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The temptation to overlook this week‚Äôs non-league gridiron slate is great, understanding that league play ‚Äď set to commence a week from now ‚Äď serves as judge, jury and executioner.
Over time, principles rooted in Darwinism help in separating the wheat from the chaff by performing the simple act of drawing a line right down the middle. Such a divide won‚Äôt begin on Friday night as teams partake in what could essentially be chalked up to the final installment after nearly four weeks of preseason camp.
That said, one coach noted the significance that his team‚Äôs non-leaguer carries, stressing to the players the importance of getting off on the right foot and coming away with a win. Another coach pointed out that non-league games help to set the tone for the road ahead, the understanding being that every team needs to start somewhere, so why not use this game as a jumping-off point?
In the grand scheme of football-related matters, contests like Shea-Lincoln, St. Raphael-Hendricken, Tolman-Mt. Hope, Central Falls-Middletown, North Smithfield-Central, Cumberland-Cranston West, Woonsocket-East Providence and Burrillville-Scituate will be mere afterthoughts come next weekend, which is when the true march to December prominence takes flight. It‚Äôs a journey worth closely monitoring, given the nature that football teams tend to forge their identities over the course of time.
With that in mind, below is a primer designed to set the tone for what to expect in the weeks and months ahead (Note: All schools are listed in alphabetical order):
Head coach: Gennaro Ferraro
2011 results: 1-7, Division III
Key players: Brett Correia, Senior WR/DB; Steven McCormack, Senior TE/LB; Jonathan Thornhill, Junior RB/DB; Isaiah DeSilva, Sophomore QB.
Outlook: The good news: the bulk of the roster that was part of last season‚Äôs rough go is back in the fold as wet-behind-the-ears sophomores have emerged as dependable and reliable juniors. Naturally, the hope is that the lessons accrued yield substantial returns such as Burrillville‚Äôs first playoff appearance since 2006. ‚Ä¶ Depth is a concern as the Broncos have 50 players between the four grades.
Coach Ferraro‚Äôs take: ‚ÄúThe guys we do have truly capture the team spirit. I know there‚Äôs kids who are willing to do anything in order to take that next step forward. We‚Äôre trying to instill concepts that are hopefully going to get us to the playoffs.‚ÄĚ
Head coach: Mo Jackson
2011 results: 5-3, Division IV (Defeated North Smithfield, 25-17, in semifinals; Lost to Mt. Pleasant, 22-13, in Super Bowl)
Key players: Brandon Canuto, Senior QB/DB; Tyshon Ashe, WR/CB; Jevon Jimenez, Junior RB/LB; Kenny Lopez, Senior FB/LB.
Outlook: If the Warriors are going to advance to the title game again, a strong season from Canuto is imperative. A second-team, all-division pick, Canuto will have to quickly develop chemistry with a new wave of skill players after graduation took its toll on the Warriors, the losses including notables Josh Brandon, Steven Vazquez and Joel Peralta. ‚Ä¶ Another unknown variable is the offensive line as the Warriors return just one starter with the tackle and guard spots presently manned by sophomores.
Coach Jackson‚Äôs take: ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs going to be interesting. Depending on how things go, it could be a rebuilding year. Our line is young and inexperienced, but they‚Äôve got a lot of heart and will have to grow up fast.‚ÄĚ
Head coach: Chris Skurka
2011 results: 5-2, Division II-A (Defeated Tolman, 13-9, in quarterfinals; Lost to Chariho, 14-0, in semifinals)
Key players: Mitchell Baxter Senior WR/DB; Trent Vasey Senior TE/DE; Erik Travers Senior RB/DB.
Outlook: In keeping with Skurka‚Äôs days as a defensive coordinator at St. Raphael, expect the Clippers to turn up the heat and make life extremely uncomfortable for the opposing offense. ‚Ä¶ Cumberland is grouped in the same division (II-B) as neighboring schools Shea and St. Raphael. ‚Ä¶ Baxter, Vasey and Travers are all captains with Baxter set for his third season of starting duties. ‚Ä¶ The Clippers seek to make the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2003-04.
Coach Skurka‚Äôs take: ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre looking forward to continue building on from last year, but we‚Äôve got to take it one game at a time.‚ÄĚ
Head coach: Sandy Gorham
2011 results: 4-4, Division I (Lost to La Salle, 41-14, in semifinals)
Key players: Josh Rambert, Senior DB; Jashaun Bennett, Senior S; Leon Edmonds, Junior OL.
Outlook: Townie fans better buy a program as plenty of unfamiliar names dot the roster. ‚Ä¶ For the first time in seemingly forever, East Providence does not feature size upfront. Instead this team is blessed with quickness and ability to stretch the field. ‚Ä¶ Gorham is back on the sidelines after considering retirement last spring. ‚Ä¶ The Townies have qualified for the playoffs in 14 of the last 16 seasons.
Coach Gorham‚Äôs take: ‚ÄúA lot of the kids who played J.V. last year are going to have to step it up. We're definitely not a veteran team like we were the last couple of years, but I'm excited to see who‚Äôs going to mature into a varsity-level player. We've lost a lot (to graduation), but it's going to give plenty of underclassmen an opportunity to play.‚ÄĚ
Head coach: Dave Waycott
2011 results: 1-7, Division III
Key players: Oseh-lie Saine, Senior OL/LB; John Galang, Senior QB/DB; Anthony Siou Senior RB/CB; Giovanni Gray Junior OL/DT; Adam Petit OL.
Outlook: Many of the Lion players who absorbed their fair share of lumps last season are back. ‚Ä¶ Of the 63 players presently in the fold, 42 are freshmen. ‚Ä¶ Saine is a 6-foot-4 tackling machine who figures to be a matchup nightmare. When he‚Äôs not chasing down quarterbacks and running backs, he‚Äôll be part of a Lincoln offensive line that features four seniors and one junior. ‚Ä¶ Gray is part of Lincoln‚Äôs ‚Äúbeef‚ÄĚ package at 6-1, 260 pounds. ‚Ä¶ A backfield contributor earlier in his high school career, Galang returns for his second season under center.
Coach Waycott‚Äôs take: ‚ÄúI‚Äôm looking forward to this group. Overall this is the first team that I‚Äôve had in a long time that is actually a team. We‚Äôre still a little untested, but I‚Äôve liked what I‚Äôve seen. I told them at the scrimmages that they‚Äôre going to make mistakes, but that‚Äôs okay. I wanted to see heart, which I saw.‚ÄĚ
Head coach: Wes Pennington
2011 results: 6-2, Division IV (Lost to Central Falls, 25-17, in semifinals)
Key players: Paris Correia, Senior RB/S; Dan Jordan, Senior QB/CB; Ryan Masnyk, Senior OL/LB; Ryan Nelligan, Senior OL.
Outlook: You don‚Äôt see too many three-year starters in high school football, hence why the Northmen plan to lean heavily on Jordan in terms of performance and leadership. ‚Ä¶ A talented ball carrier, Correia has been slowed by a hamstring issue during the preseason. He should be back at full strength relatively soon, perhaps as quickly as next Saturday‚Äôs league opener at Hope. ‚Ä¶ Pennington understands that with so many key players returning from back-to-back playoff appearances that the Northmen are no longer an unknown quantity. From the coach‚Äôs vantage point, it‚Äôs a positive that can be harnessed as the Northmen seek to go a step further in 2012.
Coach Pennington‚Äôs take: ‚ÄúWe have an idea of what to expect and I can‚Äôt see a situation where we don‚Äôt really show up based on the veterans we have. I hope we‚Äôre competitive and can play in every single game and see where the chips fall.‚ÄĚ
Head coach: Mike Sassi
2011 results: 5-2, Division II-B (Lost to Westerly, 36-22, in semifinals)
Key players: Charles Correa Senior RB/CB; James Berry, Senior RB/LB; Chris Ventura, Senior FB/DE; Jason Colon Senior OL; Matt McGuire, Senior QB; Steve Carvalho, Senior OL; Josh Alves Sophomore FB/LB.
Outlook: For the past few seasons, the Saints have featured a spread attack designed specifically to get the ball to their top playmakers in open space. The philosophy has changed dramatically with St. Raphael expected to emphasize the ground game. ‚Ä¶ Correa‚Äôs talents go without saying as the dynamo is a threat to reach the end zone every time he touches the ball. ‚Ä¶ A converted offensive guard, Ventura will be asked to clear paths for Correa and Berry. ‚Ä¶ Colon moves to guard after two years at offensive tackle. ‚Ä¶ St. Raphael is a senior/sophomore-laden club that only sports a handful of notable juniors.
Coach Sassi‚Äôs take: ‚ÄúWe can throw the ball a little bit, but we‚Äôre looking forward to going to a little ground-and-pound as they say. We lost our three leading tacklers from last season, but I think we have the potential to be a very good defensive team. The quicker the sophomores prove they can handle the varsity level, the better the shot we have to be successful.‚ÄĚ
Head coach: Dino Campopiano
2011 results: 1-6, Division II-A
Key players: Dennis Lloyd, Senior RB/DB; Jason Almeida, Senior RB/LB; John Santos, Senior OL/DL; Wayne Wambugu, Senior OL/DL; Jose Rodrigues, Senior OL/DL.
Outlook: This may be hard to fathom, but the Raiders have suffered four consecutive losing seasons since last making the playoffs in 2007. ‚Ä¶ Almeida and Santos were second-team, all-division picks last season. ‚Ä¶ There‚Äôs been a slight tweak amongst the coaching staff with long-time assistant Dave ‚ÄúDoc‚ÄĚ Hanson assuming the defensive coordinator role after overseeing special teams.
Coach Campopiano‚Äôs take: ‚ÄúOur expectations are always the same in that we want to make the playoffs. I think we have a nice group coming back, but the bottom line is that if we don‚Äôt hurt ourselves, I think we can be one of those top-four teams. That‚Äôs up to us, though. We‚Äôve got to have the right attitude as far as playing together and as a family.‚ÄĚ
Head coach: Dave Caito
2011 results: 6-1, Division II-B (Lost to Cumberland, 13-9, in quarterfinals)
Key players: Justin Otis, Senior WR/DB; Mamour Samb, RB/LB; Mory Keita, Senior, RB/LB; Romario Tomas, Senior OL/LB; Brandon Dunlap, Senior QB/LB.
Outlook: It‚Äôs a whole new ballgame for the Tigers after making the jump from Division II to the state‚Äôs top division. The move was part of a two-year realignment decreed by the Interscholastic League. ‚Ä¶ Tolman will quickly learn where it stands as the first three league games include matchups with playoff contender Cranston East (Sept. 14) along with usual suspects La Salle (Sept. 21) and Hendricken (Sept. 28). ‚Ä¶ The most notable addition the Tigers made was adding former Mt. Hope head coach Ron Silva as the team‚Äôs offensive coordinator. ‚Ä¶ Tolman has enough talented skill players to contend for a playoff spot, but having enough depth and maintaining it in order to get through a Div. I schedule figures to be a high priority.
Coach Caito‚Äôs take: ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs definitely going to be a challenge as well as exciting to see new teams. I always knew we could compete up there in Division I. It‚Äôs just the week-in and week-out banging that‚Äôs concerning. We used to have our linemen play one way and then backing up guys on the other side. This year, we don‚Äôt have that luxury.‚ÄĚ
Nickname: Villa Novans
Head coach: Carnell Henderson
2011 results: 1-6, Division II-B
Key players: Jalen Evans Senior RB/DB; Will Andino Junior RB/DB; Brett Bouchard, Senior QB; Brian Cahill, Senior OL/DL; Shawn Ingram, Sophomore OL/DL.
Outlook: In Bouchard, the Novans feature a returning starting quarterback for the first time in Henderson‚Äôs five-year tenure. ‚Ä¶ Evans and Andino are two speedsters who missed significant time last season due to injuries. Their presence should allow Woonsocket to play more man-to-man, press coverage on defense. ‚Ä¶ Eager to move past last season, Henderson noted that the Novan players laid the framework for 2012 back in January with sessions in the weight room.
Coach Henderson‚Äôs take: ‚ÄúI see a lot of potential with these guys, but as I‚Äôve told them, potential is something only written on paper. We need to get better every day we go out there and continue to work. There‚Äôs a lot of unknown, but I can‚Äôt say that they‚Äôre not willing to accept the challenge.‚ÄĚ