Now that the 2009 season is in the books, who are the favorites for next year? That conversation MUST begin with Salem. It's amazing that the Blue Devils had the kind of season they did considering how many of their key players were not seniors. QB Matt Cannone, and RB's Max Jacques and Jerickson Fedrick all return. That's 3 of the top players in the state, who will all be back next year, and all should be even better. Add in other key players in Joe Dipalma and Mike Lorenz, who will both be seniors and returning starters and you have the makings of a squad which will likely be favored to repeat as D-I champs. Coach Gati's team will miss seniors like Darren Brown, Jake Matthews and Kyle Henrick, but they have very strong junior and sophomore classes returning.
How about a team that will have a tougher time next year? The first one that comes to my mind is Exeter. The Blue Hawks had very good depth in their backfield this season, with Zach Kelleher, Jason Monroe, Ben Callahan, Bryan Dunn and Colton Schricker all getting plenty of carries. The quarterback was Carson Cross, and when he threw the ball it was either to Callahan, Donny Denman Tyler Mason or Andrew Grillo. Top lineman and defensive players were Kelleher, Dylan Ryan, Fred Seeger, Cross, Monroe, Schricker, Mason and Jake Peterson, Jacob Moser, Dylan Lufkin, Brett Schrempf and Kyle Fitzsimmons. The kicker was James Holler and the punter was Callahan. Those were the 18 players who carried the majority of the load this year for Exeter. And guess what, folks? Not one of them will be returning to the team next year, they're all seniors. Ouch. The good news is that the Blue Hawks once again had a good JV team, and the freshman team was not only good, but they had about 60 kids. The pipeline is strong for Coach Ball, but next season might be a difficult one, especially if they do indeed play in Division I.
Two kids who will help out are Jamie Tymann and Brad Tiernan, who will both be juniors next year. Tymann filled in for Cross for a few games while he was out with mono. He did a solid job as the backup, and that experience will be invaluable next season when he takes over as the starting QB. Tiernan broke into the starting lineup on the Blue Hawk defensive line a few weeks into the season. Once he got on the field, he never got off of it. He was very effective as a pass rusher as well as stopping the run. He's a very big kid, and played about as well as an sophomore in the state this season not named Fedrick. Both Tymann and Tiernan are players to watch over the next couple years.
Another team that loses a lot is Pinkerton. They will have to replace QB Ryan Simpson, a two-way player, as well as Ben Proulx, a DE/TE who was arguably the best defensive player in the state this year. They also lose the explosive Eric Guinto, lineman C.J. Trieb and Jeff Guilherme. The Astro's cupboard isn't bare, however. They'll have strong returning players in Mike Mazzola, Luke Somers, Emmitt Smith and Zach Tulley. Pinkerton loses A LOT of talent, but they will still be a good football team.
I suppose the big question is how good is BG going to be. And it's been well documented that they graduate over 30 seniors this spring. They will especially miss Nick Solano, Brett Kana, Walter Kell, Nick Phillips, Adam Hall, Scott St. Lawrence, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tom Barrille, Pat Rhodes, Ryan Turner, Elias Kassis, Nick Carluccio and Mike Flynn. While the Cardinals return QB Steve Cuipa and RB/WR/return man Mike Kelly, the majority of the playmakers, especially on defense are gone. Kyle Karaska, who will be a junior next season will help out but will have to step up. BG will not be as dominant as they were this past season, but they have a good pipeline of talent, with many of the players who were on this year's strong JV squad moving up to varsity.
Besides Guertin, the other team that will have mucho attention on them will be Plymouth. Can they have yet ANOTHER undefeated season, and keep the streak alive? Almost as importantly, will they remain in Division IV? If they move up to D-III, and Souhegan stays in D-III, the Sabres will have a good chance at ending the streak.
Speaking of Souhegan, it will not be easy replacing Petropulos and Jellison. They were two of the top players in the state each of the last two years. The Sabers also lose strong players in Tyler Wing, Matt Comstock, Sean Cultera and Stephen Daigneau. The good news is that this season they had arguably the best backup QB in the state in Michael Luks (Kujawski from BG can also make a case, I don't consider Brodeur or Karkhanis a backup for North since both played so much). Luks is 6'3", 220 and has a good arm. He should be next year's breakout quaterback. And he'll have some good weapons to use in wideouts Brendan McKenna and Matt Schagrin and tailback Nick Calvetti. Coack Believeau's squad won't be as dominat as they were the last two years, but they will still be a very good football team next season.
There's a good chance that Winnacunnet will be the favorites in Division II next year, especially if BG moves up to D-I. They had A TON of players on this year's D-II All-State team. Like Winnacunnet, they lose a lot of talent, but also return some key players as well. That list includes QB Steve Cronan, defensive standout Matt Trainor, and halfback Bret Taylor. Coach Auffant should probably win the D-II coach of the year award. He does a very good job with his team, and he brought excitement back to the program this year. The Warriors end this season with a lot of confiedence, and that will carry over to 2010.
Who are the top individual players to wath for next season? Three of the top four, and four of the top seven players in my Mr. Football Award rankings return. All three of these kids should have HUGE senior years. They would be Mike Kelly of BG, Max Jacques and Jerickson Fedrick of Salem, and Nashua North's Andre Williams. The other four players on my Mr. Football list who are coming back are all quarterbacks. These were four of the top six QB's this past season in Cannone, Cuipa, Cronan and Farkas. All four should be in for big senior years.
Keep and eye on Cronan. The two receivers he threw to this year were Harry Knowles and Jesse Gould, and they're both graduating. And Jason Busfield ws the team's top rusher, and also caught passes out of the backfield and he's also leaving. We'll really see what Cronan is made of next year. We know he's an exceptional athlete, and has toughness to burn, but now we'll see if he can make his teammates better.
I like Farkas to have a big year next year. South loses Nick Haskell, but they return Armond McRae and Nilsson Basora, two very good weapons for Farkas to utilize.
There wasn't much that Cuipa did wrong this year. He made very good decisions with the ball, and made good throws downfield. He'll need to become more of a vocal leader with all of the seniors leaving. And if he can get bigger and stronger, he'll be as good as any QB in the state next season.
Other signal callers to watch out for next season will be Jared Chandler from Central, Hanover's Sam Carney and North's Brandon Karkhanis. Chandler has fellow classmate Junior Brown coming back to throw the ball to. Those two wil be scary to defend when they're seniors in 2011. And Karkhanis will no longer have to share quaterback duties with Brodeur. He returns, along with Williams and Jamar Gathright for the Titans to give them a running game that will be second in the entire state only to Salem.