward lean.
Some other players to watch for the Hilltoppers are Jaden Lewis (slot WR/DB), Isaiyah Thomas (QB), Mick Coronel (LB), and Brian Hayden (LB).
Durfee will compete in Div. 2 in the fall, and if the Hilltoppers fill in some losses up front, they're capable of making some noise in the SEC and beyond.
— One team that had great success in Fall II with a SCC Large title was Apponequet. Although the Lakers lose a good senior class, coach Zane Fyfe has another team that should compete.
Quarterback Jack Mahan had a good day, and other Lakers like Ethan Brown (TE), Jackson Gagnier (FB/OLB), and Steve Navega (RB/S) impressed, as well.
— Although New Bedford struggled a little in Fall II, the Whalers should bounce back with a team that will have a little more experience.
Junior running back Jayden Frazier is someone to keep an eye on, as is wide receiver Ranen Goodine, a senior. Quarterback Ryan Dosenberg is back, along with tight end/defensive end Jack Langley.
The Whalers are seasoned at most of the skill spots, but will likely be all sophomores and juniors on the offensive line in the fall.
— Mashpee made it to the quarterfinals before losing to West Bridgewater.
The Falcons had one of the top performers of the day in Danny Mitchell. At 6-3, 190, the wide receiver/linebacker made some athletic grabs and was someone opposing teams just could not contain.
Aidan Couzzo (DB/RB) and Kayden Eaton (LB/FB/TE) also had noteworthy performances. The Falcons return five linemen, and the incoming freshman class is expected to be very good.
Look for Mashpee to again be one of the better teams in Div. 7.
— Another Div. 7 team that played well was Case, which make it to the quarterfinals.
Quarterback Tyler Cabral threw the ball well to Joey Garell (WR/S), Matt Howard (WR/S), Preston Dyer (CB/WR), and Brady Thiboutot (RB/DB).
The SCC Small (or "Gold") looks to be crowded with contenders, and Case could be in that mix.
— While many programs around the state are having numbers issues, Greater New Bedford Voke is not one of them. The Bears had 130 kids come out for Fall II, and will be a tough out in the SCC.
Junior quarterback Marquisse Silva played well Saturday, and others like Tyree Greg (WR), Treyvon Gipson (CB), and Avery Sylvia (S/WR) are ones to watch.
There is some good young talent here for coach Justin Cruz, who you may remember had a stellar career as a lineman for some very good Dartmouth teams.
— Speaking of Dartmouth, this is a team that played many juniors in prominent positions during Fall II, and could take the next step this fall.
Will Kelly (QB/S), Ethan Marques (RB/S), Patrick Crane (RB/LB), JJ Esterlin (RB/LB), Danny Martin (ILB), and Baron Dutra (slot WR/OLB) will be big pieces to the team's success, and Josh Miller is a top lineman.
— Brockton will be replacing a lot, but has enough talent to compete once its younger players mature.
Jason Wonodi will take over the quarterback spot after playing wide receiver in Fall II. Malachi Johnson (DB/WR), Malachi McLean (DB/WR), and Gastevens Balan (WR) were Wonodi's top weapons of the day. The Boxers' other leading returning receiver, sophomore Cameron Monteiro, has AAU basketball commitments that will keep him from most of the team's 7-on-7 activity.
But Brockton was hit hardest by graduation up front, as the Boxers need to find replacements on the offensive line.
— Yet another team that should contend in the SEC and with the rest of its schedule is Bridgewater-Raynham.
Although the Trojans return starting quarterback from Fall II Nolan DeAndrade, he is going to play wide receiver for first-year coach Lou Pacheco. The starter will likely be sophomore Declan Byrne, who had a nice day on Saturday. DeAndrade looked solid in his new role, and did play quarterback in spots.
Two others who impressed were outside linebacker/running back Michael Rubbo and wide receiver Zachary Victor.
— When you talk about top teams in the SCC, you always have to mention Old Rochester, and that is the case once again.
Quarterback Noah Sommers had a nice group to work with Saturday with Jackson Martin (OLB/FB), Stephen Old (S/WR), Harry Hughes (CB), and Zach Proffit (LB/RB).
ORR will be Div. 5 in the fall, and has some interesting nonleague games, including one that is at Holliston, in a nice cross-sectional matchup.
— Finally, Dighton-Rehoboth was yet another SCC squad that competed well Saturday.
The Falcons found success behind quarterback Hendrix Pray, along with Brady Walsh (RB), Caleb Newman (LB), Jacob Suprenald (RB/S), Anthony Gabriel (WR/DB), Dario St. James (WR/CB), Cam Karot (LB), and Justice Morgan (WR/CB).
There is some thought that the SCC Large (or "Blue" division) will be somewhat up for grabs in the fall, and certainly D-R will be in that mix.