Monday, September 4, 2017

MIAA Football Camp Road Trip: The Doherty Highlanders

By Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

- After its young core was baptized by fire in 2016, Doherty has big ambitions for 2017.

But it won't be easy, as the Highlanders were major jumpers in this season's realigned divisions, moving up to Division 3 Central, the largest classification teams in Central Mass can compete in.

Still, with a junior and senior-laden squad, plus some big games under its belt, Doherty will look to surprise some of the CMass blue bloods.

"We've got a lot of guys back who played a lot last year, but we've got a lot to prove before we're as good as some people are trying to tell me we are," coach Sean Mulcahy said. "We won the Inter-High last year, and that's about it. That's a goal of ours, as it always is, but we're looking to improve upon that with all the talent and experience we have coming back."

When it comes to speed, Doherty has plenty of it, beginning with junior athlete Tajon Vassar. After leading the team in rushing, and manning the top cornerback spot on defense as a sophomore, Vassar grew an inch to 5-foot-8 and packed 12 lbs onto his frame this offseason. He still isn't a wrecking ball by any means, but at 162 lbs, he's much stronger and more prepared for the weekly grind than he was this time a year ago.

Around Vassar will be a talented senior class, led by five captains. Phil Adarkwah, a tight end and linebacker with speed to burn, should contribute on both sides of the ball, while receiver and defensive back Evan Brunelle leads a now stabilized passing game. Receiver/DB Kenny Amoah should impact the passing game on both sides of the ball as well, while linemen Sam Duah and Connor Bisnette help the Highlanders recover from the loss of now graduated Mike Mahoney.

Speaking of that line, Doherty should excel in the trenches this season, with nearly everyone back on both sides of the ball from a year ago, plus the addition of transfer Chris Yeboah. The younger brother of current UConn running back Kevin Mensah, Yeboah is a welcome addition after he played at Holy Name a season ago.

"Our expectations are to win a state championship," Adarkwah said. "Last year we were really young. We kind of view last year as more of a building year, but now we have a lot of talent, and a lot of experience."

Fellow senior Mike Oppong should also factor in the defensive backfield, but perhaps more prominently as a receiver. After moving from quarterback and running back a season ago, Oppong brings a blend of size and athleticism to the outside that should help Doherty take the next step offensively.

But it isn't just the senior class brimming with experience and talent. Junior Paul Yiadom will look to put it all together for his junior season at safety and receiver, while classmate Charles Payson has the tools to be one of the region's best defensive linemen.

The Highlanders will also look to a junior to fill the most important spot on the team. After a sophomore season plagued by injuries, Chris Schoen is back and ready for a breakout campaign under center. With all the weapons at his disposal, it's hard not to see Doherty putting points on the board in 2017.

Still, with the move up to a division that features the likes of St. John's, Leominster, Shepherd Hill, Shrewsbury, and many of the other top programs in the region, Doherty will come in as an underdog. What's more, after a season marked by inconsistency, the Highlanders will need to prove they can play up to their talent level on a week-to-week basis.

After a year of growing pains, Doherty's seniors think they're up for the challenge.

"The key, this year, is we can't take our foot off the gas," Brunelle said. "Even those games that other people would not consider tough games for us, we've got to prepare each week like a playoff week. We've got to play our best football, no matter who the opponent is, and if we do that, I think we'll be able to handle whatever our division throws at us."

Doherty opens its season tonight against one of those Central Mass big boys, hosting new D3 foe Wachusett at 7 pm inside Worcester's Foley Stadium.

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