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Woburn, Reading, Burlington likely contenders in Middlesex

Last month five football teams from the Middlesex League gathered each night for a week on the grounds of Woburn High for the annual Conditioning Offensive and Defensive camp designed to help players get back into shape and work on their skills before the start of the preseason.

In attendance at the camp were three of the coaches whose teams figure to be battling it out this fall for the top spot in the league. But getting one to accept the role of favorite was not easy.

First, Woburn's Rocky Nelson, whose team is coming off its first league title since 1993, tried to say Burlington was the team to look out for. However, Burlington's head coach, Shawn Maguire, wasn't about to buy into the hype. Instead, he deflected the praise, saying Woburn was the team to look out for.

Then, Reading head coach Tom Kasprzak sauntered over to where Nelson and Maguire were standing, and when Maguire added that Reading was the team to look out for, Kasprzak just laughed and tried to back away from the preseason attention.

Even though no one wanted to toot his own horn, one thing was clear: Each of these coaches will field teams this year that are capable of winning the league title and representing the Middlesex League in the postseason.

As the season gets underway this weekend, it looks like Reading is the early favorite, mostly because of one player: quarterback Chris Pizzotti.

The 6-foot-5, 215-pound senior has been looking forward to this season since he began training for it last winter. Pizzotti, whom Harvard has called its number one prospect, gave up baseball last spring so he could focus solely on football. The work paid off; he's a lot stronger than he was a year ago, when he led Division 2 with 20 touchdown passes. He also threw for more than 2,000 yards.

"I think he's put in every effort to make himself a better football player as any high school kid could do," Kasprzak said. "He's demonstrated more maturity, and physically he's better. He has more quickness in his feet and hopefully that will translate into an even better season than he had last year."

The biggest question surrounding Reading is who Pizzotti will throw the ball to. With his favorite targets from a year ago now in college, Pizzotti will look to form a bond with Mike DiCicco, Mike O'Brien, Andy Zanni, and tight end John Dudley. Bryan DelloRusso was a big target last season, but the senior is recovering from knee surgery and won't be available until midway through the season.

"I would say you have to put us in the mix, but I don't know how that's going to work," Kasprzak said. "We were decimated by graduation. Our defense needs some serious rebuilding; we're a little undersized on defense. That's a major concern. Hopefully we will be able to put points on the board."

Woburn will be right on the heels of Reading and has a great shot to defend its title. Ryan Kelley will be the new quarterback, and he'll look to hand the ball off to Mike McLaughlin and Dan Demaio.

Nelson said he's been impressed with both his offensive and defensive lines and thinks McLaughlin, who has been a starter since his freshman year, could have a breakout season.

Burlington is the sleeper of the three teams. Senior Ben Read is entering his third season as the starting quarterback and has shown signs of becoming one of the top signal-callers in the state.

Maguire, a former quarterback himself, loves to throw the ball and work out of a no-huddle offensive set. The return of wide-outs Chris McNeill, Dan Georgette, and Joel Colangelo will only help Read put up big numbers. Joe Reale (fullback) and Jake Daigle (running back) round out an offensive group that could become the most explosive in the league.

Belmont returns seven starters, including quarterback Chris Corbett, from a team that finished 7-4 last season. Jim Brown (no, not that Jim Brown) enters his first year as head coach, and he's faced with the unenviable task of replacing the entire offensive line.

Wakefield is always near the top of the league, and with the return of seven starters it could play a pivotal role in deciding the league champ.

Stoneham is coming off a 2-8 campaign but returns seven starters, including speedy wide-outs Chris Botelho and John Davison.

Lexington returns a league-high 12 starters from a team that took some lumps last year, finishing 1-10. Head coach Bill Tighe is in his 29th year at the helm and should have a much-improved team this time around.

Winchester was outscored by nearly 200 points last year and finished 2-9. Yet the Sachems return 10 starters, including junior quarterback Mike Romeo.

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