Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Central Mass HS Football Power Rankings: Week 1

After back-to-back disappointing trips to Gillette Stadium, senior quarterback Koby Schofer and his Northbridge Rams have their eyes set on a state championship in 2015.
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Football season is upon us here in Central Mass, and there are plenty of teams across the region's four divisions that have dreams of making it to Gillette Stadium for the state championship games.

While preseason rankings are often worth the paper they're printed on (luckily, we're all digital!), here is our best stab at the Top-5 teams in Central Massachusetts heading into the 2015 high school football season, and a few others to watch.

Power Rankings

1. Leominster

Last Year: 8-3, Division 2 Central Finalist

The last two years have started promisingly, but ended miserably for the Blue Devils, who have come up just short of the D2 Central title on their home turf in back-to-back seasons.

Coach Dave Palazzi has good reason to believe this year will be different, with junior quarterback Noah Gray returning as one of the most talented players in Massachusetts' loaded 2017 QB class, and a plethora of speed at the offensive skill positions and defensive secondary.

Star senior Derek Franks should again be one of the region's best receivers and safeties, while twins Keith and Kyle Jackson both have lockdown potential at cornerback. With speed, physicality and, now, experience on their side, the Blue Devils enter 2015 with the potential to be great.

2. St. John's (Shrewsbury)

Last Year: 8-3, Division 2 Central Quarterfinalist

The Pioneers were the first victims of Fitchburg's magical run in the D2 playoffs, but should again be considered a co-favorite (with Leominster) for the D2 Central title. Quarterback Tim Cassidy returns after a successful first season running the Pioneers' "Blur" offense, and will have the protection of one of the region's best linemen in Boston College commit guard Sean Ragan.

Questions linger at running back, receiver and linebacker after the departures of Shane Combs, Davon Jones and Sam Norton, respectively, but senior running back Travis Terry impressed in an early scrimmage against Brockton, and coach John Andreoli feels good about the young talent he has coming up at both receiver and linebacker.

3. Shepherd Hill

Last Year: 10-2, Division 4 Central Champion

The Rams lose All-State star two-way lineman Chris Lindstrom to Boston College and All-State quarterback Drew Jean-Guillaume to Central Connecticut State, but return, arguably, the state's top player in tight end/defensive end Sean McKeon.

The Michigan commit is a fantastic in-line blocker, and has shown some "Gronk-esque" ability with the ball in his hands after the catch. He should also again rank among the region's best as a pass rusher, and the Rams will have enough talent on both lines to again field a dominant Double-Wing ground game, and stuff opposing running backs.

4. Northbridge

Last Year: 12-1, Division 5 State Runner-Up

After coming up just short at Gillette Stadium in back-to-back seasons, Northbridge's senior class will look to cement its legacy this year with a state championship. Led by prolific dual-threat quarterback Koby Schofer (the grandson of record-setting coach Ken LaChapelle), and SuiteSports All-Star receiver Chandler Brooks, the Rams may have the best offense in the region.

5. St. Peter-Marian

Last Year: 6-5, Division 4 Central Runner-Up

The Guardians got off to a rough start last year, but finished winning five of their last six, including a pair of victories over Worcester rival Doherty. Led by senior quarterback Seamus Leary and classmate running back Anthony Baldino, SPM should again be able to score in bunches, but a defense led by star pass rusher Alec Simonovitch, who is coming off a dozen sacks in 2014, should be improved enough to help the Guardians close the gap with Shepherd Hill in D4 Central.

In the Running: Doherty, Fitchburg, Auburn, Marlboro, Littleton, Shrewsbury

Tavian Vassar leads a talented group of returnees for the Highlanders, but they'll need to find answers at quarterback before they can truly be considered a contender in D4 Central.

Fitchburg is, once again, off the radar after losing a talented group of seniors, including Leo Ramirez and Darius Flowers. But hey, nobody was signing the Red Raiders' praises last year, and they made a surprise run to the Division 2 Central crown.

Auburn has long been a dominant running team under coach Jeff Cormier, but the Rockets may need to lean on the arm of junior quarterback Steve Saucier to win this year. The lefty has the talent to carry the load, but does Auburn have the play makers on the outside to become a passing team?

Marlboro is stacked in the trenches and the backfield, led by Harvard-bound offensive tackle Liam Shanahan. The Panthers have the physicality to be a sleeper in D2 Central.

Finally, we get Littleton, a small-town program that is quickly developing into a Division 6 power house. With junior quarterback Connor Bassett returning as one of the best dual-threat signal caller's in the state, expect the Tigers to again be a favorite to make it to Gillette Stadium.

The Colonials are often lost in the D2 Central shuffle, but Shrewsbury scored wins over Nashoba, St. Peter-Marian and Fitchburg last season, before a pair of run-ins with Leominster sunk its season. Shrewsbury loses twin brothers Jack Campanale (QB) and Casey Campanale (WR) to graduation, but should again be stout in the trenches on both sides of the ball.

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