When talking to Division II coaches about the upcoming season I like to get everyone’s impressions on the rest of the division.
This team looks good, I heard this team really hit the weight room over the off-season, I know their head coach likes this group….and then…inevitably it comes back to one team…..sort of like that guy in the corner of the pool hall you always want to keep one eye on….the navy blue & white elephant in the room.
“I hope you’re not picking us to win it again because you shouldn’t,” stated Plymouth Head Coach Chris Sanborn.
Yeah, those guys.
Alvirne and Milford might have the best teams in the division; Bow looks like they have a team capable of another run to UNH and St Thomas? You never count out St Thomas.
But in Division II it always comes back to the 26-time champions.
“It begins and ends with Plymouth,” said Milford Head Coach Keith Jones, speaking for just about every coach I talked to in the division, “I know they lost some terrific players but they have won 24 games in a row and 3 straight titles. In this division, you have to go through Plymouth.”
There are very good teams all over this division and some terrific coaching staffs leading them. The top 8 teams will advance to November and as we kick off the season 17 of them are determined to knock off the Plymouth Bobcats.
Today in our second of four division previews we take a look at Division II, and what might be the best division one through ten in the state.
Today's Division II Football Preview is sponsored by our friends & partners at Concord Orthopaedics.
Once again this year Concord Orthopaedics, with offices in Concord, Windham, New London and Derry, will be sponsoring the coverage of Concord area schools Bow, John Stark, Merrimack Valley, Pembroke Academy, Kearsarge, Bishop Brady, Hopkinton and Concord high school!
(*- indicates playoff team)
The Bow Falcons have had a front-row seat to Plymouth’s recent dominance, losing back to back championship games to the Bobcats at UNH in 2016 & 2017.
The good news is Paul Cohen’s team has a very strong nucleus around player of the year candidate Steven Guerrette and a very short wait to see how they stack up against the champs.
They’ll face Plymouth again this weekend.
Sebastian Beaulieu will start at quarterback for the Falcons and be joined in a very strong backfield by the all-state RB Guerrette, Andrew Robbins, Hunter Fortier, and Andrew Bliss.
Thomas Rolla will contribute on offense right away along with tight end Cooper Larrabee. The offensive line will be anchored by 305 lb all-state performer Andrew Berube, Chris Wheeler, and Will Zachistal.
The defensive line may the best unit on the team, with Berube and Wheeler serving as legitimate run stuffers. Guerrette is one of the best safeties in the state and with several starters back Bow has a defense that can win you 10-7 games.
The story going into last season was whether Plymouth could fill in the gaps around their 5 returning all-state players (spoiler alert: Yes they did).
In 2019 it’s an almost entirely new cast as Plymouth now finds out if the ‘next man up’ mantra was as accurate as they have hoped. “ I understand that people want to pencil us in for 8 wins every year but we have a lot of players who frankly have never performed on the big stage,” said Chris Sanborn of his new look 3-time defending champs.
“ Can these kids improve over the course of the season and can we be there again in the end, I think we can, but I can tell you we’re nowhere near good enough today.”
Let’s start with the familiar. Quarterback Cody Bannon returns with much bigger expectations than a year ago when he was a first-year starter. “Cody will be the first to tell you that (2018 NHsportspage Player of the Year) Owen Brickley often was taking control in that huddle.”
“That’s understandable when you have a first-year starter and Owen was an all-state player and leader, but now it’s on Cody to set the tone for the offense.”
Bannon will not be alone in that backfield as Joe Cleary, Ian Tryder, Cole Johnston and JC Gaumer will all see carries. Cale Swanson returns to play a bigger role in the offense this season while Trevan Sanborn & Cole Johnston will play tight end.
Four of the five starters from the offensive line graduated, including all-interview team member Steve Shute. How that group improves over the course of the year will tell you how big of a factor Plymouth will be in November.
Jake Duquette returns at center and will anchor the offensive line alongside Trent Sargent, Logan Hixson and Joe Thorne. “Last year we had five players that were named to all-state as first-year starters, that’s pretty impressive and says a lot about the kids and the coaching staff.”
The Bobcats should be solid again at linebacker with Austin Tallman and Joe D’Ambruoso leading the group while Cale Swanson, Joe Cleary, and JC Gaumer will lead the Bobcats secondary.
“ It’s going to come down to how much we improve over the course of the season because there are some very good teams and coaching staffs in this division.”
Gilford-Belmont Head Coach Josh Marzahl understands that you build a program brick by brick and that nearly making the playoffs a year ago with a team made up of primarily sophomores & juniors, may have actually been ahead of schedule.
A year later Marzahl knows its playoffs or bust for a team now made up of primarily (25 out of 43 players) juniors. “No question, our goal is to get into the playoffs. It’s something we started talking about as soon as last season ended,” said Marzahl. “We had some really good wins last year, now we need to prove we can compete with the best teams in the division.”
It begins with junior quarterback Alex Cheek, who is a year older, a year wiser and a whole lot bigger. “Alex is one of the hardest-working kids I’ve ever coached,” said Marzahl of his two-year starter. “He hit the weight room hard, has been working on his throwing mechanics and he’s a film room junkie. I find him pointing out things to me on film that I might have missed, that’s the kind of working relationship we have and it’s great for our team.”
Blake Desceautax gives the alma mater speed out of the backfield while John Mitchell serves as the battering ram/tackling machine.
Marzahl sees big-play ability out of his receiving group that returns 3 of 4 starters. Curtis Nelson looks set up for all-state season at wide recover while Marzahl calls Brandon Gallagher the best route runner on the team. “Curtis is someone we want to get the ball to a lot this year and Brandon is a player with great hands. He’s the kind of player you’re looking for on 3rd down.”
Malik Reese returns as the team’s tight end while Nick Arenstam will line up in the slot.
The offensive and defensive lineman have been banged up in the pre-season but Marzahl expects everyone to be back as soon as this weekend’s opener. Mike Schwartzkopf returns to the trenches along with Hunter Bean, Michael Dandurand, and Jackson Cozzens-Forgione.
The defense could be what gets Gilford-Belmont to the next level. John Mitchell returns after an all-state season at linebacker along with ILB Jack McLean, Blake Desceautax at defensive end and Players Locker Room Member Jackson Ruelke, who had four interceptions a year ago, at free safety.
The defense, led by coordinator/legend Mo Reese, is led by a very good defensive line sending all the traffic towards McLean and Mitchell at linebacker.
“The kids have been working very hard to get to the next level, so we couldn’t be more excited to get going,” said Marzahl.
It will be a new look for Kennett this fall as Head Coach Vaughn Beckwith made the decision to not only re-vamp the team’s offense but the defense as well.
“We are going to play to our strengths and to the personnel that we have as a team,” said Beckwith of the move. “We’re going from an I-formation offense to the Wing-T and I think in the long run it is a move we are really going to benefit from.”
Parker Coleman will lead the team at quarterback and will be joined in the backfield by Dominic Jones, Kyle Perry (son of Kennett legend Jeff Perry) and Noah Barrows. Beckwith also expects Evan Dascoulias to get carries as well in the new offense.
Trevor LaRusso is a 3-year starter at tight end while Justin Olsen is an all-state defensive back who also serves as the team’s best receiver.
The lines will be anchored by Will Eaton, who serves as the only returning starter. “We have been more of a bigger, slow-footed offensive line the past few years,” said Beckwith. “This season we will be smaller but more athletic and quicker.”
Dominic Jones and Kyle Perry will lead the linebacking group while freshman Evan Koroski may step in and play right away.
Noah Barrows, Russell Chick, and Justin Olsen will lead the Eagles secondary. “I like the depth we have on defense this year. We are switching to a 53 defense and I really think it suits the players we are putting on the field.”
An already challenging rebuild for the John Stark Generals became a whole lot tougher when one of their best two-way players Logan Beliveau went down with an injury in the pre-season.
The hope is that the all-state standout will return, until then head Coach Kevin McGinty’s team needs to replace a very good senior class from a year ago. “ We really got hit hard with the class we had last year,” said McGinty. “ That was a very good nucleus and although we certainly have some very good players coming back we also have a lot of new faces that need to step into important roles.”
Nate Tower returns at quarterback and will have an all-state playmaker in wide receiver Nikos Biskaduros to throw to. “Nate has looked very good in the pre-season and we have a ton of confidence in Nikos as well,” said McGinty. “Our issue is protecting our quarterback long enough to make the play.”
CJ Drabble and Josh Booker will anchor a new-look offensive line as two brand new players to the program will start early on.
The defense has a chance to be very good, especially if Beliveau is back soon. Jake Ridenour is an all-state caliber linebacker while Biskaduros is one of the better cornerbacks in the division.
The secondary of Thomas Johnston, Thomas Quinn & Jaxson Woods and how well they come together as a group will tell a lot about the Generals ability to make another playoff run.
“ There is a lot of teaching going on and the hope is the kids pick up what we are trying to do quickly because the schedule is going to be very tough right off the bat.”
The run Alvirne made all the way to UNH last November was a significant moment for a school with very little football success over the last decade. Tarek Rothe’s team didn’t just compete with the best football program in the state, they easily could have won the game and even controlled the play for long stretches.
The mission in 2019 is to shake off that championship game loss and finish the job this time. “ We have 27 seniors on this team and it was not long after the title game, I’d say days, before they had a focus on finishing their careers as champions,” said Tarek Rothe of his Broncos.
“ They have changed the culture of this program and I want nothing more than to see them win a title. I also know this is a very, very deep division, so from night one of the season, we’ll have to be ready to go.”
Junior quarterback Kyle Gora returns after a breakout sophomore season. “ He works incredibly hard and does everything he can to get better, whether it be football camps or watching the film,” said Rothe of this signal-caller. “ I think at times last season he was gun shy, which is natural for a sophomore. That won’t be the case this season and we have a lot of confidence in him.”
Alex Giuffrida returns at running back after battling injuries late last season. He’ll be joined in the backfield by Alec Prescott.
The Broncos are in fact loaded at the skill positions, with 6’4 tight end Paul Manzi returning to the starting lineup along with wide receiver Kyle Boucher. The area of concern will be a brand new offensive line after 4 starters graduated off of last year’s team.
All-state guard Tommy Keegan will anchor the line and play alongside Tyler Clegg, sophomore Alex Lawson, and Saram Nadeen. “ We are young on the line but that group is coming together well in the pre-season,” said Rothe.
The defense has a chance to be elite, with 9 starters returning and six 3-year starters. The linebacking group is a strength and led by Mitchell Doback, Alex Giuffrida and Kyle Gora.
Tommy Keegan might be one of the best nose tackles in the state and the secondary features Morgan Williams, Grady Hudson and Alec Prescott. “ We’re excited to get back at it and we know every week is going to be really tough. There are just no easy games in this division.”
Here is what we know about the Milford Spartans; they will be big and very physical, they may have the best rushing attack in the division, they’ll be very well coached and every coach I talk to would trade for their quarterback/team leader in a heartbeat.
What we don’t know is if they have enough depth to survive the inevitable injuries that happen over the course of the season.
If they can, Keith Jones’s crew is good enough to be the last team standing in November.
“ We have depth at the skill positions but not on the lines,” said Jones of the make-up of his 2019 team. “ That is the reality of what we’re dealing with and I’m sure we are not the only team with that issue. If we stay healthy and the players keep improving & coming together, we could be pretty good.”
It all begins with the quarterback/safety everyone wants to trade for, Gavin Urda. “ He’s just a football player, plain & simple. He makes us better as a team in an awful lot of ways.”
Urda will run the offense and with the depth the Spartans posses, he will not have to worry about wearing any one player down.
Junior Ughu, at 6’1 235 lbs., is bigger than just about every linebacker he’s going to face. The Spartans all-state back has looked very good in the pre-season and has shown that if he can’t get around you he’s running over you. “ He looks great,” confirms his head coach. “ I think he’s actually still getting bigger.”
Caden Zalinski could easily be the #1 back for a lot of teams and will be joined in a loaded backfield by Sean Hanrahan, Logan Barnhill, and Matt Hannon.
The line needs more depth but it has its anchor with 250 lb. Colton Burrows. Kyle Forsley & Samson Hodges will join Burrows on the line.
Caden Zalinski, Joe Shepard & Logan Barnhill make up what could be an elite linebacking group while Gavin Urda will man the secondary with Sean Hanrahan and Jake Tewksbury.
“ The south is a very tough conference and it’s going to be a dogfight just to get to the playoffs,” said Jones of the deepest conference in the division.
Dave Bryant, who served as the St Thomas defensive coordinator under Ryan Brown two years ago, will serve as head coach this season as Brown (who is also the Saints athletic director) takes a one year leave from the position.
What Bryant inherits is a team replacing their all-state quarterback Shawn DeKorne and several key playmakers, but boasting what might be the best offensive line in the division.
“ I think the offensive line could be the strength of our team,” said Bryant. “ It’s a group that has some experience but also works very well as a unit. You start with good play on the lines and you can have a lot of success because of it.”
Cam Paquette will take over at quarterback after serving as the DeKorne’s back-up the past two seasons while Hunter Lassard and Adam Stewart will get carries out of the backfield.
Will MacLean, one of the best football players in Division II, will play wide receiver in addition to leading the Saints secondary. “Will is a gifted athlete and he’s a team leader as well,” said Bryant. “ One thing this team has is very good leadership from its seniors and it’s gotten us off to a good start in the pre-season.”
Stone Compton returns at tight end (and the all-name team) along with Quinn Wade and wide receiver Cooper Blomstrom. “ We are going to continue to run the spread offense but it will be my own spin on the spread offense,” said Bryant. “ The kids have really bought in and I think it will be effective.”
The offensive line has a chance to be elite. Tim Bonagura returns to the starting lineup along with Kyle Stamoulis, Noel Ouellette, and Matt Proctor. “ We have a lot of confidence in that group and they’ll play a very big role in any success we have this season.”
MacLean leads the Saints secondary while Hunter Lassard will call the defense from the middle linebacker spot. “ The kids have been great to work with and there is a lot of talent with this group,” said Bryant. “ We’re excited to get started.”
A year ago Hollis-Brookline earned the unfortunate title of ‘Best team to not make the playoffs’.
Trust me the opposing coaches who labeled Chris Lones’s team that way meant it as a compliment but with Sander (the all-state quarterback) and Quinten (the all-state wide receiver) Wimmer back along with a very strong returning group, the hope is someone else can take on that distinction in November.
“ We have a very strong senior class and seniors understand quickly that this is their last go-around,” said Head coach Chris Lones of his Cavaliers. “ This might be the deepest team we have had here in my time as head coach and the kids have come in with a great attitude from Day 1.”
Sander Wimmer was one of the leading passers in the state of New Hampshire last season (you’ll get all your stats right here all season long) and has a very talented group around him, making him capable of even bigger numbers this season.
Marc-Andre Thermitus and Kyle Manley will join Wimmer in the backfield while Quinten Wimmer, who was banged up in a scrimmage last week, returns along with Austin Johnson.
Center Quinn Connors will anchor both the offensive line and the linebacking group. Defensive end Adam Slater is set for a big season while Austin Etchells gives the Cavaliers a legitimate run stuffer.
“ We are really preaching getting better every day and doing your job,” said Lones. “ The 11 guys on the field are representing the entire team and this group has been great about playing hard for one another. We’re ready to go.”
Souhegan, coming off back to back playoff appearances, was dealt a tough blow when their all-state playmaker Trey Johnson was lost for the season with a leg injury suffered at football camp this summer.
Head Coach Robin Bowkett, already thought of as one of the best young football coaches in the state, knew that feeling sorry for themselves was not going to pick up any extra yardage against the likes of Alvirne, Hollis-Brookline, and Milford. “ You feel for the kid first and foremost and the good news is I think Trey has a very good football career ahead of him.”
“When you lose one of your best players you have to lean on the culture the program has built, and we think we’ve built a pretty good one here.”
The change starts at quarterback where Austin Jain and Luke Manning (the team’s best receiver) will each see time behind center. Joining them in the backfield will be Riley Lawhorn, Aidan Casey (“ We are going to play him at several positions on offense”) and sophomore Mitch Hauser.
In the slot and at receiver Manning is the teams go-to receiver and will be joined by Ryan Hauser and junior Reese Colby. “ We have a lot of depth this year and what that is going to create is what I think will be very strong special teams,” explained Bowkett. “ We have a group of players who are going to make an impact in a couple of different areas.”
The depth on the offensive and defensive lines should be good with Mike Maroun and Alex Karpawich leading the group. “ It’s an undersized line relative to teams we have in the past but it’s a very athletic group that is well conditioned,” said Bowkett.
On defense, Mike Maroun will play defensive end alongside Riley Lawhorn while Ryan Hauser will help lead the secondary at the strong safety spot. Cornerback Zena Brimmer will contribute right away as well.
“ I like the pieces we can move around with this group,” said Bowkett. “ The goal as always is to get back to the playoffs and I think we have a lot of different players to help us accomplish that.”
Pelham is absolutely good enough to not only reach the playoffs but make some noise once they arrive. The challenge for Head Coach Tom Babaian and his team is coming out of the best conference in the division.
“ Top to bottom it’s just very competitive every week. We have a senior-laden team that wants to take the next step so it’s about continuing to put in the work to make it happen.”
Quarterback Ian Hoey returns after being one of the leading passers in the division a year ago. “ He’s improved and had a very good pre-season as well,” said Babaian. “ We have a lot of confidence in him.”
It will be a running back position by committee this season with Matt Crowley, Charlie Katin, Colby Travis, and Jake Herrling all expected to contribute.
Zach Jones and Colby Travis are among a good group of receivers.
The offensive line is a strength for the Pythons, as long as they stay healthy. “ We have a lot of guys back on the line but we are thin as far as depth.”
Evan Haskins, Nick Carroll, Ryan Leuteritz and Ed Shlimon will play on both sides of the line for the Pelham and return from last years team.
Shlimon will lead the defense from the linebacker spot along with a secondary that includes Charlie Katin and Colby Travis.
“ We have a great senior class, and these are kids that have been playing under me for three years now,” said Babaian. “ They’re excited to get started.”
Championship Game Pick: Alvirne vs. Bow
Coming tomorrow: Division III