Updated: Sep 7, 2018
Practices have yet to officially start for the MIAA football season, but it's August, so we're going to start looking at the best teams across the state, anyway.
Starting with, alphabetically, the 15 teams that just missed out on the statewide top 25, we will profile a different team each day, with the top four in the state released on the Thursday and Friday of opening weekend. That Friday, we will also release statewide divisional top 10s, and sleeper lists of teams in every division.
In September, we will add a separate, non-PG NEPSAC/MIAA combined poll to the site, but that won't be unveiled until after the MIAA season begins.
Why the Crimson Tide are No. 1: Few teams around the state will be more stout at the point of attack. The skill positions are even better. Wide receiver/running back/defensive back Mike Sainristil is probably the best player in the state, and he's far from the only one on the team who poses a threat to take it to the house when he gets the ball in his hands. Watch for Robbie Riobe to be effective not just in the secondary like he was last year, but at wide receiver. A few transfers — including a major one in the form of running back Isaac Seide from Melrose — have bolstered the losses to graduation and by defection. We won't have to wait too long to see how good this team is when it travels to Westwood to face Xaverian in Week 1.
Why this team is too high: There is still a strong foundation, but the Crimson Tide lost a boatload. Head coach John DiBiaso left for Catholic Memorial, as did offensive line coach Mike Milo. Defensive coordinator Carlos Ruiz is also no longer with the program. Mega-recruit and safety Lewis Cine transferred to a school in Texas. Quarterback Jake Willcox transferred to Milton Academy. The Tide also graduated a supremely talented group. First-year head coach Theluxon Pierre has reasons to be confident, but has to navigate a lot of new pieces through a murderous slate that includes four top-10 teams.
Why this is too low: It's been a crazy offseason around the state; transfers and coaching changes have ruled the day. But there are some bedrock reasons to like the Division 1 South Kings. Xaverian will be terrific on the offensive line with returning starters Grant Laws, Lucas Ferraro and junior Liam Peck. On defense, especially at linebacker, the Hawks are solid, as well, headed by Michael Masse and Mike Saliba. Running the ball and stopping the run will still be a hallmark of this program, and coach Al Fornaro showed last year he can do what his predecessor, Charlie Stevenson, was able to do for years: weather a brutal schedule and get the team to play its best come playoff time.
Why this is too high: The Hawks don't have any starting experience at the most important position on the field: quarterback. Teams will have trouble matching up with them inside the tackle box, but there are a number of teams who can make it a perimeter game and hurt them. Finally, with the schedule the Hawks play, it would be a shock to see them run the table. The in-state competition is top-shelf, and Archbishop Stepinac out of New York has become one of the best programs in the Northeast.
3. Catholic Memorial
Why this is too low: Let's face it, when a legendary coach like John DiBiaso goes anywhere, he wins and he wins big. There's no reason to think that trend will slow down now that he has moved from Everett to Baker Street. Although the team picked up some transfers over the offseason, the returners offer a solid base from which to work. Hunter Tully can play either defensive back, linebacker or wide receiver. Khari Johnson is the fastest player on the team and one of the state's best cornerbacks. He also doubles as a receiver. Linemen like Lucas Folan and Hunter Salmon can also be a force on both ends, and watch for sophomore Owen McGowan to take the next step after a terrific freshman campaign.
Why this is too high: In the first year, DiBiaso has to get used to his new surroundings, which are not the same as they are at Everett. Many coaches around the state believe that although DiBiaso is building something big, his best teams may not fully flourish until a year or two down the road. That's not to say the Knights won't win the Div. 1 Super Bowl this year, only that perhaps it might take a while before he truly loads the wagon. That day may come sooner rather than later, but is still up for debate. For now, though, the Knights have everyone a little nervous.
4. King Philip
Why this is too low: With its winning streak now at 25 games and counting, doubt the Warriors at your own peril. You must have a better team to beat the Warriors, because they won't beat themselves. The offensive line graduated a lot, but there some juniors moving up to fill some of those roles, and the size up front will be improved for one of the best OL coaches in the state in Jay McGuire. The defense, as usual, will be stout, led by linebacker Jack Webster. Twin brothers Tyler and Tim Nault will both be a big part of the Warriors' plans on defense, as well, and Terrell Jacobs Baston is the team's best returning lineman. Coming off back-to-back Div. 2 state championships, don't fool yourself: the Warriors could play with anyone in any division.
Why this is too high: You won't see a player like Shane Frommer (Yale) come around too often. The running back/linebacker ran angry and downhill on offense and was simply a playmaker. That isn't easily replaced. The Warriors also play in the one of, if not the toughest, divisions in the state, the Hockomock Kelley-Rex, with programs like Mansfield, Attleboro, Franklin, Oliver Ames and much-improved Taunton. The Warriors open at North Attleboro, which will again be right in the mix for the Div. 3 state title. Finally, lurking on the North side of Division 2 could be a loaded Lincoln-Sudbury squad.
Why this is too low: This is about as loaded a squad as it gets this season from the perspective of returning starters. Coming off a year where the Warriors were oh-so-close to winning the Div. 2 Super Bowl, they have the experience right where you want it to take the next step: up front. L-S started five juniors on its offensive line last year, and players like Mike Ciaffone and Cal Kenney are all-state caliber performers. The Wing-T offense is in the very capable hands of quarterback Braden O'Connell. Running back/linebacker James Dillon, at 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, is big, strong, fast, and physical. And coach Tom Lopez is one of the state's best.
Why this is too high: It really isn't, but since we have this category in our rankings, let's give it a shot. Andrew Marshall is a tough loss at running back. The Warriors went out and put together a tough non-conference schedule, as they open with Springfield Central, followed by a trip to Melrose. Central should again be the Western Mass. representative in Div. 3, and Melrose, even with the loss of Isaac Seide to Everett, is one of the most consistent programs in the state. The Dual County League schedule includes nice tests against Acton-Boxboro and Wayland, and any hopes of a Div. 2 title could likely include rematches with North Andover and King Philip.
6. St. John's Prep
Why this is too low: This is one of the most experienced teams in Division 1. The Prep returns playmakers and starters on both sides of the ball, and it would be a surprise to see the Eagles have anything other than a solid season. Like BC High, size is never an issue with this team, and once again the Prep will be able to maul a lot of opponents up front. The return of Wes Rockett from last year's season-ending injury gives the team a speedy weapon both at wide receiver and defensive back. Aise Pream is one of the quickest running backs in the state, and the defense should be one of the best in Division 1.
Why this is too high: There are not a ton of reasons to doubt the Prep this year, but one would be how the end of last season played out. The Eagles simply did not look strong as they finished the schedule, and were blown out by Xaverian on Thanksgiving. Also, even though this team is never hurting for linemen, losing a major college prospect like Zak Zinter, who transferred to BB&N, hurts. In the bigger picture, the Prep has not measured up well against the true giants of the state, Everett and Xaverian. The Eagles have only beaten Everett twice since 2008, and last topped rival Xaverian since 2012.
7. BC High
Why this is too low: Every year, you can count on a few things in this state, and one of them is that the Eagles will be huge and physical up front. Even when they don't have tremendous speed, the Eagles' size at the point of attack puts them in a position to compete with just about anyone. That won't be any different this year, as tackle John Freeman and center Jack Cahill anchor what should be another top-shelf offensive line. On the defensive line, look for tackle Keith Henderson to again be strong in the middle. There are some young, promising pieces at the skill positions, as well.
Why this is too high: Any time there's a coaching transition at a school with such high expectations, the pressure is ramped up, and that will be the case with new head man Jonathan Brillo, who takes over for Jon Bartlett. From a personnel standpoint, even though the Eagles are not hurting in the talent department, they did suffer some major graduation losses. Quarterback Will Bowen (North Carolina for lacrosse) and running back Danny Abraham (Harvard) were the central pieces of a dominant running game last year. Replacing them won't be easy. The schedule is brutal, and the opener with Mansfield should reveal a lot.
Why this is too low: In a state full of quality coaches, it is hard to find many on Mike Redding's level, and he has a talented and experienced team coming back both this year and for 2019, as the Hornets have a tremendous junior class. And, not for nothing, when you schedule BC High and Everett for your first two weeks, you feel like you're going to be pretty tough, which the Hornets will be. Quarterback Damani Scott returns for his second year under center, and although he lost a few weapons, he brings back some good ones, like receiver Khristian Conner. Running back/linebacker Vinnie Holmes will be one of the best two-way players in the state.
Why this is too high: As has been the case for the last few years now, the Hornets won't be all that big up front. That does not always make a huge difference, but when you open with BC High and Everett, then face teams like King Philip in league play, it sort of does. And when it comes to KP, the Hornets have played well enough to stay close recently, but have failed to get over that hump both in the regular season and Div. 2 South playoffs. For years, it was the other way around. For Redding and Co. to get back to where they usually are, the Hornets have to clear that hurdle.
9. St. John's (Shrewsbury)
Why this is too low: By the end of last season, there were very few teams in the state that could hang snap-for-snap with this electric offense, and the Pioneers have the pieces to put together another very good one. Look for junior Eamonn Dennis to have a huge year, as he already has multiple FBS offers, and that total should climb throughout the season, as his speed and hands are only matched by his toughness. Jay Brunelle is another speedy option on the outside, and the Pioneers are always tough up front. This year, look for players like Liam Daley and Andrew Stolberg to lead the way there. Teams rarely know how to catch up to the speed of the St. John's offense until it's too late.
Why this is too high: Even though the Pioneers return a solid core, they did lose some outstanding players, including quarterback Steve Buccaglia, who is now a freshman at Assumption College. Buccaglia was deadly accurate, and knew the offense in and out. His production won't be easily replaced. Although the offense should be strong again, some teams found success moving the ball against the Pioneers defense last year, and St. John's will face some good offenses again. The opener against Catholic Memorial, followed by a trip to Springfield Central, are two huge tests before the Pioneers get into Central Mass. play.
10. Central Catholic
Why this is too low: It's pretty simple, really. Since the new playoff system was implemented in 2013, the only Div. 1 North team to either win a Super Bowl or make it to Gillette Stadium other than Everett has been Central Catholic. Maybe that says something about the lack of parity, but it should also tell you something about the consistency of coach Chuck Adamopoulos' program. Every year, the Raiders lose key contributors, and every year they keep winning. This season, look for the Raiders to depend heavily on their defense early on, as their best players, defensive back Joe Howshan and linebacker Cam Boes, are featured there. The offense will come along in due time.
Why this is too high: The Raiders simply lost a boatload to graduation, and had another major contributor leave for the ISL. Three-year starter Bret Edwards is off to the University of New Hampshire to leave a massive void at quarterback. The entire offensive line graduated, and the Raiders may start as many as four juniors there. Overall, this is just a young, inexperienced team, and with most other programs, would not be expected to rebound as quick as Adamopolous' groups usually do. The schedule offers no favors, as the opener against Dartmouth is followed by trips to St. John's Prep and North Andover. As usual, the North features an Everett team that just reloads.
Why this is too low: The Highlanders played St. John's of Shrewsbury extremely tough in the Div. 3 Central playoffs last year, perhaps tougher than anyone outside of North Attleboro at Gillette, and they return enough key contributors from that team to take the next step this season. You have to start with running back/defensive back Tajon Vassar, who is one of the most explosive players in the state. Look for sophomore quarterback Noah Callery to throw early and often to John Forson. The line play will be strong, too, with players like Chris Yeboah and Charlie Payson providing a push.
Why this is too high: Although the Highlanders always have speed, sometimes they have been pushed around a little by squads that have a little more size, although that does not seem to be as big of a weakness this year. We should have a much better read on that after the first game against Wachusett, a program that consistently moves opponents off the ball on either side of the line of scrimmage. Other regular season tests include Leominster, St. Peter Marian and improving Tantasqua. The road to the Div. 3 Central title still goes through St. John's of Shrewsbury, and the Pioneers are far from the only ones who can bounce the Highlanders come playoff time.
12. Springfield Central
Why this is too low: The Golden Eagles have speed everywhere. Basically, they can make it into a game of catch me if you can, and most teams won't be able to. The offense is really what drives this machine, and junior quarterback Isaac Boston returns from an injury that kept him off the field last season to direct the attack. He has one of, if not the best, receivers in the state to throw to in Myles Bradley, along with a host of other speedy playmakers. The defense has as good of a back seven as anyone in the state with a secondary that includes Elijah Ayers and Keshaun Dancy, and linebackers Tyson Thornton and Terry Lockett.
Why this is too high: Right now, this program is still in prove-it mode. This is a team that has shown to be the latest king of Western Mass., an honor that once belonged to Longmeadow. But the Golden Eagles still do not have that signature win over an Eastern Mass. power, or a state title appearance. Central will have the chance to do both this season. The opener at Lincoln-Sudbury gives the Golden Eagles a shot at one of the best Eastern Mass. squads, and St. John's of Shrewsbury comes to Springfield the next week. Also, out west, Westfield has the makings of a team that can knock Central from its perch. No matter what happens, the Golden Eagles will know where they stand in the statewide pecking order very soon.
13. North Andover
Why this is too low: You won't see too many teams — regardless of division — with more returning firepower than the Knights, who made a strong step forward last year and are experienced enough to push favorite Lincoln-Sudbury for Div. 2 North supremacy. It starts at the quarterback position with Jake McElroy, who can spin it just about as well as anyone in the state. His favorite target at receiver, Gabriel DeSouza, is also one of the top kickers in the state. Multi-purpose weapon Darren Watson is a threat to take it to the house from anywhere on the field, and running back Joseph Allen can also make teams pay. Last year's run to the Div. 2 North final should give this team confidence as it moves forward.
Why this is too high: For all the skill position talent the Knights return, they do lose a fair amount up front. The Merrimack Valley Conference Small Division will be brutal this year, as Tewksbury, Dracut, Billerica, and even improving Chelmsford offer major challenges. The nonleague slate includes Lowell and Central Catholic out of the Large, and the opener against Woburn will not be easy, either, as the Tanners bring back one of the best signal-callers around in Ryan Qualey. And, of course, if the Knights make a deep run in Div. 2 North, Lincoln-Sudbury brings back a ton.
14. North Attleboro
Why this is too low: The Red Rocketeers were dominant for most of last season, losing only to Division 2 champ King Philip and Division 3 title winner St. John's of Shrewsbury. This is as consistent a program as you will see, and the Red Rocketeers bring back enough key performers to make another deep postseason run. Nick Raneri should take over the starting quarterback position after pulling down running back and linebacker duties last season. Two-way lineman Ryan Clemente is as good at his position as it gets in the state. There is speed in the right places, and the defense will just reload.
Why this is too high: Although the offense should be strong again, the loss of quarterback Chad Peterson to graduation is significant. Peterson gave this team a downfield passing element that allowed the Red Rocketeers to score quickly and often. Even though the defense should be stout, it did lose a fair amount of starters, so inexperience could be an issue there early on. The schedule again is brutal, as the Red Rocketeers open with King Philip. The Hockomock League's Davenport Division will be even tougher than normal, as Stoughton, Foxboro, Milford and Canton should all be solid.
Why this is too low: Scoring points again will not be an issue for the Dolphins, who under coach Paul Funk have consistently executed on that side of the ball at a high level. Sophomore Geoffrey Jamiel might already be the best route-runner in the state, and he has the wheels to make defensive backs pay for losing him when he creates separation. Payton Doyle is going to step in at quarterback, and in addition to being an accurate thrower, he's also a threat with his legs. The wide receiver group is deep and talented, and, for the most part, young, as the unit is littered with standout sophomores and juniors.
Why this is too high: What made last year's team so tough was that the Dolphins had the size up front to push teams around on either side of the ball. They graduated their entire offensive line, so Funk will have to develop some new faces there. The defensive front seven also needs reloading. Overall, when D-Y struggles, it is because its defense can't make stops. The Dolphins lost enough there to be concerned in that regard. And even with the quarterback position looking fine, losing a three-year starter like Jacob McCarthy is never easy.
Why this is too low: Really, any time Duxbury takes the field under coach Dave Maimaron, the opponent will have to deal with a few things that it doesn't get everywhere else. One is height. For whatever reason, Duxbury seems to have enormous players up front, out wide, everywhere. The other is speed. The Dragons don't just have fast players, but they know their assignments and execute at a pace that is difficult to keep up with. Duxbury will have all those qualities again this year, as Quinn Murphy (6-6, 305) leads the way up front, and fellow captain and quarterback Jon Roberts returns for his second year as the starter. He has two 6-1 receivers who can go up and get it in junior Will Prouty and senior Jack Jacobson.
Why this is too high: The Dragons did lose some good players, including relentless running back/linebacker Joe Gooley. Also, the schedule, as usual, offers no favors. Whitman-Hanson and Hingham offer huge challenges within the league, and the opener with Brigewater-Raynham is followed by another whopper with Patriot League crossover opponent Scituate. The Dragons are basically a lock to make it to the postseason every year, but Div. 3 South has so many talented, well-coached teams that getting out of the section will be a nightmare for anyone.
Why this is too low: Every year, you can expect a baseline consistency out of Dan Buron's program that can be hard to find elsewhere. The Trojans always feature outstanding offensive line play, tough defense, and a relentless ground attack that sets up play-action. In each of the last two seasons, the Trojans have made it to the Div. 1a/2 South finals only to fall to eventual Super Bowl champion King Philip. B-R owns wins over perennial powerhouses like St. John's Prep, Xaverian and Duxbury over that span, and returns one of the top tight ends in the state in Jeff Ciccio.
Why this is too high: The Trojans lost nearly every starter from last year's team. They return a handful, but this will be an inexperienced group on the whole. Buron's system is tried and true, but it's never easy to maintain the level the Trojans have again