We're a few days away from the official start of the 2019 high school football season. Teams across the Bay State will begin their annual journey of mid-August practices in 90-degree temperatures hoping they'll still be playing when it'll likely be below freezing on championship Saturday the first Saturday of December.
It doesn't take much to look at local rosters or statistics from last season and project which gridiron gems will be prolific producers for their programs. What's more difficult is using some some guesswork as to who might step up to play a much bigger role for their squads this fall than they ever have before.
So let's get right to it. Here are a dozen players from The Salem News readership area who figure to step up and become real difference makers in this, the final season of the decade.
SALEM: Patrick Boardway, Jr.
After making a big difference on special teams a year ago while getting some opportunities on both sides of the ball, the 6-foot, 185-pound Boardway figures to be a two-way starter for the Witches this fall. His work ethic has always impressed Salem's coaching staff — we're talking about a player who has never missed a single strength session from the time he entered the high school — and his dedication to the game and his teammates, as well as his coachability, make him a special player. Look for Boardway to be a difference maker in the defensive line and a hybrid offensively who will likely see time both at tackle and tight end.
ESSEX TECH: Tyler Geary, Jr.
On a team without a single starter returning on offense — take a moment and digest what you just read — the Hawks need players not to get their feet wet, but dive right in and play well immediately. Enter Geary, a 6-foot, 240-pounder from Beverly who is more than ready to do so on both sides of the ball. He has two career starts under his belt; this year, you can plug him in as a mainstay at both right guard and defensive tackle. In the offseason he put on 20 pounds of good weight and has put up among the squad's best numbers in the weight room. He moves very well for his size, with the ability to go from Point A to Point B quickly and with a lot of power behind him. He also has long arms, making it difficult for foes to get up inside his framework and disrupt him.
BISHOP FENWICK: Angel Martinez, Jr.
The Crusaders have a treasure trove of offensive riches — which means Martinez has had to fight and claw for any touches he gets. Truth is, he could probably be the starting tailback on most North Shore teams, but at Fenwick he's behind the mercurial David Cifuentes and Holy Cross-bound Joe Rivers in the backfield depth chart. The solution, then, is to move the 5-foot-9, 175-pounder from Lynn into the slot. With the best hands on the team, getting him the football in open space and room to run is going to cause a myriad of problems for foes and give them one more headache they have to game plan for. A hard worker with limited opportunities in the past, look for him to explode this fall.
HAMILTON-WENHAM: Finn Brophy, Sr.
Following in the footsteps of his father, Kevin (1979), as a captain for the Generals, Brophy will be asked to lead the defense this season. A returning two-way starter at tackle, he has a motor that doesn't stop and is cerebral enough to know the ins and outs of line play on both sides of the ball: how to get leverage, use his leg drive to push back (or through) opponents and tying up his foes through sheer brute force. An intense player who loves to compete, this three-sport force (hockey goalie and lacrosse middie) for Hamilton-Wenham has been getting after it in the weight room with intensity this offseason and figures to have that translate onto the gridiron.
MARBLEHEAD: Declan Rudloff, Sr.
It wouldn't be accurate to term Rudloff as a 'surprise' player — he was a starter for the Northeastern Conference champion Magicians a year ago — but what he's capable of contributing for his team this fall could be monumental. An athletic 6-foot-4, 220-pounder who can run a 4.7 40-yard dash, Rudloff will be very, very difficult to get past as he protects the blind side as Marblehead's left tackle. Whether he lines up at defensive end (opposite fellow beast Devin Romain) or is slotted in at outside linebacker, Rudloff's athleticism and innate tackling ability will cause headaches for offensive coordinators all over the NEC. He could play tight end as needed, too, and even serve as his team's long snapper.
BEVERLY: Jaichaun Jones, Jr.
Spending a lot of time watching and learning from the sidelines a year ago, the explosive Jones is ready to be a regular contributor for the Panthers offensively this season. A 5-foot-10, 185-pound burner with Division 1 speed, Jones finished with over five yards a carry and a touchdown in limited action; he could see his nine carries of a year ago balloon to 90 or more this time around. He also worked his way into the defensive backfield at times for the Orange-and-Black varsity and can expect to do so with regularity while being responsible for shutting down opponent's top receivers. Jones' upside is enormous, particularly if he can avoid some of the injuries that befell him as a sophomore.
IPSWICH: MarlIn Dessources, Jr.
This is a guy who's easy to root for. A member of the Tigers' large (20-plus players) junior class, Dessources is, at 5-foot-6 and 140 pounds, undersized. But he makes up for that tenfold with his work ethic, not to mention great speed and pass catching ability as a wideout. He showed the Ipswich coaching staff what he could do last year when inserted into the lineup for special teams — he helped IHS knock off rival Newburyport by hustling to the football on a fourth quarter kickoff and falling on a fumble, allowing his team to score on the next play — and Dessources is ready to contribute even more so in his 11th grade season as both a receiver and defensive back.
ST. JOHN'S PREP: Cooper Smith, Sr.
Working his way into the lineup isn't a new concept for Smith — he's played varsity ball up front for the Eagles since he was a freshman — but it's been almost exclusively on offense. Now he's being asked to not only contribute, but be a force both on the offensive line and at defensive tackle for the reigning Division 1 Super Bowl champs. Big and strong with quick feet and a powerful build, the 6-foot-3, 300-pounder figures to be an steadying and force for St. John's on both sides of the ball. Taking part in various elite camps while also exploring his many options for continuing his gridiron career in college will only help him hit the ground running once the games begin in September.
PEABODY: Brandon Glass, Jr.
With the Tanners having graduated the majority of starters from their offensive line, they'll need some big, strong players to step up and fill that void. Enter Glass, a 6-foot-2, 215-pounder who could fill the cleats of his since-graduated older brother Chris, a two-way starter who is now trying out as a walk-on at the University of Maine. With good upper body strength, nimble feet and a strong grasp of the team's blocking and pass rushing schemes, the younger Glass should have every opportunity to shine for Peabody, whether that's at guard or tackle offensively as well as at defensive end.
MASCONOMET: Jack Corcoran, Sr.
Some guys use a disappointing season for their team record-wise as fuel to get ready for the next campaign — a category you can firmly place Corcoran into. He's been a leader in the offseason both with his actions (particularly in the weight room) and words, and it'd be shocking if this two-way end isn't named a Chieftains' team captain. He's added a few inches and is now approaching 6-foot-4, meaning the tight end can expect to have the ball thrown his way around the goal line with regularity. A strong run blocker, Corcoran has great foot speed as well, meaning he can go out wide to haul in passes or rip them away from defensive backs. Coming off the edge, he'll be a force on defense, too. A good player individually in 2018, Corcoran could become exceptional this fall.
DANVERS: J.P. Kelter, Sr.
The only player back for the Blue-and-White who scored both a rushing and receiving touchdown in 2018? That'd be Kelter, the multi-dimensional threat who can line up behind a fullback or go out wide and do equal amounts of damage when his number is called. He's shown a previous knack for finding holes and running behind the blocks that his linemen give him, and his touches per game should increase exponentially this fall. A 5-foot-9, 165-pounder who has also been a special teams maven in the past, look for Kelter to be a difference maker in the Falcons' defensive backfield as well. (Another candidate for Danvers: sophomore two-way back Chase Eary).
SWAMPSCOTT: Xavier Bascon, Soph.
Having worked his way into the varsity lineup for the Division 5 North champions a year ago, Bascon has the talent and explosiveness to be a true game breaker as a 10th grader. With fleet feet, soft hands and strong route running skills, he already fits the mold of a classic Swampscott wideout. Senior Andrew Augustin is the Big Blue's No. 1 target and rightfully so, but quarterback Graham Inzana loves to spread the ball around and get all of his receivers and backs (Arturo Vasquez, Zack Palmer, Dylan January, etc.) involved in the passing game. This is where Bascon should feast, especially with the attention sure to be given Augustin's way.