A lot to get to this week, but we're going to start with the Northeast 7v7 East regional held Saturday at Greater Lawrence Tech in Andover.
As was the case when we made the shorter drive from North Attleboro to Westwood for the South regional at Xaverian a couple of weeks ago, the talent and competitiveness on display was top notch, as was the organization of the event by Milton coach Steve Dembowski.
Billerica came away with the title in an exciting, 12-6 overtime win over BB&N, to top the 30-team field.
Here's what we saw and heard:
— The big news of the day was Sam Ofurie confirming his transfer from Salem to Lynn English for the 2019 season. After an all-league campaign with the Witches last fall, plus a strong combine performance at Will Croom's MASS ELITE 7v7 Underclassmen Showcase in early January, the linebacker/running back picked up offers from Michigan, Boston College, and Syracuse.
At a 7-on-7 tournament, Ofurie's best traits won't be evident. Right now, he best projects as a pure Mike with immense growth potential, especially considering how he played his first down of organized football in the eighth grade.
Ofurie currently checks in at 6-feet, 248 pounds, but will likely get that latter number down some by the beginning of the season. Still, he is thickly built throughout his entire frame, and his speed is still very good.
Case in point: between games, one of the Lynn English skill players challenged Ofurie to a sprint across the width of one of the grass fields. For context, the other player was about 5-8/5-9, 170-175 pounds.
When they took off, Ofurie accelerated and built about a 5-yard cushion within the first 25 yards. With his new teammates going nuts, Ofurie turned, smiled, and flashed the peace sign as he cruised past the finish line.
Later, when we caught up with Ofurie, he said, "They didn't think I was fast."
Well, he is.
Ofurie is also nothing if not ambitious and eager to learn the game. He lists his favorite schools at this point as (among others): Clemson, Michigan, Ohio State, Alabama, Boston College, and Oklahoma.
He also has a little savvy when it comes to his recruiting process. He purposefully did not test in the 40-yard dash this summer because he knows the importance of posting a bad time when he's not trained for it. He said he will also play basketball in the winter and run track in the spring.
As far as his effect on the Bulldogs, it's massive. Lynn English already returns a talented roster (more on that in a bit), and adding Ofurie to the mix pushes the Bulldogs squarely in the mix for a run at the Division 3 North title. Not only will he instantly upgrade the defense, but when coach Chris Carroll decides to throw out his double-wing package, Ofurie could be a weapon at either wing spot or fullback.
As for the rest of the Bulldogs, they made it to the semifinal round before falling to BB&N. This is the second time we've seen English this summer, the first at the Framingham State event that was held in Holliston.
As stated before, the Bulldogs are loaded with an experienced, yet junior- and sophomore-heavy roster. As was the case earlier, we continue to be impressed by junior wide receiver/cornerback Tahj Purter, an all-league performer in 2018.
However, this was the first time we were able to lay eyes in person on Mathias Fowler, a starter since his freshman season at defensive back and wide receiver who will also try his hand at quarterback this fall.
Simply put, Fowler is a playmaker. He's still small with a slender build, but he has long arms and a likely growth spurt coming within the next year or so. Fowler, who competed well at the Legacy Northeast events this offseason, has good quickness and ball skills, and probably fits best as a slot receiver or corner at the next level.
And even that does not encapsulate what he's capable of this fall, as the Bulldogs are excited about his skills at quarterback. Not only does he have a nice, accurate arm, but when the pads come on and he has the chance to extend plays with his feet, he will make a nice replacement for departed signal-caller/linebacker Matt Severance, who will begin his college career at Bentley in the fall.
Finally, Fowler under center or at halfback in the double-wing presents a whole different set of problems, and the Bulldogs will have more size and experience on the offensive line than recent years.
— Staying in Lynn, Classical also put together another strong effort before falling short to English in the quarterfinals.
Quarterback Danny Gisonno has been accurate every time we've seen him this summer, and outside linebacker/defensive end/tight end/wide receiver Maurice Sequeira remains one of the most intriguing prospects on the North Shore. A smooth athlete with a good frame, Sequeira should be one of the top edge rushers in the state, and has the athleticism to drop into coverage can be an asset there, as well.
— Let's next move over to Billerica, which ran the table behind an energetic group and looks to have the pieces for a big fall in both the Merrimack Valley Conference Small and Division 3 North.
A year ago when we spoke to Indians coach Duane Sigsbury, he raved about his sophomore and junior classes. They have matured nicely, led by Hofstra lacrosse commit and quarterback Nolan Houlihan.
His weapons include seniors like like Nick Gualtieri, Shawn Colby, Colby Cyrus, and Nate Young, and he will operate behind an offensive line that returns four players who saw varsity action in 2018. There are also tight ends who have grown into tackles, so the Indians should be fine up front.
Then, of course, there is eighth grader Jason Paganis, whose walk-off interception in overtime punctuated Billerica's afternoon. A linebacker, Paganis made a great break on the ball on the game-winning pick, and Sigsbury said later, "wait until you see him run with the ball."
(Video courtesy of Steve Paganis)
One aspect we like to observe in 7-on-7 is not just how the players perform, but how they get along and interact as teammates. From what we saw of the Indians, their team chemistry was terrific, as they looked like a tight-knit group. That should serve them well facing a wicked schedule that includes Lowell, Andover, and Bishop Feehan before the MVC Small slate kicks in.
— Popping over to the Knights, despite falling short in the championship game, this will be one of the best — if not the best, period — teams in the NEPSAC again, regardless of class.
For starters, the offensive line already sports Michigan verbal commit Zak Zinter, UMass pledge Andrew Nee, and junior Nathan Roach, who already holds multiple BCS offers. If that's not enough beef for you, the rest of the unit includes the likes of Thomas Maguire, Frankie Kelley (6-4, 280), and Thaddeus Foote (6-5, 280).
For some perspective, Maguire, at 6-2/6-3, 250 pounds, is the "smallest" player up front. Now, we know size isn't everything when you're talking about offensive line play, but it is a factor, and these aren't big, slow kids. They're also strong, and will wear teams down with their trademark power run game. And don't forget about sophomore tight end/H-back/linebacker Tyler Martin, another multi-major-offered player, and freshman tight end Preston Zinter, Zak's younger brother who already holds an offer from the University of Rhode Island.
Perhaps the most unheralded player on the roster, junior Jaden Young, is a 6-3, 255-pounder who can play on either side of the line and has nice feet.
But enough about the big bruisers. Even though the Knights will be able to beat most teams on their schedule without having to rely on the passing game too much, they are still capable of in that area, as well.
Set to start at quarterback will be Central Catholic transfer Jared Silverio, who is reclassifying as a junior after leading the Red Raiders to the Division 1 North final in 2018. Brown commit Cam Impemba offers a tall, rangy target on the outside, and running back/wide receiver/cornerback Sammy Malignaggi has simply been one of the best players we've seen this offseason. Currently committed to James Madison, Malignaggi can do a little bit of everything well.
Finally, sophomore Ty Harding started as a freshman in the secondary, and Michael DePlacido transfers in from Assabet Valley as a junior running back/defensive back.
— The fourth of the semifinal teams was the always-entertaining and ultra-competitive Dennis-Yarmouth Dolphins.
Look, there are some teams that come to 7-on-7 tournaments to work on a few things, build team chemistry, and evaluate what they have. D-Y does all that, but treats every snap like it's fourth quarter at Gillette Stadium, and it's a treat to watch, because the Dolphins have some excellent players coming back.
As usual, Geoffrey Jamiel is as polished a route-runner as we've seen in years, and will remind many of Westfield's Baley Collier, who is now at Assumption. Jamiel explodes out of his cuts, has excellent body control, and sets a tone with how hard he plays. Only a junior, whoever ends up with this kid will be happy to have him.
But the player who you cannot overlook is senior Jaquan Phillips. Even though the 5-10.5, 180-pounder was a league all-star as a wide receiver/defensive back in 2018, he is not getting nearly enough college attention as his talent presents. He possesses a long frame, agile body, tremendous leaping ability, and the penchant for the spectacular catch. He's even better when the pads come on as a big hitter and playmaker.
Division 5 South will again be a deep bracket, but don't forget the Dolphins pushed eventual state champ Scituate to the limit in the sectional quarterfinals before losing on a last-minute, length-of-the-field touchdown drive.
— In pool play, D-Y matched up with Lawrence, which did not advance into the knockout stage, but still impressed. The two will also play in the regular season in a unique non-league pairing.
Keep an eye, too, on freshman Adonis Garcia, a track standout with good length and plenty of room to grow as a football player.
— We spoke briefly with Reading coach John Fiore, who said he "couldn't be more thrilled" with the work ethic his team has put in over the offseason.
The losses to graduation were significant, but the Rockets have a good returning core in linebacker Colin Comerford, safety Jeremy Rosh, defensive tackle Chris Chiulli, linebacker/wide receiver Colin DuRoss, and junior lineman Dom DeCrescenzo.
The quarterback position is still undecided, but keep an eye on freshman Jimmy Murphy, son of his namesake who starred for the Rockets in the 1990s and went on to have a storied career at Northeastern, where he earned a spot on the school's Hall of Fame for excellence in football.
Even with all the losses, Division 2 North is wide open this fall, with no clear favorite. Given Reading's baseline track record, if the inexperienced pieces mature over the course of the season, the Rockets could emerge from that section.
— We did not get a chance to see too much of Braintree at the South regional, but caught up with the Wamps on Saturday.
This is a team that will also be able to create some matchup problems on the outside with two tall junior tight ends, Jack McCarthy and Joziah Martino, who can both climb the ladder and snatch the ball with the best of them.
— Every Northeastern Conference coach we spoke to at the Framingham State 7-on-7 raved about Beverly, so we were eager to take a look at the Panthers, and we can see what the hype is about.
At the skill positions, the Panthers have impressive size and speed, starting with Duncan Moreland, Jaichaun Jones, and Marje Mulumba. All three are versatile two-way players, and Mulumba just looks the part as a combo safety/linebacker on defense.
If there's anything we have taken away from the last month in these passing leagues, it's that Division 3 North will again be tightly-contested, and just add Beverly into that group that will be trying to unseat defending champion Tewksbury.
— A few more skill players are starting to emerge for Dembowski's crew. Junior running back Andrew Lynch has shown off good speed, and senior wide receiver/defensive back Luke Botsford has come on of late and sports a 4.0 GPA.
— We got another chance to see Bishop Fenwick standout Joe Rivers again, and you can see why the future Holy Cross Crusader is poised to have a big senior year.
At 6-0, 210-215, Rivers clocked a 4.59 40-yard dash over the offseason, and benched 225 pounds 11 times at Yale. He also posted a 4.2-second three-cone drill.
Look for him to be more heavily involved in the Crusaders' offense this year, and he projects in college as a rover in nickel packages where he can show off his versatility against the run and pass.
Busy day in Amherst
UMass held its last camp of the summer, and it featured plenty of action for local prospects.
Coach Walt Bell handed out offers to three Bay State freshmen: Belmont Hill wide receiver Oluwakoleade Osinube; St. John's Prep wide receiver/defensive back Joenel Aguero; and Springfield Central quarterback William Watson.
We saw Osinube at the URI satellite camp, where he put in a good performance against much older players, and Aguero and Watson multiple times this offseason. The two played on the same American Youth Football squad that made it to the national finals this past year.
These offers should just be the first of many for all three, and Bell has shown once again that he wants to be early and aggressive with local talent.
The Minutemen also secured a commitment from Natick senior defensive tackle and interior offensive lineman Josh Atwood.
The buzz from local coaches on Atwood has always been strong, and his film certainly backs that up.
The defensive line is also an area of need for the Minutemen, as their depth along that unit needs to be bolstered with this class, so Atwood is a nice get on a number of levels.