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.