By Mike McMahon
Things haven't always been easy for Andover's Brendan Smith. Two years ago, the Northwestern safety missed an entire season with a nasty shoulder injury and it wasn't a sure thing that he'd step onto the football field again.
But, after a year's worth of rehab and physical therapy, he was back patrolling the secondary for the Wildcats last season. He's a preseason All-Big-10 selection by Phil Steele's magazine.
Smith will start at safety again for Northwestern as a senior and will also serve as co-captain. Last year he earned All-Big Ten honorable mention honors after recording 82 tackles (bringing his career total to 188 through 3 seasons) and two interceptions (giving him 7 for his career).
The 6-1, 210-pound Smith, who returned 15 punts for 118 yards last fall, is only the eighth player in the 134-year history of the Northwestern program to be named a captain twice.
On opening day last fall, his first game back after the injury, he picked off Syracuse's Andrew Robinson and took it to the end zone to seal a win. The highlight was one of ESPN's top plays of the day.
Gordon DuBois registered two tackles on special teams last season as a redshirt freshman at Buffalo. The 6-1, 248-pound DuBois, who played just one year at Andover High, is a second-string defensive end.
Another Andoverite, sophomore Chris Shannon (6-5, 290) out of Phillips Academy, is the returning long-snapper at Duke, where he is also a reserve center.
Londonderry's 6-6, 240-pound Ryan Griffin redshirted last season but is in the mix for minutes as a freshman tight end at UConn. Coach Randy Edsall recently singled him out for having a fine camp. North Reading's Kevin Distaso(6-1, 222) returns to Boston College as a senior linebacker/long snapper. The hard-working walk-on is in the hunt for playing time this fall.
Farnham puts up huge numbers for Brown
Buddy Farnham enters his senior season at Brown ranked 27th all-time in the Ivy League with 1,892 receiving yards and ranked 20th with 155 career receptions. The Andover High grad led the "Ancient Eight'' with 1,495 total yards last season to go with 63 catches and 816 receiving yards. The 6-0, 200-pound two-time All-Ivy Leaguer was named a preseason third-team All-American by the Sports Network.
Sophomore running back Spiro Theodhosi (5-10, 215), who went by Alex Theodhosi during his Londonderry High days, is a first-year varsity player after spending a season on Brown's JV squad.
Patrick Lahey (6-3, 282) of North Andover and Brooks enters his sophomore season on the Dartmouth offensive line.
Lawrence's Jay Pena, a 5-10, 200-pound sophomore defensive back at Delaware, recorded just one tackle last fall, but it forced a fumble and helped secure a late-season win over Towson. The Whittier grad is the second-string free safety.
Sophomore Chris Morales from Central Catholic is a 6-1, 255-pound starting defensive lineman for the Mud Hens.
Rodriguez a force to be reckoned with at Central
Central Connecticut senior Danny Rodriguez (6-3, 245) of Lawrence posted 25 tackles, four tackles for a loss, two sacks and a blocked kick in 11 games as a junior.
Central grads Zak Adamopoulos (6-1, 230; fullback) and Michael Garcia (6-3, 235; defensive line) are freshmen at Bryant. Central grad Mike Leavitt left the program after one year on the roster.
Casey Ryan (6-5, 250), a Londonderry grad, is a sophomore offensive lineman.
Junior Andrew Regan (5-10, 285), another Central Catholic grad, will continue to start on the defensive line at Bryant after posting 41 tackles last season including 3 1/2 sacks.
Londonderry grad Sean Ryan (6-3, 295) is a freshman on the offensive line at UNH. North Reading's Derek Coppola (5-9, 195), a Gunnery Prep grad, is a freshman receiver. Offensive lineman Josh Lane, a former Eagle-Tribune MVP from Pinkerton, has left the UNH program and is looking to transfer. His brother, Jason Lane, is also no longer playing at Northeastern.
Warren Wilson, a 6-1, 185-pound junior from Lawrence, switched from wide receiver to cornerback during spring football at UMass.
Andover's Kyle Smith (6-0, 191) is a junior reserve in Holy Cross' secondary. He appeared in seven games last season on special teams and made one tackle.
Zahoruiko remains Bentley's tackling machine
Matt Zahoruiko enters his senior season at Bentley bidding for all-star honors. The North Andover grad had a breakout season last fall with 107 tackles, which tied for the league lead. Central Catholic grad Walter Gillis is a freshman offensive lineman with the Falcons.
Junior linebacker Steve Travaglini of Pelham (6 tackles last year), freshman defensive back Shane McMahon of Salem and sophomore defensive end Kyle Connors of Londonderry are suiting up at Assumption.
Junior tri-captain Mark Colantonio of Londonderry started every game at St. Anselm last fall, totalling 49 tackles and three interceptions. The defensive back/return man also ranked third on the team with 564 all-purpose yards.
Junior defensive back Jason Nguyen of Methuen and Central Catholic and junior defensive end Mike D'Angelo of Andover each had six tackles last year for St. A's.
Other local Hawks are sophomore offensive lineman Richard Bergeron of Haverhill, highly-touted UNH transfer sophomore quarterback Mike Pierce of Andover, junior kicker Ben Lawlor of Salem and freshmen Matt Gordon (Methuen) and Donea Robinson (Lawrence).
Warriors look to O'Leary as defensive mainstay
Methuen's John O'Leary returns as a junior lineman at Merrimack, where he appeared in all 10 games last fall and notched nine tackles.
Steve DeLuca of Windham and Peter Early of Haverhill are sophomore receivers and Greg Basmajian of Haverhill is a junior linebacker for the Warriors.
Recent Central grad Shain Jowett is playing sprint football at Navy. For those not familiar, sprint football has the same rules, but no player can weigh more than 170 pounds.
Defensive back Dennis Cassidy of Methuen returns to the field at Stonehill after missing all of his junior season with an injury. JonLars Carlson of Andover is a sophomore tight end for the Skyhawks.
Playmaking Driscoll back as conference MVP
Nine locals will take to the field at Curry College including five freshmen.
North Andover's Scott Driscoll, a senior linebacker, is the returning New England Football Conference Boyd Division MVP. He made 65 tackles and picked off six passes last year, returning two for scores.
Pinkerton grads John Sughrue (fullback; 54 carries, 339 yards, 3 TDs; 8 catches, 113 yards, 2 TDs), Peter Gustowski (center) and Kevin Lucius (offensive tackle) are senior returning starters for the Colonels. Lucius made the All-NEFC academic team.
Another Pinkerton grad, G.J. Walker, enters his freshman season for the Colonels as will Ronnie Rossi (North Reading), Kevin Sledge (Salem), Chris Najem (Salem) and Pelham record-breaker Bruce Vieira.
Matt Weisman, a junior from North Andover, is a returning starter on the WPI offensive line. Londonderry's Josh Nitso is a freshman lineman and Windham's Brendan Walsh a freshman receiver for the Engineers.
Tufts' Tom Terrific tapped for preseason honors
Tom Tassinari made a statement last season as a junior at Tufts, picking off a team-high five passes. The senior from Andover and Phillips Academy, a returning All-East selection, was named a preseason second-team All-American by D3football.com.
Pentucket grad Tom Beaton led Bates last year with four touchdowns, three through the air (28 catches, 219 yards) and one on the ground (34 carries, 114 yards). The versatile senior also exhibited his passing skills (12 of 18, 86 yards).
Senior lineman Rich McNeil of Lawrence (28 tackles, 2.5 sacks) is an all-star candidate for Bates while junior defensive back Chris Burke of Andover, sophomore linebacker Santo Dettore of North Reading and junior defensive lineman Joel Israel of Andover all should contribute.
Schulz proves he's still a force at RPI
Senior Stefan Schulz of Haverhill is an All-Liberty League linebacker at RPI, where he notched 64 tackles, three interceptions and four sacks last fall. Sophomores Mike Morander of Andover (2 catches, 22 yards) is a returning wideout and Mike Schlosser of Haverhill and Central is a defensive lineman. Newcomers include Matt LaFrance (defensive line) from Central Catholic and Erik Hatton (quarterback) from Timberlane.
Justin Dufault of North Andover enters his sophomore season on the defensive line at UMass Dartmouth.
Senior Matt Quinlan of Andover projects as a starter on the Colby offensive line. Sophomore defensive lineman Tripp Stevens of Andover and sophomore tight end Ross O'Connor of Methuen also play for the Mules.
Junior Ben Cryts from Pinkerton (7 tackles) and sophomore Jimmy Curro of Londonderry are safeties at St. Lawrence.
Junior fullback Ryan Lambert of Londonderry and freshman defensive back Jimmy Nguyen from Central Catholic are at Endicott.
The unblockable Melville heading Worcester squad
Six locals will suit up for Worcester State headlined by senior defensive lineman Steve Melville, who finished with 48 tackles in nine games last season including an eye-popping 19 tackles for loss and 7 1/2 sacks. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Pentucket grad was named all-league and academic all-league.The Lancers have quite the Pentucket connection as in addition to Melville they feature junior linebacker Matthew Sullivan and junior back Aaron McCraine (25 carries, 97 yards, 1 TD). Other locals for Worcester are junior linebacker Matthew McLean of Methuen, sophomore defensive lineman Juan Franco from Greater Lawrence Tech and freshman linebacker Josue Henriquez from Methuen.
Jeff St. Onge, a Central grad, will be back under center for Salve Regina. The senior threw for 1,665 yards and eight touchdowns last season on 131 of 218 passing. He also ran for 530 yards on 135 carries and nine touchdowns. He'll be joined by freshmen Curtis Davis, another Central grad (Haverhill) on the defensive line, and Kevin Hilliard, an inside linebacker from North Reading. The defense is led by Zach Szymanski, a senior defensive back out of Central who had 56 tackles last year.
Whittredge, Moore combo back at Fitchburg
Haverhill's Dale Whittredge Jr. elevated his game last season as a junior, collecting 66 tackles (11 for a loss) as a defensive back at Fitchburg State. The hard-hitting safety picked off a pass and forced four fumbles. Lawrence grad Jesus Moore made an impact as a freshman with 46 tackles and three sacks on the defensive line.
Senior Daniel Marcum (6 tackles) of Pelham is a special teams standout and made the conference all-academic team. Greater Lawrence grad Greg Cora will be a senior linebacker and Whittier grad Tyler Page is a freshman running back for the Falcons.
Explosive Williams senior Nick Caro of Andover caught 32 passes for 556 yards and three touchdowns last season. He'll be joined by 6-foot-3 freshman Darren Hartwell of North Reading, who will play defensive back and wide receiver.
Junior John Barbagallo of North Andover and sophomore Matt Dugan of Methuen are fighting for time on the offensive line at Springfield. Methuen grad Giuliano Pizzo went 4 for 6 last year as the Pride's kicker including a 41-yarder. Sophomore receiver Justin Narbonne from Central and freshman linebacker Chris George from Pinkerton also play for the Pride.
Some other local players to watch include Husson junior defensive lineman Kyle Romick from Pinkerton, Westfield State senior defensive lineman Tommy Pena from Lawrence and Westfield junior fullback Anthony Tomacchio of Methuen.
Castellucci pitches in at Plymouth State
Pinkerton grad Brian Castellucci broke out as a sophomore with Plymouth State, recording 53 tackles and two sacks last season as a middle linebacker. Senior twins Mike and Matt Vahey (both Pinkerton grads) will continue to anchor the left side of the offensive line and Londonderry's Dan Kelly returns to the secondary, where he had 44 tackles and two picks last season as a sophomore.
Former Timberlane running back James Dionne is a sophomore with the Panthers and Pinkerton grad Mike Keenan is a sophomore tight end.
Plymouth freshmen include defensive back Adam Avedisian (Methuen), lineman Brian Baez (Methuen), lineman Matt Fiore (Pentucket), lineman Mike Miller (North Andover), lineman Vinny Manfrate (Salem), defensive back Dennis Stevens (Pinkerton) and wide receiver Pat Phillion (Methuen). Receiver Sean Simpson is a senior transfer out of Pinkerton.
Londonderry's Andrew Rodgers picked up 32 tackles as a freshman defensive back at Western New England last season. His former teammate, Anthony Terenzi, is a freshman fullback at Nichols College. Recent Londonderry grad Tom Manley is a freshman lineman on the first-year Castleton State squad.
Methuen's Eric Eldred is an offensive lineman at Bridgewater State, where he's joined by fellow sophomores Nate Adames and Victor Sosa, both Greater Lawrence Tech grads. A trio of freshmen will put on the pads for Norwich. Haverhill running back Danny Triplett will be competing for carries with Whittier product Bryan Trickett. Matt Kumph of Georgetown, a 6-foot-5 defensive lineman, is also a rookie for the Cadets.
Haverhill's Evan Pare is a freshman receiver at Bowdoin and recent Lawrence's Will Carrasco (quarterback) and Julio Valentin (defensive back) are freshmen at Anna Maria, a second-year program.
Andover's Corey Steele split time between running back and tight end his first two years at Framingham State. He made six catches last season including three trips to the end zone and chipped in with 12 special teams tackles. North Reading's Joe Burns returns as a sophomore defensive lineman and Lawrence's Jorge Cruz is a sophomore linebacker, who'll welcome former teammates Jessie Fabian (lineman) and Luis Nova (defensive back), both freshmen.
Ex-Lancers receiver Demitri Brown, lineman Pedro Cruz, defensive back Dimar Torres and quarterback Ramon Heredia are also playing for the Rams.
By the Numbers
8: Number of two-year captains in Northwestern's 134-year history including Andover's Brendan Smith.
20th: Where Buddy Farnham of Andover ranks all-time in Ivy League receptions.
107: Tackles by North Andover's Matt Zahoruiko last fall.
6: Interceptions by North Andover's Scott Driscoll last fall.
3: Pinkerton grads starting on the Curry offense
19: Tackles for loss by Pentucket's Steve Melville last fall.
66: Tackles by Haverhill's Dale Whittredge last year.
41: Yards of longest field goal by Methuen's Giuliano Pizzo.
2: Number of Vahey twins from Pinkerton starting at Plymouth State.