New Hampshire Football Report

Division I not lacking depth

Division I 
2016 Preview

East Conference: Dover, Exeter, Portsmouth, Spaulding and Winnacunnet.

North Conference: Bedford, Concord, Goffstown, Manchester Central and Manchester Memorial.

South Conference: Londonderry, Merrimack, Pinkerton, Salem and Timberlane.

West Conference: Alvirne, Bishop Guertin, Keene, Nashua North and Nashua South.

2015 Division III champion: Goffstown. The Grizzlies went 12-0 — the first unbeaten season in the program’s history — and beat Exeter 42-14 in the Division I title game.

Top storyline: It’s been a long time since Merrimack was in the conversation when talking about Division I title contenders, but that’s the case this year. Can Merrimack live up to the preseason hype?

Player to Watch: Bedford running back Nick Leahy. Leahy returned from an offseason knee injury sooner than expected. He’s the only finalist for the Gatorade Player of the Year in 2015 who is back this season.

Key games: Merrimack at Bedford (Sept. 2); Exeter at Winnacunnet (Sept. 23); Goffstown at Bedford (Sept. 24); Pinkerton at Central (Oct. 21); Goffstown at Merrimack (Oct. 28).

Noteworthy: Of the state’s three divisions, Division I is the only one that didn’t undergo offseason change. The four-conference structure remained in place, as did the playoff format The four conference champions will qualify, as will two wildcard teams from each of the two scheduling clusters (East/West and North/South). … Merrimack and Bedford — teams that will meet Friday night — have been the trendy picks when it comes to preseason favorites, but both have concerns up front. Bedford graduated each member of last year’s starting offensive line, and Merrimack is lacking depth in that area. The skill positions aren’t a problem for either team, however. Bedford’s Connor Robert and Merrimack’s Justin Grassini are two of the best quarterbacks in the state, and they each have plenty of weapons at their disposal. Spaulding (John Shea) is the only Division I program with a first-year head coach this season. … Goffstown graduated all but one starter on its starting offensive line from a year ago (Josh Tucker), but the Grizzlies still have outstanding athletes in slot receiver/defensive back Frankie Castillo-Diaz and slot receiver/defensive back Andrew Duval. … There is rarely a Division I championship game that doesn’t include either Exeter or Pinkerton Academy (at least one of those programs has played for the title in 10 of the last 11 years) and the Blue Hawks and Astros each return their starting quarterback from a year ago: Kyle Ball (Exeter) and Ryan Albrecht (Pinkerton). Ball gained 630 yards and scored 11 touchdowns on 121 rushing attempts last season, and completed 55 of 106 pass attempts for 838 yards and 10 TDs. Albrecht completed 47 of 98 passes for 1,054 yards and nine TDs in 2015. … Like Merrimack, Manchester Central is a team that appears capable to taking a significant step forward this season. The Little Green will build around running back Josh Thrasher, wide receiver James Tanguay and lineman Zach Minch. … The group of other teams that could make the playoffs is a large one, and includes Portsmouth, Winnacunnet, Londonderry, Nashua North, Salem and Bishop Guertin. Undoubtedly, some team will surprise us as well.

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