Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Central Mass High School Football Road Trip: Doherty

Sophomore Tajon Vassar will start on both sides of the ball for Doherty.
By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

Doherty football has reached new heights the past four seasons.

After a lengthy playoff drought, the Highlanders have reached the post season the last four years, including a state memorable Division 4 state championship run in 2013.

It's a run of success not known to Worcester public schools on the gridiron, and the result of years of grinding and program building under longtime coach Sean Mulcahy.

That's why, though the team is very, very young this year, you'd still be hard-pressed to find somebody around Central Mass doubting the Highlanders. Doherty has become one of the programs around Central Mass we expect to contend annually, and while this may be a bit of a re-loading year, the Highlanders certainly aren't conceding anything yet.

Here's what to expect from Doherty in 2016.

Strong Pedigrees

When you look up and down Doherty's roster, you're bound to see some familiar names. That's because this team has, seemingly, everybody's younger brother on it.

Junior tight end/linebacker Phil Adarkwah is the younger brother of current UMass receiver Alfred Adarkwah, and sophomore safety/receiver Paul Yiadom is the younger brother of current Boston College cornerback Isaac Yiadom. The elder Adarkwah and Yiadom were two of Doherty's heroes at Gillette Stadium in 2013, and their younger brothers will each assume larger roles this season.

The Highlanders will also be led by sophomore Tajon Vassar, the younger brother of recent grad Tavian Vassar, who was a star running back and defensive lineman. The younger Vassar is expected to be Doherty's feature back this season, and will also start at cornerback. Finally, defensive tackle Terrence Jackson is the younger brother of former UConn and NFL linebacker Yawin Smallwood, who was a three-time All-Star for the Highlanders from 2007-2009.

"I think it's a great thing that we have everybody's brother, because it means we've had kids growing up, watching our program, and wanting to be like their brothers," Mulcahy said. "That's how you build a program, and we're getting there. Hopefully, some day, and I probably won't be the coach, but we'll have dads I coached watching their sons (playing for Doherty)."

Speed in Abundance

The best Doherty teams in recent memory have been built on speed, and in that regard, this team is in good company. The Highlanders have plenty of kids that can run, especially in the defensive secondary, where Yiadom will start at safety and Vassar will start at corner.

Look for senior Gabe Mangrum to start opposite Vassar at the other corner spot, and Doherty has a few other speedsters that can mix in at safety, including juniors Mike Oppong and Kenny Amoah.

Doherty also has speed, and maturity, at linebacker, where seniors Tyrell Harrington, Jack Whalen and Obed Konadu cover a ton of ground, and where Adarkwah and senior Matt Brothers will contribute as well.

On offense, Vassar is undersized, but shifty and explosive once he gets through the hole. I haven't gotten to see what his hands are like out of the backfield, but just as a runner, he reminds me of Jahkari Carpenter, the running back who tied the offense together for Doherty back in 2013, and carried the load in 2014.

Yiadom will also play receiver, next to senior captain J.J. Early and junior Evan Brunelle. Heck, even "power back" Jose Robles, a sophomore, has some wheels on him, and Adarkwah has receiver speed playing tight end.

Growing Up to Do

But, as many seniors as I just rattled off, the Highlanders still have plenty of growing up to do. While senior Mike Mahoney is sure to be a leader and stabilizing force on both the offensive and defensive lines, Doherty will need solid play from juniors Mike Shaylor and Sam Duah, along with sophomore Charles Payson to reach its goals.

The Highlanders had a rough day up front against deep and physical St John's Tuesday, but were able to protect and push in spurts. These lines are both young, and physically just haven't spent the time in the weight room that some of Central MA's older lines have. But, all these kids can move, and once they get a few games under their collective belt, I wouldn't be surprised to see Doherty holding its own against most teams on the schedule.

Quarterback Battle

As is the case with so many teams this time of year, Doherty is still sorting out its quarterback situation. The Highlanders played both junior Mike Oppong and sophomore Chris Schoen against St. John's Tuesday, and each had highs and lows.

Oppong clearly has a cannon for an arm, but at this point his biggest strength is his ability to run the option, and make something happen when the play breaks down. Schoen, on the other hand, showed good accuracy when given time, and looked a little more comfortable hanging in the pocket.

As of now, it looks like Schoen will be the guy, just because he's more polished as a passer, and because Oppong provides value as a safety and offensive weapon elsewhere, but don't be surprised to see the Highlanders use both this season.

"We don't have (quarterback) sorted out yet, which isn't really a good sign right now," Mulcahy said. "We kind of had a short camp, but both will play, based on the situation."


Doherty looks like a team that will improve dramatically as its line and young skill players gain experience, so I'd expect this to be a much better team in late October than it will be when the Highlanders open up at home against regional power Leominster on September 9th.

The good news for Doherty is its first four games will all be played at Foley Stadium, including Week 2 against Worcester rival Holy Name, Week 3 against recent divisional rival Tantasqua, and Week 4 against Worcester and former divisional rival St. Peter-Marian.

The Highlanders will have to grow up quickly, because all of those games are going to be a handful, and will go a long way toward Doherty contending for a playoff spot in the "new" Division 2A.

Doherty's first road game is a doozy, at D2 mainstay Wachusett, then the Highlanders face Worcester South in a "road game" at Foley, followed by Worcester North in a "home game" at Foley. Doherty then finishes the year on the road against new divisional foe Marlboro.

While the schedule is tough, it is manageable for this team. The Highlanders avoid D2A power Nashoba, and the division's largest-enrollment school, Fitchburg. Furthermore, Doherty will play six of eight games inside the friendly confines of Foley Stadium (plus a 7th game against Burncoat on Thanksgiving).

The key games seem to be those early home contests against Holy Name, Tantasqua and St. Peter-Marian. If Doherty grows up quickly and wins two of those three, they could be in good position heading into the back half of the schedule, which includes a pair of Inter-High games, along with solid Wachusett and Marlboro.

Getting to .500 certainly looks attainable, as does finishing in the Top-4 of D2A and making the postseason, but this is a very competitive division Doherty suddenly finds itself in.

If the Highlanders take care of business early, it all might come down to that end of year road game against Marlboro. The winner of that game might be claiming a playoff spot, and the loser heading to the consolation games.

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