With signing day coming up in early February, we wanted to check in with Lowell coach John Florence on some of his best players, and what is in store for them both this year and beyond.
Here are some things we picked up.
— Over last spring and summer, one player we raved about was senior Justin Villanueva.
Villanueva will be attending Stonehill, where the SkyHawks want him to play linebacker. According to Florence, the injury bug bit Villanueva a bit this fall.
"He played middle linebacker and running back for us, which is a tough combination these days with the spread, and the games are so much longer," Florence said. "But he did really well for us. He got banged up at one point with a high ankle sprain, and it was definitely noticeable when he was not in there, just in terms of the flow of the offense. We lost a lot of physicality on both sides of the ball without having him in there."
— Merrimack Valley Conference All-Star outside linebacker/defensive end Rashawn Settles is likely going to end up at a Division 3 school. According to Florence, the 5-foot-8, 185-pound senior likes Westfield State.
"If Rashawn was about three or four inches taller, there's be scholarship offers all over the place," said Florence, who noted Settles will likely play linebacker at the next level.
— Florence also noted that senior MVC All-Star lineman Brian Callery is likely going to end up in the Division 3 ranks somewhere.
— Dropping down to the junior class, MVC All-Star and one of MassVarsity's All-State selections, Brendan Tighe, drew rave reviews from Florence. The 5-11, 185-pound wide receiver/defensive back has already received plenty of Football Bowl and Football Championship Subdivision looks.
On offense this past season, Tighe caught 58 passes for 1,260 yards and 13 touchdowns. Tighe was also a force on the ground, as he rushed for 487 yards and six touchdowns on 42 carries.
On defense, Tighe made 90 tackles, 54 solo, and four for loss. He also made three interceptions and scored two defensive touchdowns.
"Brendan, he's the total package: the physical skills; the mental skills; his leadership qualities. He's really incredible," Florence said. "(He's) one of the toughest kids. Sometimes, a receiver, a defensive back, you don't describe him like that. But when he comes up from safety to make the tackle, there's some violent collisions there. He's a tough, tough kid."
The effortlessness with which Tighe performs at times sticks out.
"Like you said, he's got that playmaking ability when he gets the ball in his hands," Florence said. "One coach said, 'He makes average things look really simple and easy, and then makes difficult things look routine.' "
The trick will be to see which side of the ball he fits best at on the next level.
"I think it all depends on the program, the level," Florence said. "Some of the Division 1 coaches I've talked to, they predict him to be a safety, which, I don't think he'd have a problem making that transition. He's such a team player. He's not a kid who's, 'I only want to play offense or want to do this.' He's a real complete football player."
Florence noted that Tighe has "incredible" grades, and could be an Ivy League candidate. Tighe is also a standout lacrosse player.
— Another junior to keep an eye out for is lineman Luis Cadime. The 6-4.5, 245/250-pounder has barely scratched the surface of his potential.
"He's a kid who has only played a couple years of football," Florence said. "I could see it right away when he was a sophomore. He's 6-4, 6-5, and can squat and bench and get low. He's got real good flexibility, real good hips. Again, just figuring things out, the little intricacies of playing offensive line."
— Sophomore Ty Chan is another lineman worth keeping an eye on. The 6-foot-5, 255-pounder is very athletic for his size, and, like Cadime, still not near where as good as he will be in a couple of years.
"He's still learning how to play, and he's a basketball kid, so that definitely helps him out," Florence said. "Being a still a very young kid, to be as athletic as he is for as tall as he is, you don't see that all the time."
Chan, like Cadime, is still learning the intricacies of the game.
"He was mostly a tight end. He played a couple years of junior high football, but they kind of used him as a tight end," Florence said. "So he's really still learning about playing the ins and outs of playing the offensive line. Like I said, the size and athletic ability that he has for such a young kid is a good combination."
And Chan, according to Florence, is a staple in the weight room.
"Very good in the weight room," Florence said. "Prior to his freshman year last year, I don't think he had a lot of experience, but definitely in between when this football season ended and then, he's been very consistent and over last offseason when working throughout the summer."
Over the course of the next few seasons, Florence expects Chan's on-field production to tick up.
"He was consistent (this past season), but still kind of learning," Florence said. "I think there were a lot of stalemate type of situations. Where I think next year (and) by the time he's a senior, hopefully he's going to be kind of dominating kids at the high school level: caving down sides if we run to his side; or, if we run outside zone, again, he's athletic enough to get take gaps back and get out around a defensive end, and chase down linebackers. He can do all those things. But the consistency, and, again, being dominant, he's still a 15-year-old kid. He's still figuring it out."
— Two other players Florence mentioned who will make an impact for his team next year are returning starter on the offensive line, junior Josh Ratnoff (5-11, 240) and projected new starting quarterback Naujiye Neal, a sophomore, whom Florence thinks will work well in the spread.
Of Ratnoff, Florence said, he's "rugged, just old school, nasty, tough lineman. If he was 6-4, he'd be a Division 1 kid. He gets after it."