For the second-straight season, the Everett Crimson Tide open as the preseason No. 1 team in Eastern Mass, and rightfully so.
Last year, the Tide captured the Division 1A Super Bowl with a victory over Lincoln-Sudbury (No. 31 this season) and return most of their explosive roster, albeit without the most prolific passer in state history, Jonathan DiBiaso.
Everett's offensive line is led by Notre Dame-bound John Montelus – who is regarded by most as the best lineman in the state – and their thrilling receiving core of Jalen Felix, Jakarrie Washington and Kenny Calaj make them a dangerous threat on offense.
Last year's Division 1 Super Bowl champion, BC High, follows at No. 2, and will be led this season by new head coach and former defensive coordinator Joe Gaff in place of Jon Bartlett. The Eagles are without star-running back Preston Cooper for the first time in four seasons, but Villanova commit and wide receiver Lincoln Collins will deliver plenty of big plays.
Xaverian comes in at No. 3 led by outstanding nose tackle and Michigan-bound Maurice Hurst, and St. John's Prep makes a big leap to No.4, despite finishing last year with a 4-6 record.
The Eagles return 18 lettermen from last season, highlighted by junior running back Johnathan Thomas (13 touchdowns in 2011.)
Like St. John's Prep, Brockton makes a big leap to No. 12 after finishing with a 5-6 record, leaving the Boxers outside of the Globe's 2011 final Top 20 poll.
But the Boxers are experienced as well, and have one of the state's best defensive backs in Micah Morel.
Also, last season the Boxers did not play a home game until Oct. 3, as Rocky Marciano stadium was being renovated. This season, Brockton will play seven games at home.
Reading will debut as the No. 14 team in Eastern Mass., led by highly-touted quarterback Drew Belcher, who looks to lead the Rockets to a second-straight Middlesex (large) title.
The Merrimack Valley Conference – which typically features some of the top teams in the state – will be slightly down this year, with Andover and Central Catholic ranked at Nos. 15 and 18, respectively. Lowell and Billerica fall just outside the Top 20 at Nos. 22 and 25, while Chelmsford sits at 29.
That said, expect all five teams to battle each other tooth-and-nail for a shot at the conference title.
Rounding out the Top 20 is Beverly, who returns this season as a favorite in the CAL/NEC conference. Although in the Division 2 tier of the conference, the Panthers are poised to emerge as the best in the entire group, led by running backs Brendan Flaherty (14 TDs) and Kenny Pierce (13 TDs).
The 2012 season is just a few days away, and is sure to provoke plenty of movement throughout the rankings as the year progresses. Be sure to check Boston.com for weekly updates on the Globe Top 20 and Boston.com 100.
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Several reporters and editors contribute updates, news and analysis to the High School Sports Blog.
- Bob Holmes: A Reading resident (Go Rockets!) and Boston College graduate, Holmes is the Boston Globe High School Sports Editor. We remind you now that his weekly picks are often made in jest so everyone just calm down when he picks against Everett for 11 straight weeks. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeHolmes.
- Craig Larson: A native of West Springfield (Leo Durocher anyone? Tim Daggett?) and Curry College graduate (a proud Colonel!), Larson is the sports editor for the Globe's regional sections: South, West and North, as well as a frequent contributor on the college beat. Abington to Xaverian: it all starts with the schools. Have a compelling story idea? Contact him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeLars.
- Zuri Berry: Berry attended the same high school as sports legends O.J. Simpson and Joe DiMaggio. (Guess which one is his hero.) He's a South Boston resident (formerly of Eastie) and the editor of the High School Sports blog as well as the go-to-guy for everything high school sports on Boston.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @GlobeSchools for all of the latest updates.
Then there are our fall correspondents:
- Anthony Gulizia | @gulizia_a | Div. 1 football
- Eric Russo | @erusso22 | Div. 2 football
- Stephen Sellner | @stephen_sellner | Div. 3 football
- Andrew MacDougall | @Andy_MacDougall | Div. 4 football
- Greg Joyce | @GJoyce9 | Div. 5 football
- Lorenzo Recupero | @LorenzoRecupero | Div. 6 football
- Liz Torres | @etorres446 | Girls volleyball
To reach the high school sports department, e-mail email@example.com.