MIAA 40-team preseason countdown

Updated: Sep 11, 2019


We are kicking off our preview for the MIAA season just like we did last year: with our preseason rankings of the top 25 teams in the state, along with the 15 squads that just missed the cut.


As we release one per day, those that missed the cut will be listed alphabetically. Then, of course, the ranked teams will be shown from No. 25 down to No. 1, with the final product being finished for Thursday, Sept. 5.


Also, as was the case last season, we will eventually include top 10 lists for each division, along with rankings of the Boston City League, Central and Western Mass., NEPSAC and combined NEPSAC/MIAA rankings, in addition to local college rankings.


Enjoy the season.


1. Catholic Memorial


Why they're No. 1: Last year, John DiBiaso took this program back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1978, but lost to St. John's Prep, 40-22. This season, we feel like the Knights finally break through. Although they will score a lot of points, we feel the difference between past years and this one will be the team speed on defense. Linebacker Owen McGowan patrols the middle of the field and lays out big hits, and players like freshman Boubacar Traore have loads of potential at that position, as does junior Quincy Eutsay. Defensive back William Stockwell is a safety/outside linebacker who can step in the box or cover deep and make plays either way. On offense, quarterback Barrett Pratt returns as the starter for his senior season. He has weapons all over the place to distribute the ball to. At running back, the Knights can use four different backs who would start for most teams in the state. Zach Mitchell, Darrius LeClair, Jamall Griffin, and freshman Datrell Jones all have speed to burn, and the latter is the fastest player on the team. McGowan is also a ferocious blocker at fullback or H-back, and can carry the ball, too. Wide receiver Daniel Lopes had a good junior year that he can build on, and junior Tommy Leonard is another pass catcher who can make plays downfield. The offensive line is huge and experienced with the likes of Zack Goodwin, Quincy Plumer, and sophomore TJ Roberson among them. The kicking game is in good hands with senior Matthew Sokol and his younger brother Jack, both of whom can boom it.

Why this is too high: From a personnel and talent standpoint, it is hard to find real flaws with this team, but there are some issues. This is still a very young team that could be a year or two away from really being as great as it could be. Pratt needs to be healthy for this team to win, as his experience from a year ago will serve him and the team well. There are so many talented players that keeping everyone happy with touches and playing time could always be an issue. Schedule-wise, the Knights open with Lynn Classical, St. John's (Shrewsbury), and Springfield Central at home before a trip to Malden Catholic. The Knights round things out with Catholic Conference foes Xaverian and St. John's Prep in tough back-to-back road games. CM finishes with Framingham before the playoffs start. From there, Xaverian is always in the picture, and it would be difficult to beat the Hawks in a rematch. After a Thanksgiving game against a strong BC High team, which could be a rematch from the postseason, the Knights could find themselves bumping up against any number of teams from the North. If Everett is that team, the storylines write themselves as DiBiaso coached at Everett as recently as 2017. St. John's Prep and Central Catholic could be looming, as well, and either one of those teams would have a shot at knocking the Knights off.


2. Everett


Why this is too low: This is simply a program that, no matter what, you know is going to be good every single year, and has the potential to be great. That's true again for second-year head coach Theluxon Pierre and his charges. You have to start with the quarterback, wide receiver, running back, and defensive back positions, where this team is simply loaded. Junior Duke Doherty is entering his second year as a starter, and has a lot of fun weapons to play with. One of the few seniors to lead the way in that department is Eli Auguste, who makes up for his lack of size with speed and playmaking ability. Sophomore Ismael Zamor is poised for a breakout year at wide receiver, and he can play quarterback, too. Junior Tyrese Baptiste is another speedy weapon on the outside who is also strong enough to power through arm tackles after the catch. Sophomore running back Jayden Clerveaux is one of several players in that class who can hurt teams on the ground. Junior Samy Lamothe can play safety, running back, or wide receiver. The offensive line features returners like Davi Periera and John Malloy on a mostly senior-laden unit that will not have to go both ways, which hurt the Crimson Tide in the postseason a year ago. The back seven on defense will be a strength, with the linebackers led by thumper Trey Sejour. The defensive line returns junior Josaiah Stewart, while sophomore Jaylen Murphy is also one the watch there.

Why this is too high: For as good as all these returning players are, this is still a young team. Also, you don't get better by losing players like Mike Sainristil (Michigan) and Isaac Seide (New Hampshire). Sainristil was just on another level than a lot of the players we've seen around here in recent years. The lines may be two-platooning, but the Crimson Tide lost three good ones to graduation in Wilson Frederic (UMass), Gilbert Kabamba (Merrimack), and Jalen Iles-Smith (Assumption). The schedule is a front-loaded with some of the best teams in the state, as the Tide open with Springfield Central, then host Xaverian before trekking out to St. John's of Shrewsbury. After that, there is the long-awaited showdown against Brockton in a Homecoming date for the Tide between two of the nation's all-time winningest programs. The rest of the regular season games should not be that difficult before the postseason, where Everett badly wants to atone for last year's loss to Central Catholic in the Division 1 North semifinal. The Tide may at some point also have to get past Central Catholic or St. John's Prep again. Catholic Memorial and Xaverian are the only teams to emerge from the South since the format was introduced in 2013, and it looks like both are good enough to keep that streak alive.


3. Springfield Central

Why this is too low: Coach Valdamar Brower has helped build something special in Western Mass. The Golden Eagles finally broke through their glass ceiling and won a Division 3 state title last season after failing to make it past the CMass rep every year since the new format was introduced in 2013. This is one of the best teams in the state, regardless of division. There are two seniors in Mahari Miller (Brown verbal commit) and Isaac Boston who split quarterback duties in 2018. A freshman signal-caller, William "Pop" Watson III, already has a UMass offer. We don't know who will be the starter, but we do know this: whoever takes the first snap Friday night against Everett will have a strong network of support both on and off the field. Watson is a very good passer, while Miller is experienced and the type of leader who can steady things when adversity hits. Boston can play receiver, too, and combines good route-running with top-end speed. That group also includes the rangy, sure-handed Joe Griffin and another speed merchant in Andre Ellison. Running back Marcus Crawford did not start as a junior but the staff has been confident in his abilities for a while now. The offensive line will be led by Travis Gause, who is not big, but makes up for it with technique. The defense is loaded with talent in the front front seven. Junior defensive end Terry Lockette is a hulking presence off the edge, while classmate Tyson Thornton can be a threat at either linebacker or defensive end. Linebacker Dante Bolden had a terrific offseason and is committed to Holy Cross. Defensive back Trey Cavaan leads that unit.


Why this is too high: Central lost some talented players, especially at the wide receiver and defensive back positions. Top pass-catchers Cqari Bacote, Myles Bradley, and Tyvarius Daniels are gone, as are defensive backs like Keshaun Dancy and Elijah Ayers. This is still a team that is very young at certain sports and could be a year away from its best football. Central still has a lot to prove, and hasn't accomplished as much as some of those ranked below it. Even though the Golden Eagles won states a year ago, their record against Eastern Mass. competition was hit or miss. In the season opener against Lincoln-Sudbury, the Warriors dominated Central to the tune of 35-7 in a game where the Golden Eagles had one first down late in the fourth quarter and 26 yards of total offense. The 20-7 win over Tewksbury was impressive, but a one-score game until the final minutes. Every victory against a Central or Western Mass. team was by at least three touchdowns, with seven wins by 40 points or more. The Golden Eagles will get their chance to test themselves even more when they open the season with road trips to Everett, Central Catholic, and Catholic Memorial. The Golden Eagles did not fare that well the last time they faced Everett, as the Crimson Tide beat Springfield Central four years in a row from 2011-2014. To get back to the state title game, Minnechaug and Chicopee Comp are probably the biggest hurdles out west. A rematch of last year's state semifinal with St. John's (S) is probable. There are a number of teams in the North and South brackets who could give Central fits in the state title game if they get that far.


4. St. John’s (Shrewsbury)


Why this is too low: The Pioneers can always light up the scoreboard, but this year have the chance to actually break it with the weapons they have. It starts out wide with Notre Dame commit Jay Brunelle and Michigan commit Eamonn Dennis. Brunelle is not just tall, but strong in the upper body to shed press coverage easily. He also has the speed and ability to break tackles for even bigger plays. Dennis is a jack-of-all-trades type who the Pioneers like to move around and use his speed in different ways. Whether it's lining up in the backfield, in the slot, or out wide, Dennis' wheels make him a nightmare for teams to prepare for. There are more, including slippery slot man Antonio Stakley, so teams will have trouble keying on one or two players. Getting them the ball at quarterback is Colin Schofield, a Williams commit, who is not just a good passer, but can run when the play breaks down. His offensive line contains two, huge bookend tackles in Sean Sullivan and Colin LeBlanc. The defensive line will be better than it was last year, as Jaden Apratwum, Justyce Hathaway, and Luke Shibley lead that group. The Pioneers have won the Division 3 Central crown two years in a row with a state title win over North Attleboro in 2017.


Why this is too high: Defensively, the Pioneers had issues all last year coming up with stops. Part of that was just going up against good offenses in shootouts, but the team allowed 30 or more points five different times, and 29 in a loss to Marlboro. Teams like the Panthers who grind clock and keep the St. John's offense off the field have a better chance of success, and there are a number of teams on the schedule play more that style. In addition to Marlboro, Shepherd Hill, Xaverian, Leominster, and Wachusett are all built like that. The schedule opens with a trip to Catholic Memorial, followed by a home game with Everett. The game at crosstown rival Shrewsbury will also be a heavyweight bout. The Div. 3 Central bracket promises to be treacherous again, and Springfield Central likely lurks in the state semifinal if the Pioneers get that far. The Golden Eagles beat St. John's by an aggregate of 107-54 in last year's two meetings. St. John's discontinued the series in the offseason. If the Pioneers reach the state final, there are any number of teams from the North or South capable of pulling off the upset, as the Pioneers only beat North Attleboro by two points in their meeting at Gillette.


5. Central Catholic


Why this is too low: There is enough coming back for this team to make another deep run in the postseason. Last year's was a stunner when the Red Raiders bounced Everett in the Division 1 North semifinals a week before losing in convincing fashion to St. John's Prep. This year, there is some experience back with Nick Mueller, Osamuyimen Osayimwen, and Michael Sader back on what should be a very solid offensive line. Wide receiver Nick Donatio returns, as does running back/linebacker Mark Kassis. Tight end/wide receiver Jermaine Wiggins — yes, son of — has made a marked improvement over the offseason, according to coach Chuck Adamopoulos. Wiggins might even find a role on the defensive side of the ball, as well, at end or outside linebacker. Even though quarterback Jared Silverio transferred to BB&N, Adamopoulos likes his replacement, sophomore Ayden Pereira, who has impressed him with his competitiveness so far.

Why this is too high: You can make a pretty good argument for St. John's Prep or Xaverian in this spot, given the Eagles handled Central fairly easily twice last year and won't take too big of a step back. Even though Pereira is good, he is still a sophomore going up against a ridiculous schedule that includes defending state champions Springfield Central, St. John's Prep, and North Andover before Merrimack Valley Conference Large play starts. Two from that division are already listed here, and Lowell, Lawrence and Haverhill are all improved over last season. There have been some injuries early in the preseason that might take time getting over, and this is a team that is still mostly young. Still, it has already tasted success and the talent coming back to earn even more by the end of the season.


6. Xaverian


Why this is too low: The Hawks had one of the more difficult schedules in the state last year, and were able to navigate it well under head coach Al Fornaro. Xaverian beat both Division 1 Super Bowl participants (St. John's Prep and Catholic Memorial), New York's Catholic High School State Champion (Archbishop Stepinac), Franklin, BC High (twice), Brockton, and Bridgewater-Raynham. The losses were to CM in a rematch in the Div. 1 South final and a loaded Everett team. This year, the Hawks return some nice pieces, beginning with junior quarterback Mike Berluti, who should benefit from a year of starting experience under his belt. Senior Justin Wenstrom, and juniors Thomas and Connor Garland are all skilled playmakers on either side of the ball. The offensive line returns players like Colin Howe and Rocco Basso, and the unit should again be one of the best in the state. Defensively, there are few teams that are as consistently tough to move the ball on, and that will be the case again. The special teams will be strong, as well, with Berluti an underrated punter, and Wenstrom a good kicker. Fornaro's predecessor, the legendary Charlie Stevenson, is coming out of retirement to coach the quarterbacks.


Why this is too high: The Hawks graduated some terrific linemen in Lucas Ferraro and Grant Laws, along with linebacker/fullback Michael Masse, linebacker/running back Mike Saliba, and others who formed a strong group of leaders that guided Xaverian through that brutal slate. This is still a relatively young team that needs players like that to pull it through another tough schedule. The Hawks open with a trip down to the Cape to face Barnstable on opening night, then head over to Everett the next week. After that, it's Bridgewater-Raynham, Catholic Memorial, Brockton, St. John's of Shrewsbury, and BC High before the postseason starts. Several of those teams the Hawks will likely have to beat twice to win the Super Bowl, including maybe St. John's Prep in back-to-back games, a possibility that has existed for a while but never come to fruition.


7. St. John's Prep

Why this is too low: The Eagles broke through for their first Division 1 state title under coach Brian St. Pierre last season, and should be able to carry that momentum into this one. The Prep returns one of the best quarterbacks in the state in William Crowley. He has good size, a strong arm, and enough poise and mobility to make plays if the pocket starts to collapse around him. He can distribute the ball to receivers like Matt Duchemnin and tight ends Anthony Fagan and Michael Fionda. The offensive line will be strong again behind the likes of Mason Davis, Cooper Smith, Jack McDonald, and Theo Hutt. They will open holes for promising sophomore back James Guy. Fullback Nick Masterson doubles at linebacker alongside Tripp Clark. Defensive end Collin Taylor should be one of the best pass rushers in the state, and may play some on the offensive line, as well. Pat Nistl returns at defensive back in a secondary that adds freshman Joenel Aguero, who already holds a UMass offer.


Why this is too high: It really isn't, but there are some concerns. The Prep graduated a lot of production on both sides of the ball. Wide receiver Wes Rockett, who put on a terrific performance at Gillette Stadium, has moved on, along with main ballcarriers Aise Pream and Trent Tully. One of the state's most disruptive interior defensive linemen of the last few years, James Taylor, is also gone. Dealing with this much inexperience can be unforgiving in the Catholic Conference and Division 1, particularly because of two teams. In the former, Xaverian is actually the defending league champ after beating the Prep for the sixth straight time. The Prep did not have to face Everett in the Div. 1 North playoffs last year, and is 2-17 against the Crimson Tide since the turn of this century. The two are not playing in the regular season for the first time since 2007, as Everett discontinued the series.


8. Mansfield

Why this is too low: The Hornets bring back a roster that is chock-full of three-year starters and others who got their feet wet in 2018 and performed at a high level. Vinnie Holmes' work at linebacker and running back has been stellar since he was a sophomore. Four starters return on the offensive line, including Jason Comeau and junior TJ Guy, who doubles as one of the best defensive ends in the state. Junior Cincere Gill broke out last year as an explosive runner and receiver, so look for a increased role. Classmate Anthony Comer is another promising weapon out of the backfield, along with the more experienced Nick Marciano. Quarterback Jack Moussette performed well last season before he was injured. Wide receiver and defensive back Mike DeBolt can get the job done on either side of the ball and is also a standout kicker. This has been a year the Hornets have been pointing to for a while, and coach Mike Redding knows he has a team with a lot of potential.


Why this is too high: When Moussette went down last year, Marciano stepped in and did an admirable job of running a more ground-based attack, but for the Hornets to meet their high expectations this year, the former has to stay healthy. The Hornets open the season with two big tests: at home against BC High, then a trip out to Ohio to play La Salle of Cincinnati. Even more than whether or not the Hornets can emerge from those games victorious, the physical toll they'll take from the two games could cause problems heading into a tough Hockomock Kelley-Rex schedule. The Hornets will be battle-tested, but this group needs to prove it can beat King Philip when it matters. The Warriors are 4-1 against Mansfield in the last five meetings, including 2-0 in the postseason.


9. King Philip


Why this is too low: Simply put, there aren't many teams who are across-the-board physical on both sides of the ball, and that will always keep the Warriors in games, no matter how much talent the opponent has. The offensive line returns some nice experience, including the 6-foot-4, 275-pound Nolan Gunning. Ryan Halliday is the most durable ballcarrier in the state, and doles out equal punishment at running back and linebacker to those who get in his way. Quarterback Robbie Jarest has a year of starting experience under his belt and will keep defenses honest when they commit too many players to the box to stop the run. The defense is rarely an issue with this team, as it has only given up 20 or more points in four games over the last three seasons. There is ample talent coming up in the sophomore class that was dominant at the freshman level a year ago.


Why this is too high: At times, the Warriors lacked an explosive element to their offense last year. Also, even though you can never really doubt this team's defensive prowess, it will be slightly inexperienced at spots. Ace kicker Cole Baker transferred to Cheshire Academy. Physically, this isn't the biggest team in around. The schedule is tough, as is the case with any Hockomock League team. Mansfield brings back a boatload, and King Philip could have to face them twice. Division 2 South as a whole might be a little bit stronger at the top than last season. However, many similar concerns have existed for teams under coach Brian Lee, and all they do is keep winning, with two trips to Gillette and a state title in the previous two seasons. There is something to be said for that.


10. Tewksbury

Why this is too low:  Since the current playoff format was introduced in 2013, this program has made the postseason each season, won at least one game each trip, and captured four sectional titles, with two state title appearances and a Division 3 championship that first year. From the youth system on up, Tewksbury runs not just on individual talent, but the ability of its players to buy in and play together as a team as well as any in the state. That's why it has competed well with much larger programs over the years, as they shut out BC High last year, then battled Springfield Central to a four-quarter game in the Div. 3 state final. The offense is able to use shifting and motion to befuddle opposing defenses, and has skill players capable of making them pay with one missed assignment. Shane Aylward is the most experienced weapon and one of the best and most versatile two-way players in the state with his work as a runner, receiver, and defensive back. Defensively, it's an always-disciplined unit that makes opponents work for every inch.


Why this is too high: Even though the track record speaks for itself in terms of being able to replace graduated talent, this will largely be an inexperienced team. Junior Ryne Rametta has big shoes to fill for departed quarterback Jay Connolly, and although he is fully capable of doing so, any first-year starter at that position against the schedule Tewksbury plays will have a full plate. The three opening games with Methuen, Needham, and BC High are as tough as any team in Div. 3. The Merrimack Valley Conference Small Division again offers no weeks off, and Div. 3 North promises to be one of the deeper brackets in the state. Any Eastern Mass. team that is good enough to make it to the state final will likely have to deal with either St. John's of Shrewsbury or Springfield Central, two Division 1-sized schools with loaded rosters.


11. BC High


Why this is too low: A year ago, the Eagles stumbled to an uncharacteristic 4-7 finish, but picked itself up toward the latter half of the season with strong wins over Needham and Attleboro. Now, the Eagles have a little momentum carrying into 2019 with a team that has more experience and the type of size that can overwhelm opponents. Up front, BC High might have the biggest offensive line in the state. Led by Boston College commit Ozzy Trapilo, who stands 6-foot-8, 275 pounds, the Eagles will be massive in the trenches. Quarterback Bobby Wiesenhahn had some experience last year, and Joe Brink can play there, too. Bruising running back Brendan Cassamajor is a load to bring down and the perfect back to run behind this line. Wide receiver/defensive back Carter Rice is a dynamite two-way player.


Why this is too high: Although there are some seniors on this team who will play major roles, the Eagles still have some juniors in key positions, so this could be a team that is a year away in some respects. The schedule jumps right into some tough matchups, as the Eagles' first three games are against Mansfield, Marshfield, and Tewksbury. Of course, the Catholic Conference portion of the slate will be treacherous, and Division 1 South will be as difficult to navigate as ever, as league rivals like Xaverian and Catholic Memorial will probably be the favorites again.


12. Franklin


Why this is too low: This program took a nice step forward last year when coach Eian Bain led the Panthers to a decisive win over Brockton in the Division 1 South playoffs before bowing out to Xaverian in overtime in the sectional semifinals. That near upset of the Hawks showed what this team is capable of if it can carry over that momentum from last season. Franklin brings back one of the top receivers in the state in the athletic and sure-handed Jack Nally. Linebacker Evan Wertz is also another who is among the tops in the state at his position. Quarterback Thomas Gasbarro has some experience, even though he was not the starter last season. Franklin has a slew of successful athletic programs right now, and kids who are college-level athletes in other sports are playing football, too. This is a well-coached team that brings back enough experience to show some staying power.


Why this is too high: Even though Franklin should continue its upward trajectory, it did lose some high-level players from last year's team. Quarterback Nick Gordon had an outstanding senior season for the Panthers, and there are some receivers that need to be replaced, as well. Schedule-wise, Franklin opens the season with a tough Milford team, then follows it up with Andover and King Philip. The latter and Mansfield will be the favorites in the Hockomock Kelley-Rex again. Then, once the postseason begins, the Catholic Conference trio of BC High, Xaverian, and Catholic Memorial are the lead dogs in Div. 1 South until proven otherwise.


13. Wachusett 


Why this is too low: This was one of the more underrated teams of last season, and sometimes gets overlooked too often by those outside of Central Mass. A year ago, the Mountaineers' only three losses were to St. John's of Shrewsbury twice and the season opener against Doherty, a result they turned around later in the season. Other wins included Division 4 state champ Nashoba (35-0), Shrewsbury, Leominster, Tantasqua, and other CMass heavyweights. Yet again, Wachusett should be powerful on offense with its Wing-T and bruising linemen. One of them is Jake Nadeau, who also doubles as one of the best linebackers in the state. Handling the physicality of this team for four quarters is never easy, and it won't be this year, either.


Why this is too high: Although Wachusett returns a good nucleus up front, the Mountaineers did lose a fair amount of experience at the skill positions. Those spots should be filled in ably, but any time you are breaking in players there it will take time. Schedule-wise, this team plays in one of the toughest leagues in the state in the Mid-Wach A and has nonleague tests with Nashoba and Grafton, two of the best teams in Div. 4. If the Mountaineers want to emerge from Div. 3 Central, it is a chore to even make it into the four-team field, then may likely have to deal with a St. John's team that is absolutely stacked this year.


14. Barnstable


Why this is too low: It did not take long for coach Ross Jatkola, now in his second year with this program, to get everyone on Cape Cod talking about what the Red Raiders are capable of this season. Weight room participation was high all offseason, and this might be one of the best offensive lines in the state. Starting with Navy verbal commit Declan Moriarty, Barnstable is big in the trenches, and has the type of bulk to push teams around in the running game. There is some speed at the skill spots to complement that, as players like Luke Locasio and Jadaro France are among many who can hurt opponents there. Linebacker/tight end Colby Burke can do a number of different things for the Red Raiders, and do them well.


Why this is too high: Even though it looks like Barnstable will be a run-heavy offense this season, the Red Raiders lost their starting quarterback and best receiver from last year to graduation in Matt Petercuskie and Conner Baldesaro, respectively. Last season, Barnstable did a solid job of moving the ball against most of its opponents, but struggled at times making stops. The schedule gets interesting right away with a game against Xaverian, then Braintree, Holliston and New Bedford before league play in the new Cape & Islands Large begins. Mansfield and King Philip are still the main contenders in Div. 2 South.


15. Natick

Why this is too low: Although there are plenty of teams in the Bay State Conference to keep an eye on, the Redhawks stick out the most at this juncture. Quarterback Will Lederman is like a lot of signal-callers from Natick over the years: not that big, but elusive, accurate, and just a pure playmaker. The line returns several starters, including UMass verbal commit Josh Atwood, who can wreak havoc on either side. Running back Jalyn Aponte returns from an all-league season, and this is one of the more experienced teams in Division 2. The Redhawks have the type of talent and veteran presence that usually pays dividends. Why this is too high: Even though wide receiver Nick Ofodile comes back, Lederman lost a lot of his top targets at wide receiver from a year ago. The passing game should be fine still, but replacing that much production might take some time. The first six games on the schedule will all present different challenges, as the Redhawks play Needham, Walpole, Brockton, Braintree, Wellesley, and Newton North. The Div. 2 South bracket won't be easy to navigate, as Mansfield and King Philip look to be the clear favorites, and Barnstable seems to have a lot of supporters on the Cape that think the Red Raiders are in that same conversation, too.


16. Duxbury

Why this is too low: Once again, you can count on this program to throw out the type of up-tempo offense that throws defenses off with its pace and baseline efficiency. The Dragons seem loaded at both wide receiver and running back. Players like Will Prouty, Cam Reagan, and Brady Madigan are dangerous threats at wide receiver, while versatile running back Tim Landolfi had a strong junior campaign. The offensive line features a fair amount of experience and is always solid. Defensively, there are players along the line who can be disruptive, especially returners Garrett Shackett and PJ Mullin. Why this is too high: Duxbury has high hopes for freshman quarterback Matt Festa, but he is still a freshman, and learning the ropes at the varsity level at such a young age won't be easy. Although the line returns some key pieces, it hurts to lose Quinn Murphy, who was a massive presence. There have to be some replacements both at linebacker and in the secondary. The schedule is tough, with the opening four games against Brockton, Bridgewater-Raynham, Scituate, and Hingham. Division 3 South remains one of the toughest brackets in the state, but the Dragons are usually up to the task.


17. North Attleboro

Why this is too low: You can never go wrong laying your chips down on the Red Rocketeers, and this year is no different. North is consistently in the mix in Division 3 South, and has some excellent players back to make another run. Up front, the Big Red can rely on tackle and UMass verbal commit Ethan Mottinger, while tight end Ethan Friberg also has some impressive size. There will be a competition at quarterback, and one name to keep an eye out for is sophomore Tyler DeMattio, who stepped in last Thanksgiving and engineered a win over Attleboro. He's a fast and tough runner who could be an asset at any number of positions.


Why this is too high: Outside of players like Mottinger and Friberg, this is not necessarily the biggest team around, and there were times last year where that hurt the Red Rocketeers. North also lost one of the best linemen in the state to graduation in Ryan Clemente. The schedule is brutal. North opens with nonleague tests against King Philip and Bishop Feehan, and the Hockomock Davenport has its usual threats with Milford, Canton, Stoughton, and Foxboro all capable of knocking the Red Rocketeers off. The Div. 3 South bracket lately has come down to North and Duxbury nearly every year, and the Dragons once again have one of the stronger teams in the state.


18. Brockton


Why this is too low: Toward the end of last season, following a decisive loss to Franklin in the Division 1 South quarterfinals, the Boxers finished strong with three straight wins, including a dramatic victory over Bridgewater-Raynham on Thanksgiving. Unlike most years when the Boxers are apt to pack things in and pound the rock on offense, they have the personnel and the desire to spread things out this year. With receivers like Nayvon Reid, Ademola Faleye, Devin Fortes, Isaiah Laguerre, tight end Trey Ciulla-Hall, plus a multi-purpose running back in Ahmik Watterson, the Boxers have the type of size, speed, and hands that can create mismatches. Defensively, Brockton has experience and playmakers at all three levels.


Why this is too high: For starters, although the Boxers were terrific in 7-on-7 this summer, that activity does not involve line play, of course, and this team graduated its top five offensive linemen. Also, for as much as he has progressed over the offseason, junior quarterback Devonte Medley has only one start under his belt, albeit against a strong Xaverian team last season. Finally, this is a program that has had high expectations in recent years, only to not get over the hump when it matters most. Division 1 South powers Catholic Memorial, Xaverian, and BC High are 12-1 against Brockton from 2015 on.


19. Lynn English

Why this is too low: There are plenty of reasons to like what Lynn English has this season, as the Bulldogs should be squarely in the mix for the Division 3 North crown this fall. They received excellent news over the summer when running back/linebacker Sam Ofurie transferred in from Salem. He should be a two-way force for the Bulldogs. Speedy junior Mathias Fowler will share some of the quarterback duties after starring at wide receiver and defensive back his first two years with the team, two positions he will play again when he's not behind center. Tahj Purter is also one of the better wide receiver/defensive backs in the state. The line is more experienced in years past, and has decent size.


Why this is too high: The Northeastern Conference is simply treacherous this fall. As the teams we've already noted should indicate, it would be a surprise to see this team run the table in that league. Also, even though the quarterback position should be fine. losing a player of Matt Severance's caliber on both sides of the ball is never easy. Now at Bentley, Severance was a key leader in the Bulldogs' success over the last few years. Finally, right now, Tewksbury has been too consistent in the Div. 3 North bracket for us to consider them anything but the favorite there.


20. Shrewsbury


Why this is too low: There are some core reasons to like the Colonials this season. For one, this is just a consistent program that churns out quality seasons year after year. Even with a powerhouse like St. John's in the same town, Shrewsbury does not miss a beat in the most competitive league in Central Mass, the Mid-Wach A. This season, the Colonials return decent experience on the offensive line. Clint Mills, who played receiver and defensive back last year, also filled in at quarterback when needed, and could be an asset there. Overall, this program usually just reloads, so don't expect a dip after last year's 7-4 campaign.


Why this is too high: The Colonials graduated one of the best quarterbacks in the state last season in Drew Campanale. Also, skill position-wise, there is a fair amount to replace. Even for a program that restocks the shelves as well as this one does, the lack of experience at key spots is a concern. The schedule is brutal, as on top of the Mid-Wach A games, the Colonials face the likes of Tantasqua, Doherty, and Nashoba. Coach John Aloisi always has his team well-prepared, so expect them to be ready for that challenging slate.


21. Doherty

Why this is too low: We had the Highlanders around the top 10 mark for most of 2018 before they lost to Shrewsbury in the Division 3 Central playoffs, then dropped a rematch to Wachusett, a team Doherty had beaten earlier in the season. Coach Sean Mulcahy again has one of the best teams in the area, starting with junior quarterback Noah Callery, who enters the season with 22 games already under his belt. He returns an experienced group of runners and pass catchers in Jaeden Baxter, Anthony Franco, David Adarkwah, Bobby Early, and Danny Sheeran. Two-way lineman Josh Brunelle is one of the top pass rushers in the state.


Why this is too high: Even with alumni in the NFL like Isaac Yiadom, Mulcahy called now-graduated running back/wide receiver/defensive back Tajon Vassar as good of a player he'd ever coached. There are other players who won't easily be replaced, like defensive lineman Christopher Yeboah, who was simply a dominant force last season. The Highlanders open the season with Algonquin, Leominster, and Shrewsbury, and the back end includes programs like Grafton, Tantasqua, and Shepherd Hill. Div. 3 Central again will be brutal, and St. John's of Shrewsbury is likely your favorite again there.


22. North Andover


Why this is too low: There is good momentum carrying over for this program after winning an low-scoring, yet exciting Division 2 state title game over King Philip. Coach John Dubzinski and Co. scored one of the big transfer coups of the offseason when Methuen's Ricky Brutus moved back to North Andover. Brutus, a running back, will pair with fellow back Freddy Gabin and bruising fullback Mike Difo to form one of the most lethal backfields in the state. Gabin broke out in a huge way as a junior, and the offensive line returns two returning starters in Jack Roche and Tim Iannarone. The numbers overall in the program are solid, and many of the graduation losses can be filled.


Why this is too high: Even though there is good talent coming up, replacing the likes of quarterback Jake McElroy, running back/wide receiver/defensive back Darren Watson and wide receiver/defensive back Gabriel DeSouza will be extremely difficult. There will be a quarterback competition to replace McElroy, and the arrival of Brutus offsets some of the lost production at the skill positions, but not all of it. The schedule is brutal. In the first four weeks, the Scarlet Knights play Marblehead, Lowell, Central Catholic, and Tewksbury. The Merrimack Valley Small Division will again be a grind. Div. 2 North seems as wide open as ever, but look for Reading to be the main competition unless a few programs reload faster than expected.


23. Holliston


Why this is too low: This is a team that had a strong 2018 and returns a boatload with a chance to make a real run at a Division 5 state title. The Panthers will be strong up front, returning one of the best linemen in the state in junior Zack Athy. Running the offense again at quarterback will be Matt Arvanitis, on whom coach Todd Kiley puts a lot of responsibility in terms of reads and decisions at the line. There are multiple skill players who can hurt you with this team, including junior Tristan Benson and senior Dylan Ibbitson. Mitch Gimblett is a terrific defensive back, and there are plenty more talented players on either side of the ball that round out a roster that has the experience in the right places. This team has legitimate aspirations to do big things this fall.


Why this is too high: While this team should be excellent in the trenches again, losing a lineman of Scot Elliot's caliber to Harvard is a big blow to any line. That said, there are very few reasons to really question this team's ranking. The Panthers went out and aggressively scheduled some top teams, as they open with Bishop Feehan and Barnstable. Those could both go either way, and losses there would put Holliston in a bad spot for playoff positioning considering how tough the rest of Div. 5 South appears to be again.


24. Scituate

Why this is too low: You could make a very solid argument for a higher placement for the defending Division 5 state champions based simply on their returning firepower. Let's start with running back Will Sheskey, who had a tremendous junior campaign, and has the speed and power to be a force in both the run and pass game. The rest of the skill positions possess good size and speed with the likes of experienced playmakers Nathan Gould and Max Roche. The offensive line should return decent size and a nice rotation, and coach Herb Devine has a creative offense that always picks apart the weaknesses in opposing defenses.


Why this is too high: Last year, we had quarterback Aidan Sullivan as our First Team All-State quarterback and Offensive MVP (Everett's Mike Sainristil was our Player of the Year), and it was for good reason. Sullivan showed good poise in the pocket and a total mastery of Devine's offense. Although we feel his replacement, senior Matthew Scibilio, will do a great job in his place, replacing Sullivan is no easy task. Escaping Div. 5 South again will be a chore, with the same suspects waiting in the wings to knock the Sailors off.


25. Canton

Why this is too low: There is experience all over the field for a Bulldogs team that took a giant step forward in 2018 and could again this fall. Even with some key graduation losses, the Bulldogs have enough returning to be a factor in both the Hockomock League's Davenport division and a deep Division 5 South. There is a lot to like on offense starting with senior quarterback Johnny Hagan and versatile skill player Kyle Fitzgerald. The line has some very good size, including Jack Connolly, who already sports a Bryant offer. This is a senior group that even saw success at the freshman level, and the Hockomock has some of the best youth programs in the state feeding its high schools.


Why this is too high: It is hard to make arguments against this team's legitimacy, because the Bulldogs really should have a nice team this year. That said, they lost one of the best linebackers in the state to graduation in Brendan Albert. The Hockomock Davenport, as usual, will be competitive everywhere. Also, same as last year, Div. 5 South will not be an easy bracket to navigate. Defending state champ Scituate brings back a solid core, as does Holliston and Dennis-Yarmouth, and Falmouth returns maybe the best option quarterback in the state in Kyle Connolly.


Just missed the cut (listed alphabetically)


Andover


Why to buy in: As with the case almost every year with this program, the offense has the potential to put up big numbers. A year ago, coach E.J. Perry made the bold move to insert freshman quarterback Victor Harrington into the starting lineup, and expect that experience to pay off in the signal caller's sophomore year. Harrington had a strong summer in the 7-on-7 circuit, especially when looking in the direction of Kelvin Davila, a 6-foot-2 wide receiver/defensive back. Keep an eye, too, on running back Joshua Ramos, who will run behind a line that includes 6-5, 290-pounder AJ Heidtke. Linebacker Michael Slayton leads the defense.


Why to be skeptical: As usual, it can be tough to emerge from anywhere in the Merrimack Valley Conference and have a breakout season, simply because there is so much parity and the strength of the league. With the schedule the Golden Warriors play, getting over the hump won't be easy. Four of their first five games are against Franklin, Billerica, Central Catholic, and Methuen. Those accounted for four losses last year, even though the Methuen and Billerica setbacks were one-score games.


Beverly


Why to buy in: The Panthers have playmakers at a number of different positions, plus enough experience up front to make a nice run in Division 3 North. Marje Mulumba turned in some impressive performances as a junior at running back, and has the size and athleticism to be a nice chess piece either in the box or the secondary. Look for running back/cornerback Jaichaun Jones to use his speed to be an asset on either side of the ball. Wide receiver Duncan Moreland has good size and the wheels to separate from defenders. The Panthers battled eventual sectional champion Tewksbury tough in the playoffs before losing by a touchdown.


Why to be skeptical: There were some tough losses to graduation, including quarterback Ryan Barror and running back/linebacker Clayton McAlpine. Also, the Northeastern Conference will have its usual landmines. The Panthers have a five-game stretch with games against Lynn English, Swampscott, Marblehead, Gloucester and Danvers that will tell us a lot about how good this team really is. If Beverly is going to make a deep run in Div. 3 North, a few of those teams in the NEC, plus Merrimack Valley Conference Small members like Tewksbury and Billerica, offer significant roadblocks.


Billerica

Why to buy in: The Indians took their lumps as a young team in 2018, going 4-6. They scored some nice wins over Andover, Bishop Feehan, Lowell, and Concord-Carlisle, and five of the six losses came to teams that either made it to Gillette (Tewksbury twice, North Andover, Catholic Memorial) or a sectional semifinal (Dracut). This is now a more upperclass team with a returning starter at quarterback in Nolan Houlihan who is a Division 1 lacrosse player. There are seniors all over the wide receiving corps, and the line has enough experience to be a strength, too. From a talent, coaching, experience, and leadership perspective, there is a lot to like here.


Why to be skeptical: Essentially, this is going to sound like a lot of the reasons to be skeptical of the top-level MVC squads. It's just a tough league, and the non-conference slate for the Indians isn't easy, either. Billerica opens with crossover games against Lowell and Andover, then follows that up with a trip to Bishop Feehan. All three games could go either way, and that's before the MVC Small games kick in with the likes of Tewksbury, North Andover, and Dracut waiting in the wings. And Div. 3 North, in general, still right now goes through Tewksbury, with a number of other squads battling to get past the two-time defending sectional champ.


Bishop Feehan


Why to buy in: The Shamrocks were actually very close to breaking through as an upper-echelon Division 3 team last year, but lost some tight games where they led at one point or another in each one. Four of their five losses — to Hingham, Whitman-Hanson, Falmouth, and New Bedford — were all by one score or less with Billerica being the exception. The Shamrocks also notched upsets over rivals Attleboro and North Attleboro. Personnel-wise, they bring back Colorado verbal commit and tight end/wide receiver Caleb Fauria. Linebacker Rex Bruschi is another returning Eastern Athletic Conference All-Star, as is wide receiver/running back Nick Norko.


Why to be skeptical: Over the offseason, the Shamrocks underwent a coaching change with Gary Doherty now gone and replaced by former Malden Catholic coach Brian Pinabell. Although we feel Pinabell is capable of getting the job done, any time there is turnover there, a learning curve with the players getting used to a new voice has to be expected. Also, the Shamrocks must replace quarterback Tim D'Ambrosia, who did a nice job directing the offense last season. As usual, the ringer of making it through Div. 3 South brings its own set of challenges, so the Shamrocks will have to bring their A-game to advance past that sectional.


Bridgewater-Raynham


Why to buy in: Although the Trojans only had a 3-7 record last season, it came against a typically brutal schedule against the likes of St. John's Prep, Xaverian, Duxbury, and Mansfield. Three losses to Brockton, Whitman-Hanson, and Barnstable were by a combined 10 points. There is reason to believe the Trojans will be closer to where they usually are this year, as sophomore Austin Hartsell, who performed well in the Thanksgiving Day loss to Brockton, returns. Junior Anthony Morrison, who started 2018 as the starting quarterback, will move over to running back, and three starting offensive linemen return. There also appears to be some decent talent coming up from the freshman ranks.


Why to be skeptical: Even though coach Dan Buron is sure to get the most out of this group, it is still on the younger side. Also, with a program that makes a living on running the ball, the Trojans don't necessarily have the size that they've had with their most successful teams. The opening three games against St. John's Prep, Duxbury, and Xaverian are all an uphill climb, and the Trojans end the regular season with always-dangerous Dennis-Yarmouth. If the Trojans are to make a run in Division 2 South, they will have to overcome the likes of King Philip, Mansfield, Barnstable, and Natick, all of whom expect to have strong teams this season.


Danvers

Why to buy in: Very few teams in the North Shore have come quite as close to breaking through their sectional without closing the deal quite as much as the Falcons have. Last year, Danvers only lost to Beverly, Marblehead, and Tewksbury, with all three defeats decided by one score. The Falcons have some pieces to maybe break through this fall, though, with good experience on both lines, and running backs like Chase Eary and Rich Canova to grind teams down. Fullback/middle linebacker Russ Canova is a throwback player who will be a leader on both sides of the ball.


Why to be skeptical: There are some tough graduation losses to deal with, as quarterback Brendan Treacy and feature back Matt McCarthy will have to be replaced. Even though the Falcons like what they have in the backfield, McCarthy had a strong senior campaign. With the NEC, it's likely that there will be a lot of games decided late, especially on the back end of the schedule with Swampscott, Beverly, and Marblehead. Finally, Tewksbury has been a mountain too steep to climb of late for the Falcons in Division 3 North. Danvers had an early lead in last year's sectional final but could not close it out.


Dennis-Yarmouth


Why to buy in: The Dolphins went 6-5 a year ago, but four of those losses were by a touchdown or less. D-Y also very nearly knocked off Scituate in the Division 5 South quarterfinals, as a last-minute, length-of-the-field touchdown drive and two-point conversion gave the Sailors the come-from-behind win. Scituate ran the table from there, but there is reason to believe D-Y can make a deep run this time around. The passing game, even with a first-year starter at quarterback in Will Levesque, will have three top-shelf weapons in wide receivers Geoffrey Jamiel and Jaquan Phillips and tight end Michael Gurney. Paul Funk stepped down as coach and athletic director to take over as principal, but replacement Joe Jamiel is about as familiar with this group as it gets.


Why to be skeptical: We know the Dolphins fared well in 7-on-7 this summer as they always do, but the depth on the line is thin, so staying healthy there is a must. That won't be easy with the schedule the Dolphins play, as they face bigger schools like Barnstable, Bridgewater-Raynham, Marshfield, and Lawrence. Even if the Dolphins make it through to the Div. 5 South bracket with their relative health intact, teams like Holliston, Scituate, and Canton are probably the favorites there.


Hingham


Why to buy in: Despite some heavy graduation losses, there is enough returning to expect the Harbormen to be a factor in Division 3 South. New coach Mark Nutley comes over from North Quincy to replace Jim Connor, and he will have some nice weapons on offense to work with. Tight end/wide receiver Cole Finney is a verbal commit to Duke, and his size (6-foot-6) and speed make him a matchup nightmare for any opponent. Quarterback Owen O'Brien had some experience filling in for injured starter Jack Johnson last year, and players like Christian Julian, Zachary Kelleher, and Grady Harrington will all be weapons at either running back or wide receiver.

Why to be skeptical: This is a team that lost a very good senior class with plenty of size, including tight end Spencer Casssell, who is now at Harvard and will be an offensive tackle there. Also, although Nutley did a nice job at his previous stop, his new players will have to get up to speed quickly on his schemes and coaching style. The schedule offers no favors, as the opening four games are against Braintree, Abington, Hopkinton, and Duxbury. This is a team that should make the playoffs, but once there, Div. 3 South has quality programs all over the place, so emerging from that bracket won't be a cakewalk.


Leominster


Why to buy in: With a young team last year, the Blue Devils opened with six straight losses, including three by a combined 13 points to Marlboro, Westfield, and Wachusett. But after a shift offensively to a more power-based ground attack, the Blue Devils closed out with five straight wins where they allowed just 17 combined points. Much of that nucleus is back, including shifty junior quarterback JC Cora Jr., who can be a threat with either his arm or legs. There is also a lot returning on both lines, so don't expect opponents to be able to bully this team up front. Overall, the momentum from the end of last season should carry over into this one.


Why to be skeptical: Coach Dave Palazzi stepped down to assume full-time athletic director duties, so there will be a transition period with new head man Devin Gates. Gates, who starred at quarterback for rival Fitchburg and coached at the college level, is a nice fit, but there is always a learning curve with that type of change. Also, although the Blue Devils bring back a lot, they graduated one of the best running backs in Central Mass. last year in Adam Couch. The schedule is absolutely brutal in the Mid-Wach A, one of the toughest leagues in the state. The nonleague games are against Westfield, Doherty, and Nashoba, followed by the ringer of Wachusett, Shepherd Hill, Shrewsbury, St. John's of Shrewsbury, and Algonquin. If this team makes the playoffs, it will have earned it.


Marblehead


Why to buy in: The baseline consistency of this program is about as good as any on the North Shore, but that was rudely interrupted in the Division 4 North playoffs by Dracut last season, when the top-seeded Magicians were upset in the first round. Still, Marblehead had some nice wins until that point over the likes of Revere, Beverly, Gloucester, and Danvers in an undefeated regular season. Expect that Dracut setback to light a fire under this group that was largely young at some key positions. the Magicians return running back Tim Cronin, and defensive end and offensive lineman Declan Rudloff is a force on both sides of the ball. His father Jim, is one of the best coaches in the state, so expect him to get the most out of this group.


Why to be skeptical: There were still some tough graduation losses for the Magicians to overcome, as quarterback Chris Gally had a nice senior season and will not be easy to replace. The Northeastern Conference, if you can't tell by the teams already listed, will be balanced and deep across the board. In addition to the league schedule, Marblehead opens the season with a trip to North Andover out of the Merrimack Valley Conference. Div. 4 North should have many of the same pitfalls awaiting in Wayland, Gloucester, and Dracut. Also look for squads like Revere and Melrose to be tough outs there.


Methuen

Why to buy in: Last season, even after the graduation of many key pieces, the Rangers put together a strong campaign in the Merrimack Valley Conference Large that included wins over Reading, Dracut, Lexington, and Andover. The three losses were to Central Catholic, Tewksbury (by a point), and Acton-Boxboro (by a touchdown). There is reason for optimism again, with quarterback Connor Bryant returning after a solid junior season. There are enough pieces around him to expect another high-powered offense, and junior tight end/linebacker Anthony Romano is a rising star on defense.


Why to be skeptical: With the transfer of running back Ricky Brutus to North Andover, the Rangers lose a key piece to their offense to the defending Division 2 champions. As usual, the MVC Large will not be a picnic, and from those we have spoken to, the teams in that division will mostly be "up" this year. Starting with Central Catholic, which should be one of the top teams in the state, to Andover, Lowell, Haverhill, and an improving Lawrence program, there won't be any off weeks. Of course, if the Rangers make it to the Div. 1 North playoffs, getting past the likes of Everett, Central, and St. John's Prep present their own set of major challenges.


Milford


Why to buy in: There are a lot of reasons to be excited about what this team brings to the table, even though Class of 2020 offensive tackle and Boston College commit Kevin Pyne has already graduated and will not be with the Scarlet Hawks this fall. Start with quarterback Colby Pires, a smooth, poised signal caller who is one of the best in the state. He will be handing the ball off to one of the top running backs in the Hockomock League in Luke Rosa. The offensive line is junior-laden, yet experienced and athletic, with the types of players who fit well into the Scarlet Hawks' spread scheme. Defensively, linebacker CJ Cerella is one of the best in the Hockomock League.


Why to be skeptical: Milford's first two games are teams from the Hockomock Kelley-Rex that beat the Scarlet Hawks handily last season in Franklin and Attleboro. Once Davenport play begins, North Attleboro, Canton, Stoughton, and Foxboro will all present stiff challenges. Even with an experienced triggerman like Pires, this is an overall young team. If the Scarlet Hawks make the Division 3 South playoffs, programs like North Attleboro and Duxbury have ruled that bracket for several years now. It also has good depth across the board with the likes of Hingham, Bishop Feehan, Walpole, Stoughton, and others as potential contenders there.


Nashoba

Why to buy in: You usually can't go wrong with this perennial power out of Central Mass. Jamie Tucker is one of the top coaches in the state, and regardless of roster turnover, he gets the most out of the Chieftains, who rolled to the Division 4 state title last year. There is some good experience on the lines, as two-way tackle and captain Joe Flannery returns, as does fellow captain Nick Romasco, who played guard last year but may move over to tight end/defensive end this fall. Jack Cahill, Jack Bonazzoli, and Aidan Lee are skill players who can go both ways. Linebacker Connor Salmon is a sophomore to watch. Trevor Schartner is a versatile junior who can play multiple positions and be a weapon at a number of skill spots for the Chieftains.


Why to be skeptical: This is a team that lost a large and successful senior class. There will only be about 10 seniors on this year's squad. Even though those players are relatively experienced, it is still a pretty low number. Losing a quarterback of Sam Bolinsky's talent is tough, as the signal caller had a big, accurate arm. Either Josh Digeronimo or Bonazzoli will be tasked with taking the job over, and either can play another position if needed. Div. 4 Central will not be an easy bracket, as Marlboro, Tantasqua, Grafton, and Westboro will all be in the mix there.


Reading


Why to buy in: The Rockets are one of the most consistent programs not just in the Middlesex League, but the state, and should again be a factor in Division 2 North this season under coach John Fiore's guidance. What separates this program from many is its physicality and line play, and although there were some losses to graduation, expect the Rockets to be good there again. Junior Domenic DeCrescenzo should be a force up front, as will defensive tackle Chris Chiulli. Linebacker Colin Comerford, safety Jeremy Rosh, and linebacker/wide receiver Jeremy DuRoss are all others that should lead this team in a wide-open Div. 2 North bracket.


Why to be skeptical: Those heavy graduation losses cannot be overlooked. Also, the Rockets will be inexperienced at the most important position on the field: quarterback. Although freshman Jimmy Murphy is a promising name to watch there, there will be competition at the position. Even though Lincoln-Sudbury and Acton-Boxboro also lost the majority of their starters, those two nonleague games to open the season are not layups. League play again features a tough Lexington squad that is going through a coaching change, and Div. 2 North features a North Andover team that will again be tough to deal with.


Stoneham

Why to buy in: Coach Bob Almeida and his double-wing offense is so tough to play against, and he has the pieces to help the Spartans defend their Division 6 state title. This is a team that always works hard in the weight room over the offseason, and according to Almeida, that was the case again. Look for last year's starting quarterback, Deshaun Chase, to move over to halfback in addition to his duties in the secondary. Seth Russell is recovering from a knee injury but the halfback/defensive back should be back either by the opener or just after it. Look for Victor Fernandez, the fastest player on the team, to take over at quarterback. The offensive line returns two very good ones in Chris Belliveau and Mike Driscoll.


Why to be skeptical: The Spartans lost their best player to graduation in running back/linebacker Christos Argyropoulos, who won't be easily replaced. That opener against Bishop Fenwick won't be a walk in the park, and the Crusaders will be a factor in Div. 6 North down the line. The Middlesex League's Freedom Division will be tougher than it was a year ago. Melrose should be back to where it usually is, and that's a top-level squad in both that league and Div. 4 playoff bracket, while teams like Burlington, Wilmington, Wakefield, and Watertown could all provide stiffer tests than last season, as well.

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