It’s my favorite time of year: football season.
It is great to be back, especially during the fall. I know, it’s still summer for a few more weeks, but the trees are starting to turn ever so slightly, the days are getting a wee bit shorter, and football is in the air.
Like every year in high school football, we have teams that are going through different things. Some veteran-laden teams, some youngsters, some coming off of big years, some looking to take a step forward. I am so excited to get back to work and feel the true Friday night lights again.
Spring football scratched that itch and gave the kids something to be happy about, but this is truly what football is all about. Let’s take a look at where our teams stand as we head into the 2021 fall season: Bishop Hendricken
The Hawks rolled to another state championship last spring against rival La Salle. It was a great game in which Hendricken trailed at half and had to dig deep. It did just that and made it look easy in the second half to run away with the victory.
Now, this season, the Hawks should once again be in the state championship mix.
The biggest question in my opinion comes in probably the least talked about position in football: the offensive line.
Hendricken lost multiple linemen including All-State selection Chris LoPresti. The Hawks are known for their size up front, and although they always have the depth to plug in holes, that depth will be tested this fall, for sure.
Hendricken will roll out David Lynch at starting quarterback after he was the backup/spot starter last year. He’s got a quick release and can sling it, but he may have half a second less to deliver than he enjoyed last season.
Hendricken also lost All-State running back Isaiah Emmanuel. Let’s see who will step in to fill that power rushing role.
Coming back is Brandyn Durand, who put the team on his back in the second half of the state championship and is a multi-sport force. He should once again be a nightmare for opposing offenses on the defensive line.
Hendricken is always a contender. The Hawks have the talent and depth, as well as a full-proof system put in place by head coach Keith Croft. This team thrives on consistency and should once again be in the mix as the top unit in the state. Pilgrim
After claiming its first football championship in over 40 years in 2019, the Pats were bumped up a division while also losing a massive core in the spring. Pilgrim felt the effects of each and stumbled to a winless spring campaign.
There was a realignment in the RIIL recently which sent Pilgrim back down to Division III. It is a tough situation to gauge if you ask me.
If you took the 2019 Pilgrim roster, I absolutely feel that it could be a contender in Division II. When the media top-20 poll came out each week, I included the Pats in the top-10 more than once.
Last year’s roster simply was not experienced or deep enough to compete in Division II. It was a shortened spring season, but it was apparent that it was fighting an uphill battle.
What is tough about this situation is where this team belongs. I think considering the fact they the roster is still recovering from such massive overhaul, a move back down is probably appropriate.
I’m excited to see who emerges from this roster. Pilgrim had a few returners like Danny Halliwell make an impact who will also be on board this year. This is a young group who needs playmakers to establish themselves and this will be the year to do it. Toll Gate
Speaking of the realignment, the Toll Gate Titans will be making the move up from Division IV.
It’s funny, Toll Gate has been a playoff team for the past few years but has not reached the championship game. Even still, this is a unit that seems to be ready to compete in Division III and I think it could make a splash early.
Toll Gate will be losing its quarterback in Greyson Pasquina who started under center for the past three years, but this team always has size up front and a sound running game. At the high school level, being able to run the ball effectively is half the battle and this team consistently does just that.
Is a Division III title in the cards this year? Probably not, but I do think this team is ready to handle a tougher slate and maybe that is just what it needs to take that next step forward. Cranston West
The Falcons also lost a chunk of their core from the 2019 season when they reached the Division I Super Bowl, and ended up struggling in the 2020 spring.
All eyes will be on the quarterback position, as West will be giving junior Matt DeFusco the first crack. West used multiple quarterbacks in the spring, seemingly as a tryout for this fall when everything became a bit more settled.
In a small sample size in the spring, DeFusco seemed like an athletic kid that had a pretty good arm and some mobility to go along with it. Now, as a junior, the team is optimistic that his experience in the program will shine through and maximize his abilities.
West also lost key players like Brennan Stetson and Kris Degaitas, but will be returning a stud in Marcus Chung, who in my opinion, was one of the more underrated players in the state last season.
Much like the aforementioned Pilgrim Patriots, this is a team that is going to need a few guys to step up. West has pretty good depth and versatility, so it will be fun to see who emerges from this group.
Despite finishing with just one win last season, this team was competitive. I remember covering an early-season blowout loss to East Greenwich. Although the scoreboard indicated that the game was over at halftime, the Falcons played as if it didn’t and really made EG fight for every inch. At the high school level, effort means a whole lot, and this team’s compete is not at all a question. Cranston East
The Thunderbolts struggled and missed the playoffs for the second straight season in the spring. Now, with new head coach Isaiah McDaniel at the helm, they are looking to get back on track.
East had a shockingly young roster in 2019 and remained young in 2020. Now, this team has some experience and will be looking to make a few adjustments.
I remember at the end of last season saying that this team had some playmakers but lacked experience up front. When covering a recent training camp practice, the team was emphasizing the big guys on the line and running them through the gauntlet.
Will improved line play be enough to propel this team to the playoffs? Not by itself, but it will certainly help. Like their neighbors to the West, this team is gritty and even last year when the going got rough, they always fought hard. I think the key will be the line play as well as the guys buying into McDaniel.
He has been on the sidelines for years, so the kids are familiar. He has a strong presence, so I do expect them to compete for him. Of all of our teams, this one is probably the biggest wild card. Johnston
The Panthers finally reached their potential last season and reached the Division III Super Bowl against the Coventry Oakers.
Johnston has been a talented team for the past few seasons but for some reason struggled to put it all together. In the spring, it finally did and boasted one of the state’s top offenses with guys like Hunter Remington and Thomas Zednik.
Zednik is headed to UMass Dartmouth, so that will be a sizable hole to fill, but many Panthers including Remington will return. Johnston should have no problem competing and reaching the playoffs considering the roster that is coming back, but it will be interesting to see how it responds to such a strong season.
Many of the kids had never tasted that kind of success, so let’s see how they follow up this time around.
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