PLAYERS TO WATCH
►Jon Baker , Millis/Hopedale: The 6-foot-3, 290-pound Boston College recruit (inset) has dropped about 15 pounds in the offseason and is poised to dominate the line of scrimmage as perhaps the state’s best two-way lineman. Chris Ahl, a 1,000-yard rusher last season for the co-op squad, should once again have plenty of room to operate following the lead of the returning Globe All-Scholastic and Lineman of the Year in the Tri-Valley League’s Small Division.
►Brian Dunlap , Natick: Natick’s top receiving threat has been catching passes from quarterback Troy Flutie since he was 9. In their last high school season together, the connection that produced 86 catches, 1,550 yards, and 23 touchdowns will be as strong as ever.
►Troy Flutie , Natick: As a junior, the dual-threat quarterback accounted for 49 touchdowns and more than 4,000 yards of offense as he led the Red Hawks to a Division 2A Super Bowl appearance. Teamed up with an athletic receiving corps that features junior Brian Dunlap and senior Alex Hilger , Flutie has the weapons around him to once again be one of the most explosive offensive players in the state.
►Joe Johnston , King Philip Regional: The senior running back returns to lead the Warriors’ run-heavy attack. Last fall, in his first season as a starter, he compiled nearly 1,400 yards and 18 touchdowns.
►Davon Jones , St. John’s High: One of the most versatile athletes in Central Mass., the junior will be an impact player for coach John Andreoli both in the defensive backfield and as a ball carrier who can make defenders miss in the open field. A starter since his freshman season, Jones also started at point guard for the Pioneers basketball team that made it to the Division 1 Central final in March.
►Kens Morantus , Waltham: At 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, the defensive end/outside linebacker was one of the best defensive players in the Dual County League’s Large Division last season. He is a three-year starter in Waltham’s 3-5 defense, and last year led the team in sacks and tackles for a loss.
►Mike Panepinto , Needham: The shifty running back rushed for 2,085 yards in his junior season and his 26 touchdowns were the most in EMass Division 1. Now a captain, the UMass-Amherst lacrosse commit will help lead a team that returns just six starters.
►Andrew Smiley , St. John’s High: The future Division 1 lacrosse player at Navy was at the helm of one of the most potent offenses in the state last season. In the Pioneers “blur” offense — a no-huddle attack — he set the Central Mass. record for passing yards (3,123) and threw 25 touchdown passes.
►Cam Smith , Medway: The 6-foot-5, 300-pounder figures to be a force on both sides of the line of scrimmage in his senior season. He has committed to play at Lafayette College.
►Connor Strachan , St. Sebastian’s: Another future BC Eagle, the 6-foot-1, 230-pounder is entering his fourth season as a starting linebacker for the Arrows. The Wellesley resident made all of the defensive calls during last year’s nine-game undefeated season, and his sub-4.5-second 40-yard dash speed helped him finish with 70 tackles.
Phil Perry’s Top 10 teams
(Final 2012 record)
1. Natick (11-2)
2. St. John’s High (8-5)
3. Waltham (7-3)
4. Needham (8-3)
5. King Philip Regional (10-1)
6. Nashoba Regional (13-0)
7. Lincoln-Sudbury Regional (10-2)
8. Shrewsbury (9-3)
9. Acton-Boxborough Regional (8-3)
10. Millis/Hopedale (8-4)
GAME OF THE WEEK
Needham at Westwood, 7 p.m. Saturday: The Rockets will have their hands full from the outset as they visit the reigning Tri-Valley League Large Division champs. Quarterback Ryan Charter, who has been starting since the middle of his sophomore season, provides a consistency in the offensive huddle that will help seven newcomers be more comfortable in coach David Duffy’s system.
WEEK 1 SLATE
(All games at 7 p.m. unless otherwise noted)
► Friday : Somerset Berkley Regional at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional; Greater New Bedford at Millis/Hopedale.
► Saturday : King Philip Regional at Middleborough, 1 p.m.; Weston at Randolph, 1; Montachusett Regional Tech at Franklin County Tech, 1; Arlington Catholic at Shawsheen, 1:30; Boston Latin at Brookline, 2; Needham at Westwood; Bellingham at Holliston.
Phil Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.