Wednesday, August 22, 2018

MIAA Football: Top Storylines Heading into 2018

Devaun Ford (pictured) is trying to lead Mashpee to its third straight Super Bowl.

By Matt Feld (@Mattyfeld612)

Boston, Mass. -- Earlier this week, SuiteSports announced its 2018 MIAA High School Football Preseason All-State Team.

Now, in keeping with our preseason coverage, we take a look at some of the top storylines across the state heading into this season.

New Faces for Premiere Programs 

While the top high school football players in the state usually command center stage in the offseason due to college commitments, offers, and standout performances in other sports, these past few months have proven to be a stark contrast. Instead of players making headlines in Massachusetts it has been the plethora of new head coaches that have become the steward for these premiere schools.

In some circumstances such as over in West Roxbury, it is a legendary coach in John Dibiaso taking the reigns over a consistent contender both in the Catholic Conference and in Division 1 South in Catholic Memorial. DiBiaso, a 13-time Super Bowl champion, not only brings with him a certain cache and swagger, but a winning pedigree. The Knights hope that pedigree becomes instilled in their program as they pursue their first Super Bowl since 1978. 

DiBiasio will not be the only one making his debut as a Catholic Conference head coach when the season opens. BC High announced in June the hiring of John Brillo. Brillo served as a varsity assistant coach beginning in 2009 and graduated from the program in 1999. He hopes to guide BC High to its first Super Bowl since 2012.

“So far there has not been too much difference,” said Brillo. “At a school like (BC High) as the defensive coordinator you already have a big group to work with and handle. It’s been more about just overseeing everyone and everything that goes on here. Being in charge now, it all starts with me.”

Brillo’s week two counterpart will be Chris Arouca who assumes the role at Marshfield after three year as the head coach at Hingham. Arouca did a terrific job with the up-and-coming Harbormen leading them to an overall record of 19-14 in his three seasons including a pair of playoff appearances. 

Speaking of Hingham, Jim Conner has made the switch over to fill Arouca’s place on the sidelines. Conner spent the last five years manning the sidelines at Norwell High School where he compiled a 34-20 overall record. With quarterback Jack Johnson and tight end Spencer Casssell back as focal points on the offense, Conner starts his tenure with a strong core of talent.

Over in the Bay State League, Barry Greener announced his retirement after being a member of the Walpole coaching for 37 years. Greener’s replacement, Chris Sullivan, will have the challenge of trying to return the Rebels to their storied success in a league that has annual powers such as Newton North, Needham, Natick, and surging Braintree. Sullivan was an assistant coach for the Rebels for the last 12 seasons. 

Can Anyone Slow Down Everett, King Philip, or Mashpee?

For all the bizarre twists and turns that have occurred across the high school football landscape the last two seasons, there have been without question three constants - the dominance of Everett, King Philip, and Mashpee.

The Crimson Tide have had a stranglehold on Division 1 dating back to 2016, not suffering a defeat since September 30th of that year to Billerica. While they are sure to feel the loss of quarterback Jake Willcox and nationally recruited defensive back Lewis Cine to transfer, the core of Mike Sainristil, Robbie Robie, along with newcomer Isaac Seide leaves Everett once again the favorite in Div. 1

Mashpee, meanwhile, currently finds itself in a class all its own. After taking home the Div. 4 state championship in 2016, the Falcons followed it up with an even more impressive run to the Div. 7 Super Bowl in 2017. Devaun Ford and Xavier Gonsalves have keyed the mini-dynasty with Ford dazzling opponents with his speed and athleticism out of the backfield and in the secondary while Gonsalves has been the heart of the Falcons’ stout line play.

And then there is King Philip, who has not only dominated Div. 2 but all of Massachusetts over the last two seasons. The Warriors have 25 straight wins over their pair of state championships including playoff victories over the likes of Marshfield, Bridgewater-Raynham, Mansfield, Lincoln-Sudbury and Reading.  

Shane Frommer, Andrew Dittrich, Jack Pillar, and Brendan Lydon were the faces of the storied run but have all been lost to graduation. Still, with consecutive championships and an improbable winning streak under its belt King Philip remains the team-to-beat in Div. 2 until someone can knock them off. With linebacker Jack Webster back for his senior season the Warriors calling card is bound to be its defense.

Can Springfield Central or Doherty beat St. John’s (S) to Gillette?

St. John’s Shrewsbury stole the show in Central Mass. in 2017. The Pioneers used a seemingly unlimited amount of lethal weapons on offense and speed on defense to leave any opponent on their schedule in the dust. There is reason to believe, however, that a different team may be making its way to Gillette to represent the Central/Western part of Div. 3 in 2018.

Springfield Central, who lost a 52-33 shootout to St. John’s in the state semi-finals last November, returns a strong skill core highlighted by Myles Bradley. Bradley totaled 158 yards in that loss to the Pioneers and has already proven to be one of the top wide receivers in the state. In the secondary the Golden Eagles possess their fair share of talent led by Keshaun Dancy and Elijah Ayers. 

In order to reach a potential postseason matchup with the Golden Eagles, however, St. John’s will likely have to go through a Doherty team that is primed for a deep postseason run. Charlie Payson and Chris Yeboah are two of the better linemen in the state and Jon Foronson is sure to be one of the top defensive backs in Massachusetts. 

Above all else, however, are the dynamic capabilities of Tajon Vassar who can score in all three ways – in the kicking game, as a receiver, and out of the backfield.

St. John’s remains a strong favorite due in large part to the likes of Eamonn Denis, Jay Brunnelle, and Luke Daly, but if the Pioneers falter look for either Springfield Central or Doherty to take up the torch and carry it to Super Bowl Saturday in December. 

What Quarterbacks Become Household Names in 2018?

Throughout the 2017 season a plethora of quarterbacks made their claim to fame. St. John Shrewsbury’s Steven Bucciaglia and Everett’s Jake Willcox each led their respective teams to state titles. Bucciaglia broke nearly every single state record throwing for 3,601 yards, 45 touchdowns, and finishing with a 72-percent completion percentage.

North Attleboro quarterback Chad Peterson proved to be one of the better dual threats in recent years in leading the Red Rocketeers to a spot in the Div. 3 state final and all the while Lexington’s Sal Frelick took home Gatorade Player of the Year.

Now the calendar turns to 2018 and it is sure to be interesting which quarterbacks jockey for the title of top in the Bay State. North Andover’s Jake McElroy and Shrewsbury’s Drew Campanele seem like worthwhile bets and Whitman-Hanson’s Ethan Phelps is poised for a breakout season. 

Lynn Classical’s Keith Ridley has been the talk of the town throughout the offseason and Tewksbury’s Jay Connolly is looking to return the Redmen to state-wide contention.

As the season unfolds look for all five of these quarterbacks, and a handful of others, to fill up the stat sheet every Friday night. 

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