One year ago, in the annual call we have for our football previews, Kearsarge Head Coach Zach Mathews was a man trying to find a way to put together a puzzle that didn’t have nearly enough pieces.
Wide receivers were being moved to the offensive & defensive lines, the back-up quarterback was the starting running back and any injury might find an undersized freshman as the only available option off the bench.
That was then.
On August 16th the very same head coach ran his first practice with his new team. A practice where the wide receivers were nowhere near the lineman, the back-up quarterback was only running an offense and the freshman had their own team, on a completely different field.
This is now.
“It’s certainly a big change from when we talked a year ago,” said the new head coach of the defending champion Bedford Bulldogs. “Everyone told me, ‘Why would you want to go to Bedford? There’s so much pressure and it’s a big change.’ I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ This is a tremendous opportunity to coach very dedicated players in a community that is 100% behind the team. I couldn’t be more excited to get going.”
Bedford rolled to an undefeated season while Pinkerton Academy, Londonderry, Salem & Winnacunnet beat each other up on the other side of the Division I draw.
Now in 2019 the champs, joined in the North Conference by perennial contenders Goffstown, Manchester Central and Concord, will have to battle with the state’s best conference, the South, for a spot at UNH in November.
Pinkerton, Salem and Londonderry were all playoffs teams a year ago, and Windham missed out by only one game even after wins over both Pinkerton & Salem.
What it makes for is a playoff race where often Week 1 results play a big role in determining who gets in and who doesn’t in November. “I know its sounds like Coach speak but it is a grind every single week,” said Londonderry Head Coach Jimmy Lauzon. “Our kids know we could sweep Pinkerton, Windham & Salem and just as easily be swept by those teams. You have to be ready to play every week and if you’re not, you’re going to struggle to compete because the coaches and the players are too good.”
It’s a sentiment you’d hear time & again when talking to coaches last week.
“It’s become where every week is crucial and every win is going to be earned,” said Salem Head Coach Rob Pike. “I can tell you we as coaches like it that way, and I think the kids do too. Let’s get everybody’s best and see who the last team standing is.”
Pinkerton Head Coach Brian O’Reilly agreed. “I’m all for it, it’s a joy to have games every week where you are competing for four quarters. You find out what your weaknesses are and you either fix those weaknesses or you’re done.”
Today we kick off our 12th year of football coverage with a look at Division I, where 19 teams begin the climb to where Derek Stank and Bedford ended up last November.
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(* - indicates playoff team)
You can track the seasons Exeter misses the post-season by what Presidential administration was working on Pennsylvania Avenue at the time.
What that tells you is that when Bill Ball’s teams miss out on the post-season, they’re usually a year away from something big. As luck would have it for the narrative of this preview….that’s exactly where we are today.
What were growing pains last season now becomes experience at several key positions. Senior QB Ryan Grijalva has a year under his belt and a deep backfield behind him, all of which makes Bill Ball’s team the favorite to advance to UNH in November. “Our strength this year is in our senior class,” said Ball, “They are a very close knit group and from Day 1 they have come in, worked hard and led by example. I couldn't be happier with their effort & attitude to this point.”
As is usually the case with the Exeter offense it’s their execution and depth of talent that beats you and not one back carrying the ball 30-plus times. Derek Edmiston, Thomas Lamar, Jaedon Cliche & Spencer Clark will contribute to the Exeter Wing-T offense behind an offensive line led by center Sean Collins, Thatcher Allen and Griffin Richards. “What I like about this group is the level of competition between the linemen,” said Ball. “There’s no complacency because playing time has to be earned and the depth we have within the group makes that a daily competition. That’s a very good thing for a coaching staff.”
Sam Cross and Jackson & Charlie Lupo will contribute right away at tight end and add to an already impressive line. “We have five or six players who will carry the ball for us and we are comfortable featuring each one of them.”
The defense will feature many of the same names from the offensive line along with Cross at linebacker, Allen on the defensive line, Spencer Clark at defensive back and Cliche, Edminston, Tanner Casey and Caleb Constance in the secondary.
“To date, we have performed well but it’s all about what you do when the games count. This is group has prepared itself and now it’s about executing once the games count.”
Brian Pafford and his veteran staff at Portsmouth-Oyster River have proven they can beat you throwing the ball 40 times a game behind the arms of Cody Graham, Billy Hartmann and Mike Fransoso…now might be the right time to beat you by running it 40 times a game.
“No doubt we will play to our strengths year to year,” said Pafford when talking about these 2019 Clippers (I’m on the record that I’m not rolling out Clippercats…please email Justin McIsaac with any complaints).
“When you have talented passers like we have you spread your offense out and let them throw the football. When you have strength on the line and the size there to really compete week to week, we’re more than happy to run the football.”
Don’t go looking for John Iafolla’s offense to look like Navy’s but the Clippers will attack you on the ground more than they have in years past. That’s because of an improved offensive line that includes 6’2 285 lb. all-state lineman Thor Griffith. “He’s a beast on both sides of the ball,” said his head coach. “He is a part of a group that we feel has a lot of depth.”
Casey Gladu is another standout on a line that includes Nolan Pafford, Ben Hathaway, and 265 lb. junior Joey Gobbi.
Jacob Boutin returns at quarterback for Portsmouth but has been slowed in the pre-season by an illness. Sophomore Billy Omahen will see time at quarterback right away in front of a running back group that includes Jack Russo, Max Lalime, and Luke Shambo, who has had a good pre-season.
Oscar Lalime returns at wide receiver along with Trevor Nelson and a pair of talented sophomores from Oyster River; Evan Jones & Ethan Yu.
Gladu leads a defense with 9 returning starters after an all-state campaign a year ago along with Griffith and Hathaway.
After missing out on the playoffs the past four seasons Pafford feels like the team has turned a corner back to when it was a dominant program competing for championships annually. “Our goal is absolutely to get back to the playoffs. The kids have been working really hard the entire off-season and now it’s about making it happen on the field.”
After a championship season in 2017 followed by a second straight East conference title a year ago the Winnacunnet Warriors now not only look to replace 18 of 22 starters but longtime Head Coach Ron Auffant, who stepped down after last season.
Making that transition smoother will be longtime assistant Ryan Francouer, who was also previously a head coach at Epping-Newmarket.
Francouer has a veteran coaching staff around him, 82 kids in the program, only 10 of which are seniors and a rebuilding job ahead of him.
A very quick rebuild ahead of him…
“We are a young team this season but I really like what I’ve seen early on,” said Francouer. “This is my 17th year in coaching and we have a very close knit group of coaches so we hope very little will change from when Coach Auffant was leading us as a program. The kids have gotten after it and their expectation is to compete with the best teams week to week.”
Patrick Britton and Dominic Gould will likely both see time at quarterback, with Britton in line to start the season opener Friday night. They will play in front of a backfield led by Richard Camarato, Dylan Atwood and Ryan Eaton.
Ben Chase, Witt Sanborn and Owen Parker lead a talented group of receivers that seem to form the theme for the 2019 edition of the Warriors; they are inexperienced but talented,,,, and deep. “ The worst thing you can have is an inexperienced team without depth because you don’t have players pushing each other in practice,” notes Francouer. “ With this group we have that and it has made for some very good and competitive practices.”
Thomas MacDougall is the latest in the line of all-state brothers and he will play right away at tight end along with Brady Richards & Zach Fredericks. The offensive line is led by guard Keith Albergo, who might be the team’s best player, center Ryan McLaughlin, Cam McDonald, David Araujo, and Jack Wilber.
The defense is led by linebackers Matt Alkeir, Dylan Atwood and the secondary of Donnie Gould, Witt Sanborn, Owen Parker and Brady Richards. The coaching staff has also liked what they have seen early on from Amesbury transfer Tommy D’Arcangelo
“ It’s a very committed group of players and we have some speed..which is something we’ve been able to utilize in the past,” said Francouer. “ We as a coaching staff are looking forward to seeing how we can improve as a team week to week as the players gain experience.”
Eric Cumba, who won two championships in six seasons at St Thomas, takes over as Head Coach at Dover after serving as the offensive coordinator under Ken Osbon. Cumba is an inventive offensive mind who played at UNH under Head Coach Sean McDonnell (one of the classiest and best football guys you’ll ever meet…get well soon Coach!).
Cumba is also a numbers guy. For example; he knows 70 kids coming out for football is excellent, especially at Dover where numbers dipped considerably the past four years.
He also knows out of those 70 players only 9 are seniors. That tells you there is a lot of teaching to be done and a pretty bright future for the Green Wave. “ We have about 40 new faces in the program so it will take some time getting everyone up to speed and where we need them to be, but it’s very encouraging, no doubt,” said Cumba on his first pre-season as Head Coach at Dover.
Sophomore Darian Lopez-Sullivan will step in as quarterback for graduated all-state performer Ty Vitko (playing basketball this winter at Endicott College). The sophomore has been sitting in coaches meetings with Cumba since he was 10 years old…no really. “ It’s pretty funny, his father David (Lopez) has been a longtime assistant of mine so Darian has literally sat in on our film sessions for years,,, safe to say he’s up to speed already.”
Domenic Sprague will get the bulk of the carries at running back while Beau Normandeau & Gabe Rubio will contribute right away at tight end. Cumba likes to spread the offense out and the football around, his wideouts will include Fin Wingren, Caleb Middleton (younger brother of former St Thomas standout Liam), Danny Parker, slot receiver Luke Geppert (younger brother of former St Thomas standout Jake) and Jackson McCoy.
A defense that has 4 starters back will be led by Max Berube (also a standout on the offensive line), Nathan Maas, Andral LaFleur, and Jake McCormick. Max Casey and Conner Sheehan will contribute right away along with Daniel Parker & Domenic Sprague.
The Green Wave might be a year away but after a late playoff push a year ago, they’re not inclined to accept that just yet. “ It’s been a very good group and the increased numbers give us more options. We’re looking forward to getting started.”
Like Dover, the numbers are very encouraging for Kevin Hebert in his second year as Head Coach at Spaulding. 80 players came out for the team and although a young team will take its lumps the improvement from last season is evident. “ We are pretty far ahead of where we were a year ago at this time,” said Hebert, “ and the fact that we won our last game of the season a year ago showed the kids what we are working towards, and that it can have very positive results.”
Wide receiver Ryan Lane has the chance to have an impact season and will be joined on offense by quarterbacks Danny Fogarty & Logan Gadbois (“They have been battling it out all pre-season and I expect both players to contribute at quarterback,” said Hebert).
Jaric Levesque returns at running back along with newcomer Garrett Langis. “ We have five or six different players who are going to carry the ball for us and nine players who started at one point or another last season back, that’s something we’ll look to build on,” said Hebert.
Hudson White and 310 lb. tackle Darren Keller will anchor the line play while Jake King will lead a defense from the linebacker spot that includes Tyler Stevens, Alex Walter, Ryan Bernier, and Jake Enscoe.
Assistant coach Jim Dunn will take over defensive play-calling duties from Hebert while longtime assistant Jeff Hunt will be running the team along with Hebert. “ I’m lucky to work with a terrific staff and we’re excited about the momentum the kids are building within the program.”
The theme with just about every coach I spoke with, regardless of division, was depth. As in, ‘If we stay healthy we have a shot to be pretty good, but if we aren’t able to, our depth could become an issue.’
Outside of programs like Pinkerton, Bedford, and Exeter that theme is constant year to year. In 2019 it may decide the West conference, where a year ago Merrimack and Nashua North battled it out to the final week of the season (in a game we covered) and should come down to the wire again.
While some teams in the division have depth at the skill positions but not along the offensive and defensive lines Merrimack finds itself set in the trenches but looking to replace two big-time playmakers from a year ago in Ben Eichman and Tristan Wood. “ Those two are not easily replaced”, admits Head Coach Kip Jackson. “ But we have strength in other areas and I like what I’ve seen from this group early on.”
Jared Dyer returns as one of the best football players in the state. The 6’5 240 lb. three-sport all-state performer will again wreak havoc from the defensive end spot while also playing tight end on offense.
James Dowling returns at quarterback and will be joined on offense by wide receiver Devin Wood, Jameson Savickas and tackle Eric Griffin. The offense will come, Jackson always gets the most out of his offenses, but the early strength of the team may be in its defense.
Cole Camberlain, Eric Griffin, Charlie Corbett, and Nathan Lamiere will step in from Day 1 in front of cornerback Zach Twardosky, who will lead the secondary. “ It’s a great group of kids and they’re coming along,” said Jackson of his Tomahawks. “ How the skill players develop will be a key because we have some teams on our schedule that can really score and we’ll have to be able to match that.”
Nashua North Head Coach Dante Laurendi might have the best offensive player in the state of New Hampshire and has made the very easy decision to make sure the ball is in his hands an awful lot over the next 10 plus weeks of the season. “ We are going to put the ball in Curtis Harris’s hands every chance we can get by playing him at quarterback. He makes very good decisions and is so explosive ..he gives us a versatility you don’t always have,” said Laurendi of his player of the year candidate. “ He’s a great kid, he gets it, works hard, studies hard, I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Joining Harris in the Titans backfield will be Brian Mwangi and Anthony Greene. Xavier Provost will contribute right away as a slot receiver while Jayden Espinal will play multiple skill positions for North.
The offensive line is anchored by Spencer Whiting, who is the lone returning starter from the playoff team of a year ago. “ We are a work in progress on the line and the development of that group will tell you a lot about how well we are going to do this season,” notes Laurendi.
Zach Maszczak, who has played well in the pre-season, Max Ackerman and Jose Valasquez all are expected to contribute right away.
Defensively Max Ackerman will help lead the defense along with Spencer Whiting, Justin Edwards, Lucas Cunningham, Devin Bracetty and Curtis Harris at free safety.
Scott Knight didn’t even get to the first day of practice before his Nashua South team was dealing with a major injury. Quarterback Dante Young, who had a breakout season a year ago, was injured playing baseball and may miss a good portion of the season. In his place steps sophomore Mike Rutstein, who comes in far more prepared than the average sophomore.
“ Mike has been working during the entire off-season with (former NHsportspage Player of the Year and 3-year UNH starting quarterback) Trevor (Knight) and it’s amazing the improvements he has made.”
“Losing Dante is a very big loss but Mike has been able to come in and get the reads right and throw the ball well. I give him a lot of credit for the progress he’s made,” said Coach Knight of his starting quarterback and the newest Coach Knight.
Joining the sophomore in the backfield will be Josh Compoh and Joey Burturla. Kyle O’Connor is set for a breakout year at tight end while Tyler Armeen & Jason Compoh will rotate between running back, receiver and slot receiver. “ We have really good depth with our skill players,” said Knight. “ It’s in the line play where we need to stay healthy and keep developing players throughout the season.”
Charlie Collins, Braden McDonnell, Garrett Fleury, Aidan Smith, and Glenn Preston will be key contributors on the offensive and defensive lines.
Kyle O’Connor and Jason Compoh will head the linebacking group while Drew Fleury, Jake McDevitt, Tyler Armeen and Ben Levine will lead the secondary. “ We are a long ways ahead of where we were a year ago at this time, now it’s about continuing to improve every day.”
Bishop Guertin will feature all-state two-way performer Kyle Baker.
Before we get to the best conference in the state it’s necessary to take a look back at Division IV boys basketball, yes I’m serious.
You see, in the North Country basketball is king, it’s the biggest sport for just about all the schools north of Plymouth and for the people in those towns, many of them graduated from the same school they follow every winter, those games are anticipated all year long.
So when the two best teams in the North Country, Littleton, and Groveton, met not only twice a year during the season but often in the playoffs as well, the stands were packed, with people often showing up hours before tip-off just to be able to guarantee a seat in the gym.
We covered those games every year from 2012 to 2017 and it was a game you circled as soon as the schedule came out.
Those games were so fun and often so good that it masked the most important fact in the five-year span of that rivalry: Littleton and Groveton played 13 times over that stretch and Littleton won….every single time.
What kind of rivalry sees one team roll-off 13 wins in a row?
Well, the kind that created a moment they'll be talking about for 30 years when in March of 2017 Groveton stunned undefeated Littleton in the Division IV championship game..the last time four seniors from Groveton were ever going to play Littleton, a group that would end their career against their rivals, 1-13.
They’ll take the thirteen losses and the championship that put a bow on it.
So clearly you understand what I’m getting at here in the middle of our football preview…………Londonderry has to beat Pinkerton.
It’s the Mount Everest they need to finally conquer.
Jimmy Lauzon’s Londonderry Lancers have come close but they have not been able to beat Brian O’Reilly’s Astros, going all the way back to 2001.
Is 2019 the year it finally happens?
The Lancers return a good nucleus from last season’s playoff team but will have to replace NHsportspage Player of the Year Evan Cormier, who threw 22 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions a year ago.
Jake McEachern steps up into the starting job after serving as the back-up a year ago. Lauzon and McEachern both knew this was the progression from the all-state signal-caller a year ago and both expect to be ready to go from Day 1. “ He has all the skills and the work ethic to be a very good quarterback,” said Lauzon. “ All he lacks is experience.”
Joining McEachern in the backfield will be all-state running back Jeff Wiedenfeld along with Tyler Kayo, who will line up at slot receiver as well along with Eric Raza and Kyle Proulx. “ We have a lot of players who have played since their sophomore years, they took their lumps and now we are looking for that experience to pay off.”
McEachern will have a pair of all-state wide receivers to throw to in Cole Keegan, as strong as any receiver in the state when going up for the ball, and the speedy Alex Tsetsilas. “ We have a ton of confidence in both Cole & Alex,” said Lauzon.
Londonderry is replacing some big-time players on the offensive line. They’ll look to gel as a unit behind seniors Blaine Hopkins (6’3 285) and center Cooper Bartlett, who has played in over 20 varsity games in his career. “We lost some great lineman, lineman who are playing at the college level now,” said Lauzon. “ So we have to work hard as a unit to improve every day.”
Cameron Babine will be a difference-maker at defensive end while Kayo, Weidenfeld, Dan Gear, and Will Reyes will contribute right away. Cole Keegan, Alex Tsetsilas and Matt Pemberton lead a secondary that should be a strength for the team.
“ We have a lot of two-way players so we will try to spread the ball around so a player like Wiedenfeld isn’t taking a lot of hits during the game. We feel like we have the depth to do that this season.”
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better group of running backs in the state than the Salem Blue Devils will have in 2019. The challenge for Rob Pike’s team comes from replacing several key members of the offensive & defensive lines and playing their ‘home’ games in Haverhill, Massachusetts while their new field in finished for 2020.
“ It’s not an ideal situation but it also could be a lot worse,” said Pike of the team’s out of state home games. “ We’ll be playing on a turf field and that should allow us to take advantage of our speed.”
Josh Maroun, Riley Mulvey, and Brandon Wall all have proven themselves as being capable of being the #1 running back but Pike and his coaching staff will utilize all three in the backfield with first-year quarterbacks Cody Clements and Caleb Bates.
Both Clements and Bates have spent the pre-season fighting for the starting job and Pike expects both players to contribute. “ Both players bring a lot to our team but with the strength of our team being in our running backs, they also are not going to be asked to go win a game on their own. That takes a lot of the pressure of both of them.”
Jake Brady will start at tight end for the Blue Devils, as well as at linebacker.
Mike Ference, last seen wreaking havoc as a defensive forward for the Salem basketball team that went all the way to the Division I championship game, is set up for a big season at wide receiver while Pike will look to RG Owen Gormley and wrestling champion Beau Dillon to lead a new-look offensive line. “ That’s the group that really needs to come together for us,” said Pike.
“ I like what I see so far. They are your typical Salem football players; they’re tough, they listen and they love to compete.”
Jake Brady, Josh Maroun, and Riley Mulvey will head the linebacking group while Brandon Wall & Mike Ference will lead the secondary.
Salem has been thisclose to getting to UNH the past two seasons, they like Londonderry, look ready to take the next step. “ We are like a lot of teams I’d guess, where if we can stay relatively healthy and develop our underclassman, we have a chance to be competing all the way to the end of the season.”
The Pinkerton Astros re-load in 2019 after back to back championship game appearances.
“We are very young but we’re athletic,” said Hall of Fame Head coach Brian O’Reilly of his team. “We lost a lot to graduation but, we’ll show up.”
Jeff Putnam and Hayden Shattuck competed throughout the pre-season for the starting quarterback job and O’Reilly expects both to see action this season.
The running back group is deep as usual, with Brady Day taking over the lead HB spot from Gannon Fast with Evan Wilson & fullback Jake MacInnis joining him in the backfield.
It will be wide receiver by committee for the Astros while tight end Trent Leduc is set for an all-state season.
Tom Macdonald will anchor the offensive line along with Logan Robinson, Brady Durrazano and Aiden Fox. “We have some experience back on the line and I like our depth at that position.”
Defensively the Astros are very strong at linebacker where Jake MacInnis, Evan Wilson and Marcus Terrio all could have all-state seasons. “Linebacker is an area of strength for us with this group, no doubt.”
Brady Day will lead the secondary along with Dominic Zim. “I don’t think there is any question that the south is the best conference in the division,” said O’Reilly. “A year ago we were upset by Windham, and they really took it to us. That loss ended up really helping us. We found out we weren’t quite as good as we maybe thought we were. So to get that level of competition every week…I’m all for it.”
Windham never backed away from the challenge of moving up from Division II last year, they embraced it. A one-possession loss on opening day to defending champion Winnacunnet and another close loss at Exeter kept the Jaguars out of the playoffs a year ago. Even after wins over both Pinkerton and Salem.
New Head Coach, and longtime assistant, Jack Byrne takes over for Bill Raycraft, who moved on to become the athletic director at Malden Catholic (MA).
What the Jaguars new Head Coach sees is a senior-led team ready and more than capable of taking the next step. “ We have 15 seniors and they are a tight-knit group that could probably run practice if the coaches were ever late,” joked Byrne.
Two players are competing for the starting quarterback job after Cody Potter graduated after an all-state season a year ago. Byrne expects both junior Rocky Heres and senior Kyle Keenan to play and is comfortable with either running the offense. “ We have a lot of returning starters on both sides of the ball, so there is a good understanding of what we are trying to do.”
What Windham will be running on offense was a big topic of conversation with the head coaches I spoke to. With many wondering if the offense will change with Raycraft no longer calling the plays.
Riley Desmarais will lead a running back group that includes Curtis Shattuck and Bobby DiCicco, who will also play tight end. Stefan Robert gives Windham a deep threat at wide receiver while the offensive line might be the deepest unit on the team.
Mason Belsky will help lead the Jaguars in the trenches with a group that includes Dylan Szostak, Zack Leclerc, and Owen Preble.
Defensively Riley Desmarais & Bobby DiCicco will lead the way from the linebacking group with Rocky Heres leading the secondary and Mason Belsky anchoring the defensive line.
“ We love playing in Division I because it is an absolute battle every week and this group loves to compete,” said Byrne. “ We feel like we play in as tough a conference as there is in the state. That means it’s basically a playoff feel every week. We look forward to that.”
Timberlane Head Coach Kevin Fitzgerald sees his team getting better every day, and understands that’s what it will take to win games against the best teams in the state. “ We have had really good energy at practices and I see improvement every week,” said Fitzgerald of his Owls. “ That’s what we need to see continue.”
Jared Morrison will take over at quarterback for the graduated Dan Hayes. Joining him in the backfield will be Evan Sapienza, Caleb Vlack, Dominic Pallaria, and Dan Post, younger brother of former all-state back Jake Post. “ I think you’ll see us feature five or six different backs, we feel like we have good depth at the position.”
Cam Lovett and Devon Simmons will be featured at wide receiver and tight end while the line play will be anchored by two returning starters; Chris Lund & Nick Matthews.
Defensively Caleb Vlack and Reese Olsen will lead the secondary while the linebackers will be led by Jaiden Lee & sophomore Cooper Kelley, who Fitzgerald notes has had a very strong pre-season. “ Defense could be the strength of our team this season, we have some players who have really improved on that side of the ball.”
The defending champion Bedford Bulldogs graduated a bevy of all-state players including QB Thomas Morgan, WR Lucien Mumpini, OL Andrew Twite & Jake Collins, TE Harrison LeGoullon, PK Madison Lucontoni and NHsportspage Player of the Year runner-up Ryan Toscano. To name a few…..
Those losses would cripple most programs but most programs aren’t Bedford, where a terrific feeder system and a culture created by coaches like Kurt Hines and Derek Stank is built for the long haul.
That’s where Head Coach Zach Matthews takes over as his team enters the season as the team to beat. “ We lost a lot of very good football players but what we have is players who have waited patiently for their turn,” said Matthews. “ Those players are ready for their time now.”
Who takes over at quarterback for Morgan was still being decided in the pre-season, with both junior Aaron Skaling and sophomore Joe Mikol likely to see action.” We have good experience back on the line, with 3 of the 5 starters from last year returning but it’s at the skill positions where we don’t have a ton of experience,” said Matthews. “ I’ll be calling the offense and of course my terminology and how I call a game is different from a year ago. That’s just something that will take some time to adjust to but we will get there.”
Where Toscano was the primary ball-carrier last season the Bulldogs will be more running back by committee this season. Jack Grogan and Mike Akstin lead that group while Tim Greene is set for a big season at wide receiver.
If Bedford is getting back to UNH it’s a solid bet that their play in the trenches is leading them there. All-State 6’4 315 lb T Torey Helton returns to the starting lineup along with 6’1 275 lb Drew Allard and 275 lb. center Charlie Kneissl-Williams.
Defensively, under coordinator Sean Donahue, the Bulldogs make it very difficult to run inside with the likes of Helton & Williams. Their linebacking group is led by Jack Grogan and Alex Zwickau. It’s a talented but largely inexperienced group. “ That group of players is a good example of waiting for their turn to contribute.”
Jack Jones will lead the secondary along with returning starter Solomon Sanchez. “ Sacrifice for our success, that is the motto for this team,” said Matthews. “ The kids are very involved in our success as a whole and it means a lot to them. We’re excited to get going.”
Goffstown is now a perennial playoff team in Division I. An impressive fact considering the Grizzlies are one of the smallest schools in the division.
If Justin Hufft’s team is going to make the playoffs again they are going to need a lot of sophomores and first-year starters to step up quickly. “We’re very young and when you are playing a schedule as tough as our conference faces, that’s definitely a challenge.”
Quarterback Jarrett Henault started the last 3 games of the season a year ago, including a playoff loss to Bedford, and returns as the starter after a strong off-season.
Joining him in the backfield will be Zach Picard and sophomore Uziel Mpoyo. Caden Perry could be set for a breakout year at wide receiver while Aaron Duval, younger brother of former all-state standout Andrew, will see time right away at tight end.
Nate Belanger will anchor the offensive line from the center position alongside Marcus Rusch. “ We have good size on our offensive and defensive lines, it’s about gaining experience and the new starters getting up to speed quickly,” said Hufft.
All-state performer Brad Baxter, Jeff Heger, and sophomore Ryan Cote will lead the linebacking group while Henault will lead the Grizzlies secondary.
Eric Brown’s Concord team should again compete for a playoff spot, even with a roster full of underclassman. “ As a team, the attitude has been great,” said Brown. “ Our issue is depth, as I’m sure it is with a lot of teams we play. We need to develop the players so that when their number is called, they’re ready.”
Trevor Smith will take over at quarterback for graduated all-state QB Zach Miles. “ Trevor is a good passer, we will be looking for him to make quick decisions with the ball in our offense.” (note: Smith suffered an arm injury in last Friday's Jamobree)
Sophomore Kody Rashed will see carries out of the backfield along with junior Jacob Halleck. Returning starter Ronan McGonigle will line up at slot receiver along side 6’3 Gage Piwowarczyk, Hamza Abdulrahman, Jackson Tewksbury, and Guy Kabate.
The offensive line, which should be set at starter but lacks depth, will be anchored by Kevin McDonough and Jarrett Lamoureux.
Defensively 285 lb. sophomore Hunter Jeffers and Peter Sargent will lead the way along with cornerback/wide receiver Rylan Canabano. “ We are young across the board,” said Brown said of his team who looks set to contend for a title next season. “ Right now it’s about improving and competing every week with the best teams in our division.”
Championship Game Pick: Exeter vs. Londonderry
Coming tomorrow: Division II