New Hampshire Football Report

The State of Football: Week 1

football logoHow much talent will be on the field when Merrimack and Bedford kick off the 2016 season Friday night in Bedford? Enough to attract first-year Saint Anselm coach Joe Adam and the members of his staff, all of whom plan to spend a good chunk of that evening at Bedford High School.

Although that talent isn’t limited to the skill-position players, the game will showcase some of the top big-play offensive threats in the state.

“We’re definitely more skill-heavy in terms of returning players,” Bedford coach Derek Stank said. “It should be a fast football game with the skill players on either side, and I don’t mean fast in terms of time — I mean on the field. It’s a nice way to start the season, set the tone and see where you lie.”

Bedford graduated its entire offensive line from last season, but everyone else from last year’s offense is back. That group includes quarterback Connor Robert, running back Nick Leahy and wide receiver Shahrukh Hussain.

Leahy suffered a torn ACL in his right knee while playing basketball in April, but worked hard toward a speedy recovery and was cleared for contact last week — sooner than just about everybody expected. Leahy gained 1,067 yards and scored 20 touchdowns on 113 rushing attempts in nine regular-season games in 2015. He also had 15 receptions for 190 yards and four TDs.

The Merrimack offense features Justin Grassini, who is in his third season as the team’s starting quarterback, running back/slot receiver Joe Eichman and running back/slot receiver Tyler DeNeill. Grassini passed for 2,359 yards and 17 TDs in 2015; Eichman had 1,514 all-purpose yards and scored 15 touchdowns last year; and DeNeill had 1,211 all-purpose yards and scored nine TDs a year ago.

Overall, this should be a matchup between two of the best teams in Division I.

“I think our defense will have to rise up because of all the weapons they have,” Merrimack coach Kip Jackson said. “I think line play will be a critical factor because we have the athletes who can match them. That and tackling in open space because there will be so many slippery athletes on the field.”

At any rate, with the utmost confidence … this week’s selections:

Exeter at Dover

Exeter has a good one in quarterback Kyle Ball. Exeter, 27-13.

Portsmouth at Keene

Lots of good skill players in this one, too. Keene, 28-26.

Bishop Guertin at Winnacunnet

The Warriors are one of the few Division I teams that hasn’t made the playoffs since the NHIAA went to three divisions. That might change this year. Winnacunnet, 27-21.

Merrimack at Bedford

Bedford is the place to be Friday night. Merrimack, 26-20.

Pinkerton at Concord

The Astros have plenty of experience in their offensive backfield. Pinkerton 21-13.

Salem at Central

Hearing a lot of good things about the Little Green. Central, 20-14.

Timberlane at Memorial

You’re gonna hear the name Jacob Post a lot this season. Timberlane, 20-12.

Alvirne at North

North will be much better than it looked in the Queen City Jamboree.. North, 26-14.

Spaulding at Nashua South

South ruins John Shea’s debut as Spaulding’s head coach. South, 21-20.

Londonderry at Goffstown

Grizzlies lost a lot, but will still be a tough team to beat. Goffstown, 27-19.

Gilford-Belmont at Kennett

This is the first time these programs have met. Kennett, 14-8.

Hanover at Laconia

Former Hanover head coach Mike Ivanoski has returned as the program as the team’s defensive coordinator. Laconia, 21-14.

Plymouth at Kingswood

Expecting a lot of good things from the Bobcats this season. Plymouth, 34-14.  

Lebanon at Merrimack Valley

The number of touchdowns Ryan Milliken will score this season? The over/under has been set at 20. Lebanon, 27-13.

ConVal at Milford

The Cougars are another team loaded with good skill-position players. ConVal, 20-19.

Hillsboro-Deering/Hopkinton at Manchester West

This will be the first varsity game for the H-D/H program. H-D/H, 20-14.

Bow at Pembroke

The Falcons win their Division II debut. Bow, 35-12.

Souhegan at John Stark

Good test for both teams right out of the gate. John Stark, 27-19.

Windham at Hollis/Brookline

The Jaguars reached the Division II championship game last season, and a lot of those players are still wearing Windham uniforms. Windham, 26-7.

Sanborn at St. Thomas

The Saints may take a step back this season, but it won’t be a big step. St. Thomas, 20-18.

Pelham at Trinity

Pelham has won a lot of game with Tom Babaian on the sideline. Pelham, 26-14.

Mascoma at Stevens

Stevens is another team that has plenty of skill, but not a lot of depth up front. Stevens, 33-14.

Newfound at Monadnock

Monadnock enters the season as the clear favorite in Division III. Monadnock, 36-6.

Raymond at Campbell

Just about everyone is a playoff contender in Division III South. Campbell, 26-20.

Winnisquam at Somersworth

The Bears prove they can win without Christian Serrano. Winnisquam 14-12.  

Inter-Lakes/Moultonborough at Fall Mountain

The Lakers aren’t lacking talent. I-L/M, 34-6.

Epping-Newmarket at Franklin

Is this the year Epping-Newmarket reaches the postseason? Epping-Newmarket, 18-14.

Kearsarge at Newport

Newport has a good line and a good quarterback (Dylan McNamara). That’s a recipe for winning football games. Newport, 20-13.

Bishop Brady at Farmington-Nute

Let’s hope Andy Gray brings some stability to the Farmington-Nute program. Bishop Brady, 34-12.


The State of Football, a commentary on New Hampshire high school football, appears each Thursday throughout the season.


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