Alright folks, here they are. I've been bouncing around everywhere lately, covering some basketball, covering some baseball. But today it's back to football. In the past few weeks I've updated the football player rankings and now it's time for a new set of team rankings as we look to the 2010 season. I will update these team rankings as we get closer to the season and as I get a chance to talk with some coaches, see some scrimmages, etc. I will also have a season preview article right before the season starts. But this is how I see it right now. It's a set of preliminary rankings and an initial look at what teams and players you should expect to have an impact on the 2010 NH High School Football season.
Without any further ado, here are my Preliminary Power Rankings - 2010
2) Nashua North
3) Manchester Central
4) Bishop Guertin
5) Nashua South
Now, a brief look at each team
1) Salem - They are the defending champs in the highest division in the state...and they return the four best players on the team. They have arguably the two best halfbacks, the best quarterback and the best defensive player in the state. Granted that's only four players and you need more than that to win a title, but that's a pretty darn good start to a squad that Coach Gati has to work with.
Max Jacques will be a senior this year, after winning the Gatorade Player of the Year award last year as a junior. Both he and Jerickson Fedrick had some monster games running the football last fall. They compliment each other well. Jacques is a speedy runner, who thrives by bouncing it to the outside. If you let him get to the sideline more than likely he's taking it to the house. And Fedrick is the power back. He's built like a mack truck, can run through anybody and at the same time is blazing speed. They already were dominant last year, but this season they should both be even better. What we are likely to see out of Salem is the best 1-2 punch in the backfield a NH team has possesed in a long time.
And oh by the way, these guys have a QB and LB that are pretty good too. Matt Cannone played some outstanding football for this team last season. He wasn't asked to throw the ball a ton due to the team's running game. But when it really counted they needed him, and he came through. He had his biggest passing game of the year in the team's biggest game of the year - the D-I title game vs. North. The game concluded with Cannone throwing an absolute bomb towards the end zone to receiver Mike Lorenz for the winning score. And yes, Lorenz will also be back next season for Salem.
I mentioned the linebacker, it's Joe DiPalma. Possibly the best in NH at his position and an extremely hard hitter. The offense will be of course based around the running game once again, but with Cannone and Lorenz the Blue Devils will be able to beat you with the pass as well. And although they do lose some key players on their lines (like stud OL Dillon Cohen) Andrew Ivas returns as a senior and will anchor both the OL and DL for the team. Salem will also miss fullback Alex Sobrado and linebacker Darren Brown. But that doesn't change the fact that this team is stacked. They have to be considered the preseason #1 team.
2) Nashua North - Salem might get most of the preseason hype, but fans should definitely remember the Titans (of Nashua North that is!). Like pretty much every other team in the state, Coach Robie's team is losing some very valuable players to graduation. But at the same time, when it comes to returning talent few teams can match what North will have. What I like about their team is their balance. Look at the top returning players for each team around the state. For teams, they're mostly just skill position players, for some it's just on the line where they're strong. Some just on offense, some just on defense. But with North they have a very nice balance.
North will certainly miss players like Kevin Rosenberg, Dylan Brodeur and Trevor Rancourt. But there's plenty of talent returning for them to give Salem a run for their money. For the skill position guys you have QB Brandon Karkhanis, RB Andre Williams and RB/WR Jamar Gathright. Then even though they lose Rosenberg, they return what is probably the state's best group of linemenan with players like Zach Hunnewell, Joel Pacheco, Nick Cummings, Wilson Pena and Tim Coy. Plus Williams and Gathright both play in the team's defensive secondary in addition to the offensive backfield. Gathright especially, is a very good defensive back. Williams will be one of the top halfbacks in NH, no question about it. Last year Karkhanis shared QB duties with Brodeur, but this season the job is his alone. Look for him to have a big senior campaign. This team will be very good, on both sides of the football. The skill positions, and the lines. Watch out.
3) Manchester Central - Mike Cavanaugh was the heart and soul of this team for the past couple of years. Now he is headed off to Norwich University. Two years ago the Little Green lose Seamus O'Neil and now Cavanaugh. They have lost numerous other talented players in the past couple years as well. The fact that they're ranked here is a credit to the depth of talent at Central High, as well as a credit to the coaching of Ryan Ray and his staff.
Central is also a team with a nice balance with their top returning players. You have skill position guys like QB Jared Chandler, WR Junior Brown, RB Khari Halliburton and RB/WR Sam Graham. Then there's also Addison Nye, a very good two-way player and defenders Tyler Nolet and Curtis Bayne. The question mark with Central will be their lines. Their skill position players will be good, their secondary and linebackers will be good. But they're losing a lot of talent to graduation on both the OL and DL.
Central improved from week 1 to the end of the season more than any team in NH last year. Chandler didn't start practicing with the first string offense until right before the season. And Brown missed the first few games of the year. Once those two both got on the same page they started to roll. Plus their lines started to play better. Now Chandler knows the offense, and he will be practicing with the first string all summer and so will Brown. They will be tough to stop right from the beginning of the season. But again, with the Little Green the only question will be the play of their lines.
4) Bishop Guertin - I'm pretty sure that by now everybody knows about the 2009 Bishop Guertin football team. They were unstoppable. The best team in the state. They went undefeated, with their closest win being by four touchdowns. However, that team had over THIRTY seniors. The Cardinals are graduating more talent than any team in NH. Teams like BG had last fall don't come around often. Nobody is expecting them to repeat the kind of success they had in 09'.
That being said, Coach Tony Johnson's crew will still be very good. For one, they will have an easier schedule this time around. They're still in Division-II. Exeter is now in Division-I though, and Manchester West is moving down to D-II. You lose Exeter, you get West. Needless to say, D-II will be a weaker division this year, and D-I is getting a whole lot stronger.
This year's Guertin squad will be led by a pair of big-time playmakers, Mike Kelly and Steve Cuipa. Kelly is EXTREMELY fast, and can make plays either by running the ball, catching it, returning kicks or returning punts. Every time he touches the football he's a threat to score a TD. Cuipa is also an exceptional QB and runs the option very well. Add in returning lineman Nick Cooke and Kyle Karaska who will play a vital role on the defensive front seven and you have some guys to build around. Kicking is also one of the more underrated parts of the game and these guys will have the top place kicker (Ryan Card) and punter (Nick Pyzocha) in the state.
Yes, Coach Johnson graduates a ton of good players. But that's why they're not ranked in the top 3. I do think however, that based on the returning players they do have and the fact that other kids are ready to step into the shoes of the seniors graduating is why I still think they will be a top 4 team.
5) Nashua South - Besides Salem, South should be the highest scoring team in the state. This will be a VERY explosive offense. QB Keith Farkas led Division-I in passing yards this past season, expect the same again in 2010. He's as talented at the position as there is in our state, and he has some very good weapons at his disposal. There's Derek Paradis and Armond McRae, two players who were among the most productive sophomores in NH last fall. Paradis is a tough halfback who had a couple of 100+ yard rushing performances in 2009. McRae is speedy, athletic and versatile. Coach Knight will use him rushing the ball as well as lining up at wideout and catching passes downfield. Then there's also WR Nilsson Basora. Basora has good size at 6'2" and is as athletic as anyone in the NHIAA (he also was THIS close to transferring to New Hampton prep school before changing his mind). This will be a very fun offense to watch. They are loaded with speed, and they're loaded with talent.
Just like last year, the question with South isn't whether they can score but whether they can stop people from scoring. Linemen Mike Brannen and John Bieren are a good start, but they will need some help from others on the defensive unit. If the Purple Panthers can improve the defense they can beat anyone.
6) Winnacunnet - Toughness. Grit. Fearless. Three words I would use to describe the 2009 Winnacunnet Warrior football team. The playoff win over Exeter was huge for the program, and they played BG tougher than anyone else did all year. They do graduate a considerable amount of talent off of that squad, including guys like Max Fatello and Harry Knowles. But they also bring back plenty of talent. Nobody returning to the team is more talented than QB Steve Cronan. Cronan is an explosive player. He can pass, he can run and he's a good leader. He does though, lose his top 2 receiving targets from last season in Knowles and Jesse Gould.
Elsewhere on the roster, Bret Taylor returns to the backfield. He shared carries last season with Jason Busfield but this year will likely be asked to shoulder the load. Mike Trainor will be one of the top defensive players in Division-II. He will be joined on the defensive side of the ball by fellow returning starters Spencer Cutting and Mike Sullivan. Another returning lineman for the Warriors is Mark Lariviere, who will once again make Cronan's job easier.
Winnacunnet will be good. The question is are they good enough to take down BG in D-II? Probably too early to tell right now. But I do know this for sure. The gap between the two teams is MUCH smaller than it was last year, no question about it.
7) Souhegan - Just like with Bishop Guertin, the season that Souhegan had in 2009 has also been talked about to death. But just like BG, Souhegan deserves credit for the team they had last year, especially with such a small enrollment. What do they have coming back this year though? Steven Jellison, the top halfback and one of the top linebackers in the state last year. Gone. DJ Petropulos, the state's top QB a season ago. Gone. Sean Cultera, Colin Cray, Stephen Daigneau, Tyler Wing and Matt Comstock. All gone. That's a lot of talent leaving Coach Beliveau's club.
Despite all of those losses, Souhegan will be the hands down favorite to once again win Division-III. Stepping in to replace Petropulos will be Michael Luks (the state's best backup QB in 2009). He will have the privilege of throwing the ball to stud receiver Brendan McKenna, and hand it off to the speedy Nick Calvetti. You have the big and powerful Wes Crowell on the lines. And with linebacker Colin Ginnard and safety Eric Dwinell, Souhegan will once again be a very balanced football team.
The 2010 Sabers won't be as good as they were in 2009. But there's no shame in that. Souhegan High has less than 1,000 kids. With an enrollment that low, the fact that they were as good as they were last year is astounding. For a school that size, seasons like that do NOT come around very often. So this year they won't be as good as they were in 2009. No shame in that. But they still should be good enough to win D-III for the third straight year.
8) Pinkerton - Another team that will be hit hard by graduation. DL Ben Proulx, OL Chris Trieb and QB Ryan Simpson. All scholarship players. All graduating. Not to mention star halfback Eric Guinto who is also graduating. And this a Pinkerton team that was only a .500 team in 2009. How are they even ranked this high you ask? Well believe it or not, they actually are returning more talent than the teams ranked below them. Londonderry, Exeter, Alvirne, Portsmouth, Laconia, Plymouth, Dover and Trinity. None of these teams is returning a whole heck of a lot of starters. Each of those teams has a few guys who they know what they're going to get from, but MANY question marks.
Pinkerton returns some pretty good players in Mike Mazzola, Zach Tulley, Luke Somers, Jesse Trottier and Emmitt Smith. These are all tough, hard hitting ballplayers who will keep the team competitive. One question I have is how will they use Somers? Before the 2008 season he was a sophomore and was competing with Simpson for the starting QB position. Simpson got the job, and last year Somers was a valuable player for the team both running the ball and catching passes from Simpson down field. Now that Simpson is graduating, does Somers play QB? Or does he continue to be a jack-of-all-trades by running, receiving and playing defense?
Pinkerton doesn't have a ton of returning talent, but they do have a few guys to build around. They have more returning than the other teams ranked behind them. And the factor I haven't mentioned yet is the fact that the Astros have the highest enrollment of any school in the NHIAA. More kids to choose from for the football team = better chance to replace graduating starters.
9) Exeter - The Blue Hawks don't have as high of an enrollment as Pinkerton does. But what they do have is a pipeline of talent that goes all the way down to the youth football program in the Exeter area, an offensive and defensive system in place that has proven to work for a number of years, and a coaching staff that is probably the best in the state. All of the above are reasons why no matter how much talent Exeter loses, I cannot envision a scenario when they are not at least a top 10 team in New Hampshire.
And that is good, because Bill Ball's squad does indeed lose a TON of talent to graduation. Virtually all of their starters, virtually all of their players who saw significant playing time in 2009 were seniors. Dylan Ryan, Zach Kelleher, Jason Monroe, Carson Cross, Ben Callahan, Tyler Mason, Colton Schricker, Fred Seeger, Donny Denmen, the list goes on. All were two-way players who started on both sides of the football last season, and they were all seniors.
The cupboard isn't completely bare though. The best returning player is lineman Brad Tiernan. Tiernan gave opposing QB's fits last season rushing the passer and he was also solid on the offensive line...and he was only a sophomore. Jamie Tymann started four games at QB during the season filling in for Cross who had mono. Tymann did a very solid job and that experience will certainly help him in 2010. Other than those two though, there isn't much for returning starters. Watch out for lineman Tim McCain and halfback/linebacker Jon Spivey to step into bigger roles and to produce for Exeter this season.
All of that being said, this will not be one of the best Exeter teams in recent memory. They won't be as good as they were last season, and that team was only the 3rd best team in D-II when it was all said and done. Now the Blue Hawks will be "Moving on Up" to D-I. I don't think Coach Ball minds the change. Afterall, there will be less of those 28-0 wins for his team so they will be challenged more. But with the team likely to be entering at least somewhat of a down year, I'm sure this is not the year Exeter would like to be moving to D-I. It just happened to work out that way.
10) Alvirne - Other candidates to get the nod for my #10 spot were Plymouth, Laconia, Londonderry, Dover, Portsmouth and Trinity. But those teams flat-out are NOT returning as much talent as Alvirne is. This is a credit to coach Nimblett, who has done a nice job of turning the program around. A few years ago I would get laughed at for saying the Broncos were a top 10 team. That's not the case anymore.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying these guys will win D-II. I'm not saying they're better than BG or Winnacunnet. But am I saying that they're currently my #3 ranked team in D-II for 2010? Absolutely. I think Plymouth and Londonderry especially are a couple teams who are losing a lot of talent, and not returning very much talent. At least not as much as Alvirne.
The boys from Hudson will be lead by QB/LB two-way stud Jonathan Baldwin and another two-way star, RB/DB Jesse Horn. Both players are tough, hard nosed kids. Horn especially impressed me in the team's playoff loss to Bishop Guertin. There's also Evan Anaya, who is a very fast, athletic player. Anaya is a talented receiving target and also a valuable special teams player. Add in another solid two-way player in Sean Sipsey, and some good size returning on both lines and you have the makings of a competitive football team.
One question is at QB. Does Baldwin play the position, or does Patrick Reidy? Baldwin was the starter all year long, but got injured later in the season. Reidy stepped in, and after a rough outing vs. BG, he rebounded with a nice performance. If you have Reidy at QB, you can either have Baldwin just play linebacker, or you can use Baldwin on offense, as an extra weapon. He could either play tight end, fullback, etc. and give opponents another player for the defense to worry about.
Favorite in D-IV is Plymouth...Right?
Mark my words. Allow me to be the first one to say it. Plymouth will NOT go undefeated in 2010. That's right, I said it. As a matter of fact, there are three other teams in D-IV that are just as good as Plymouth. Those three teams are Laconia, Trinity and Hanover. Plymouth will once again be a good team, don't get me wrong. They have AMAZING coaching, an excellent system and good pipeline of talent/youth program just like Exeter. But virtually their whole team last year was seniors. Their defense was tough, physical, fast and hard hitting. On offense they handed the ball off to Kyle McAuliffe and Colin Hay, the offensive line created massive wholes for them to run through, and they blew teams away. I don't see that happening this year, at least not against Trinity, Laconia or Hanover. McAuliffe and Hay are graduating. Star lineman Duncan Williams is graduating, as are most of the other lineman.
Laconia has just as much returning talent as Plymouth has. Trinity loses star back Connor Lyons, but they return some excellent lineman like Jeff Gratiano, Jared Barczak, Troy Butler, TE/DE Andrew Lauderdale. Plus returning linebackers Josh Hughes, Mike Leonard and Jared Butler. Hanover has QB Sam Carney, a third year starter who should be in for a huge senior season. He has some solid returning lineman to help him out.
It will be a four team race in D-IV, with NO clear cut favorite. Plymouth might still win the title, but they will NOT go undefeated. The streak WILL in in 2010. Either Trinity, Laconia or Hanover WILL beat them. Just watch.