Monday, August 4, 2014

Central Mass Well Represented on ESPN Football Recruiting Rankings

St. John's S/WR Davon Jones turned heads around the Commonwealth with his performance in the 2013 MIAA playoffs.
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

After a banner season in 2013 that saw the region go 4-2 against Western and Eastern Mass come playoff time, including two state title wins, Central Mass is once again demanding respect statewide.

Six players from the region have found their way onto ESPN's Scouts Inc. rankings for Massachusetts football recruiting, two more than last year's group headlined by current Boston College defensive back Isaac Yiadom.

So, let's take a look at each of the CMass players on the Scouts Inc. list, plus a few others that merit attention in 2014. (Click all photos to enlarge)

Davon Jones, S/WR, St. John's
Scouts Inc. Ranking: #3 in MA, 3-stars
Committed to: Boston College

Jones is a known commodity at this point in Central Mass, having started the past three years for St. John's in both football and basketball. On the gridiron, the versatile athlete emerged as the region's best safety last season, and doubled as an explosive deep threat receiver in the Pioneers' feared "Blur" offense.

Still, the uber-athletic Jones hadn't put it all together for a truly dominant performance until St. John's played Springfield Central in last year's D2 state semifinal. Jones grabbed 8 catches for 115 yards and two deep touchdowns on offense, plus 7 tackles and an interception on defense. When he was single covered on the outside, the ball went to him nearly every time, and his vertical leap (pictured above) allowed him to play much taller than his 5'10'' frame.

In a game featuring two of the state's best senior quarterbacks (Cody Williams from Springfield and Drew Smiley from St. John's) Jones stole the show for most of the afternoon. The magical St. John's run came up just short of  state title at Gillette Stadium against a loaded Mansfield team, but the return of Jones, among others, has many in Shrewsbury thinking another trip to Foxboro is in the cards this year.

While Jones lacks ideal size and strength for a safety at the major college level, his speed, leaping ability, hands and sharp instincts give him the chance to be a real playmaker for the Eagles a few years down the road. Plus, if you've ever seen him play, you know that weighing only 180 lbs. hasn't scared him away from contact. He's one of the state's most ferocious hitters.

Chris Lindstrom, OG, Shepherd Hill
Scouts Inc. Ranking: #8 in MA, 3-stars
Committed to: Boston College

He may not be the heaviest lineman around (tipping the scales between 230 and 240 lbs.), but Lindstrom is certainly one of the smartest and most athletic. Still, don't think he can't grind it out as well.

With one of the strongest hand punches in the region, Lindstrom has plenty of "knock back factor" at the point of attack, but is at his best when pulling out and making blocks in space in Shepherd Hill's Double Wing attack.

While he may lack ideal bulk at this stage, Lindstrom certainly has room to fill out on his 6'5'' frame, and is considered one of the fiercest players to ever play at Shepherd Hill, a program that has hung its hat on toughness since his father, Chris Lindstrom Sr, took over head coaching duties in Dudley 14 years ago.

With excellent athleticism, a high football IQ and a frame that could lead to him playing pretty much anywhere on the line at the next level, it's easy to see why Boston College is excited about landing the Shepherd Hill star.

Aaron McLean, WR/S, St. Mark's School
Scouts Inc. Ranking: #11 in MA, 3-stars
Committed to: Connecticut

McLean isn't an established name in Central Mass like Jones and Lindstrom, but the 6'6'' athlete broke out last season against prep school competition at St. Mark's, scoring 10 touchdowns and anchoring the defense as a strong safety.

Largely recruited by Ivy league and other FCS schools, McLean landed a UConn offer earlier this summer, and the Huskies seem to think they've gotten in early on a player that could potentially blow up with another solid season this fall in Southborough.

With outstanding size, reliable hands and a great feel for beating zone coverages, McLean's future looks to be at receiver right now, but a lack of elite speed may lead him getting a shot at tight end down the road if he can pack on bulk. Either way, don't be surprised if McLean, also a star on the talented St. Mark's basketball team, is a red zone specialist for UConn down the road.

Mark Wright, RB, Auburn
Scouts Inc. Ranking: #22 in MA, 2-stars

Committed to: Undecided

Wright showed great promise as a sophomore in 2012, coming off the bench to average over 8 yards per carry on one of the most loaded teams in Central Mass history. Last year Wright took on a different role, shouldering the load for a rebuilding Auburn team.

With the Rockets replacing four starters on the offensive line, and 10 starters overall on offense, Wright stepped in and showed the region he was next in a line of stellar Auburn backs, rushing for an astounding 2,111 yards, the most in Central Mass.

Again Wright averaged over 8 yards per carry, and his explosive quickness kept a young Rockets team competitive as the year went on. With a more experienced supporting cast and a year of running around CMass defenses in his pocket, expect bigger things from both Wright and Auburn this season.

With great initial quickness and vision, Wright has the look and feel of a solid FCS-level player. He already possesses deceptive strength, but will need to get stronger for the next level, and a lack of breakaway speed may be held against him by higher level schools.

Drew Jean-Guillaume, QB/RB/DB, Shepherd Hill
Scouts Inc. Ranking: #23 in MA, 2-stars

Committed to: Undecided

Jean-Guillaume starred as a running back in 2012 in Shepherd Hill's Double Wing, but was perhaps even more effective last season as a running quarterback for the Rams, rushing for 665 yards and 14 touchdowns to go with another 300 yards and two touchdowns through the air.

As you can tell by his stat line, Jean-Guillaume is essentially a running back in Shepherd Hill's offense, and he may be their most explosive player on either side of the ball. ESPN scouts seem to think he has a future at defensive back, where he also starred for the Rams, but I wouldn't count him out on offense.

Jean-Guillaume's power and vision, along with deceptive breakaway speed, made him one of the state's most effective runners, and are major reasons why the Rams are drawing state title hype in Division 4. This versatile athlete could surely fit in SOMEWHERE on a solid FCS squad.

Jahkari Carpenter, RB, Doherty
Scouts Inc. Ranking: #25 in MA, 2-stars

Committed to: Undecided

Carpenter was the unsung hero of Doherty's run to a state championship in Division 4 last season, producing countless highlight reel runs for the Highlanders throughout the playoffs, and providing an outstanding underneath receiving option for star quarterback Luke Brennan in Doherty's spread attack.

Essentially, the diminutive Carpenter (5'7'', 155 lbs.) was the Central Mass equivalent of Darren Sproles. A shifty runner with great speed and excellent hands, Carpenter may never be an "every down" back at the next level, but can be a playmaker in a "space player" role at both running back and in the slot.

This year will be huge for his recruitment, as star receivers Isaac Yiadom and Alfred Adarkwah are gone to Boston College and UMass, respectively, and Brennan is off pitching for Franklin Pierce. The Highlanders will look to rebuild their offense around Carpenter's versatility and explosiveness, and he could catch some schools' attention with a productive season.

Other Players to Watch

Shane Combs (Sr.), QB/RB, St. John's

Combs moved to Massachusetts from Missouri last year, and was an early Christmas present for the Pioneers on both the football field and baseball diamond. A star pitching prospect already committed to play baseball at Notre Dame, it's doubtful that Combs will give much thought to football recruiting.

Still, after throwing a perfect game for the Pioneers last season and starring at running back, he certainly has the arm and legs to excel at quarterback in the St. John's "Blur." Combs is expected follow in the footsteps of Drew Smiley this season, another St. John's quarterback that likely could have drawn D1 interest for his quarterback play, if not for his love of another sport (Smiley is currently preparing to play lacrosse at Navy).

If he wanted to play football, someone would oblige Combs, a player with excellent size, arm strength, good speed and brutal power once he gets going behind his pads. The Pioneers should once again be fun to watch with Combs at the helm.

Sean Ragan (Jr.), OG, St. John's

Ragan is another reason why many are predicting a return trip to Gillette for the Pioneers. With outstanding size (6'4'', 270 lbs.) and great feet, Ragan developed into, maybe, the best pass-protecting guard in the state as a sophomore last year.

His abilities as a run blocker were also on full display in the Pioneers' state championship game against Mansfield, as Ragan cleared the way on two long runs by Smiley and one by Combs.

Already with an offer from national power Miami, look for Ragan to draw a ton of interest across the country as his junior season unfolds this year.

Seamus Leary (Jr.), QB, St. Peter-Marian

In his first year starting for the Guardians, Leary made St. Peter-Marian a legitimate contender in loaded Division 4. Throwing for 1,700 yards and 14 touchdowns, plus another 400 yards and 7 touchdowns on the ground, Leary was a true dual-threat with plenty of arm and speed to stretch opposing defenses thin.

Leary completed just under 55 percent of his passes a season ago, but became increasingly more accurate as he grew more comfortable in the pocket. By year's end, he was nearly automatic with quick hitting passes like slants and bubble screens, and actually has a very good arm and eye for the deep ball. Getting timing and accuracy right for midrange passes will be the next step, and he'll have to do it with a largely rebuilt receiving corps.

Koby Schofer (Jr.), QB, Northbridge

Speaking of dual-threat, perhaps nobody personified that term better than Northbridge's Koby Schofer, who threw for 1,535 yards and 11 touchdowns, while rushing for 1,672 yards (3rd best in CMass) and 22 touchdowns (2nd best in CMass).

Schofer was one of only two players in the region to both throw and rush for 1,000 yards (Littleton's Alex McLaughlin was the other), but made huge strides as a passer as the year pressed on. At the helm of the Ram attack, Schofer led Northbridge to nine consecutive victories en route to the Division 5 state championship game.

The offensive line will be largely rebuilt in front of him, but look for Schofer to again be turned loose in a wide-open attack that should be one of the most entertaining and effective in the region.

Steve Saucier (So.), QB, Auburn

Last season the rebuilding Rockets and coach Jeff Cormier spoke very highly of their young quarterback, then-freshman Steve Saucier. While the youngster wasn't quite ready to take over the starting job, mostly due to the solid play of then-senior Adam Gustafson, much will be expected of him this fall.

A lefty with a live arm and quick feet, Saucier will be asked to excel in the play action passing game, and while throwing on the run off of bootlegs. Auburn should again be efficient on the ground with Wright and some beef returning up front, meaning Saucier can ease into things and learn as he goes while Auburn attempts to contend for a CMass title in Division 5.

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