Updated: Feb 18
For the third year in a row, we will be kicking things off with a 40-team preseason countdown of MIAA teams. Due to the nature of this offseason, we were not able to get an eye on as many players as we usually do. This forced us to switch up the format of our annual countdown. We are now going to bind teams together in groups of five and work our way down. We are not necessarily going to do it this way every year now, but wanted to use it for this season. The general format is still the same. We will start the month of August with the teams that just missed the cut, then count down from 25 toward the beginning of the season. We still have our other preview of team-submitted information, but wanted to keep this separate. Regardless of what is decided for games in the fall, we wanted to put out this preview. We hope you enjoy it.
(Teams that just missed the cut, in alphabetical order)
Bishop Fenwick; Bridgewater-Raynham; Brockton; Dennis-Yarmouth; Fitchburg
Bishop Fenwick had a terrific 2019, reaching the Div. 6 state final before losing to Ashland at Gillette Stadium. The Crusaders should be strong again as they hope to finish the job, as quarterback Chrys Wilson returns. Wilson doubles as an outside linebacker, and his brother, Andrew, is a strong middle linebacker. There is experience on the outside with Stefano Fabiano and Angel Martinez at wide receiver and defensive back, while Matt Juneau anchors the line. . . . Every year, Bridgewater-Raynham plays one of the toughest regular season schedules in the state, then is ready to make life difficult for everyone in Div. 2 South when the playoffs start. The Trojans beat some good teams in 2019, like Duxbury, Brockton, and Dennis-Yarmouth. They also lost to some heavyweights, including Div. 1 champ St. John's Prep There were some key personnel losses, but developing junior quarterback Austin Hartsell is back, and senior wide receiver/running back Anthony Morrison is one of the more underrated players in that part of the state. . . . Brockton, like B-R, had some nice highlights in 2019, with wins over Duxbury, Xaverian, and New Bedford. But consistency was an issue, and the Boxers were booted from the Div. 1 South tournament by Franklin for the second year in a row. There are reasons for optimism. The lines return with most of their starters back. Quarterback Devonte Medley had a strong junior season and is a threat both as a runner and thrower. Wide receiver/defensive end Nayvon Reid is terrific on both sides of the ball. Another receiver, Ademola Faleye, is a big target at 6-foot-6. Middle linebacker Rodrigo Lima is a leader on defense. The key may lie in how the Boxers replace explosive running back Ahmik Watterson. . . . Dennis-Yarmouth last year was a team that was left out of the Div. 5 South playoffs, but could have made a real run if included. The Dolphins figure to be a real factor this time around. Any time you talk about this team, the first player mentioned has to be wide receiver Geoffrey Jamiel. A tremendous route-runner with good speed, Jamiel beats defenses that are geared to take him away. A force since his freshman year, Jamiel hopes to go out with a bang as a senior. While Jamiel brings the excitement on the outside, the Dolphins should be strong up front with most of their starters returning there. Linebacker and H-back Pat O'Neill is one of the top returning linebackers on the Cape. D-Y needs to be able to replace graduated pass catchers like Jaquan Phillips and Michael Gurney if the Dolphins want to take the next step. (Edit: Since the publication of this piece, Jamiel has transferred to Deerfield Academy and O'Neill has transferred to Barnstable). . . . Two years ago, Fitchburg had one of the top freshman teams in Central Mass. Last year, many of those players blossomed into impact players on varsity, and the Red Raiders began to feel the positive effects because of that and some other factors. Along the way, Fitchburg beat West Springfield, Algonquin, and Nashoba (twice). The losses were to Wachusett, Tantasqua (twice), and Leominster. Only one of those setbacks came by more than one touchdown. Defensively, Fitchburg should again be strong. The offensive line returns almost everyone. The main weapon on offense will again be Anthony Oquendo, who is one of the best running backs in that area. When Oquendo comes off the field, Fitchburg has another strong runner to go to in Duncan Poitras. This is a team that is not at its peak yet, but could take the next step soon.
Franklin; Leominster; Lincoln-Sudbury; Marblehead; Nashoba
Over the past few years, Franklin coach Eain Bain has built a program that always finds itself playing good football deep into the Div. 1 South playoffs. Although teams like Mansfield and King Philip remain the class of the Hockomock Kelley-Rex, Franklin is starting to make its case, as the Panthers have eliminated Brockton from the postseason in back-to-back seasons. The Panthers suffered heavy graduation losses, but return linebacker Xander Honor, a four-year starter who has been second on the team in tackles consecutive years. Kicker Parker Cheuvront also handles the punting duties and has attracted some college attention. Replacing all-conference quarterback will either be junior Jared Arone or sophomore Jase Lyons. . . . Although Leominster was 5-6 last season, it was close to a much better season. Narrow losses included those Doherty, Shrewsbury, Nashoba, and St. John's of Shrewsbury. Coach Devin Gates returns a senior-laden team that boasts seven returning starters on defense, and six on offense. One of the top players in Central Mass. comes back in 6-4, 245-pound defensive end Kyle Philbin, who is being recruited by Division 1 programs. His twin, Jack, is a 6-2, 230-pound linebacker who helps shore up the front seven. Wide receiver/defensive back JC Cora has some experience at quarterback and is just a playmaker. Quarterback Caeden Constant returns as a junior after a promising sophomore debut. VoShon Dixon had some strong games as a junior and returns as one of the top running backs in Central Mass. . . . Lincoln-Sudbury coach Jim Girard had a terrific first year with the Warriors. L-S, fresh off losing a tremendous senior class, reloaded and made it all the way to Gillette and the Div. 2 state title game. Although L-S lost that to a terrific Mansfield squad, it beat defending champ North Andover along the way. This year, L-S returns a strong two-way lineman in Will Ohler. The Warriors should be able to move the ball well with skill players like running back/linebacker Gordon Gozdeck, wide receiver.defensive back Jesse McCullough, and wide receiver/defensive back Collin Murphy. Quarterback Riley O'Connell is a junior captain, so the Warriors' spread offense should be in good hands. . . . Year-in, year-out, Marblehead is always one of the top teams on the North Shore, and we don't see that changing this time around. Even though the Magicians suffered some key injuries last year, they still pulled out big wins over Swampscott, North Andover, North Reading, and Beverly. The losses were to four good teams in D4 state champ Melrose, Revere, Danvers, and Wayland. Promising young quarterback in Joshua Robertson came in last year as a sophomore and did not look his age, as he threw for 1,574 yards and 17 touchdowns. Two-way lineman J.T. Monahan is a captain in football, lacrosse, and hockey. Senior Gadot Gaskins is a talented wide receiver and defensive back who was injured in the first game of the season last year. He ran a 35.02-second 300 meters in track. . . After winning the Div. 4 state title in 2018, Nashoba took a slight step back with a very young team in 2019. This year, we expect the Chieftains to be where they usually are — one of the top teams in Central Mass. One of those young contributors from a year ago, junior Connor Salmon, is a returning league all-star at linebacker and leading tackler who will have an expanded role at running back. Quarterback Josh DeGeronimo also plays defensive back and is a great athlete and leader. Trevor Schartner is a versatile threat at outside linebacker and fullback, and running back/linebacker Ethan Revell has good speed. Wide receiver/defensive backs Joey Sabourin and James Borsari improved over the course of last season. Humza Qureshi is a strong, two-way lineman. Sophomores Liam Kelley and Owen Fitzsimmons both played a lot on the defensive line last year and will add more work at tight end this fall.
North Andover; Reading; Shepherd Hill; Stoneham; Stoughton
It was an up and down year for North Andover in 2019 that included a win over Reading in the Div. 2 North playoffs before a loss in the sectional final to Lincoln-Sudbury. The Scarlet Knights lost some firepower at the skill positions but should reload. The offensive line should be a strength with returning starters Jack Roche (6-5, 265), Chuck Regan (6-2, 230), and Jack Carbone (6-0, 205). Roche will continue his career at Amherst. The Scarlet Knights also have sufficient experience at quarterback in starter Will Schimmoeller, who threw for 958 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. Two of his main targets are back in tight end/defensive end Max Wolfgang (6-4, 225) and flanker/linebacker Jake Wolinski (5-11, 185). Running back/defensive end Steve Ferullo returns from an injury that kept him out in 2019 after an all-conference performance in 2018. . . . Another team from DIv. 2 North that should be strong is Reading. The Rockets will be terrific on the offensive line as usual with players like Dom DeCrescenzo, Shaun Bekkenhuis, and Thomas O'Brien. DeCrescenzo is a three-year two-way starter. They will be blocking for quarterback James Murphy, a sophomore who broke school records as a freshman. Dan DiMare (running back/outside linebacker) and Nick Bates (running back/middle linebacker) are both productive on both sides of the ball. Patrick Harrigan is a big target at 6-4, and he plays both receiver and cornerback. Overall, this roster has experience and talent, enough of both to have this team in contention, as is usually the case with Reading. . . . Following a strong, 8-3 season in 2019, Shepherd Hill will once again rely on its senior-laden offensive line to lead the way. Tight end Gavin Briggs and guard Billy Tyrrell each started last season and bring experience to the Rams' front. Rounding out the unit this fall will be fellow seniors Trever Johnson, Wysbert Pierre-Paul, Austin Michaelson, and Liam Keegan. The bell cow back is expected to be Michael Raymond, a big, physical runner who is perfect for Shepherd Hill's double-wing offense. Junior Zach Christenson is an outstanding athlete who can play multiple positions but starts off at running back and linebacker. Although the Rams are not typically a pass-heavy team, they have a terrific receiver and defensive back in senior Angel Gomez. There is also plenty of excitement around the program for sophomore running back and linebacker Romeo Holland. He is a physical force and has the chance to make an impact right away. . . . Stoneham won the Div. 6 state title two years ago, and although the Spartans did not repeat last year, they earned quality wins over Reading and Wakefield along the way. Coach Bob Almeida will again have a punishing ground attack with his double-wing offense. He returns a terrific back in Chris Dragone. The senior was an all-league selection as a junior when he rushed for 830 yards and 14 touchdowns. He'll run behind another solid line led by junior Peter Godfrey, a 6-5, 275-pounder who started at left tackle as a sophomore. Defensively, the Spartans are paced by junior Pat McNamara, a linebacker who made 83 tackles as a sophomore. Stoneham did lose a decorated senior class, but there is enough here for.a run at big things in 2020. . . . Although Stoughton fell short of its goals with a loss to Duxbury in Div. 3 South, the Black Knights had impressive wins along the way over Foxboro, Framingham, Walpole, Milford, and North Attleboro. They are led by three of the top players in the state in Christopher Ais (6-0, 220, RB/MLB), Christian Ais (6-0, 200, SS/wing back), and Christian Georges (5-11, 210, DE/wing back). All three are terrific defensive players and dangerous with the ball in their hands. Quarterback John Burke also plays free safety, while wide receiver/cornerback Jake Queeney started both ways last year as a junior. Two linemen whom the team depends on are Mark Edge, a 5-10, 230 center/defensive tackle, and Sproul Derolus, a 5-10, 240 defensive and offensive tackle.
25. Milton; 24. Marshfield; 23. Milford; 22. Holliston; 21. Doherty
Milton has been a consistent threat in Div. 4 South, and should continue to be. The Wildcats return four starters on offense and five on defense, plus a good amount of players who also saw time. The offense will be led by junior quarterback Chase Vaughan. Last year, he completed 57 percent of his passes for 1,768 yards and 17 touchdowns. He will have another steady group of receivers — led by Malcom Samuels — to throw to and strong runners to hand off to in Alex Prez-Ruiz, Andrew Lynch, and Amari Marsman. The offensive line returns starters Isaiah Hassell and Griffin Smith. On defense, Hassell, Nathan Fraser, and Michael Swanton lead the line, while Prez-Ruiz and Marsman return at linebacker. Lynch and Samuels are back in the secondary. Rebuilding the line depth on both sides of the ball will be the main task. . . . Marshfield had a solid, 7-4 season in 2019 that included wins over Dennis-Yarmouth, Bridgewater-Raynham, and Barnstable, and the Rams have enough pieces back to take another step forward. The defense should again be strong at the point of attack, as linemen Josh Pires and James Griffiths return as two of the better players in the area. The offense has one of the top returning running backs in Preston Van Fleet back. The Rams have two junior quarterbacks who will compete for the job in Ean Scholz and Owen Masterson. . . . Dale Olson takes over as the new coach at Milford, and he has a team that could make big strides. The Scarlet Hawks have two UMass commits in their senior class in quarterback Brady Olson and Dominic Schofield. Olson is a transfer from Bishop Feehan, while Schofield can play defensive end or outside linebacker on defense and offensive line on the other side of the ball. Carter Scudo is a speedy athlete who will line up at wide receiver but is versatile enough to run the ball, as well. Wide receiver/defensive back Max Martin is another weapon for Olson, while Kevin O'Connor is an explosive hitter coming from his outside linebacker position. The Scarlet Hawks are well-fortified along the offensive line, as they return four out of five starters there. . . . Holliston took the Div. 5 South crown last season, and there is enough returning for the Panthers to be in good standing again. The offense will be paced by running back Tristan Benson, a four-year starter who needs just over 800 yards to set the school rushing record. Lineman Zack Athy will be a three-year starter at guard and two-year, two-way starter. Wide receiver/defensive back Teddy Ratcliffe is like another coach on the field, while linebacker/tight end Kevin Lyons led the team in tackles in 2019. Wide receiver/defensive back Christian Schneeloch will be a three-year starter at corner. Kevin Balewicz takes over the quarterback position and will be a dual threat there. The versatile Timmy Aylward led the team in sacks last year. Ryan Stanwood will be a two-year starter at safety, while Robert Payne, Patrick Griffin, and Justin Battick shore up the offensive line. . . . Doherty returns a talented team that will again challenge for the Div. 3 Central crown. The Highlanders will be led for the fourth year by quarterback Noah Callery, who is a threat both with his arm and legs, and one of the top signal-callers in the state. Three running backs will all see carries in Jairon Vega, Ezra Collins and fullback Jon Mejia. Even though wide receiver is not the most experienced positional unit on the team, there are good options there in Jonte Atherley, Domenic Brindisi, Messiah Attakorah, Myzel Vilbrum, and Kofi Asare. The offensive line returns starters Seamus Bisnette, Mike Boutros, and Dom Belsido, and welcomes transfers Eben Ankomah (Worcester North) and Tom Flynn (Tantasqua). Mejia has experience at linebacker, while the line will be filled by many of the same faces on the offensive front, plus Sean Lewis and Sean Belton. The secondary should again be a strength with David Brissette, Vega, Tom Murray, and Alex Boutros. Max Hanus gives the Highlanders a consistent kicker.
20. Wellesley; 19. Concord-Carlisle; 18. Barnstable; 17. Wachusett; 16. Shrewsbury
It was a big season for Wellesley in 2019, as the Raiders defeated King Philip and New Bedford, and only suffered two losses, both to Bay State Conference rival Natick. Wellesley brings back a team that has more experience at the skill positions than up front, and will yet again be competitive. Three wide receiver/defensive backs lead the way in James Dolan, Wedner Cadet, and Anthony Perez. Tight end/outside linebacker Carl Callahan is another key player, while Josh Yen could look to replace graduated quarterback Matt Maiona in addition to duties at defensive back. Joseph Knight is a talented two-way lineman, and Jon Marvan can make an impact at both running back and inside linebacker. . . . Concord-Carlisle very nearly had a breakout season in 2019, as the Patriots' only loss was by one point to eventual Div. 3 North champion Tewksbury. This team will once again be strong behind its senior leadership and depth at the skill positions. The defense has terrific playmakers, led by Olijah Williams (defensive end/offensive tackle) and Tim Hays (linebacker/running back). Hays, Eddie Jelin (strong safety on defense), Jordan Corbett (defensive tackle), and Charlie Robichaud (linebacker) are all capable running backs. Tyler Jameau can hurt teams at wide receiver or cornerback, and Williams, James Maloney (offensive tackle/defensive end), and Tom Grehan (offensive guard/linebacker/long snapper) hold it down in the trenches. The big question marks will be replacing quarterback Christian Gemelli and some offensive linemen. . . . Last year, Barnstable transitioned into a run-heavy attack behind a big offensive line. Once again, everything will start with that unit, as that is where this team returns the most of its experience. Barnstable returns three starters there in Brenden Dowling (6-3, 265), Mike Fedele (6-1, 260), and Aidan Canty (6-0, 260). Two of the team's main backs from a year ago return in Eugene Jordan (an all-leaguer a year ago and a linebacker) and Colin Marzcely (also a defensive back). Look for Adam Laber (linebacker) to also vie for carries. Defensively, Michael O'Shaughnessy (defensive end/linebacker), Nolan Arasscue and Marvin Domino (both cornerback), and CJ Joyce (linebacker) should all have significant roles. Another strength is Ross Jatkola's coaching staff is in its third year together, while the team will have to overcome losses at quarterback and wide receiver. . . . Central Mass. is home to one of the most consistent programs in the state in Wachusett. Coach Mike Dubzinski is sure to have another physical group, starting with a defense that is perennially stingy. Cornerbacks Caleb Marrero (running back) and Luke Stelmach (wide receiver), free safety Tom Raeke (running back), outside linebackers Jonah Bois (running back) and Angelo Smith (fullback), and defensive linemen Stephan Johnson and Damien Benson bring experience to that side of the ball. Marrero, Raeke, Stelmach, and Bois will all play on offense, with Owen Champagne and Matt Quinlivan as returning starters on the offensive line. Elu Sulmasy is back as the kicker and punter. Five players — Brady Bembenek, Luke Grady, Adam Bate, Tucker McDonald, and Joe Cappabianca — are competing for the starting quarterback job. A big loss was the graduation of league defensive MVP Jacob Nadeau (linebacker/offensive lineman/St. Anselm), and the two looking to fill his shoes are Pat Kennedy and Ben Shabo. . . . Shrewsbury has taken big steps forward in the last four years with 32 wins, five playoff victories, two Mid-Wach A titles, and a district crown. The Colonials can keep a lot of that good momentum going. This should be a strong offensive line, as Grady Roadman (defensive line), Harry Zielinski (defensive line), and Matt Power (linebacker) could all contribute up front. Roadman will be a three-year starter on the o-line, while the 6-5, 275-pound Zielinski is ready for a breakout year. Power is a tough, physical player and a junior captain. Linebacker Hayden Duffy is a leader on special teams and defense. Justin Toon, Kealan Green, and AJ Hamm all bring athleticism and speed to the wide receiver/defensive back positions. Toon is a returning leader in the secondary, while Green is 6-2, 225 and looking to bounce back from an injury that wiped out his junior year. Hamm is a versatile athlete that also makes his mark in the kicking game, as a return specialist, and quarterback.
15. Melrose; 14. Xaverian; 13. Duxbury; 12. Andover; 11. St. John's (S)
A year ago, Melrose tore through its schedule and playoff bracket to win the Div. 4 state title. The Red Raiders had impressive wins over Revere, Lincoln-Sudbury, Marblehead, and Stoneham before defeating Plymouth South, 28-13, at Gillette. Although Melrose had many impact seniors, the Red Raiders bring back some playmakers who should have this team in the upper echelon once again. Starting with the skill positions, starting quarterback Brendan Fennell is back for his senior year. He is both dangerous with his arm and his legs. He can hand the ball off to running back Matthew Hickey, who doubles as one of the top linebackers in the area. Last year, the offensive line was at times dominant. Two players from that unit are back in Frank Capaldo and Andrew Jefferson-Norton. . . . It was an uncharacteristic down year for Xaverian in 2019, as the Hawks posted a 4-7 mark. That said, there is plenty of room for optimism and a bounce-back year. The Hawks should be improved on offense, mainly due to the return of quarterback Mike Berluti, who will be a three-year starter. He will be joined in the backfield by sophomore Mike Oates, an elusive running back who saw some action as a freshman. Both players will be protected by what promises to be a massive line. Leading the way up front will be senior Noah Eldridge (6-5, 260) and junior Jack Funke (6-6, 280), who is a Boston College verbal commit. The defense will be led by linebacker Vincent Gilchrist. . . . You can 2set your watch to it. Every year, no matter what happens, Duxbury either wins the DIv. 3 South bracket or comes close to doing it. The Dragons are just that consistent. You should expect another strong year out of Duxbury, even though there were some heavy losses to graduation. It starts this year with Duxbury's four captains, led by Ryan Prudente, who is probably the team's fastest player. He will make an impact at running back, defensive back, and wide receiver. Another captain who will help power the offensive line is Anthony Lyons. Cam Reagan missed most of last season to an injury, but will be back as a captain and wide receiver and safety. Tim O'Neil also missed much of last year to an injury, but is back at middle linebacker. Coach Dave Maimaron also has a very talented junior class coming up. Two of those players who should make an impact as wide receivers are Brady Madigan and Bowman Rhinesmith. A top lineman in that class is Delby Lemieux, who will start both ways. . . . One of the more noteworthy non-playoff results from last year came when Andover defeated Everett, 20-16. It was one of the highlights for Andover in a season that saw the Golden Warriors finish 8-4. Some of the main pieces from that team are back. Leading the way are two sophomores who had terrific freshman years. Quarterback/defensive back Scott Brown is a quality thrower who can also make big plays as a runner. Running back/linebacker Lincoln Beal is another sophomore who had some big games as a freshman and is looking to build on that. The offensive line should also be a strength behind AJ Heidke (6-4, 294), Ben Entner (6-2, 265), and Charlie Baillargeon (6-2, 235). Two receivers who should see a lot of balls come their way are Jolfy Frias and Jayronn Chevalier. Tomas Loureiro leads the defense from his linebacker spot, and Matt Rigazio is a defensive back/wide receiver who should contribute. . . . St. John's of Shrewsbury won the Div. 3 Central bracket for the third consecutive year in 2019, and even though graduation hit the Pioneers hard, this should be another dangerous team. The main candidates to replace quarterback Colin Schofield are Jacques Durocher and Ryan Miller. Athlete Ryan Coonan could also see time there. Wide receiver is a position that has big shoes to fill with the loss of Jay Brunelle (Notre Dame) and Eamonn Dennis (Michigan), and four names to watch there are Jake Newsham, Matt Brunelle, Coonan and Lorenzo Jones. The offensive line will be huge. The players who should make up that unit are Sean Sullivan (6-5, 275), Mark Fields, Cam Nolan (6-4, 255), Colin LeBlanc (6-5, 285), and Joey Pallotta. Look for Tyler Arnold and Nathan Church to push for time on the line. There are plenty of candidates at running back in Ethan Shibley, Bobby Rodolakis, and Will Guelcher. Two of the defense's best players — defensive tackle Justyce Hathaway and linebacker Luke Feraco — will line up in the backfield in certain packages. Hathaway and defensive end Quinn Herlihy will power the d-line. The secondary has playmakers in Danny Wickstrom, John Melisi, and Devin Gagnon. Noah Moselhy and Sam Lavallee lead the way in the kicking game.
10. Tewksbury; 9. King Philip; 8. BC High; 7. Natick; 6. Mansfield
We have said it before, but Tewksbury is one of the real model programs in this state. Year in and year out, Tewksbury plays a tough regular season schedule and ends up playing its best football when it counts. That approach has resulted in three straight North sectional titles and back-to-back wins over BC High. There were significant losses to graduation, especially along the lines, but there is enough here for another successful season. Ryne Rametta stepped in at quarterback last year and led the team to a 10-2 mark. He's back to lead the offense, which also returns running backs Kyle Darrigo and Kalu Olu. Darrigo also plays strong safety, and Olu doubles as a defensive end. Will McKay was the team's leading tackler a year ago at linebacker and will play tight end this season. . . . King Philip had a strong year in 2019 but could not get past Mansfield in either the regular season or playoffs. Still, the Warriors have become accustomed to a high level of success. Defensively, few teams consistently hit harder over the course of a season. Offensively, KP can always run the ball well and throws with a high level of efficiency when needed. Coach Brian Lee has built a consistent winner, and this is a team that is just plain physical for four quarters. The Warriors graduated a lot of good linemen, but return a starter on the offensive line in Patrick Zarba. KP has a very strong junior class, and one of the best players of that bunch is Crawford Cantave. He earned some experience last year as a running back and should hold down that job again. Another junior who can make an impact is Drew Danson, a tight end and defensive end. . . . BC High is a team that started to play its best football toward the end of last season, and the Eagles feel like they can carry some of that momentum forward. This is a team that was very competitive in its two games with Catholic Memorial. Quarterback Bobby Wiesenhahn returns after a promising 2019. He will operate behind another huge offensive line that features Henry Ball, Erik Russell (6-7, 260), and Zach Richardson (6-5, 300). Russell is a Wake Forest verbal commit. John Garrett (6-6, 255) is a tight end who already has Division 1 offers as a junior. Two wide receivers to watch are Louis Timmins and Ben Evee. The defense returns almost intact from a year ago. Daniel Scolaro, a strong safety last year, will drop down to outside linebacker. Ian McCarron comes back in the defensive backfield, and Ryan Carney is a terrific middle linebacker. Harry Peters and Jack O'Connell will play outside linebacker. Finn Duffey, Russell, and Garrett are three players who should hold down duties on the defensive line. . . . Natick had a tremendous season in 2019, as the Redhawks went 10-1 with two wins over Wellesley and one each over Bridgewater-Raynham and Brockton. The only loss came to Mansfield in the Div. 2 South final. That said, and this is not to say the outcome would have been different, but Natick was hit hard by the injury bug by the time that game rolled around. The leader of the offense is back in senior Will Lederman, a true dual threat and simply one of the best quarterbacks in the state. He will be a three-year starter, as will running back Jalyn Aponte and wide receiver Nick Ofodile. Those three were all-league players last year, so this team returns a nice nucleus at the skill positions. Luke Radar, Christian Lederman, and Joe Babson all played up front as sophomores and return with three years of varsity experience. Still, the line will have to replace two Division 1 players in Josh Atwood (UMass) and Jakobi Holiday (Merrimack). TJ Dalicandro (defensive back) and Jake Dunlap (linebacker) are both captains and leaders of the defense. . . . Mansfield had a dominant 2019 en route to a Div. 2 title with no losses to Massachusetts teams. The Hornets should once again be formidable. This team should again be terrific up front. On offense, the Hornets return three of five starters in Michigan commit TJ Guy, Jake McCoy, and Joe Forte. Mark DeGirolamo joins that unit after starting on defense last season. Guy, McCoy, and DeGirolamo should hold down spots on the defensive line. The o-line will block for a talented running back group that features Cincere Gill, Nico Holmes, and Anthony Comer. Everett Knowlton is a strong tight end. Matt Boen is in line to replace Jack Moussette at quarterback. Defensively, the Hornets lost a lot at linebacker, but have good players ready to step up in Holmes, Sean Weber, Jack Colby, and Rocco Scarpellini. Nick Bertolino is back in the secondary, and Gill and Comer may play there, too. Some juniors to watch are James Gilleran (OL/DL), James Fichera (OLB/HB), Jake Wall (WR/DB), Braedon Veno (OL/DL), Dana Johnson (TE/SE/DE).
5. Everett; 4. Central Catholic; 3. Springfield Central; 2. Catholic Memorial; 1. St. John's Prep
Over the past two seasons, Everett has come up a little short in the Div. 1 North playoffs with losses to Central Catholic both years. Last season's showdown between the two, a 39-37 Central win in overtime, was one of the most exciting games of the entire playoffs. Everett promises to be strong once again. The offense should once again have weapons galore, including running back Jayden Clerveaux, a bruising junior. Two of the team's best targets in the passing game return in junior Ismael Zamor and senior Tyrese Baptiste. Baptiste is a speed merchant who runs the ball as well as he catches it. Zamor could be a candidate to take over at quarterback, as starter Duke Doherty has transferred to Winthrop. The offensive line returns tackle Joseph Murillo. The defense has one of the best 1-2 punches at defensive end in Jaylen Murphy and Josaiah Stewart, who is a verbal commit to Coastal Carolina. One of the top defensive backs in the state returns in safety Samy Lamothe. . . . The only team better than Central Catholic in Div. 1 North the past two years has been the team that won it, St. John's Prep. Central played a number of young players last year, and this is a team that can grow into great things. Leading the way again at quarterback is Ayden Pereira, who already holds Div. 1 offers as a junior. As a sophomore, Pereira broke out and had one of the best seasons for any quarterback in the state. He will again push the action as the team's signal-caller. One player who will make his mark on both sides of the ball is tight end/defensive tackle Jermaine Wiggins. One of the best two-way linemen around is Osamuyimen Osayimwen. A terrific wide receiver/defensive back who returns is Mark Ciccarelli. The Raiders were the beneficiaries of an impact transfer when Preston Zinter — a receiver/outside linebacker with Div. 1 offers — came over from BB&N. Central will also be strong in special teams with Nick Mazzie back at kicker. . . . We gave a lot of thought to possibly moving this next team to No. 1, but in the end decided to go in another direction. That said, Springfield Central has the horses to run with anyone in the state this year. There simply are not a lot of weaknesses here. Let's start on offense where quarterback William Watson had a tremendous freshman season and will be among the state's best as a sophomore. He already sports multiple Power 5 offers and is one of the top prospects in the state, regardless of class. He brings back a receiver who also has Div. 1 offers in Joseph Griffin, a big target at 6-4 with good speed and hands. Running back Marcus Crawford had a dominant junior campaign and possesses terrific speed. Jacob Delgado at guard is one of the three returning starters on the offensive line. Defensively, this should be one of the best front sevens in the state. Syracuse verbal commit Terry Lockett wreaks havoc upon opposing backfields from both the edge and interior. Linebacker Tyson Thornton has excellent football IQ and is always around the ball. Two defensive backs who should have a big impact are Jose Nieves and William "CJ" Davis. . . . One team that has found itself on the precipice two years in a row is Catholic Memorial, but two trips to Gillette Stadium have resulted in losses to St. John's Prep in the Div. 1 state title game. There is enough talent here though for CM to reach all of its goals. Taking over at quarterback will either be JC Petrongolo or Conor Fitzgerald. Whoever earns the job will have a talented group of running backs in Datrell Jones, Darrius LeClair, and Shiloh White. Zach Mitchell plays in the slot, and he is also a terrific defensive back. Tommy Leonard, Oluwakoleade "KO" Osinube, and Jaeden Skeete round out the wide receiver corps. Boubacar Traore and Quincy Eutsay are two tight ends who also stand out on defense. The offensive line returns three starters in Rory Conneely, Quincy Plumer, and TJ Roberson. On defense, the linebacker group is strong, starting with Boston College verbal commit Owen McGowan, who was our Player of the Year in 2019. He will be flanked by Eutsay, Zyon Samuel, and Kyle King. Mitchell, William Stockwell, White, and Devon Marshall make up the secondary. Colby Spencer highlights the line. The kicking game should again be in good hands with Jordan Laudani and Jack Sokol. . . . There were a lot of worthy teams considered for the top spot. In the end, we went with the team that is on more of a roll than anyone right now, and that's St. John's Prep. The Eagles from Danvers are coming off consecutive Div. 1 state championships. Simply put, it's hard to bet against the Prep right now. That's not to say this team is flawless. The Prep graduated a decorated senior class that includes quarterback Matt Crowley. But there is plenty coming back. It starts with one of the premier recruits in the state in safety Joenel Aguero. After a standout freshman campaign, Aguero has received Power 5 scholarship offers from all over the country, and he can make a difference on either defense or on offense as a wide receiver. (Edit: Since the publication of this piece, Aguero has transferred to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.) One player who stood out both as a sophomore and a junior was defensive end Collin Taylor. He's a dominant edge presence and can also flip over and play offensive line if needed. Running back James Guy had a breakout season as a sophomore and will be the go-to runner as a junior. Blocking for him will be one of the two returning starters on the offensive line in tackle Peter Wiehe. At wide receiver, Jackson Delaney returns, and he should be in for a tremendous junior year.