SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 2, 2012

Moving the Chains: Crown Jewels: With a month to go, handicapping the favorites for area football MVP

Moving the Chains Matt Williams
The Salem News

---- — With three weeks left in the regular season and the Election just days away, its time to handicap a race of a different sort: Who are the front-runners for football player of the year in the area?

For argument’s sake, let’s consider a hybrid of the classic Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player arguments. In other words, what a player means to his team should be considered, but isn’t necessarily the biggest factor.

With three weeks to go and every championship in the area up for grabs, there’s time for this race to shift radically, and this list could end up looking like Presidential poll from early September.

The Favorites

1A) Johnny Thomas, St. John’s Prep: The powerful junior took over the area rushing lead last week and now has 1,089 yards on the season with eight TDs. He’s averaging 9.0 yards a carry, nearly a first down every time he carries the rock and second only to teammate Alex Moore in the area.

Thomas is the favorite, in my mind, because of his consistency. The Peabody native has run for 100 yards or more in every game besides Everett, and that afternoon he had 94. He’s scoring on big plays, with five TDs of 20 yards or more, and also has a defensive touchdown.

More than that, he’s done it against arguably the toughest schedule in the state. The list of opposing runners that have gone over 200 yards at Brockton’s Marciano Stadium has to be fairly short, and Thomas is on it with a 221 yard effort in Week 4.

You don’t need to wonder what Thomas would do against this defense or that defense because he’s produced against the best the state has to offer. He’s at the top of my ticket heading into the stretch run.

1B) Brendan Flaherty, Beverly: Flaherty is the area’s leading scorer with 100 points and became Beverly’s all-time leading scorer earlier this season. He is one of the area’s most diverse players, with touchdowns rushing, receiving, on returns and on defense. The senior also had a passing TD, and his versatility enables the gadget plays that Beverly offensive guru Roger Day loves.

Flaherty has 790 rushing yards, but has carried the ball just 84 times. Beverly has so many options on offense (Kenny Pierce, Isiah White, Dom Abate, etc.) and has had its junior varsity on the field in so many second half blowouts that Flaherty hasn’t had as many touches as some of the other local featured backs.

Of his 16 TDs, nine are rushing, three are receiving, two are on interceptions and two are on punt returns. Flaherty impacts all three phases of the game. On defense, his ability to play a run-support role against rush-heavy opponents like Gloucester and shift into pass coverage against teams like Swampscott and potentially Marblehead is unique.

Flaherty is the best player on the area’s most dominant team. While not leading the race at this juncture, he is firmly entrenched on the ballot.

1C) Alex Moore, St. John’s Prep: The senior is good for a first down every time he carries the ball, averaging 10.28 yards per carry with 679 yards on 66 runs. He’s second in the area with 10 rushing TDs, and fourth in overall scoring with 14 TDs and 78 points.

His carries are somewhat limited because of Thomas, but he’s still fourth in the area in rushing with 679 yards. Moore has surpassed 100 yards rushing four times and is also St. John’s leading receiver with 213 yards and three scores.

Moore has an even bigger impact on defense. He’s a shutdown defensive back and he’s very solid in run support. In terms of complete football players, few can compare with the Boxford native.

As one of the best players, along with linebacker Lucas Bavaro, on the area’s best defense, Moore is a no-brainer for the area MVP ballot.

The Contenders

Trevor Lyons, Hamilton-Wenham: The senior QB is 15-4 as a starter and heading into tonight’s big game with North Reading has never lost back-to-back starts under center. There may not be a player in the area that means as much to his team as Lyons.

A year ago while leading H-W to their first Super Bowl appearance, Lyons ran for 1,408 yards and 19 TDs. This season, he’s been asked to throw more and has made the adjustment seamlessly with a career-best 877 passing yards and 9 TDs. In one game earlier this season, Lyons threw a TD, rushed for another, and both threw for and caught a 2-point conversion. He’s doing it all for the Generals, and if Hamilton-Wenham climbs back into the Tier 4 chase it’ll be on his shoulders.

Johnny Spears, Pingree: Here’s a player that not enough people are talking about. With three touchdowns in each of his last three games, however, the Highlanders all-purpose threat is becoming impossible to ignore.

Spears has taken over the area lead in receiving with 487 yards and five TDs on 17 grabs. He has two 100-yard receiving games and also has a 100-yard rushing effort. His 14 total TDs are second in the area and he’s also averaging better than 10 yards a carry rushing with 406 yards on 37 runs.

With a 93-yard pass from Jerome Cappadona on his resume, Spears is literally a threat to find the end zone every time he touches the ball.

Others in the conversation: Rufus Rushins, Bishop Fenwick; Tim Andersen and Ross Murphy, North Shore Tech; Brian Santry, Swampscott; Ian Maag and Ty Bates, Marblehead; Christian Dunston, Salem.

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What about a potential Defensive Player of the Year? The aforementioned Moore and Flaherty would certainly be in the mix. Four linebackers that are tremendous athletes and bring the lumber tackling come to mind: Bavaro of St. John’s Prep, Nick Antenucci of Pingree and the tandem of Ty Bates and Liam Gillis in Marblehead. On the defensive line, I’d list Sean Antonuccio of Masconomet on my ballot, as well as Salem captain Jared Louf-Woods, who has a motor that never stops running.

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Wondering about special teams? Return men like Jazmanny and Yordanny Sanchez for North Shore Tech come to mind. St. John’s Prep kicker Stephen Camarro and Marblehead’s Joe Newell each had 26 PATs and one field goal. Beverly’s Harry Brown has also been reliable with 31 PATs and a field goal for 34 points.

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There are no yards to gain without the offensive line. My All-Area O-line would include St. John’s Prep center James Fagan flanked by Marblehead’s Kyle McCormack, Danvers’ Joe Manson and Beverly’s Mike Dooling and Marc Babcock. There are a number of unsung blockers out there, but those are the five I’d list at the top of my ticket.

Blocking from the fullback spot has become a bit of a lost art, but don’t forget about the contributions of Masco’s Mac Cashin. He’s been a bulldozer in front of Dylan Mann and Mike Tivinis, and when those two have been hurt he’s carried the ball with power and precision.

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Moving the Chains, a column on North Shore high school football, appears every Friday during the fall in The Salem News. Contact Matt Williams at MWilliams@salemnews.com, 978-338-2669 and follow him on Twitter @MattWilliams_SN.