2023 NYCHSFL AA GOTW #2 Preview

Mount St. Michael Academy vs. Xavier

When: Saturday September 16, 2023 @1:30 pm

Where: Rocco B. Commisso Field as part of the Mozilo Sports Complex (4300 Murdock Ave, Bronx, NY 10466)

Watch: Youtube/MSMA Page (Click to View)


Players to Watch (Mount St. Michael Academy)

*Marc Pearson Jr. (Sr.; QB)—The straw that is going to stir the drink for the Mountaineers yet again in 2023, as a junior, Pearson Jr. Garnered both All-Catholic and All-State (3rd Team) honors after having a hand (or leg) in 1,922 yards and 24 touchdowns (14 in the air, 10 on the ground)….The reigning AA-2 Offensive Player of the Year award recipient, the Bronx boy is just getting started, as he came out of the gate strong during week #0, going 15-for-24 in the air for 197 yards, while rushing for 54 more (1 TD) on 10 attempts!

*Tyler Bobe (Sr.; RB)—One of three primary running backs that literally marched MSMA to championship weekend a season ago, Bobe topped the trio in total production, rushing for 506 yards and 1 TD on 106 carries (4.8/per)…His senior debut was a memorable one, as he just missed hitting the century mark in the week #0 loss to Fordham Prep, gaining 98 yards on 18 carries (1 TD)…

*Jonathan Otoo (Sr.; RB/DB)—A playmaker in all aspects of the game, the senior3 was honored last season for his outstanding display on the defensive side of the ball, being named to the All-Catholic squad following a resume that read as follows: 57 total tackles (6 TFL), 1 sack, 2 INTs, 2 fumble recoveries….The truth of the matter though is that he could have just as easily been recognized for what he did as a ball-carrier for the Mount, as he finished 2nd on the roster in both yardage (332) and TD scores (7) despite handling the pigskin on only 49 occasions (6.8/per)! 

*Carl Shaw (Jr.; RB/DB)—Not a name that we were well acquainted with at the start of the 2023 year, the 5’9, 165-pounder out of the Bronx has forced us to pay attention, as he has registered three rushing TDs in the past two weeks to take an already gifted RB committee and make them even more dynamic…His 9-carry, 82-yard display in week #0 is exactly how you make a name for yourself …Furthermore, Shaw has been active on defense to further add to his growing reputation!

*Nico Bustamante (Sr.; WR/DB)—Another Ironman at a skill position, the multi-sport athlete made more of an impact on “D” a year ago, as he was credited with 22 stops and a pair of interceptions….This coming year, he will have a lot more on his proverbial plate, as he is the person most likely to step into the role of the team’s top passing target after the Mountaineers graduated all three of Pearson Jr.’s favorite weapons (Jabril Carter, Kameron Wheeler, Kyle Samuels).  As a junior, Bustamante made 1 snatch for 11 yards! 

*Savion Pearson (Sr.; WR/LB)—Getting into the action and making a solid contribution as a junior last fall, Pearson racked up 26 stops, earned .5 sack, and scooped up a fumble as reserve…Now that he is a starter, those numbers will explode as a banner year is on the horizon!….Early on, the Pearson to Pearson combo has  emerged, as he was on the back end of 3 grabs for 26 yards during week #0

*Nelson Perez (Sr.; WR)—Another key ingredient in rebuilding the WR corps, Perez entered his swan song as the top returning pass-catcher from 2022, as he made 5 grabs for 61 yards, including being the only non-senior to record a TD snatch!…He got off to a hot start in 2023, hauling in 3 receptions (tied for team-best) for 21 yards during week #0 

*Drinor Qosaj (Sr.; WR)—A stretch the field weapon in the passing game, the 6’2, 175-pound 12th grader picked up in 2023 right where he left off in 2022, as all of his receptions continue to go for monster yards, as he averaged 17.7/per in making 3 snatches for 54 yards during week #0

*Amar Pirovic (Jr.; OT)—A towering presence on the offensive line, the 6’4, 280-pound specimen returns as a part of the starting-11 for MSMA and will be the one serving up pancakes every chance that is afforded to him….Running/passing behind this human mountain, the offense was able to generate close to 3,500 yards of production (3,471 to be exact), while scoring 40 touchdowns (24 rushing)! 

*Isaiah Lacasse (Sr.; OT)—One incumbent starting OL deserving another; and that is the case on Murdock Avenue, as Pirovic will be joined in the trenches by the not tiny by any means (6’2, 275) Lacasse….Working as a tandem, whether it is the blind side or not, we expect that Pearson Jr. Is going to have as much time as he wants in the pocket surveying the field in 2023! 

*Jaeden Williams (Sr.; C)— As a senior, Williams will stepped into the starting line-up and is manning the pivot…Not currently slotted as a starter on “D”, there is strong belief that he will be called upon to do some double duty, as the coaching staff feels he is up the task of filling in at NG/DT necessary! 

*Anthony Hernandez (Sr.; LB/TE)—Standing at the top of the pyramid among returning hitters for the Mount, as a junior, the 200-pound linebacker finished 4th on the team with 36 stops, while tacking on a pair of INTs to demonstrate that he is every bit as potent in pass coverage as he is at stuffing the run!….Don’t be surprised if you see him getting some reps on offense as well, as he did register a 15-yard grab last season and could be utilized as a WR/TE sporadically!

*Zaire Caldwell (Jr.; DE)—Heralded in our 2022 preview as one of the emerging breakout stars of the NYCHSFL, there was no “sophomore jinx” for the 6’0, 230+-pound standout…Finishing his 10th grade campaign having collected 23 total tackles and 2 sacks, Caldwell could go from “good” to “great” now that he has banked that year of varsity service! 

*Jaire Edwards (So.; NG)—If last year was just a starting point, we cannot wait to see what the future beholds for the talented 260-pound sophomore DT/NG….A starter as a freshman, Edwards accumulated 27 tackles, including two behind the line for a loss of yardage! 

*Nicholas Palmer (Sr.; DL)—After seeing action as a junior, 2023 will be the year that Palmer makes his mark, as the 3-tackles resume from last fall is a thing of the past…He will be hearing his name called often in the coming weeks! 

*Logan Greenaway (Sr.; DB)—Rounding out the trifecta of shutdown DBs, Greenaway banked 14 tackles as a junior!


Players to Watch (Xavier)

*Mehdi Merah (Sr.; RB/FB)—An All-American/U18 National Team Rugby team selection, Merah’s skills lent themselves pretty well to the gridiron as well last season, as we labeled him a “breakout star” in the 2022 preview and he made us look prophetic….A top-3 performer on the team in every running category, the 833 yards (3rd) and 14 touchdowns (2nd) he registered as a junior made him the most prolific FB during the extended tenure of Coach Stevens…He is off to a steady start to his senior campaign, rushing for exactly 100 yards and 3 touchdowns (most on the team) on 22 carries thru two games!

*Jeremy Kuharski (Jr.; RB)—Appearing on the varsity roster last year, but doing the bulk of his work on the JV level, the 6’1, 185-pound Staten Islander moved directly into the starting line-up and has thrived, posting team-leads in carries (43) and rushing yardage (226) after two outings!…For a program that thrived with undersized carriers a year ago, the idea of having a bigger/more imposing presence appealed to Coach Stevens, as the move up to AA-1 might lend itself to a more rugged style or smashmouth ball!  

*Joshua Paduani (Jr.; RB)—The most explosive of the three gentlemen that have carried the pigskin thus far this season, the 11th grader out of Queens is averaging just under 7 yards per touch, as he has rushed for 129 yards (1 TD) on 19 attempts….Talk about a heck of a first impression; during week #0, he crossed the century mark, gaining 102 yards on just 10 handoffs in the win over Holy Cross!…Paduani also has the only registered reception of the year for Xavier, as he made a grab for 13 yards last week vs. Holy Trinity!

*Daniel Edwards (Sr.; C)—One of two incumbent starters on the offensive line, because of the traditional scheme that the Knights run, outstanding OL play is imperative to their success and Edwards is going to be a force in the middle of it all as she lines up at center!….A three-sport student-athlete that also plays basketball and baseball, he brings a natural athleticism to the position that will utilized and enable him to overcome being a little smaller than his opponents!….In 2022, with Edwards on the job, the Championship-winning program was able to chew up close to 3,200 yards (3,194) and 42 touchdowns on the ground; and the mission will be exactly the same this fall!  

*Michael Mioduszewski (Sr.; OT)—Hailed by the Xavier Coaching staff as their best pure Offensive Lineman, the Brooklyn resident was asked to fill the cleats of graduated Lineman of the Year/1st Team All-State selection, Matt Lane, in providing that BOOM…. Mioduszewski has attracted some solid college interest, especially from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point! 

*Ratu Delano Navoti (Sr.; DE)—Highlighted in the 2022 preview for his impossible to ignore physique, the 6’4, 265-pound future Villanova Wildcat was limited last season due to some injury big issues, but when he was on the field, averaging 6 stops per game and adding a QB bag to his vitae….One of two incumbent starters on the DL, he is the heart/soul of the unit…When a man his size is also blessed with 4.9 speed, good luck to the opposing OL forced to try to contain that heat!….It does not appear that he has had the chance to get on the field much this year, but when he does, it is going to instant headaches for opposing offenses!

*Joseph Dellavecchia (Sr.; DT)—The definition of power, the 235-pound Queen resident not only busts chops on the gridiron, he also plays Rugby and finds time to throw shotput for the Track & Field team….The partner in crime to Navoti on the DL, Dellavecchia has a knack for being in the right place at the right time, as he was on the scooping end of three fumbles as a complement to the 34 tackles and 4 sacks he posted as a junior in 2022!…He commenced the season by posting a 6-stop effort in week #0!

*Emir Yuksel (Sr.; LB)—Ranked as the 18th best NYS LB in the class of 2024 by Prep Red Zone, Yuksel was nothing short of remarkable during his 11th grade year, as he flew to the ball with ease, checking off just about every available box via a collective display that yielded 73 total stops (2nd on the team), 2 sacks (tied for 3rd), a team-leading 3 QB hurries, and two induced turnovers (1 INT, 1 fumble caused)!…He has been every bit as active at the start of his final scholastic year, as he heads into week #2 as the team-leader in total stops (13), while also tacking on a sack! 

*Tomas Diaz (Sr.; FS)—Bringing experience to a defensive backfield that is replacing departed 2022 AA-2 Defensive Player of the Year/All-Stater, Sean Donohue, the 6’2, 195-pounder out of Brooklyn just might be vying for his own individual hardware in 2023 after posting a team-high 3 interceptions to go along with 5 pass break-ups (3rd on the team), and 46 stops (2nd to Yuksel among returning personnel)…Diaz has made 7 stops so far in 2023! 

*Benedetto Loria (Sr.; CB)—Further solidifying the last line of defense will be fellow returning starting-11 member, Loria, who during his junior campaign proved that throwing in his direction is a bad idea, as he tied for tops on the totem pole with 6 pass break-ups, picked off a pair, and was reliable as a tackler, making 22 stops!….He already has registered his first PD of the 2023 season to go along with the 6 tackles he has earned!

*John Ratigan (Sr.; DE)—Taking his place at the table as a senior, the 195-pound Manhattan resident made the most of the opportunities he was given last season as a reserve….Making 9 tackles and adding a sack for good measure as a junior back-up, now that he has broken into the line-up, he has become a game-changer, as he has banked a trifecta of sacks in the first two games of 2023 as the highlight of his 8 total tackles!

*Evan Tarozzi (Jr.; LB/S)—Gliding into the opposing backfield like a gazelle on the film we saw, the hybrid LB/S out of the Big Apple was #1 starter in his first-year with the big club as he has used his menacing 6’3, 210-pound frame to deliver 12 brutal tackles and a sack…He also got his paw on a pass in his direction to earn a break-up, and has forced 1 fumble!

*Eoin McBride (Sr.; DE)—Coming into his own week after week, McBride, who was not originally identified by the staff as a “Player to Watch” for this season, has made quite the impression thru two weeks, as he is currently tied for 2nd on the team with 12 stops and even used that 6’4 frame to bat down a pass!

*Liam Travis (Sr.; DB)—Another “senior hero” who seems fully committed to ending his high school career with a bang, Travis has put himself on our radar by going from a performer that made 1 tackle all of 2022 into a leader that made no fewer than 5 stops in either appearance in 2023 (12 total)!!!


A rematch of the epic clash that took place last November in the AA-2 title game, the victors from Xavier have since been elevated to the AA-1 division, but that does not make this game any less intriguing when you consider that it is actually the Mount that returns more of the impact players from that 2022 meeting!!!  

Down to the wire where the winner was not determined until the last :25 of the 4th quarter (2-yard plunge by graduated Knight QB, Shane Zaletosky), it will be quite difficult for the sequel to live up to the original, but if nothing else, we like how both teams are playing at the start of the season and think it will competitive, start to finish!!

Both the Mountaineers and Knights step onto the field the owners of identical 1-1 records, as the former [MSMA] dropped a 31-21 ballgame during week #0 to Fordham Prep before pitching a shutout (14-0) over Cardinal Spellman last weekend….The latter [Xavier] opened with a thrilling 28-26 triumph over Holy Cross, but are looking to shake off a 28-14 loss to Holy Trinity!!

The classic match-up of a balanced speed offense vs. the hard-nose, old school Single-X ground attack, when considering who the determining factors/Game MVPs might be for each side, the first two names that immediately smack you in the face are reigning NYCHSFL AA-2 OPOY recipient, Marc Pearson Jr. (Mount) & Mehdi Merah (Xavier)….

Pearson Jr., a returning All-Catholic and All-State selection is the class of the QB position in Double-A (both I and II), as he illustrated during championship Saturday when he slung the rock to the tune of a 14-for-27, 255 yards, 2 touchdown affair….The only blemish in that heartbreaking loss being three interceptions, if he does a better job of securing possession, it is going to be a darn fine day on home soil!  

Merah, who powered his way to an 8-carry, 45-yard, 1TD display on the ground in the title contest, has not even been the primary option at the onset of the 2023 season, which means one of two things….Either 1) the coaching staff has been saving him for this moment to unleash the monster; or 2) the cupboard that once was believed to have emptied with the graduation of Zaletosky & Gavin Gallagher, has been reshelved by the persons of Jeremy Kuharski & Joshua Paduani, who have each registered a 100-yard rushing game already this fall!! 

While it need not be said that Coach Mario Valentini would love to see his stud signal caller [Pearson] dishing the ball to every corner of the earth, if the run game does need to be incorporated, the Mountaineers are not going to have to look very hard to find capable playmakers in this capacity….As juniors in 2022, the duo of Tyler Bobe (16 carries, 68 yards) & Jonathan Otoo (3 carries for 35 yards, 1 TD) combined for 103 yards of production….Add into the mix the arrival of Carl Shaw to the party, as the 11th grader from the Bronx has announced his presence in a major way during the first two weeks of the new year!!

Neither program has a receiver on their roster that caught a pass last November (Xavier hardly throws the ball; this factoid does not phase them), so it will be up to new faces/last year’s under the radar personnel to loom large…..And for the Mount, the ideal candidates are likely to be Nico Bustamante, Nelson Perez, Savion Pearson, or Drinor Qosaj….Travis Agoanya is another deep threat that will test the depth of the Xavier secondary!

Turning our attention to defense, there is an abundance of known playmakers on each sideline as 40+ tackles from the ‘22 AA-2 finale will be suited up and ready to rock….

Formidable at all three levels, John Ratigan (1 tackle), Joseph Dellavecchia (2 stops), Ratu Navoti (if healthy), and Eoin McBride form a dominant front-4….Emir Yuksel (9 stops, 1 sack) & Evan Tarozzi are all-purpose LBs….And Benedetto Loria (3 stops, 1 INT, 1 PD), Tomas Diaz (8 tackles, 2 pass break-ups), and Liam Travis patrol the no fly zone! 

Otoo (6 stops), Bustamante (2 tackles), Shaw, and [Savion] Pearson will be joined by Anthony Hernandez (game-high 8 stops in the ‘22 title contest), Jaire Edwards (2 tackles), Zaire Caldwell (2 stops), Nicholas Palmer (2 stops), and Logan Greenway (1 tackle) in a collective pursuit of a second shutout in as many weeks!