Thursday, August 30, 2012

WGAM / Nashua Telegraph Power Poll Released - My Ballot Revealed!

The first ever WGAM / Nashua Telegraph Power Poll has been released. Reporters from both media outlets voted this week on their top 10 high school football teams in NH going into the 2012 season. They will vote and a new poll will be released each week during the season.

I have a ballot in this, so below is the poll and then after that you will see my ballot and my reasoning behind it. My ballot is A LOT different than the actual poll, so check it out!

Here's the preseason WGAM / Nashua Telegraph Power Poll:
1. Pinkerton (5)
2. Exeter (4)
3. Manchester Central
4. Bishop Guertin
5. Dover
6. Portsmouth
7. Bedford
8. Souhegan
9. Nashua South
10. Nashua North

Now, here's how my ballot looked...
1. Exeter
2. Pinkerton
3. Manchester Central
4. Dover
5. Spaulding
6. Bishop Guertin
7. Souhegan
8. Goffstown
9. Keene
10. Winnacunnet

And here is the reasoning for why I voted that way...

1) Exeter - it's a tough call for the #1 spot between Exeter and Pinkerton, but the Blue Hawks get the nod because they beat Pinkerton in the title game last year and they return their two best running backs from that team (Tyler Grant and Colby Swane), whereas Pinkerton graduated their two best running backs (Emmitt Smith and Kevin Davies). Grant has to be considered the preseason layer of the Year in Division I (heck, I actually picked him for POY last year). He's the power back and Swane is the speedster. Grant, Ethan Joyce and James Vogt lead a very tough defense. Yes, the Blue Hawks did graduate most of their linemen from last year, but so did Pinkerton and Central (and those are HANDS DOWN the 3 best teams in the state). Plus in talking to some of the Exeter coaches they think the offense will be even better this season because with Joyce at QB he gives them more speed at that position and being able to have a QB who is also a threat to run makes them even tougher to defend. Until Exeter loses I'm voting them for the #1 spot.

2) Pinkerton - they're a strong pick for the #2 spot. They're just barely behind Exeter fr the reasons I mentioned above. And Pinkerton is ranked ahead of Central because they are a more balanced team. The Astros and Little Green both have explosive offenses, but Pinkerton also has a tough, hard-hitting defense whereas Central has some things to figure out on defense. Central head coach Ryan Ray was not pleased with the fact that his defense gave up 28 points in one half to Division III Goffstown. Meanwhile, Pinkerton's defense is led by the linebackers (as usual). Matt Madden and Matt St. Onge form possibly the top linebacker duo in the entire state, to go with an equally dangerous backfield duo in Manny Latimore and Chris St. Onge. Plus, the new QB is Sean Conroy (also a dominant safety on defense) who according to head coach Brian O'Reilly will give the Astros another dimension this year in being able to throw the ball more often. You can definitely circle the week 2 game between Exeter and Pinkerton on your calendar folks, although the winner of that game won't necessarily be the favorite to win the D-I title. After all, last year Pinkerton crushed Exeter in the regular season but it was the Blue Hawks who prevailed in the championship game. It's a long season, strap yourself in!

3) Manchester Central - they're just a notch behind Exeter and Pinkerton, but this is definitely a 3 team race, not only in D-I but for statewide supremacy. Like I said it's a long season, and Central has as good a shot as those other 2 teams to win this thing if they keep working hard and making adjustments as the season goes on. One thing is for sure, all 3 of these teams (Exeter, Pinkerton and Central) are going to put up a TON of points. They're going to do it in different ways, though. Exeter and Pinkerton are going to run, run run, and then maybe run some more. Central meanwhile has the best passing QB in the state (Riley Cote) and they have possibly the best WR in the state (Troy Pelletier). Pelletier might actually be the best 2-sport athelte in the state, as he is also a preseason POY candidate in D-I basketball. They have a couple other capable wideouts (including Nick Gratzenas), so in other words they have the most dangerous passing game in the state. Central also has good balance on offense, with the 1-2 punch of David Weekly and Hector Velez. Add in the tough, physical FB Andrew Slingsby who gets some of the short yardage carries and also leads the defense and you have an offense that everyone will have trouble stopping. They are having to replace a lot of starters on the o-line and on defense, but once the new faces get acclimated watch out.

4) Dover - it seems like every year I always have Dover ranked higher than everybody else. I'm not sure why though. Maybe it's because other reporters are D-I biased, when in reality most years D-II is just as good if not better than D-I. Maybe it's because people like to see high powered offenses, and Dover is a team that is consistently led by their defense. Maybe it's because they're on the seacoast and most of the poll's voters are based out of the Nashua/Manchester area, whereas I reside in Portsmouth. Maybe I just see the Green Wave play more than the other voters and give them more credit. But hey, I just call it how I see it. And RIGHT NOW, Dover is better than any other team out there outside of the 'Big 3' (Exeter, Pinkerton, Central). Once again, the Green Wave will be led by their defense, which should once again be as good if not better tan any defense in the state. Defensive Coordinator Jim Dunn does a great job, always having his kids in the right spots and they all love to hit people. Lineman Matt Dow and linebackers Eric Wilson and Eric Waddington form the best defensive trio in the state, and plus you also have Kyle Seawards, Colin Shaughnessy and Noah Boucher returning to the secondary to fly around the field, knock passes away and hit people. Bottom line, you're not scoring many points on these guys. Shaughnessy and Seawards are the main returning ball carriers - they're both tough runners who can also go out for short passes. Dover will miss QB Tyler Zabkar who graduated, and the backup QB Mike LeBlanc transferred to New Hampton for basketball. So they'll have an unproven QB. But hey, look at the last 2 state champs in Division I - Pinkerton in 2010 and Exeter in 2011. Neither team threw the ball much at all. You don't need a star QB to win a title in this state. With the defense they've got, all Dover will need to score is 2 TD's most week and they'll win.

5) Spaulding - wow, I am SHOCKED that these guys didn't make it into the poll. C'mon now people, let's give Spaulding some love here. They came within a field goal of beating Dover in the D-II semi-finals last year. And they return A LOT of talent from last year's team. Dover has more talent coming back (just barely) which is why I put the Green Wave one spot higher. But Spaulding is going to be very tough, on both sides of the football. They return QB Sam Oullette, play makers Trevon Scott, Tyrone Scott and Tanner Daniels who is a beast of a lineman. Oullette will miss his favorite receiving target Nathan Zriny who graduated, and the Red Raiders will also miss Dillon Couture (who was also a beast of a lineman) but look for Kyle Hall to step up in his place and for Kevin Medara, Michael Bellio, Josh Tapley and Seth Fogg to also step up and take on bigger roles this season. Claude Gagnon replaces Dennis Fongtaine, and Gagnon is the one who resurrected the team's offense last year. They have toughness up front and speed on the outside, not a bad combination.

6) Bishop Guertin - whoah, no way man! BG is only the third ranked team in D-II going into the season?! What's going on here? Hey, like I said I call it as I see it. BG is a good team, they are consistently one of the top teams in the state and this year is no different. A #6 overall ranking is nothing to sneeze at. But they just barely beat Dover last year in the championship game, Dover just barely beat Spaulding in the semi-finals and both Dover and Spaulding have more talent coming back than BG does. The Cardinals graduated QB Bob Fahey, plus Nolan Cornell, Ausin Saremi, Paul Lipari, Jimmy Carver, Nate Chartrand, Zach Mailloux, Paul Spinney and Ryan Belleville who were all starters and valuable players last season. Plus they had Tommy Vailas (expected to be the QB this year) and Lucas Lansing both transfer to prep schools. All of the linemen from last year are gone. But like I said, this will still be a good team and will once again contend for the D-II title. The good news is they still have a good amount of talent coming back, including Nick Marino, CJ Boykin, John Miller, Kevin Kiczuk, Blake Boudreau, Dalton Perry and Michael Devereaux. They have had some preseason injuries to Boykin, Miller and QB Pat Bilodeau though, so they will need those guys to get back on the field to stay on par with Dover and Spaulding.

7) Souhegan - after missing the playoffs in 2011, Souhegan is once again the top ranked team in D-III heading into the season. It's either them of Goffstown for the #7 spot on my ballot. I got a chance to see both teams play last Friday night at the Queen City Jamboree. Both teams had extremely impressive performances by their QB's, with Connor Benjamin for Goffstown and Tyler Ford for Souhegan. And while Benjamin was better (him and Cote are the 2 best QB's in the state), Ford has a better supporting cast. Between lineman Jake Kennedy (the best player in NH with scholarship offers from 7 D-I college programs) and play makers like Denny Desserault, Seth Learned, Brandon Len and Drew Prescott the Sabers have a lot of guys who can hurt you. And Kennedy at 6-foot-4, 280 lbs. and Luke Perkins at 6-foot-5, 275 lbs. is a scary combination in the trenches. Overall I would say both Goffstown and Souhegan looked pretty good last Friday night, but you also have to consider that the Sabers were playing without Learned who was out with a minor ankle injury.

8) Goffstown - they only lost by one score to a #3 ranked Central team in the QCJ last Friday night, so I can't possibly put the Grizzlies any lower than the #8 spot. Yes, I know it was just a scrimmage, but anyone who was there could see firsthand the intensity the teams were playing with - they were going hard and treating it like a real game. Goffstown went up 14-0 and also led 21-14. Their QB Connor Benjamin is a force, and is going to once again run all over Division III. he also has some big guys up front blocking for him, including Connor Wynn. Peter Shea and Michael O'Donnell also run the ball and when he's not running it Benjamin can also throw it down field, to guys like Paul Teixeira. This is a team with lots of team speed all around. They definitely won't have trouble putting points on the board.

9) Keene - they are annually a D-II playoff contender, and 2011 was a rare season where the Blackbirds missed the playoffs. The injury to star RB/WR Jimmy Boulay in week 1 really hurt them as so much of the offense went through him. They had to adjust the whole offense without Boulay, and it took a few weeks for the rest of the team to gel. They got off to a slow start but really started to play some good football as the season went on. Now they return their 2 best players (QB/DB Lucas Luopa and FB/LB Alex Parenteau) and aim to make a return trip to the playoffs. Both Luopa and Pareanteau are third year starters and you can look for both of them to wreak havoc on D-II (on both sides of the ball). Coach Luopa's team returns most of their starters, including WR Matt Delvecchio and DL Jimmy Heaney. If they can stay healthy they could really surprise some people.

10) Winnacunnet - another team that missed the playoffs last year but has a lot of excitement around them is Winnacunnet. Last year they were very young and had a lot of injuries. Well guess what folks? Now the guys who missed time with injuries last year (like RB Ben Franzoso and linemen Jordan Cutting and Christian Dyer) are all healthy. And the guys who were young and inexperienced last season (like QB Hinghao Vesna, DB Jonathan Flagg and WR Ben Gareau) all have a year under their belt as starters and will now be better players this season because of it. Add in a slew of other returning starters like all-state linebacker Nyles Connor and Winnacunnet (who made back-to-back trips to the D-II title game in 2009 and 2010) is once again ready to compete for a title.


Just missing my ballot was...
Trinity, Portsmouth and Salem. Trinity missed it because while they will get better as the season goes on, I was definitely underwhelmed with their offensive performance in the QCJ when they went scoreless against a Memorial team that has struggled for the past several years. Portsmouth meanwhile lost to Trinity in a preseason scrimmage. The Clippers are also playing without starting QB Travis MacDonald (out for 5 weeks) and RB Peter Hamblett still hasn't even practiced yet (shoulder injury). Salem looked pretty good last Friday night, but with a new coach, a lot of new starters and no more Jerickson Fedrick I need to see more from them before putting them with the state's elite. Other voters put Nashua North, Nashua South and Bedford in there, but I don't see it. Bedford's best play maker (Mike Gardiner) moved to Texas and their best lineman (Will Mcinerny) is out for the year with knee injuries. And North and South just don't have as much talent coming back as the teams on my ballot.


Poll voters for the WGAM / Nashua Telegraph ower Poll are Chris Shuker – WGAM’s “FNL Saturday” co-host, Sean Sendall – WGAM’s “FNL Saturday” co-host, Chris DeTurk – WGAM’s “ Friday Night Lights” host, Nick Montecalvo – Host of WGAM’s “NH Sports Central”, Tom King – Nashua Telegraph sports writer and co-host of WGAM’s “Christian and King”, Gary Fitz – Nashua Telegraph sports writer, Joe Marchilena – Nashua Telegraph high school sports writer, George Scione – Nashua Telegraph sports writer, Jeremy Leveille – publisher of NHNotebook.com

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