FRANKLIN, Mass. – Taunton ran 60 plays to Franklin’s 27. The Tigers had seven drives that reached Franklin territory, including three that reached the red zone, but came away empty on each possession. The Panthers put together only two drives of more than five plays, but they found the end zone four times.
Although it felt closer than the final score, Franklin made the big plays on both sides of the ball and rolled to a comfortable 35-0 win over Taunton on Friday night at Pisini Stadium. The win keeps Franklin unbeaten overall and in a three-way tie for first in the Kelley-Rex.
“They had a ton of chances,” Franklin coach Eian Bain admitted. “[Taunton] put the pressure on us, they did some things that made it hard to do what we wanted. When you play bad football, you can’t win games. The first thing we had to do was get rid of the bad football and once we got rid of bad football, we were able to compete a little better and we made some plays.”
Taunton coach Brad Sidwell was rueing missed opportunities for his offense in each of the past two weeks and a missed opportunity to end his former team’s perfect record. “We’ve got to capitalize when it’s our opportunity and we didn’t do it,” he said. “I knew their offense was pretty potent and their defense is kind of underrated. They’re pretty fast and and they run to the ball and make plays. We’ve got to make sure we punch it in early on.”
The Tigers, helped by two third down penalties, moved the ball near midfield on their first drive before punting. Just two plays later, they were behind. Jared Arone started away from the Franklin sideline then looked back and hit a wide open Mack Gulla (240 total yards),who had leaked out of the backfield, for a 69-yard score.
Nathan Keenan returned the ensuing kick 33 yards out to the 44 to give Taunton good starting field position for its next drive. A 15-yard screen pass from Jacob Leonard to Evan Perrotta and a 19-yard sweep by Jose Touron got the Tigers into Franklin territory. The Panthers clamped down on the ground game and on fourth and three from the 15, Leonard’s pass to Touron fell incomplete.
Mckyen Gonsalves recovered a Gulla fumble two plays later to give Taunton back the ball at the Franklin 35. A sack by Jay Gulla and Nick Quintina pushed the Tigers back, but on fourth down Leonard connected with Touron on a 21 yard catch and run to get the ball to the five. Taunton only managed two more yards and Keenan’s 20-yard field goal slid wide right.
Two personal foul calls ended Franklin’s next drive quickly and Taunton again started in opposition territory. A good tackle on third down by Jack Marino forced a Tigers punt. Nick Lima’s sack of Arone forced a three-and-out and Taunton got the ball at the Franklin 39. This time the Tigers gained six yards but Leonard (14-of-34, 182 yards) couldn’t connect with Touron on fourth and short.
With just over two minutes remaining in the half, Franklin went into its hurry-up offense and put together its best drive of the game. Helped by a face mask call, the Panthers quickly got into Taunton’s end of the field but a touchdown pass to Will Tracey was called back because an ineligible receiver downfield. Arone (8-of-11, 132 yards) would eventually fire a strike down the middle to Shane Kindred, who held on through contact for a 15-yard score with just eight seconds left in the half.
It was the third time in five games that Franklin has put together a drive like that to close out a half.
“That was the backbreaker and then it turned the tide the rest of the way,” Sidwell explained. “I felt like we could keep fighting if we could put one in there but after that it was tough to keep it together. I was worried we were going to have to match their scores and we certainly didn’t.”
Although it felt like Taunton had the ball for the bulk of the first 24 minutes, the Panthers led 14-0. Just 1:13 into the third quarter and the lead grew to 21-0. After another touchdown pass to Tracey was called back by penalty, Gulla (10 carries, 170 yards) took a carry to the left, cut inside the tackle, and then bounced it to the sideline, racing away from Taunton defenders for a 56-yard touchdown.
“Mack really took off in the second half,” Bain said. “We haven’t used him a lot catching the ball but tonight we were like we’re going to get him a ball or two out of the backfield and he caught that one and went with it. Mack is a very powerful kid but he’s very fast. He’s got a lot of breakaway speed so when you give him enough room he can make a big play.”
Taunton tried to mount a scoring drive to stem the home team’s momentum. Leonard found Touron with a nice pass on the run to convert third down and then followed that with a 29-yard pass down the near sideline to Troy Santos. The Tigers got as far as the Franklin 27, but a sack by Jay Gulla set up third and long and two incomplete passes later the drive was over.
On the very next play from scrimmage, the game was effectively over too. Mack Gulla broke through the line and into the secondary where he spun off a hit, cut to this right to the sideline and was gone. The 73-yard score put Franklin up four scores with 18 minutes left to play.
A 39-yard screen pass to Perrotta, who appeared to be dragged down but actually landed on a Franklin player before getting up for an extra 15 yards, gave Taunton first and goal, but Cullen Pek stuffed a run for a loss of one and then Jase Lyons intercepted a pass at the goal line. Lyons would later add his second pick of the night, perfectly reading and undercutting an out-route, and returned it 24 yards for the game’s final score.
Bain praised his team’s ability to not have a letdown after last week’s big win over Mansfield. He said, “There’s something to be said about getting used to people talking about you, having articles about you, we had Homecoming going on, but we talked to the kids about championship mentality. I thought we responded in the second half and that was big.”
Franklin (5-0) will get a rare bye week before traveling to Attleboro. Taunton (3-2) will try to end its two-game skid when it hosts Oliver Ames in the “Tiger Bowl” on Thursday night.
“Typical first game… too many penalties,” Sidwell said. “Every time we’d try to get the momentum going, there’d be a flag or a mistake. But this is certainly something we can build on, something we can coach on the mistakes we made. And we have to make sure we do a better job taking care of the ball with three turnovers.”
Taunton scored twice in the second quarter and added another early in the fourth to overcome three turnovers and some untimely penalties to sink the Whalers.
The Tigers’ defense ended up stealing the show, forcing the Whalers to punt on six of their eight offensive series, including four straight to open the game. The fifth drive of the game was stopped by a turnover on downs and the first drive of the second half — and longest of the game for New Bedford — was thwarted by an interception.
Junior running back Bryan Batista had a breakout game in his first career start. He scampered for 125 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries and also hauled in a 29-yard pass to help pace the Tiger offense. Junior quarterback Jacob Leonard also had a strong game, going 12-for-15 passing with 147 yards and a touchdown.
Taunton forced a quick three-and-out to start the contest, highlighted by one of Ryan MacDougall’s four tackles for loss. And the offense looked poised to march down the field but the Tigers fumbled after a completion that was past the first down marker.
It wasn’t until the very end of the quarter until Taunton got the ball back on offense and this time, they held onto the ball and found the end zone. Going 68 yards on six plays that mainly featured quick short passes, the Tigers struck on a bubble screen. On third down, Leonard fired a quick strike to Trent Santos on the left side and the senior wide receiver did the rest, slicing across the field and through the Whaler defense, cutting up field and finding his way to a 22-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
John Castillo’s sack on first down set the tone for the next drive and New Bedford quickly went three-and-out. Leonard hit Batista on a screen for 29 yards to move just outside the red zone but an interception in the end zone put that drive to a screeching halt.
The defense stood tall again with a big stop on third and short, and an errant punt gave the Tigers prime field position at the New Bedford 34-yard line. Taunton took full advantage this time as Batista had back-to-back carries, the latter a 22-yard touchdown through a big hole on the right side of the line created by center Ryan MacDougall and guard Jack Moitoso.
“I thought it was good, he’s a good slash runner and was able to wear them down a bit at the end,” Sidwell said. “We have some skilled receivers too that can do some special stuff with the ball and all of them catches today and made some plays too. They’re working hard for us. Trent only had what, two catches? A year ago we had to throw it to him a lot but we’ve developed more weapons.”
The Tigers stopped New Bedford’s last-minute push when Faisal Mass came up with a big third down sack, getting the ball back with a chance to score before the break.
The offense sputtered a bit from there. Leonard and Williams linked up a couple of times to move up field as the clock ticked under a minute in the first half but New Bedford ended up applying enough pressure and the Tigers couldn’t convert before the half.
Batista opened the second half with a great run up the right side, going for 31 yards but he was stripped from behind and New Bedford took over after just one play.
The Whalers moved 30 yards and into Taunton territory but Nick Lima wrestled away a fourth down pass from a receiver for an interception to stop the New Bedford drive. The Tigers couldn’t capitalize and had to punt three plays later.
Tackles for loss from Nathan LaPlante and Lima on back-to-back plays forced the Whalers to punt just seconds into the fourth quarter and Taunton’s offense finally put together another scoring drive. Batista ran for 15 yards on first down behind the blocking of juniors Logan Frank and William Guachichulca-Torres and sophomore tackle Bryan Joanis.
Leonard hit Troy Santos on a quick strike and the sophomore receiver went for 33 yards to move into Whaler territory. Four plays later, on fourth and short, the Tigers iced the win with a 12-yard touchdown from Batista for a 21-0 lead with under five minutes left.
“It was odd, we had some film from the Fall 2 season but not knowing exactly who they had or what they’d run,” Sidwell said. “I think they were missing their top back today so that made a difference. But I thought the kids fought hard and the defense kept coming up with stops. There was some bending but hopefully, we can gain some confidence from this, smooth things out, and get some momentum going.”
Taunton football hits the road next week to renew acquittances with another longtime non-league rival, traveling to Fall River to take on Durfee. The Hilltoppers dropped a 10-7 decision to Attleboro on a field goal as time expired. Taunton and Durfee will kick off at 7:00 on Friday.
Attleboro struggled on the offensive side of the ball last year, scoring only 44 points in six games and not scoring a touchdown until the fifth game of the season. The Bombardiers will need to improve on that side of the ball to try and move up the standings and challenge the top teams in the Kelley-Rex. With eight returning starters on both sides of the ball, Attleboro can rely on an experienced roster to try and turn things around this fall.
It will be obvious where Attleboro’s strength lies. The Bombardiers run 6’3 285, 6’3 255, 6’2 285, and 6’3 305 at the guard and tackle positions. They are going to try and overpower teams. The leader of that group is senior Chris Leonardo, who is a force on both sides of the ball. Seniors Alvin Harrison, Jacob Struminski, and Isaac Pereira are a formidable front and junior Isaiah Miranda will be back at center. Experience and size are important, but the Bombardiers will need its array of running backs to take advantage. Seniors Ryan Betts, Freddy Wheaton, Keigan Conley, and Kaiden Murray will all get the chance to carry the ball. Junior Aiden Hochwarter returns under center after taking over midway through last year and he will have classmate Anthony Salviati to throw to out wide and senior tight end Christian Dame.
The Attleboro defense will also rely on its strength up front with Leonardo and Harrison controlling the middle. The linebackers have plenty of experience, with Dame, Wheaton, Betts, Conley, and senior Hayden Hegarty all coming back after seeing significant time last year. The secondary has a lot of athleticism. Junior Ethan Lako, Salviati, and Murray are all capable of making big plays and forcing turnovers.
“It is great to have some normalcy back this fall,” said Attleboro coach Mike Strachan. “We have eight returning starters on each side of the ball this season and we have great senior leadership. We are looking to a great fall season.”
All eyes are on Mansfield and King Philip as the favorites in the Kelley-Rex and that’s how coach Eian Bain likes it. The Panthers are certainly flying under the radar a bit but that might not last very long, especially after their success during the preseason has turned some heads.
Having a lot of familiar faces in key positions will be an early advantage for the Panthers, who have a strong non-league schedule that starts with Wachusett and features perennial state powerhouse Duxbury. Senior Jared Arone gained a lot of experience at quarterback during the Fall 2 season and could be poised for a big year with a full schedule on tap. Part of the reason why is because of all the weapons around him. Both Shane Kindred and Will Tracey developed a lot of chemistry with the QB in the abbreviated season and will be his main two targets this year.
And while the Panthers have developed a reputation for a pass-heavy offense, we saw a much more balanced approach during the spring and with senior running back Mack Gulla ready for a breakout season, it’s likely that balance continues. Gulla is a tough runner that will keep defenses honest; he isn’t just going to help set up the passing game, he’s a true threat to run all over defenses. It will all start up front and the Panthers have center Ethan Aeillo and tackle Jack Porkorny back in starting roles.
Senior Joe Tirrell and junior Luke Davis give the Panthers a veteran presence in the secondary. Franklin allowed over 20 points per game last season but will be looking to bring that number down some this year as they try and establish themselves as a contender in the division. Senior Jonathan Martins impressed last season and will be a key piece on the defensive line while the linebackers will be anchored by senior Cullen Pek.
“The Panthers return many familiar faces but face a tough task of replacing some key positions,” Bain said. “Many players have stepped up but there is still a lot to be answered before the home opener against Wachusett.”
King Philip has a strong core of returning players set to compete for the Kelley-Rex crown this Fall season but the Warriors are hoping to develop some depth along the way as they navigate through one of the state’s toughest schedules.
KP is still hurting from the Fall 2 season, when they lost six players to season-ending surgery, four of which were starters. With a quick turnaround to this season, the Warriors will still be without those players but there is still lots of excitement around those who will be on the field this year. Senior Charlie Grant returns as the starter at quarterback and has some weapons to utilize around them, starting with receivers Danny Clancy, Nick Viscusi, and Jonathan Joseph. All three have varsity experience and are seniors. Junior Rudy Gately and senior Crawford Cantave give the Warriors a thunder and lightning running back combination. Senior Drew Danson was set to be one of the top tight ends in the league but is out due to injury. Sophomore Thomas McLeish will also be in the mix to play at quarterback and Grant could see time at receiver.
Hunter Hastings and Chris Sesay are the returners on the offensive line and will start at the tackle positions while Dan Nineve will be the center and Amro Ismail and Sean King man the guard positions. It will be a lot of the same names on the other side of the ball with Hastings, King, and Sesay all playing both ways. Junior Nate Kearney will also be in the mix as a pass rusher.
The veteran group on defense will be the KP secondary, which features a lot of familiar faces. Both Cantave (safety) and Viscusi (corner) had really strong junior seasons and will lead the way alongside junior Thomas Brewster, senior Eli Reed, and Joseph, who has really impressed so far this preseason. There will be a little inexperience at linebacker but the Warriors have Gately back in the fold alongside senior Jake Sullivan and junior Will Astorino. Matt Kelley is back as the starting kicker.
“I love my team, great kids,” said KP head coach Brian Lee. “We just have to make sure ready to go every single week. It’s been kind of a burn, playing in the Spring. It feels like we’ve been going, going, going, but now we have to focus on staying healthy and getting through Thanksgiving. It’s been fun to be around them, they are good kids that work hard. Hopefully, we can turn that into being successful.”
Mansfield won the 2019 state title, is riding a 16-game win streak, hasn’t lost a game in league play since September 2017, and hasn’t lost an in-state game since a triple-OT thriller against Foxboro at Fenway to close out 2018, so the Hornets have earned the target that is on their backs this fall. Everyone will be aiming to be the first Hock team to hand the Hornets a loss and try to end a three-year run as the top team in the Kelley-Rex. Although there are some guys in new spots, especially at the skill positions, Mansfield returns 10 starters and several players who saw significant action off the bench last year.
The offense will be powered by an experienced line. Four of five starters return from last year with only junior center Colton Johnson added. Seniors Mark DeGirolamo, Joe Forte, and James Gilleran, and junior Jephte Jean are all back and should give the Hornets an edge up front. Junior Conner Zukowski will be the new starting quarterback and he will have several new weapons to call on. Juniors Drew Sacco and Rocco Scarpellini are new starters in the backfield, but both were called on plenty last season. Senior Dana Johnson and sophomore Trevor Foley will get the start out wide.
Defense has been Mansfield’s calling card during its run, as the Hornets allowed only 23 points in six games last year. DeGirolamo and classmate Braeden Veno are back on the defensive line along with Jean and senior Pedro Cruz. All three starting linebackers returned, as seniors Zander Holmes and James Fichera are paired with Scarpellini. Junior safety Ryan DeGirolamo is the only starter back in the secondary and will need to provide leadership for sophomores Foley and CJ Bell. Senior Jared Fraone will start at the other corner spot.
Mansfield coach Mike Redding is counting on a tough preseason, against state powers Everett and Central Catholic, to help the Hornets prepare. He is also excited about the new statewide playoff system that could pair Mansfield with a new set of tournament opponents as they seek to make it a three-peat in Div. 2.
Milford made a successful move into the Kelley-Rex last season. Under first-year coach Dale Olson, the Hawks earned a first-ever win over perennial league power King Philip and finished second in the division. This year, the Hawks will try to make another title challenge despite having several new faces stepping into important roles.
On offense, the Hawks will be transitioning from the pass-first offense that Brady Olson ran last year. Junior Evan Cornelius is a very different quarterback, who will bring a lot of size and strength to the position (which makes sense, since he also plays defensive end). Graduation took away a lot of dynamic playmakers from last year’s offense but seniors Tyler Lane, Angelo Romero, and Grant Scudo will give Milford a deep backfield and last year senior Jaden Agnew emerged as a major threat in the passing game.
The Hawks will be tough up front again this year on both sides of the ball. Seniors Alex McColl and Marco Monteiro are big and tough and will open holes on offense while clogging running lanes on the other side. Cornelius will add a threat on the edge defensively and the linebacking corps continues to be a factor, led by Lane and Romero. Scudo seeks out the ball at safety and is always a threat to force a turnover.
Olson admits that his team lacks experience at the skill positions, but he added, “Having three scrimmages will help prepare the first-year varsity kids to play week one.”
Taunton didn’t have the best record during the Fall 2 season but the opportunity to just get on the field and play was incredibly valuable for the Tigers. There are less than a dozen seniors (eight) on the roster for the Tigers this season so head coach Brad Sidwell will be looking for a strong class of juniors, as well as some sophomores, to make up the majority of the lineup this Fall.
A good chunk of those juniors were inserted into the starting lineup or played a large number of snaps just five months ago when the Tigers played six games. That allowed the Tigers to build some depth for the upcoming season, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Junior Jake Leonard got a jump start to his career when he took over for an injured Danny MacDougall. That experience will be key as he begins his first full season as the starter under center. Leonard will have three veteran options to work with in senior captains Trent Santos and Nate Keenan — two receivers — and tight end Nick Lima. Senior Faisal Mass will be a big target as a tight end, also providing key blocking on the line, while seniors Jon Castillo (receiver), Jack Moitiso (offensive line) and Evan Perrota (running back) will be in the mix as well.
Junior Ryan MacDougall started on the offensive line last season and will be joined by classmates Nate Laplante, William Guachiculca-Torres, and Logan Frank while sophomore Bryan Joanis will also be in the mix so some playing time. Keenan could also get some carries out of the backfield while junior Bryan Batista could emerge as a go-to option carrying the ball. Juniors Tyler Wynn, Isaiah Williams, and McKyen Gonsalves are three names to watch as receiving options for Leonard.
Taunton has a lot of experience in its secondary with both Santos and Keenan playing on both sides of the ball, and that experience will be a big strength for the Tigers. There is also a lot of depth in the linebackers, starting with Lima, who uses his speed to attack the ball. He can also step out and play in coverage or drop back into a safety role if needed. Lima will be joined by Frank, MacDougall, and Perrota as linebackers. On the line, Laplante had a strong sophomore season and could be poised for a breakout year.
Taunton will prepare for the ever-challenging division slate with non-league games against New Bedford, Durfee, and Middleboro in its first three weeks. It also marks the first year of its new Thanksgiving rivalry with Milford.
“We’re excited to begin the season with this group after productive preseason practices and scrimmages,” said head coach Brad Sidwell. “Although we only have eight seniors, many of our players gained experience in the spring season. We need to improve through the non-league start of the season as the Hockomock Kelley-Rex is always a challenge for any of the teams involved.”
Canton graduated some key pieces on defense so the Bulldogs will be relying on experience in both the linebacking and defensive backs corps. Colin Albert is one of the more experienced linebackers for Canton and will be an important leader for the Warriors’ defense. The Davenport Division is as competitive as ever and there won’t be any easy games. Albert will provide stability on defense, making plays against the passing game and also playing a role helping against the run on the outside. The Bulldogs are aiming to make a push for the postseason and if they are to get there, Albert’s leadership on both sides of the ball, and both on and off the field, will likely be a reason why.
North’s explosive offense gets a lot of attention, but the Rocketeers were also a strong team on the other side of the ball last season. They allowed only 55 points over six games and only twice did teams reach double digits (the most allowed was 12 against Oliver Ames). Bannon was one of the biggest playmakers on the defensive unit. The senior outside linebacker was a terror on the pass rush and could also set the edge whether lined up at the line of scrimmage or dropped back a few yards. Bannon uses his good size and strength to take on blockers, but his speed and quickness off the ball allowed him to get a step and into the backfield almost at will. With North incorporating several new faces into the mix this season, his leadership will be critical for the Rocketeers to maintain the same level as last year. Whether standing up a runner or chasing someone down from behind, Bannon was able to cover a lot of ground and make plays all over the field. Expectations are for North to be the team to beat in the Davenport again this fall and it can’t rely only on the offense to win the title. Bannon and the defense will need to be at the same high level of play they showed last season.
King Philip senior Crawford Cantave is one of the best two-way players in the league and has made a lot of plays in all three aspects of the game for the Warriors over the past two seasons. The Warriors have a lot of talent on this year’s roster and they’ll be aiming to try and knock off Mansfield to get back atop of the Kelley-Rex division. KP hung its hat on defense during its run to three straight state finals appearances and if they want to make a deep run again this year, the defense will need to be a top priority. Crawford will play mostly in a safety role but can also play in a corner role if needed. He does a great job of reading the play and uses his speed to react quickly and make the play. When all is said and done this season, expect Cantave to have some highlight-reel plays under his belt.
The first two words that come to mind when thinking of Mansfield senior Mark DeGirolamo are experience and versatility. This is someone that has been making plays for multiple seasons for the three-time defending Kelley-Rex division champion Hornets. Although he’s primarily been a defensively end for most of his career because of the combination of speed and strength he has, he also has the size to slide inside and clog up the middle. Mansfield will primarily line up in a 4-3 but will give teams different looks with 4-4 and 3-4 packages, and DeGirolamo can play in all of them. He will also start at tackle on the offensive end, his speed allows him to protect the quarterback against rushes off the edge. He was second in the team with 33 tackles during the Fall 2 season and led the Hornets in tackles for a loss.
Mack Gulla made an immediate impact when he joined the varsity program his sophomore year, scoring in the first game of the season back in 2019. He hasn’t stopped making plays for the Panthers since. Gulla has improved greatly in each of the past two seasons and now has a chance at a breakout senior campaign as the Panthers make a push to compete for the Kelley-Rex division crown and a spot in the postseason. He’s a downhill type player on both sides of the ball; he isn’t afraid to run through the defense when carrying the ball and is tough to tackle when he gets going. And from his middle linebacker spot, he attacks the ball carrier and is tough to get away from when he gets his hands on you.
There were a lot of eyes on Milford last season because of the weapons they had on the offensive side of the ball, but once you saw the Hawks play it was tough not to talk about how well they played on the defensive side of the ball. One name that always seemed to be in on the play was linebacker Tyler Lane, who will enter his second year as a starter this Fall. Lane has really good speed (something that people will also see when he carries the ball on the offensive side) and does a really good job at reading the play, which allows him to find a way to the ball. Whether it’s coming on a blitz, coming up to stop a run, or dropping off into pass coverage, Lane is a reliable option. Lane has the speed to get around the edge and the strength to make the tackle. If the play is coming up the middle, Lane is no stranger to big hits and can make a play there too. He’s solid in pass coverage and quick to make a play if the pass is completed.
Whether he lines up at linebacker or drops deeper to play as a safety, Taunton senior Nick Lima is a playmaker for the Tiger’s defense. He can quickly read a play and see where it is headed but has the speed and quickness to hang back for an extra beat before closing on a ball carrier. Lima can also provide the Tigers with an extra rusher when they choose to blitz and on the next play drop deep into coverage downfield. Lima’s versatility and leadership will be key as Taunton tries to figure out the best combination on the defensive side of the ball. The Tigers have a lot of skill and depth on the offensive side but one challenge has been establishing the same on the defensive side of the ball. Having Lima in the mix gives Taunton a good start to solving that problem.
Stoughton senior Emmett Pearl got his feet wet during the Fall 2 season and now could be poised for a breakout year with an expanded role on both sides of the ball. Defensively, Stoughton has solid returning experience with its three-down lineman, it will be about the ends and linebackers around them to make plays on the ball. The defense is usually a calling card for Stoughton and the Knights will be going up against some tough competition both in the division (Foxboro, North) and in the non-league games (Mansfield, Milford) so they will certainly need some new players to step up. Against the run, Pearl does a terrific job of clogging up any holes up the middle and can also come from the outside and get into the backfield. Pearl isn’t just all power either, he has great instincts and impressive speed for his size.
Fans of Foxboro football are going to be hearing the name Rashaad Way a lot this season. After a breakout junior campaign, Way is in line for what could be a monster year for the Warriors, especially because he impacts all three parts of the game. Offensively, Way will be one of the go-to options in the passing game and can help take the top off the defense with his speed on deep routes. When it comes to special teams, Way might be the best returner — both on kickoffs and punts — in the league right now. It seemed like almost every time he got the ball, he was close to breaking one for a score. But the focus for here is on Way’s defensive performance at cornerback. He does a nice job reading the play, has the speed to keep with receivers, and has good instincts and timing. With a year already under his belt, Way will be one of the top players in the secondary in the entire league.
Attleboro struggled to score points last year, but for the most part, the Bombardiers were consistently tough on the defensive side of the ball. Although all-time leading tackler Michael Strachan graduated, Attleboro’s experience in the linebacking corps should be a strength again this fall. Wheaton is a dynamic presence in the front seven. His high motor and the energy he brings to each play is contagious and he seems to be able to cover ground from sideline to sideline. A player who seems to relish contact, Wheaton is a solid tackler and will need to step up behind Attleboro’s large defensive line to help stop the opponent’s ground game. The Bombardiers are a veteran, athletic group and Wheaton’s presence in the middle of the field will be critical if they are going to build on last season and start to challenge the top teams in the Kelley-Rex.