High schools

2017 Division 4 high school football previews

Here is a look at each EMass football team in Division 4 heading into the 2017 season.

DIVISION 4 NORTH

Boston Latin

Coach: Ray Butler (2nd season). Career: 8-33 overall, 4-7 at Boston Latin.

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Last year’s record: 4-7

Strengths: Linebackers

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Concerns: Inexperience

Offense: Spread

Playing surface: Grass

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Outlook: Considering the number of Dual County League teams throwing the ball these days, the well-traveled Butler has opted for something unorthodox to combat the spread movement: a modified version of ex-NFL coach Buddy Ryan’s fabled 46 defense, an idea he picked up from his stops in the college ranks. ‘‘One of the reasons we do it is no one else does it,’’ Butler said. ‘‘Doing something different helps in the preparation.’’ With a front seven led by linebackers Aidan Kilgannon and Will Parsons and defensive tackle Kevin Qi, the Wolfpack could surprise teams in the DCL Small. Offensively, junior quarterback Devin Vasquez has picked up Butler’s read-option scheme after showing promise in mop-up duty last fall.

Season opener: Saturday, Sept. 9, 10 a.m., at Brookline

Burlington

Coach: Dan MacKay (1st season). Career: First year, 0-0 overall.

Last year’s record: 4-7

Strengths: Offensive and defensive lines, skill positions.

Concerns: Youth, inexperience.

Offense: Spread

Playing surface: Artificial turf

Outlook: With just nine seniors and only seven returning starters, the first season of the Dan MacKay era will be a youth movement. But the Red Devils’ sophomore class, particularly quarterback Khyle Pena and receivers Jake McCauley and Ryan O’Halloran, has MacKay encouraged about the program’s future, and even its present. ‘‘Put it this way, he can make any throw,’’ MacKay said of Pena, who’s made some of the most difficult throws look routine. ‘‘He’s got a very strong arm, he’s a very accurate passer. He’s already showing that.’’ Pena will get a chance to showcase that promise in an offense that will typically deploy four-receiver sets, led by McCauley, O’Halloran, and senior speedster Mike Pavao. When the Devils run, senior captain Cody Davison will look to eat up tough yards inside, while junior Tom DeRosa should be a solid scatback option with his pass-catching ability. Up front, junior bookend tackles Andrew Woods and Tom Splagouinos are healthy again, while guards Johnson Magada and Luke Lord man the interior. Some similar faces dot the front seven on defense, but keep an eye on Sean McGillivray at middle linebacker.

Season opener: Friday, Sept. 8, 7 p.m., at Billerica

Dracut

Coach: Jason Rivers (4th season). Career: 8-24.

Last year’s record: 6-5

Strengths: Perimeter skill players, secondary

Concerns: Depth

Offense: Read option

Playing surface: Grass

Outlook: With the amount of MIAA teams running a spread-oriented option attack these days, it’s easy to forget that Dracut was one of its foremost pioneers in the Bay State nearly a decade and half ago. From Pat Murphy to Jeff Moore and Jason Houston, every coach has put their own signature on it; Rivers’s twist has been a more downhill running approach. And with the 205-pound Allyn French, a scholarship lacrosse prospect with requisite between-the-tackles toughness, Rivers has a great catalyst. On the perimeter, 6-foot targets Nik Carter and Joey Petka could create size mismatches for quarterback Cam McCullough to exploit, clearing runways for 5-foot-5 speedster Nemisis Lopez to do what he does best -- burn. ‘‘He’s very quick, he’s got some shake to him, that’s for sure,’’ Rivers said. ‘‘He’s a playmaker for us, he’s pretty good with the ball in his hand.’’ In the trenches, junior Will Peters should be a load on either side of the line, both as McCullough’s blind side and an edge-rusher. That should serve a nice compliment to a sound back seven, led by French and Josh Salem at linebacker, Petka and Carter at the safety spots, and Brian Talbot at corner.

Season opener: Friday, Sept. 8, 7 p.m., vs. Westford

Gloucester

Coach: Tony Zerilli (7th season). Career: Career: 35-31.

Last year’s record: 8-3

Strengths: Skill positions

Concerns: Inexperience on offensive line

Offense: Wing T

Playing surface: Artificial turf

Outlook: After the program’s two most successful seasons of the Tony Zerilli era in 2015-16, some may wonder if it’s time to temper expectations given the lack of varsity experience (one returning starter) in the trenches. Of course, the Fishermen had just one returning starting lineman on teams that went 9-2 and 8-3 the last two seasons, so this isn’t exactly a new dilemma for Zerilli. It’ll be tough to replace all-time leading rusher Christian Sanfilippo in the backfield, but quarterback Matt Smith, wingback Marc Smith, tailback Jan Pena-Ortiz, and fullback Ryan Argentino round out the four-pronged rushing attack. ‘‘Our backfield can actually squat and clean more than our line at this point,’’ Zerilli said. You might see Gloucester throw the ball more this year with a few added ripples to take advantage of the Smith brothers’ ability in space. Defensively, versatile linebackers Pena-Ortiz and Ollie Emerson lead the way against the run or pass.

Season opener: Friday, Sept. 8, 6:30 p.m., at Revere

Marblehead

Coach: Jim Rudloff (9th season). Career: Career: 70-21.

Last year’s record: 10-1

Strengths: Experience on offensive and defensive line

Concerns: Inexperience at quarterback and running back

Offense: Spread

Playing surface: Artificial turf

Outlook: As the Magicians look to defend their North sectional title and return to Gillette Stadium for a second straight season, there interesting battles to watch at tailback and quarterback. Derek Testa and Devin Romain both figure to get plenty of carries despite their noticeably different physiques. Under center, it’s a three-man race with familiar lineage between junior Chris Gally (brother of last year’s starter, Drew), senior Danny Doherty, and senior Dewey Millett (brother of Magician greats Bo and Will). Whoever starts will have the luxury of an experienced line and some impressive targets, including 6-foot-6-inch, 250-pound senior tight end Andy Clough, a converted offensive lineman who has picked up Division 1 interest. ‘‘He’s a big boy and a gigantic target,’’ coach Jim Rudloff said. ‘‘It’s hard to defend a spread offense moving around someone like Andy.’’ Defensively, the Magicians will be led by Aidan Gillis, who Rudloff calls ‘‘probably the best middle linebacker in the state.’’ Gillis will receive help from outside linebacker Teddy Mayle, safety Derek Marino, and Will Bosworth off the edge.

Season opener: Friday, Sept. 8, 7 p.m., at Triton

Melrose

Coach: Tim Morris (24th season). Career: Career: 163-97-4.

Last year’s record: 8-3

Strengths: Quarterback, experience on offensive and defensive line

Concerns: Inexperience at linebacker and secondary

Offense: Read option

Playing surface: Artificial turf

Outlook: The Red Raiders have yet to settle on Jack Sullivan or Charlie Stanton at quarterback, but coach Tim Morris is encouraged by what he’s seen so far from the two seniors and it’s likely one of the two would slide to another starting position come Week 1. Experienced senior linemen Adam Caffey and Charlie Femino should ease the process regardless of the signal caller. Track star Rey Guiti should do a number at tailback, while fullback Jack Whitley is chomping at the bit after losing half of his 2016 season to an ACL injury. There isn’t much experience returning at receiver, but senior Mike Fennell will be one to watch with his quickness and soft hands. Defensively, Caffey will lead the way at linebacker, while junior safety Kevin Peete is worth keeping an eye on.

Season opener: Friday, Sept. 8, 7 p.m., vs. Masconomet

North Reading

Coach: Jeff Wall (15th season). Career: Career: 73-74.

Last year’s record: 9-2

Strengths: Talent at skill positions.

Concerns: Depth.

Offense: Spread

Playing surface: Artificial turf

Outlook: After coming one win away from punching their first ticket to Gillette Stadium for a state title, the Hornets return 12 starters -- including seven on defense -- making us wonder if they can make another deep run through the North and beyond. Quarterback Kyle Bythrow, a second team All-Cape Ann selection in 2016, is back under center and should be a load to handle with his physicality when the option calls for him to go inside. When he goes to the air, keep an eye on junior Mike Mikula, who’s adept at high-pointing deep throws, as well as brothers Jake and Josh Bedell. Defensively there’s a lot to like with what’s returning, especially in the back seven with senior linebackers Ryan Edison and Jack DeAngelo, and physical Cover-3 cornerback Kyle Conley.

Season opener: Friday, Sept. 8, 6:30 p.m., at Brighton

Revere

Coach: Lou Cicatelli (16th season). Career: Career: 59-91.

Last year’s record: 6-4

Strengths: Offensive and defensive line

Concerns: Inexperience at quarterback

Offense: Wing T

Playing surface: Artificial turf

Outlook: The Patriots are in the midst of a youth movement after two high-watermark seasons for the program, but there’s a lot to be encouraged about on either side of the ball. Coach Lou Cicatelli hopes he can build around his ‘‘Mr. Everything’’, 5-foot-10-inch, 165-pound Badr Haou, who led the team in touchdowns a year ago and has played everywhere from X receiver to tight end to wingback and even won two games with his kicking ability. ‘‘Badr’s not the fastest kid in the world but he has some of the greatest hands,’’ Cicatelli said. Juniors Frank Sims and Devin Mathias anchor the middle of the offensive and defensive lines, while Ryan Mangino and Edeh Ballo will also contribute in the trenches. ‘‘These kids are physical,’’ Cicatelli added. ‘‘They’re all strong, hungry kids.’’ Under center, sophomore Jonathan Murphy shows a lot of upside with his athleticism and 6-foot-1-inch frame, and we may see him on a number of sprint-out plays this season.

Season opener: Friday, Sept. 8, 6:30 p.m., vs. Gloucester

Wakefield

Coach: Steve Cummings (third year, 8-14)

Last season’s record: 5-6

Strengths: Quarterback, returning entire offensive and defensive lines.

Concerns: Inexperience in back seven

Offense: Pistol Wing-T

Playing Surface: Turf

Outlook: Cummings is a Lou Silva disciple, having played for the Hall of Fame coach at Marshfield High two decades agao. And after contemplating a switch to Silva’s patented pistol attack that saw the Rams bludgeon their way to back-to-back South titles and a state title in 2014, Cummings is finally pulling the trigger. I’m not waiting anymore,” he said. “When we get this thing fully installed and firing on all cylinders, I think it’s going to be a huge advantage for us offensively.” Cummings has been encouraged by the progress of incumbent QB Mike Lucey in camp. And UMass lacrosse recruit Ryan Fitzpatrick could pose a real threat at tailback with a skill set that is physical and elusive. The Warriors everyone on both sides of the trenches, including two-way edge player Devin O’Brien, guard Dan Cataldo, and center Pat Bertini.

Season opener: Friday, Sept. 8, 7 p.m., at Reading

Wayland

Coach: Scott Parseghian (17th season). Career: Career: 107-74.

Last year’s record: 4-7

Strengths: Linebackers, nose guard

Concerns: Inexperience at quarterback

Offense: Spread

Playing surface: Artificial turf

Outlook: The Warriors return a bevy of experience, led by star linebackers Sean Devlin, last year’s Dual County Small Defensive Player of the Year, and Wellington Pereira, a junior who is picking up Division 1 interest. ‘‘They attack very well and they read quickly,’’ coach Scott Parseghian said. ‘‘And sometimes that’s just as good as a blitz, given their size and speed.’’ Pereira, a bowling ball at 6-foot-1-inch, 220 pounds, also figures to be the lead ball carrier on offense, where he’ll be running behind a line that returns four starters. In the middle, 275-pound Brooks Jones should be a problem at nose guard with his deceiving speed. The Warriors are green under center, with sophomore Mason Bolivar needing to catch up quick on Parseghian’s patented read-option scheme. However, speedy senior receiver Ben Robinson should ease the process.

Season opener: Friday, Sept. 8, 7 p.m., vs. Hopkinton

Wilmington

Coach: Craig Turner (1st season). Career: 0-0 (28-15 at Mystic Valley).

Last year’s record: 3-8

Strengths: Quarterback, team athleticism, experience on defense

Concerns: Depth, adjusting to new philosophies on offense and defense

Offense: Spread

Playing surface: Artificial turf

Outlook: Of all the coaching changes in the offseason, one of the sneaky best hires was Craig Turner, who built an infantile Mystic Valley program into one that competed for sectional titles and churned out Division I talent by the end of its first decade of existence. The Wildcats already seem to be enjoying the sea change under Turner, who’s up for the tall task of installing his patented spread scheme in a program that had been more conservative offensively in recent years. Quarterback Graham Smith, a Franklin Pierce baseball commit who missed last season with a collarbone injury, has picked up the offense quickly and his dual-threat ability could mean success for the Wildcats. On the perimeter, Tyler Roberts moves from tight end to wideout and Turner expects him to ‘‘open some eyes this year’’ with his physicality in the vertical passing game. Defensively, Roberts could be a real threat at outside linebacker in the Wildcats 3-4 front, and should hardly leave the field with his pass rush and pass coverage abilities.

Season opener: Friday, Sept. 8, 7 p.m., vs. Shawsheen

DIVISION 4 SOUTH

Dartmouth

Coach: Richard White (14th season). Career: Career: 99-44-3.

Last year’s record: 9-2

Strengths: Balanced offense, dual-threat quarterback

Concerns: Inexperience on defense

Offense: Spread

Playing surface: Grass

Outlook: The Indians move down to Division 4 this year, where they will no longer have to deal with high-powered Duxbury or a dangerous North Attleboro team that knocked them out of them state tournament last year. But Richard White ensured his team will face elite competition by scheduling Division 1 powers Central Catholic, Attleboro, and Rhode Island’s La Salle Acadmey. Senior Nate Ellis will bring a healthy dose of athleticism to the quarterback position after playing wide receiver last year and Kyle Sullivan anchors a stout defensive line.

Season opener: Friday, Sept. 8, 7 p.m., vs. Central Catholic

Dighton-Rehoboth

Coach: Dave Moura (1st season). Career: 1st season as head coach.

Last year’s record: 6-5

Strengths: Senior leadership

Concerns: Depth

Offense: Wing T

Playing surface: Grass

Outlook: For the first time in 36 seasons, Dave Driscoll will not patrol the sidelines for Dighton-Rehoboth. His replacement, however, is no football neophyte, as Dave Moura takes over after 13 years as an assistant at D-R, seven at UMass Dartmouth, and three at his alma mater, Dartmouth High. The Eagles offense will be led by third-year starting quarterback Steven Silvia, who Moura describes as ‘‘a tremendous leader with a strong arm that runs the ball well and can do pretty much anything we ask of him.’’ When asked about taking over as head coach, Moura added, ‘‘Dave Driscoll put D-R football on the map and these are big shoes to fill. It’s exciting, and I hope I can continue the tradition that he established.’’

Season opener: Friday, Sept. 8, 7 p.m., at Lincoln-Sudbury

Hopkinton

Coach: Jim Girard (8th season). Career: Career: 57-42 (46-31 at Hopkinton).

Last year’s record: 4-7

Strengths: Skill positions

Concerns: Size on offensive and defensive line

Offense: Multiple

Playing surface: Grass

Outlook: While the Hillers run a multiple offense, this year’s strength lies outside with four talented and experienced receivers returning. Junior Luke D’Aloia is back, along with seniors Will Abbott, Mike Ianelli, and Shane Cooney out wide. At tight end, senior captain Matt Lindquist will offer another target for new starting quarterback Ryan Kelleher. Kelleher, a starter towards the end of last season, is a great candidate to run a quick-hitting spread attack considering Girard described the junior signal caller as ‘‘poised, knowledgeable, and not afraid to use his arm strength.’’ This Hopkinton team should be fun to watch.

Season opener: Friday, Sept. 8, 7 p.m., at Wayland

Milton

Coach: Steve Dembowski (3rd season). Career: Career: 133-72 (19-5 at Milton).

Last year’s record: 8-4

Strengths: Skill positions

Concerns: Depth on offensive line

Offense: Multiple

Playing surface: Artificial turf

Outlook: One of the most innovative football minds in the Bay State, Steve Dembowski has a bevy of weapons at his disposal. Track phenom Smith Charles is back at running back after tallying eight touchdowns on offense, defense, and special teams last year, while senior captain William Crowley and classmate Eddie Hassell lead a dynamic core of receivers. ‘‘I think we’re going to be fine offensively,’’ said Dembowski. ‘‘Defensively, we have holes to fill at all levels, but we look good and fast.’’ After leading the Wildcats into the tournament in each of his first two seasons, Dembowski’s complex and multiple offense should be taking hold in Milton.

Season opener: Friday, Sept. 8, 7 p.m., vs. Belmont

Nauset

Coach: Bruce Strunk (1st season). Career: Career: 139-46 at high school level in Maryland.

Last year’s record: 3-8

Strengths: Skill positions

Concerns: Depth

Offense: Single wing

Playing surface: Artificial turf

Outlook: The Warriors transition from one accomplished coach to the next, as Bruce Strunk replaces former NFL coach Mike Sherman. After a storied career at Howard High in Maryland, Strunk will look to implement a single wing version of a spread attack and expects sophomore Bobby Joy to play both wing and some quarterback within that scheme. Junior Mac LaBarge will also play quarterback and his older brother, J.P., will solidify the defensive line. With only five seniors on the roster, there could be some growing pains, but Strunk is optimistic about the future of his new program.

Season opener: Friday, Sept. 8, 7 p.m., at Coyle & Cassidy

North Quincy

Coach: Mark Nutley (5th season). Career: Career: 8-26.

Last year’s record: 2-9

Strengths: Experience at skill positions

Concerns: Depth

Offense: Spread

Playing surface: Artificial turf

Outlook: In order to get the most out of an experienced group of skill players, Nutley plans to implement a spread attack more often on offense this year. Running back Win Tran returns after missing much of last season with a shoulder injury and will work in tandem with junior Nate Sleiman out of the backfield. Tim Layden is back under center after a promising sophomore campaign and the Red Raiders have a breakout candidate in 220-pound junior tight end Nelson Walinjom.

Season opener: Friday, Sept. 8, 7 p.m., vs. Silver Lake

Norwood

Coach: Jim Tighe (4th season). Career: Career: 11-22.

Last year’s record: 3-8

Strengths: Special teams

Concerns: Experience

Offense: Multiple

Playing surface: Artificial turf

Outlook: After a disappointing 2016 campaign, Norwood will continue rebuilding with only 12 seniors on the roster. Leading that group is captain and tight end Colin Plasko, who will work with classmates Chris Sheehan and Matt Rice to bolster a young offensive line. Inside linebackers Abdallah Khalil and Jake Smelstor highlight a promising junior class that includes standout kicker Jay Wladkowksi, an athletic special teams maven who Tighe hopes will give the Mustangs an advantage in that phase of the game.

Season opener: Friday, Sept. 8, 6:30 p.m., at Framingham

Pembroke

Coach: Brian King (3rd season). Career: Career: 30-47 (3-19 at Pembroke).

Last year’s record: 3-8

Strengths: Experience

Concerns: Pass defense

Offense: Pistol

Playing surface: Artificial turf

Outlook: With 17 seniors on the roster and nine starters returning on defense, this tight-knit group has a chance to compete in the tough Patriot League Fisher Division. Senior running backs Nick Lane and Kyle Watts will often flank junior quarterback Jack Kelly when the Titans run the pistol, while all-around athlete Brian Burns will move all over the formation. ‘‘These kids have really put in a lot of work during the offseason with 25 to 30 guys consistently working out since mid-January,’’ coach Brian King said. ‘‘The key for us will simply be staying healthy.’’

Season opener: Friday, Sept. 8, 7 p.m., at Westwood

Plymouth South

Coach: Scott Fry (14th season). Career: Career: 68-76-1.

Last year’s record: 5-6

Strengths: Athleticism

Concerns: Experience in secondary

Offense: Spread

Playing surface: Artificial turf

Outlook: With a full year of action under his belt, 6-foot-3-inch senior quarterback Alex Cohen looks to lead the Panthers into the state tournament. First they’ll have to navigate a tough non-conference schedule before heading into Patriot League play, but Fry asserts, ‘‘We feel like we can compete for a league title every year.’’ Plymouth South’s stout defense will be led by senior linebacker Victor Weppert and Jordayn Williams, while Zach Keding and Kevin Disher battle in the trenches.

Season opener: Friday, Sept. 8, 7 p.m., at Whitman-Hanson

Silver Lake

Coach: Chris Digiacomo (3rd season). Career: Career: 12-10.

Last year’s record: 8-3

Strengths: Camaraderie

Concerns: Overall experience

Offense: Spread

Playing surface: Grass

Outlook: Something clicked for the Lakers halfway through Chris Digiacomo’s second season as head coach. They’re 11-4 over their last 15 contests and Digiacomo said ‘‘We’ll look to take that positive energy and use it as momentum heading into this season.’’ Phil Lashley is back after rushing for over 1,000 yards last year and senior Matt Powell will lead the defense at middle linebacker. Sophomore Jesse Miller is pushing senior Tanner Boyd at quarterback, and either signal caller will have the benefit of working behind a capable offensive line.

Season opener: Friday, Sept. 8, 7 p.m., at North Quincy

Westwood

Coach: Brad Pindel (1st season). Career: 16-17 in three seasons at Dover-Sherborn.

Last year’s record: 7-4

Strengths: Passing game, kicker

Concerns: Experience on offensive line

Offense: Spread

Playing surface: Artificial turf

Outlook: The offensive coordinator at Westwood for 11 years, Brad Pindel returns to the sidelines for the Wolverines after a three-year stint as head coach of Dover-Sherborn. Senior quarterback Reed Wilson will captain Pindel’s spread offense and often look towards top target Jake Antonucci. ‘‘It’s going to be good to have a veteran under center and a receiver who is an incredible athlete,’’ Pindel said. ‘‘Our passing game should be our strength.’’ Solidifying Westwood’s offensive and defensive line is 6-foot-4-inch, 330-pound senior Colin Best, while kicker Nick McQuarry, a transfer from Florida, should give the Wolverines a leg up on special teams.

Season opener: Friday, Sept. 8, 7 p.m., vs. Pembroke

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