Welcome to the 2023 high school football season. It’s my personal favorite time of year as a local sports journalist and I have a feeling that this upcoming season could be one to remember for …
Welcome to the 2023 high school football season. It’s my personal favorite time of year as a local sports journalist and I have a feeling that this upcoming season could be one to remember for our teams here at Beacon Communications.
Games begin this weekend for our clubs. Although they are non-league, they are still regular season contests that count toward their records, so yes, football begins this week. Two weeks ago I broke down our teams to set the table. This week, I am going to be focusing on how I truly believe these teams will fare, rather than just say who is doing what.
Just a note: When I list my prediction beneath the team, that is considered the floor, not the ceiling. What I predict is what I am expecting each team to accomplish at a minimum.
Let’s get into it:
The Hawks suffered an unusual defeat to rival La Salle in the state championship last year to end their lengthy reign on top. What most people overlook, though, is how young that Hendricken club was. It was unusually young for Hendricken’s program, as it is usually a team that boasts strong numbers from all classes.
This year, much of the same team is back. I expect quarterback Jayden Falcone to emerge as a top-three quarterback in the state now that colleges will be fully locked in, and it is safe to say that Oscar Weah and Ronjai Francis will be the best 1-2 punch in the state. Rushaune Villane will also be elite on defense.
Hendricken lost some pieces in the trenches, so that will be an area to focus on, but the Hawks’ staff is always creative when it comes to hiding vulnerabilities. It will come down to the Hawks and Rams, with maybe a team like North Kingstown to possibility to make it interesting.
Prediction: Hawks return to the state championship game
Pilgrim is another one of our clubs that is returning a whole lot of guys, including nine starters on defense.
All eyes will be on the offense, though. We know that the defense will be a tough, experienced group, but the offense will be a fun one to watch.
Chace Roberts is cemented as the team’s starting quarterback with Carter Clifton sidelined with injury. These two guys split time under center last year, but it will be Roberts’ time this fall. Also returning on offense are pass catchers including Cole Bigelli, Justyn Murphy and Jack Coffie. Roberts has flashed an arm in the past, so this could be a high-flying attack if it plays its cards right.
How about the running game though? Last year’s bell cow Matt Santos graduated, and in the preseason the team rotated a few guys in the backfield. Sure, if the team can pass the ball then the run may not be as vital as it was last year, but every team at the high school level needs a go-to power rusher.
Pilgrim is more experienced on defense, has some true studs on offense, they’ll be much better.
Prediction: Pats return to the postseason and win a game once they’re there.
Luckily for the Titans, things can only improve on last year’s season in which they went winless and underwent a total makeover from the coaching staff to the roster.
Now as they enter their second season under local coaching legend Jim Miceli, there will be some holes to fill as quarterback Jacob Vann and do-it-all playmaker Zach DeCorpo graduated.
There are still so many questions to be answered, so many gaps to be filled, so much dust to still be settled. It’s going to be likely another two or three years before this team is back to neutral. It was just one of those unfortunate times when a massive senior core’s graduation coincided with a coaching change.
The fact that the RIIL kept the Titans in Division III rather than move them down is beyond me. I am rooting for this team because it is such a great community at Toll Gate, but this is going to be another rebuilding year.
Prediction: Titans are more organized and efficient, but miss playoffs
I am sensing a huge breakout season for quarterback Kelan Cornell. Sure, last year he broke out and became a legitimate starting quarterback, but he could end up in that aforementioned top-three discussion by season’s end.
Losing Marcus Chung is going to sting in the early going, but there is enough carry over from last season for the Falcons to be competitive even in the first few weeks. They came close to reaching the title game last season and although I do not think that is off the table, there will definitely need to be some guys that step up and break out as well. Guys that may not be on the radar at the moment.
I know football is a team sport. It’s the ultimate team sport. But Cornell’s development is going to be the key to determining how far this club advances. As I always say, West is a tough group that is as consistently competitive as there is in the state, but there are a few key players from last year’s run whose absence could be tricky to navigate, especially in the early going. West has been tested plenty in the past few years though, so no need to panic.
Prediction: Falcons return to the playoffs
The Bolts have gone through some tough times these past few seasons.
East graduated a massive, and I mean massive, senior core that was championship caliber. Then right when the rebuild was set to begin, the team had a coaching change. Then on top of it, the pandemic occurred. East has never once made excuses, but it’s no wonder why this team has not yet found its way since those championship caliber teams throughout the 2010’s graduated.
I am a huge believer in head coach Isaiah McDaniel and respect how steady he has kept that program through all the downs. He loved the seniors on his roster last season and I remember at the end of the year how bad he felt that their high school experience played out the way it did.
Now, this year’s group is going to be filled with underclassmen, it looks like another rebuild. However, on the bright side, it does feel like this team is set up to finally shake off the bad vibes and start making progress.
The team will have guys like Michael Terry and A’Driahn Foreman returning, among a few others. They’ll be able to make things happen.
Prediction: The Bolts win multiple games
The Panthers won just one league contest last season. A lot is going to change this year as the Panthers have the makings of a playoff caliber group.
Neari Vasquez and Steven Finegan will be joined by some imports from other sports and the youngsters behind them have all played significant minutes. This is a team that a month ago was under the radar but is starting to turn heads. It feels like a tidal wave is approaching Division III. Guys like Dean Paris, Michael Carlino, Dylan Martins, Matt Clements and Cam Walker are all in the mix and figure to be difference makers.
Perhaps the Panthers’ best asset this season will be depth. The team is returning so many pieces, so much talent, and it feels like Vasquez is about to take off and join the division’s elite. There will be some sorting out in terms of roles, but this is a team that by the end of the regular season could be one of the most dangerous in the state.
Prediction: Panthers reach Division III semis