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Keep an eye on 2 gridiron standouts.

Byline: Kevin O'MALLEY

Ah, it's finally here. High school football finally returned this weekend with nearly every team having high hopes for a Super Bowl season.

Brutal two-a-days during the dog days of summer culminated with the first kickoff of the fall. Friday night, under the lights with the marching band blaring, the grass fresh cut, it just doesn't get much better.

This fall holds particular promise for a pair of local gridiron stars, Bay Path junior running back Granger Stenman and Tantasqua junior quarterback Cory Lavallee.

Both still underclassmen, the two have a chance to really shine this season after making names for themselves as sophomores.

Stenman broke on the scene in a big way as a sophomore, turning heads with his ability to gain yards on the ground despite his small stature and lack of experience running the ball.

In his first season of varsity football Stenman carried the ball 234 times, gaining 1,778 yards on the ground, second only to Leominster's Jonathan Hernandez, who eclipsed the 2,000-yard plateau.

Stenman averaged a respectable 7.6 yards a carry and reached the endzone 16 times in just 11 games. He also kicked a field goal and ran in a pair of two-point conversions to give him the sixth highest point total in Central Mass. with 103.

Stenman has a good chance to lead Central Mass. in rushing this season, and break the 2,000-yard mark.

Bay Path also brings back a couple of other skill position players as well, with the return of junior wide out Erik Peterson and sophomore fullback Nate Gaines.

Bay Path will be without quarterback Kerwin Lima, who transferred to Worcester Tech, opening the door for Nick Comeau to take over behind center.

Comeau has some good-sized shoes to fill, as Lima completed 28 of 59 passes for 302 yards and four touchdowns last season to provide a little balance to Bay Path's offense beyond Stenman right and Stenman left.

Comeau has the added bonus of a brand-new offensive line in front of him with captain Josh Chenevert back in the trenches.

Despite the changes on the line and at the quarterback position, Bay Path's offense, with Stenman and Gaines anchoring the ground game, is unquestionable, while its defense remains slightly suspect after giving up nearly 300 points last season.

* * *

After going 3-8 last year, Tantasqua's Warriors should be vastly improved this year with Cory Lavallee back for his second season calling signals. By season's end, Lavallee had coach Aaron Powell drawing comparisons to Ryan DiGregorio.

The Warriors took Shepherd Hill right to the wire, nearly serving up an upset of the Rams last Thanksgiving before falling 14-13 in perhaps the finest game of all the 2006 Turkey Bowls.

Tantasqua came up short on a last-minute, two-point conversion attempt that would have ended the Rams' nine-year winning streak on Thanksgiving Day and given Shepherd Hill just its second loss of the season.

With the game on the line after senior fullback Jeff Wessel waltzed in from the five to pull the Warriors within one, Powell called on his sophomore signal caller to try and get the win on the ground.

Lavallee, though valiant in his effort, was stopped just short of the goal line as the Rams ran their record to 26-6-1 against Tantasqua. He did it with both his arms and his feet for Tantasqua last season, gaining 409 yards on the ground while throwing for 903 yards.

Lavallee demonstrated a nose for the endzone, taking the ball to the house eight times on just 68 carries while also completing 60 of 176 passes with five touchdowns in his first season following in DiGregorio's footsteps.

With a full season at the helm under his belt, Lavallee should only be better this season. The sky is the limit for both Stenman and Lavallee - but only time will tell how far the two will fly.

Kevin O'Malley is a sports correspondent for the Telegram & Gazette. He can be reached at sportsomalley@yahoo.com.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Sep 9, 2007
Words:669
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