Wednesday, September 4, 2013

CMass HS Football Power Rankings: Season Preview

Auburn is expecting big things from junior RB Mark Wright (#24).
By Joe Parello  @HerewegoJoe

The high school football season will begin this week for one Central Mass power, as Auburn will host Western Mass contender Chicopee Comprehensive Friday at 7 pm. The Rockets are faced with one of the largest rebuilding jobs in the state, as only ESPN Boston Preseason All State lineman Will Greelish returns as a starter from last season's Super Bowl squad.

Still, Auburn hasn't rebuilt under coach Jeff Cormier, it has reloaded. A running streak of five consecutive Super Bowl championships and a 41-game winning streak that stretched from 2008-2011 are evidence of that, but where will the Rockets rank among the Central Mass elite in 2013? We take a stab at that below.

Please note that, due to the MIAA's realignment and inaugural state championships this season, many teams have changed divisions. Also note that all championships/playoff results from last season were in Central Mass.

Preseason Power Rankings

1. Leominster: Division 2, Mid Wach A.  Last Season: 9-4, D1 Champs

The Skinny: The Blue Devils enter 2013 with state title aspirations and two of the best players in the region. Seniors Jarrel Addo and Neil O'Connor will anchor a speedy defense from their safety spots, but both will also be major contributors on the offensive side of the ball. A year after leading Leominster in receiving, O'Connor moves to quarterback for the Blue Devils, and coach David Palazzi has been impressed with how quickly he has taken in the playbook. Addo will provide a vertical passing threat on the outside, but the UMass commit will also come out of the backfield and line up at tight end.

The only real question for Leominster is size and strength, along with depth, on both lines. The Blue Devils are as fast and skilled as anybody in the state, but if the weather gets ugly late in the year, teams with more sizable fronts may be able to grind things out against them.

ESPN Boston Preview: Lofty Expectations for No.7 Leominster

2. St. John's (Shrewsbury): Division 2, Central Mass. Last Season: 8-5, D1 FInals

The Skinny: St. John's has lost its last four against Leominster, including the last two Division 1 CMass Super Bowls. So, you know the Pioneers are eagerly anticipating their September 13th trip to Leominster for what should be the region's most anticipated game. We know St. John's will be able to score points, with preseason All State quarterback Drew Smiley running the "Blur" offense, and junior Davon Jones making plays at receiver and running back.

The questions for St. John's lie on defense, where the Pioneers surrendered nearly 30 points a game last season. The defense appears to be much improved, with Jones looking like one of the best safeties in the region, but the front seems to have gotten tougher as well. Sophomore nose tackle Josh Angel has impressed coach John Andreoli with his ability to hold the point of attack, and that will go a long way toward correcting the Pioneers' defensive issues in 2013.

ESPN Boston Preview: No.11 SJS Looking for Answers on Defense

3. Doherty: Division 4, Inter-High. Last Season: 9-3, D2 Semis

The Skinny: Doherty was one of the most entertaining teams in the region last year, and it seemed only a December snow storm could slow down their offense in the playoffs. Well, a salty Shepherd Hill defense had something to do with it, but the Highlanders took a major step in 2012. Now, it's time for them to take another.

Returning preseason All State ATH Isaac Yiadom and underrated quarterback Luke Brennan, Doherty should once again be potent on offense. 6-foot-4 receiver/tight end Alfred Adarkwah should help ease the loss of star tight end Noah Robinson. Replacing Robinson, Doherty's leading tackler from a year ago, on the defensive end will be a little trickier.

The Highlanders have a world of speed in the secondary, but have questions up front. If Doherty can find answers there, they could find themselves in Gillette Stadium at season's end.

ESPN Boston Preview: Yiadom Set to Lead No.22 Doherty

4. Auburn: Division 5, SWCL. Last Season: 13-0, D3 Champs

The Skinny: As mentioned above, the Rockets return only preseason All State lineman Will Greelish as a starter from last year's team. Despite that, Auburn's offensive and defensive lines again look to be among the best in the region, and freshman quarterback Steve Saucier appears to have the arm and legs to operate the Rockets' roll out passing attack.

Senior Andrew Markvenas will lead a largely rebuilt defense from his linebacker spot, and Greelish's presence on the defensive line will be a major boost as well. The question of experience is there, and this year's Auburn squad doesn't look quite as talented (or big) as last year's dominant bunch, but coach Jeff Cormier should have his team ready to contend for a CMass and state title in Division 5.

ESPN Boston Preview: Massive Turnover Underway at No.17 Auburn

5. Nashoba: Division 2, Mid Wach A. Last Season: 13-0, D2 Champs

The Skinny: The Chieftains own the region's longest active winning streak at 26 games, but are dealing with, perhaps, even more change than Auburn this off-season. On top of replacing star linebacker Zach Hume, quarterback Jack Sarnoski, running back John Ojukwa and corner Brady Schartner, Nashoba must also replace coaching legend Ken Tucker.

Well, they did keep it in the family, hiring his son Jamie to coach the Chieftains in 2013.

Little is known about what this Nashoba team will look like personel-wise, but the Chieftains always seem to have as much talent as anybody. An athletic and talented offensive line, led by senior guard Mike d'Entremont, should be a strength, and new quarterback Matt Mudgett has drawn positive reviews in camp. Senior Frankie Chiodo should provide veteran leadership to both sides of the ball as he returns to start at fullback and, perhaps more importantly, linebacker in Nashoba's 3-5.

The younger Tucker has said isn't going to change much schematically from what his father did, probably a good call considering the success of the Nashoba program in recent years. A jump up in competition from Mid Wach B to A should test the Chieftains, and it may be asking too much of them to complete a third consecutive undefeated campaign.

Outside Looking In: 

Shepherd Hill, Quabbin, Leicester, Grafton, Wachusett, Blackstone Valley Tech, Worcester South

Shepherd Hill should again boast one of the region's top rushing attacks in 2013, while Quabbin's pass offense could be the best in Central Mass, led by quarterback Dylan Kierman.

Leicester will rely on LB/FB Tom Rodrick to pace them on both sides of the ball, and the UConn commitment may prove to be the region's best pass rusher. Grafton finished last season with the hottest defense in Central Mass, and Wachusett actually captured the Mid Wach A title last year before falling to St. John's in the playoffs.

BVT looks like it will again be the top vocational school in the region, with senior Nic Wojnar providing an excellent pass rush on defense and receiving threat from his tight end position on offense. Finally, don't sleep on coach Jerry Snay and South. Snay returned to the sidelines at South after a few years away last season, and returned the Colonels to relevancy, improving South's record by four wins from the previous year. He did all that while battling some of the worst injury luck in the school's history.

They will need to replace a lot, including star defensive tackle Dillon Agyei and his brother, quarterback Darwin Agyei, but if South can stay healthy, they have the speed and scheme to surprise some people.

Player to Watch: Mark Wright, Jr. HB, Auburn

Each week from here on out I will also be doing a "Game of the Week," but since Auburn is pretty much the only show in town, I'm going to skip that section. As for player to watch, keep your eye on Wright in Auburn's opener against Chicopee Comprehensive. The speedy tailback averaged 8.3 yards per carry last season, but his touches were limited because then-senior Tyler Desjardins was having an amazing year.

The time is now for Wright, who looked great in Auburn's scrimmage against Leominster, and will get to run behind an inexperienced, but talented Rockets offensive line. If any player in the region is primed for a breakout season, it's Wright.

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