The play was designed well and executed to near perfection, but St. John’s Prep couldn’t account for one factor.
Everett led the top-seeded Eagles, 12-7, late in a 2015 Division 1 North tournament matchup, but junior tight end Declan Burt sold a play fake and got past the defense for what seemed like a sure touchdown. While it seemed impossible for any defender to disrupt the play, then-freshman safety Lewis Cine used his incredible closing speed and every inch of his 6-foot-2-inch frame to rip the potential completion out of Burt’s hands and preserve the win.
“Right then, I knew this kid was going to be special,” Everett coach John DiBiaso said of Cine.
While Everett fell short in the sectional final that year, Cine would prove invaluable as the Crimson Tide avenged an early-season loss to Xaverian by blazing through the Division 1 field and upending the Hawks, 21-7, in the state title game last December.
Cine, who moved from Haiti to Florida when he was 5 and began playing football when he moved to Everett at the age of 11, has supplemented his unique athletic skill set with razor focus in an effort to meet his lofty goal of becoming one of the best safeties in the country.
“When I came to high school I set goals for myself,” Cine said. “I wanted regional recognition by the time I was a sophomore and national recognition by junior year, and it happened quicker than I thought, but I still have the goal to become the best safety in the country and that just means working on the little things from practice through to the game.”
The 180-pound junior earned that recognition because he can run like a track star and hit like a linebacker, while diligently studying football theory and maintaining a 3.4 GPA at Everett High.
With those appealing attributes, it’s no wonder he has been labeled by Rivals.com as the top recruit in Massachusetts for the Class of 2019 and the sixth-best prospect at safety in the nation.
You see, Cine fits the new mold at safety at the next level as colleges look to combat multiple offenses and spread attacks with versatile defensive backs, which is why he’s receiving interest from schools such as Notre Dame, Ohio State, Florida State, and Penn State.
“[Cine] isn’t a player who is only good against a running team or a passing team, he can do it all and that’s what makes him attractive to the colleges,” said DiBiaso.
And Cine’s not the only adaptable safety making a huge impact across the MIAA.
Leading the defense for 2016 Division 1A champion King Philip is Yale commit Shane Frommer, a 5-11, 190-pounder, who led the Warriors with 1,100 rushing yards and starred at outside linebacker last season.
Yet with nature of high school offenses shifting rapidly, King Philip’s coaching staff is making an executive decision to move their senior captain into the secondary, where he can see more of the field and counter various looks from opposing offenses.
“Safeties are like quarterbacks on defense, now more than ever,” said Warriors offensive coordinator John Sarianides.
“Traditionally, the middle linebacker [has] been the signal caller, but now it’s safeties because with the rise of spread offenses, and especially when you face teams that run no-huddle, they have to make calls at the back end.”
Frommer maintains that he’ll readily accept whatever role his coaches assign him, whether at the high school level or at Yale next season.
“I’m a versatile player and I’ll play where my defensive coordinator wants me,” Frommer said. “It’s based on the schedule. We’ll face a lot of spread offenses this season and since we’re such a good run-stopping defense, we think teams are going to be passing against us a lot more, so it’s going to be my responsibility to get everyone lined up and try to contain the offense.”
By nature, the safety is the last line of defense. In order to maximize efficacy at the back end, coaches are putting their best athletes at that position.
Milton captain William Crowley will also move from outside linebacker to safety this year in a move that coach Steve Dembowski said, “will help us become more flexible defensively. You have to be flexible with what you do, because you’ll see a spread one week and a pounding offense the next.”
Duxbury standout Joe Gooley will remain at outside linebacker, but coach Dave Maimaron hopes to use his senior as a rover at times. Meanwhile, Walpole’s Dan O’Leary, Xaverian’s Brian Abraham, and Bridgewater-Raynham’s Danny Taylor will profile as defensive quarterbacks who can read offensive formations, help their teammates get in position, and make plays on the ball.
DiBiaso lauds the athleticism of Cine and fellow junior safety Jason Maitre for their ability to thwart big plays, and up at Tewksbury High, the Division 3 North favorites are hoping for similar production from three-year standout Masyn Lorick.
A 6-1, 175-pound wide receiver and safety with an insatiable appetite for learning about his position, Lorick’s intuition is a valuable asset for the Redmen.
“It’s not like years back when you would only see one or two types of offense,” said Tewksbury coach Brian Aylward.
“With so many creative offense schemes, you need a guy that can put the other guys in place and Masyn was kind of forced into that role as a sophomore. His experience has paid dividends and it’s a luxury having him back there.”
Now more than ever, there is a trickle-down effect from the collegiate ranks to MIAA programs, and kids like Cine, Lorick, and Frommer are fitting right into what coaches require from the position.
“The rise of spread offenses across the board has been pretty significant in regards to how we play and recruit,” said Jay Civetti, Tufts University head football coach.
“You’re seeing a lot more hybrid looks on traditional defenses, so we’re recruiting these highly athletic kids to combat the spread and we evaluate more safeties than corners to see if they have the size to help with run support, but also cover at the second level.”
The best way to prepare against a dynamic spread attack is through repetition, an experience Cine knows all too well after butting heads with teammate Jordan McAfee and Everett’s up-tempo offense throughout practices last season.
Cine played defensive end at the Pop Warner level, but facing that competition on a daily basis forced him to quickly adapt to the safety position.
“Facing Jordan [McAfee] in practice helped me learn how to play at a faster pace and once you’ve seen a type of offense, it adds to your knowledge and helps you prepare for different things.”
That process provided similar background for Natick free safety Peter Ryan, a three-year starter who came up through the program while Troy Flutie was smashing records as quarterback of an innovative spread offense.
Ryan recorded three of his eight interceptions last year in a 14-13 win over Braintree by watching film, reading the quarterback’s eyes, and fixing a perceived weakness down the seam after Bridgewater-Raynham burned the Redhawks’ Cover-2 defense for 35 points the previous week.
“Scheme-wise, it’s helped us develop different strategies defensively,” Natick coach Mark Mortarelli said of the program’s familiarity with spread attacks.
“But you still have to have the right personnel. You have to have smaller guys like [the 170-pound Ryan] that can cover against the spread, and it certainly helps that he’s a smart kid who has seen a wide range of stuff over the years.”
Bolstering the back end
For players at Natick High, the birthplace of modern spread attacks where Doug Flutie’s nephew, Troy, carved up defenses at a record pace his last three seasons (2011-13), that lineage can also help with adjustments.
Senior captains Ryan and Christian D’Antonio, who also plays quarterback for the Redhawks, entered the program as Flutie was setting state records. They are now responsible for shoring up the back end of Natick’s defense against a slew of dangerous opponents.
The 5-9 Ryan came up with eight picks last year, while D’Antonio played the role of enforcer over the middle. Complementing each other perfectly, the safety tandem hopes to put together a more consistent campaign alongside a trio of returning cornerbacks.
As the last line of defense, safeties have to be ready for anything.
But, with the advent of spread offenses, it’s not enough to always play strong safety near the line of scrimmage, or roam the middle of the field and read the eyes of the quarterback.
In order to stop a versatile spread attack, coaches need to counter with versatile players. If there’s one common thread when it comes to winning in the MIAA, it’s leaning on a savvy, capable defensive back who can serve as an extension of the coaching staff while on the field.Nate Weitzer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.