The high school football season kicks off for real Friday night, and you can feel excitement in the air.
Our North Shore high school football experts, Phil Stacey and Matt Williams, are just like you in that they have their thoughts and opinions on which players and teams will shine brightly this fall. In the second of a two-part story, they'll give their thoughts six pressing questions going into the new year.
7. Who are your picks for the three biggest impact linemen on the North Shore?
1. Cooper Smith, St. John's Prep. At 6-foot-3, 300 pounds with agility and terrific upper body strength, Smith is a nightmare matchup. The center works well with QB Matt Crowley, delivering clean snaps before locking down the nose guard and/or defensive tackle trying to beat him. He then exploits those same matchups when he lines up at DT.
2. Declan Rudloff, Marblehead. The Magicians have had their share of stellar linemen over the last decade-plus, but Rudloff, a left tackle and defensive end, might be the best of the bunch. Technically sound with explosive power, drive and speed, the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder will take care of his QB's blind side while wreaking havoc when rushing the opposing passer.
3. Andrew Chronis, Danvers. He's made an impact on the Falcons' line since first establishing himself two years ago as a freshman, and the 6-foot-2, 245-pounder has only gotten better with age. A ferocious defensive lineman and returning All-Conference selection, he'll also be a beast as a blocking tight end.
1. Tom Walfield, Danvers. Never afraid to stick his nose in the middle of the action, Walfield is tasked with one of the tougher gigs on the North Shore as center for a Falcon offense that has both a power and a spread set. He can snap it perfectly in the gun and also has no problems propelling himself into the run game on super sweeps; A tough kid that does the talking with his shoulder pads.
2. Mason Davis, St. John's Prep. A basketball player at 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, Davis has the wingspan to fend off pass rushers from either the right or left. He's a bulldozer in the run game as well.
3. (tie) Anton Vasquez and Tyler Marshall, Swampscott. Two of the unsung heroes of last year's Big Blue run are both solid from either the two- or three-point stance. They bring good height to the table (over 6-feet) and have experience both in football and other sports (Marshall pitches for the baseball squad). Either on the same side of the line or each anchoring one area of the field, Swamspcott QB Graham Inzana is well protected with these two guys in the fold.
8. List three unheralded seniors who'll end up making major contributions to their team before season's end.
1. Chris Curran, Beverly. He's not physically imposing by any stretch, but you know when Curran is on the field. You also know he's well respected by his peers after being voted a tri-captain this season. His motor will be running at middle linebacker, and he'll also step in on the offensive line when needed.
2. Jack Corcoran, Masconomet. After quietly grabbing 15 balls for 283 yards and three scores a year ago, I'm expecting this 6-foot-4, 220-pound end to visit the end zone with much more frequency this season. A smart, physical hockey blueliner, he'll bring that same mindset with him rushing off the edge defenseman.
3. Devin Tolbert, Salem. Strong anticipatory skills enable this senior defensive back to constantly put himself in good position. Doubling as a wideout, look for the Witches to try and get the ball into his hands with more frequency.
1. Finn Brophy, Hamilton-Wenham. His positions — tackle and defensive end — lend themselves to being unheralded. But he's a vocal leader and a big part of the Generals' operation that will surely stick out in 2019.
2. Arturo Vasquez, Swampscott. He's got height and experience as the Big Blue's outside receiving threat; expect more red zone targets for the sure-handed pass grabber.
3. Devin Romain, Marblehead. I only saw Marblehead in person twice last year, and Romain was a monster both times. With age comes consistency and he'll find that this fall.
9. Which local squad will have the biggest turnaround this season (and why)?
Peabody. The upper tier of the Northeastern Conference figures to be as balanced at the top as it's been in years, but I like the makeup of this Tanners' squad. Let's say they win seven games, maybe even eight.
Masconomet. Not a big pool to choose from since only four of our 13 teams had losing records; The Chieftains are too big, too physical and too proud to endure another 4-7 campaign.
10. What's your prediction for the regular season Game of the Year?
Marblehead at Danvers, Oct. 25. Same as it ever was, same as it ever was ... (Talking Heads, circa 1982. If you parents are cool, kids, ask them about it). The winner of this clash has determined the NEC North champ the last few years, so why deviate from what once again figures to be appointment viewing?
Swampscott at Beverly. Sept. 28. You'd pay good money — or $5-7 anyway — to watch Duncan Moreland cover Swampscott's incredible receivers such as Andrew Augustin. Plus this was one of the NEC's best rivalries for about ten years from 2003-13 and it's been way too long since they've locked horns.
11. Give us three assistant coaches whose stellar work pays off big for their teams.
1. Mike Giardi, Marblehead. A three-sport varsity coach who started at quarterback for Harvard for three years, played minor league baseball for a few seasons and has an encyclopedic knowledge of offensive football? Sign me up for his tutelage every day of the week.
2. Dave Dugan, Bishop Fenwick. He can be vocal prowling the field on game nights when the situation dictates it, but don't let that deter from the fact he's a terrific football mind. He and head coach Dave Woods are simpatico on the sidelines, constantly working with each other to put the Crusaders in the best position to win.
3. (tie) John Robinson, Salem and Scott Shairs, Beverly. There are so many good assistant coaches who selflessly and without recognition give up time for the betterment of their programs, and J-Rob and Shairsy fit that role to a T. They're two of my favorite guys to talk shop with in the fall.
1. Bruce & Tim Rich, Danvers. The bag of offensive tricks these two Chelmsford Lions brought to Danvers seems deeper than the one Santa Claus hauls around at Christmas time. If the Falcons face a smaller team, they'll run a three-stack I and pound the ball. If they face a big front, they'll move the pocket and run play-action. No one is better at adjusting the gameplan for a given opponent than the Riches.
2. Chris Cameron & Bob Serino Jr., Swampscott. It's been a joy to watch the evolution of the Big Blue's spread offense under these two former Steve Dembowski players. They've taken Swampscott's signature vertical passing and screen game and sprinkled in their own modern wrinkles to fit whatever talent they have; these are two of the best under-30 football minds North of Boston.
3. Gino Fodera, Peabody. Teammates forever: What more needs to be said?
12. Finally, three bold predictions for the 2019 North Shore high school football season:
1. There will once again be a 1,500-yard rusher in the area. After Salem's Vinnie Gaskins ran for 1,682 yards two seasons ago, we didn't have anyone come closer to 1.5K last fall. That'll change this season — and as a bonus, I say we'll have at least a half-dozen 1,000 yards rushers (there were 4 in our coverage area a year ago).
2. Bishop Fenwick and Ipswich will have an epic playoff clash. Two teams that figure to be in the thick of the Division 6 North postseason chase in hopes of knocking Stoneham off the sectional mountaintop will collide in November in what figures to be a treat for North Shore fans.
3. Bowling — times two. If you're making bold predictions, why not make them BOLD? So I say we'll have a pair of Salem News area squads strapping on their helmets one final day on Super Bowl weekend.
1. Multiple school passing records fall. Almost every North Shore single-season passing mark has been set in the last 20 years, and that trend will continue as at least two local QB's will put them name in the history books.
2. St. John's Prep plays Everett in the postseason. In some ways, shame on the Tide for dropping the Eagles. In others, having no regular season meeting invites from intrigue and animosity for their eventual battle in the Division 1 North semis or finals.
3. Both NEC titles are decided on Thanksgiving. And they said the playoffs ruined Turkey Day. Someone will definitely be in position to grab a share of the NEC North title depending on the results of Danvers/Gloucester and Marblehead/Swampscott — and if the Lynn Classical/Lynn English showdown isn't the NEC South title game I'll eat my Maine Black Bears hat.
Editor's note: Our regular Thursday feature, 'Football Focus', and Friday football column, 'Moving The Chains', will both return next week and run each week for the remainder of the high school football season.