NHIAA Div. I Football Preview
Pinkerton, Exeter to be challenged by Concord, Nashua South, Central
Pinkerton's Manny Latimore rushes against Timberlane during Friday's Queen City Football Jamboree, held at Gill Stadium. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)
DIVISION I FOOTBALL SCOOPWhat's new: Division I is now a 20-team league that includes programs that competed in Division I and Division II last season. The division features four conferences, and two teams from each conference will qualify for the playoffs.
Here's how the teams are grouped by conference:
-- East: Dover, Exeter, Spaulding, Timberlane and Winnacunnet.
-- North: Bedford, Concord, Manchester Central, Manchester Memorial and Manchester West.
-- South: Goffstown, Londonderry, Merrimack, Pinkerton Academy and Salem.
-- West: Alvirne, Bishop Guertin, Keene, Nashua North and Nashua South.
Players to watch: Peter Abood, RB/LB (Memorial); Alec Boucher, WR (Winnacunnet); C.J. Boykin, RB/DB (Bishop Guertin); Zach Downey, WR (Timberlane); Ryan Kelly, RB/LB (Exeter); Trevor Knight, QB/DB (Nashua South); Robert Lamy, OG (Bedford); Manny Latimore, RB (Pinkerton); Matt Madden, LB (Pinkerton); Jason Martinez, RB/LB (Salem); Max Medley, TE/DB (Exeter); Walter Ndi, RB (Concord); Alex Parenteau, DL (Keene); Trevon Scott, DB (Spaulding); Seimou Smith, WR (Concord); Paul Teixeira, WR (Goffstown); Nick Vailas, SE/S (Bedford); Mike Vailas, slot/CB (Bedford); Ing Hao Veasna, QB (Winnacunnet); Neil Vorster C/DL (Exeter); Ryan Welch, C (Winnacunnet); Jon Young, RB (Londonderry).
Change at the top: Five teams will enter the season with first-year head coaches: Alvirne (Mark Phillips), West (Vance Sullivan), Merrimack (Dante Laurendi), Salem (Rob Pike) and Spaulding (Jeff Hunt).
Circle this date: Winnacunnet will play at Exeter on Sept. 21 in a matchup between programs that each won state championships last season. Exeter won the Division I championship, and Winnacunnet prevailed in Division II. It may be the fiercest rivalry in the state, and both figure to be among the top teams in Division I this season.
Trending: Bedford is playing in its third division in as many years. The Bulldogs reached the Division III championship game in 2011 and the Division II championship game last year.
Exeter, which must replace its entire offensive backfield, will be trying to win its third consecutive Division I title. Exeter's strength will be the front seven on defense and its offensive line, where five players who played significant minutes last season are back. That group includes junior center Neil Vorster, who was a Division I All-State selection as a sophomore."The kids have been competing hard, in the offseason and in the preseason," Exeter coach Bill Ball said. "We have to fill some holes and we will. There are a lot of kids here who want to be No. 1, and that's a good thing in an athletic environment."
Nashua South and Concord are among the teams that may be capable of preventing a third straight Exeter-Pinkerton championship game. South, which lost to Pinkerton in last year's semifinals, has the state's top QB in senior Trevor Knight, who has committed to play for the University of New Hampshire.
Concord went 6-4 and missed the playoffs a year ago, but returns nine starters on each side of the ball. Concord coach Eric Brown said it's too early to mention his team in the same breath as Exeter and Pinkerton.
Winnacunnet of Hampton and Bedford are two former Division II teams who may have enough talent to be postseason teams this year. Winnacunnet, which beat Bedford in last year's Division II title game, must replace most of its offensive line, but returns quarterback Ing Hao Veasna and wide receiver Alec Boucher.
"We've had a good preseason," Bedford coach Kurt Hines said. "There's competition at every position."
"Exeter will be good," he said. "I'm not even going to call Concord a darkhorse because I think it's pretty clear they'll be good. And then there's South with Trevor, and Central. I don't know about the new teams because I haven't played them yet, but I'm sure Bedford will be good. Every year it's the same old, same old."