We continue to our look back on the 2011 football season here on the NH Notebook. Before hoops season kicks into high gear we still have this article and one more football piece where I will break down the candidates for the 2011 Mr. Football Award.
Today we have lots of realignment talk for you, I give my Player of the Year picks for each of the 6 divisions and take a look at next year's favorites.
Ok, let's get right to it. Who's moving up, who's moving down, consolidate the 6 divisions we have now into 3, have 1 state champion instead of 6. These are all hot button issues right now. Here's my take.
Yes I would like to see 3 divisions instead of 6. Of course it is silly to have 6 state champions in a state this small, I've been saying that for years. Like others have proposed, you split those divisions into 2 conferences - either north/south or east/west. That way you play more games vs. teams close to you geographically and have 3 less state champions.
But the question is, how do you have 1 state champion if you have 3 divisions? See if there were 4 divisions you have 4 division champs, then have D-I vs. D-IV, D-II vs. D-III and then have the 2 winners play each other with the winner being named the 1 true state champion. But how do you do that with 3 divisions?
As for which teams should be in what divisions. BG and Exeter should both be in Division I. Year after year Exeter is one of he top 5 or 6 teams in the entire state, and this year they won the D-I title. D-I is where they belong. BG meanwhile needs to move up to D-I, it's about time they do! They've won 4 titles in a row in D-II, and 7 of the last 8. 2 years ago they graduated 34 seniors, had the best player in the state Mike Kelly go down with a season-ending foot injury and they STILL won the title. Then this year they have a new coach, they had Andrew Crane and Andrew Carper both transfer to prep schools, Kyle Karaska didn't come out for the team, Brody Smith suffered a season ending injury. Yet they SILL won the title! So even when everything goes wrong, and even when it's supposedly a down year for BG they still win the D-II title and finish as the #3 ranked team in the state. That proves the point that they belong in Division I. Guertin is a football factory, so even when they lose guys they still have plenty of talent to step right in there.
Other realignment notes...if BG moves up to D-I, which D-I team moves down to D-II? Well they could just make it 10 teams in D-I. Or if someone MUST move down, why not Salem? Yes, they did make the playoffs for the third straight year, but a lot of the talent Salem had in 2009 and 2010 were Windham kids, and they now have their own high school. The loss of the Windham kids will really start to hurt Salem starting next season, and their enrollment will likely put them in D-II. Plus the Blue Devils top players this year were seniors - Jerickson Fedrick, Abner Rodriguez, Mike Downing and Kevin Dembkoski, they were all seniors. So starting next season Salem will likely start to fall back to the pack a little, and I wouldn't be surprised to see them move down to D-II.
A lot of rumors about Alvirne and West moving down from D-II to D-III. West I don't have an issue with, because ever since they started losing all of those athletes from Bedford the Blue Knights have really started to struggle. West can now barely get enough kids to practice with, so I'm ok with them moving down. As for Alvirne, they should stay in D-II. West has an excuse for losing games, Alvirne doesn't have one. Plus it was just 2 years ago when the Broncos were a playoff team. Hang in there, Alvirne. Keep working, you have enough kids at your school, you'll be able to turn it around.
Pelham should have never moved up to D-III 2 years ago. They have really struggled since the move. Yes they were a very good team when they were in D-V, but they lost a lot of really good players in the couple years before moving up (Bruce Veira, Joe DeAngelo, Sean Sweeney, etc.) and then right when they moved up to D-III their best returning player (Mike Lombard) transferred to Proctor Academy. The Pythons should move down to at least D-IV, if not back down to D-V.
It seems inevitable Bedford is moving up to D-II. The Bulldogs have had a few years now to build their sports programs up since the new high school was opened, and now their teams are movin' on up like the Jeffersons (an old TV show reference for you youngsters). Word on the street is their boys and girls basketball teams will both be moving up to Division I and the football team is destined for D-II. And I don't have a problem with any of these moves. Bedford has a big school, they have nice, new facilities. And they have top notch feeder programs in both football and basketball (their boys hockey team was also very good last year).
Then you have St. Thomas and Trinity. Both of them are private schools who have a HUGE pool of kids to draw from. Trinity has kids from Manchester, Hooksett, Bedford, Merrimack, etc. going there. St. Thomas meanwhile not only brings in kids from all over the seacoast but they have kids from 3 different states going there - MA, NH and ME. As a result both programs have been very successful last few years. Trinity went undefeated in winning D-V 2 years ago, last year they were the D-IV runners-up and this year they were the undefeated champs in D-IV. STA was the D-V runners-up last year and this year they were the undefeated champs in D-V. Both teams finished in the top 12 teams in the NH Notebook statewide rankings. Bottom line is that both of them should move up 1 division. Trinity should be in D-III and STA belongs in D-IV. I also said how Manchester West should move down to D-III, which would create an annual game between Manchester schools Trinity and West which would be a lot of fun. STA would lose their divisional rivalry with Somersworth, but that's ok - maybe they could play each other on Thanksgiving instead.
I'm also hearing Laconia is moving down to Division V. I hear it's because their enrollment puts them there. But c'mon now! I don't care what their enrollment is, every year Laconia is one of the top 2 or 3 teams in Division IV, that's where they belong. Lastly, I'm also hearing Interlakes-Moultonborough is moving up to D-V from D-VI. I have no problem with this. ILM has won 2 of the last 3 titles in D-VI, including an undefeated season this year. Plus this was the first year that they included Moultonborough students on their team. With these teams that combine schools to make teams you must remember to add the enrollment of both of the schools in order to place them in a division, another reason why ILM likely belongs in D-V.
Ok, that's enough realignment rambling for me! Now we look at each of the 6 divisions and had out our Player of the Year awards and early favorites for next year...
Player of the Year: Tyler Grant, Exeter
This is by far the toughest division to pick a POY in. Grant is the pick, but Pinkerton teammates Emmitt Smith and Kevin Davies, Jerickson Fedrick (Salem), Armond McRae (Nashua South) and Riley Cote (Manchester Central) are all very good candidates as well.
But the bottom line is only 1 of those players won a championship. Not only that but, but Grant was a standout for Exeter on both offense and defense. Plus he ran for 100+ yards in both the semi-finals and the championship game. In the end my top candidates were Smith, Davies, Fedrick and Grant. Smith was a threat to run for 6 every time he touched the football, and he also played 2 ways (offense and special teams where he was arguably the most dangerous return man in the state). Davies was also a 2 way player (RB and LB), and in my opinion was the best 2 way offense/defense player in the state. I gave Smith the nod though because of performance in the championship game when Smith ran for 189 yards and Davies ran for 34. Fedrick was is a absolute beast of a player, and he is one guy who actually plays 3 ways for Salem (RB on offense, LB on defense and kick returner on special teams) and he had some monster games this season. Grant gets the nod though because not only did he take his team further but he performed better against the state's top teams.
Next Year's Favorite: Too Early to Say Just One Team
The 3 teams to watch out for are Pinkerton, Exeter and Manchester Central (in no particular order). These 3 teams ended the season as my top 3 teams in D-I, and all 3 return a good amount of talent. Pinkerton does lose a lot of good senior players (Smith, Davies, Trottier, Coombs, Curran, etc.) however they also have a strong nucleus of returning players including the St. Onge twins (QB Chris and LB Matt) along with Manny Latimore and Matt Madden, who were arguably the 2 best sophomore players in the NHIAA this season. Exeter also loses a number of quality seniors, especially Tim Stackhouse, Brad Tiernan, Adam Morin, Conor Carrier, Jamie Tymann, Joe Moser, Connor Byron and Jake Pleadwell. These guys will be hard to replace and were all BIG contributors to the Blue Hawks title run. Still, they return the reigning D-I Player of the Year in Tyler Grant, and speedy RB and return man Colby Swane is also back, play makers Ethan Joyce and James Vogt also return, as does Logan Laurent (the best kicker/punter in the state). As for Central, they also have one of the state's top returning players in QB Riley Cote. Also back are RB's David Weekly and Hector Velez, plus WR/DB Troy Pelletier. Andrew Slingsby is another strong player who will be a senior next season.
But wait! What if BG moves up to D-I? Well then instead a 3 team race for the title you can make it a 4 team race! That's right, BG loses a bunch of senior starters but they too will return plenty of talent to once again be one of the top 4 or 5 teams in the entire state.
Player of the Year: Jimmy Carver, Bishop Guertin
That's right the POY in D-II is a defensive player! Then again this shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, because last season you could make the argument that the 2 best players in D-II were linemen (Dover's Kyle Wilson and Keene's Taylor Russell). No, the POY does NOT have to be a QB or RB!
The bottom line is BG won yet another title this year in D-II and Carver (pictured above) was their best player. The play of the Cardinals defense was the reason why they won the title over a very good Dover team, and Carver is their best defender. Guertin had some guys who had 1 or 2 big games, they had some guys who were injured at different points in the season. Carver was the constant though. He was their most consistent player, week in and week out he flew around the field on defense and made bone-jarring hits.
Lucas Luopa (Keene) and Jackson King (Merrimack) also had big years, but sorry you have to make the playoffs to be POY. That leaves Josh David (Timberlane) and Tyler Zabkar (Dover), who both had very good years. But Carver was the most consistent player and he is also the only one who won a title.
Next Year's Favorite: Bishop Guertin (if they're in D-II)
If they move up to D-I it's wide open. Keene brings back Luopa and Parenteau, Winnacunnet returns nearly all of their starters, Dover brings back plenty of talent including Eric Wilson, Matt Dow, Kyle Seawards and Eric Waddington. Spaulding returns plenty of talent including Tanner Daniels, QB Sam Oullette, Trevon Scott, Kyle Hall, Kevin Medara and Josh Tapley. Even though they return Josh David they graduate most of their other top players, so Timberlane might be on the outside looking in come playoff time next year. They graduate Evan David (no relation to Josh), QB Evan Bidgood, Anthony Gillis, Mike Lynch and Connor Sproul who were all key players this year.
Word on the street is Bedford could be moving up to D-II next year and with all the guys they have coming back they would also definitely be in the mix as well.
Player of the Year: Billy Lane, Portsmouth
Lane was the best player for a Portsmouth team that not only won the D-III title but both of their wins in the playoffs were lopsided games and both on the road as well. Lane had a number of big games on the season, but came up especially big in the playoffs. He was a standout for the Clippers running the ball, catching it out of the back field, on defense as a DB and also returning kicks.
Next Year's Favorite: Bedford (if they stay in D-III)
The Bulldogs have a ton of returning talent, including guys like James Caparell, Brian Collins, Dylan York, David Cannone, Joe Thibeault and Will McInerny. But they may be moving up to D-II, which would open the door for some other teams to have a shot.
If it's not Bedford, my money is on Portsmouth or Goffstown taking it. Portsmouth returns Ricky Holt (he'll be the best lineman in the state next year), Kurtis Leonard (he'll be one of the best lineman in the state next year), plus WR/DB/PR Jack Mackey and Colin MacDonald who is a good receiver and also one of the top punters in the state. If Bedford stays in D-III you could see a rematch of this year's title game with Bedofrd and Portsmouth once again going at it. Also watch out for Goffstown, with star QB Connor Benjamin returning, plus WR/Db Chris Garrison and a number of other sophomores and juniors who return.
The other variable is this - what if Trinity moves up to D-III? They went undefeated this year in D-IV and have some strong returning players, so don't be surprised if they make the playoffs next year in D-III.
Player of the Year: Josh Hughes, Trinity
He ran the ball on offense (over 100 yards in the title game), also blocked on offense, played on special teams and was a hard hitting linebacker on defense for the undefeated champs in D-IV. Hughes was the heart and soul of a Trinity team that was simply dominating.
Our correspondent DC has another view though, "The popular pick is Hughes. I like Taylor Newberry (Plymouth) for this reason - Hughes had a lot more talent around him then Newberry. Carrier and Hughes were clones of each other. I think Trinity could have won without Hughes. Without Newberry though Plymouth doesn't beat Laconia and never makes the finals. Hughes is the better player but I think Newberry had a bigger impact on his team's success."
Next Year's Favorite: Trinity (if they stay in D-IV)
They were the undefeated champs this year, and with guys like Ryan Carrier, Carmen Giampetruzzi, Zach Poole, Romeo Masuku, Tristan Theroux and Austin Chambers they have more talent coming back next year than anyone else in the division. But what if they move up to D-III?
That opens the door for Plymouth, Laconia and Kennett. While these teams might not be as deep as Trinity, with guys like Brandon Goodale and John Thomas (Plymouth), David Mahoney (Laconia) and Nick Massa (Kennett), these 3 teams are still returning some of the better returning players in the state.
However the rumor is Laconia is moving down to D-V and St. Thomas is moving up to D-IV. So what does that mean for the balance of power in these divisions? Well it means instead of Laconia being a title contender in D-IV next year St. Thomas will be. And instead of St. Thomas being the favorites to repeat as D-V champs Laconia will instead be one of the favorites in D-V. I also wouldn't be surprised to see Windham move up to D-IV, because even though they're still a new varsity program they made it to the title game this year in D-V, I believe their enrollment puts them in D-IV and they also have some very strong youth programs (as does Bedford).
Player of the Year: Ryan Monette, St. Thomas
Monette makes it 2 juniors to be named a POY for their division (Tyler Grant being the other). This was a pretty easy pick, as Monette had monster games in both playoff wins as well as huge games vs. Campbell and Sanborn. Monette was a play making DB on defense. He was a speedy, tough runner on offense who also caught passes in addition to running the ball. He also returned kicks and punts, often times for big gains. Most importantly he led the Saints to an undefeated season and a D-V title.
However, once again our correspondent has a different view, "I know the popular pick is Monette and he is definitely the best athlete in D-V, but I think the MVP was Scott Munroe. His play at QB took STA to another level, they ran the spread as good as anybody in the state. Last year St. Thomas had the same quality personnel but the difference this year was their offense and Munroe was the main reason."
Next Year's Favorite: St. Thomas (if they stay in D-V)
Nobody could touch these guys this year in D-V, and they have the division's best player coming back. That makes them the favorite to repeat, although watch out because Windham, Kearsarge and Somersworth all return lots of talent too.
Windham has a very strong junior class which will be seniors next year, including QB Joe Lorenz, TE/DE Danny Cannone, DL Artem Aristov and FB/LB Kevin Cooney. Kearsarge might be the best team in D-V next year even if St. Thomas sticks around, as they have Eric Hauck, Jacob Jones Jordan Barthol, Oliver Gallo and Peter Allen all coming back (they'll all be seniors too). St. Thomas will be tough though - in addition to Monette they also return FB/LB Peter Yarosewick, OL/DL John Cifrino, play maker Jesse Ware, RB/DB Jake Geppert and Hayden Middleton (best kicker/punter in the state not named Logan Laurent). Then you also have Somersworth who will have one of the best dynamic duos in D-V football next year with QB/DB Drew Francoeur and RB/LB Josh Ream, plus OL/DL Tyler Kretschmar (son of Greg Kretschmar from Greg and the Morning Buzz will be arguably the division's best lineman) plus play maker Nick Honaker.
Stevens High will also be an interesting team next year in D-V. You have QB ogan Batchelder coming back from the leg injury that cost him his entire junior season, plus the speedy Billy Brooks and tough lineman CJ Gosselin. Those guys will all be seniors for a Cardinals team that looks to return to the playoffs.
Man, when you think about it the majority of the talent in D-V is coming back next year. If STA stays and Laconia also joins D-V this will be a VERY competitive division, as STA, Laconia, Windham, Kearsarge, Somersworth and Stevens will all be VERY good next year. Not only that, but there is also a chance that Interlakes-Moultonborough will be moving up to D-V from Division VI. The Lakers went undefeated in winning their 2nd D-VI title in the last 3 years.
Player of the Year: Conor Donovan, Interlakes-Moultonborough
Here's one pick that DC and I are in agreement on. Donovan did it all for his team, leading them to the undefeated season and the title.
Here's what DC had to say about Donovan, "Conor Donovan was hands down the most complete player in the division playing for the best team."
Next Year's Favorite: Epping-Newmarket
This division is always so tough to predict. ILM loses Donovan and a number of other quality senior players including Tanner Quinney. Newfound graduates RB Shannon Tucker, Franklin graduates star QB Connor Smith, Newport graduates Devin Burnham and Logan Merritt, Gilford graduates Brendon Murphy, Epping-Newmarket loses Daniel Espo and Robert McGloughlin.
So unlike in D-V where most of the top players are coming back that isn't the case in D-VI where many of the stars are graduating. However Epping-Newmarket has the most talent coming back, with Brandon Carleton, Tyler Young and Kevin Clougherty leading the way. Look for ILM to once again be a playoff team (if they stay in D-VI), with QB Mitchell Jurius and play maker Willie True being key players who return. Newport is just a very good program, Coach Carle has been winning games over there for a LONG time, I wouldn't bet against the Tigers returning to the playoffs once again.