Cranston East was a Division I-B regular season co-champion last fall, and with a strong core returning for this season, the ’Bolts should have a good chance to race towards the top of the standings once again.
“With our returners, we’d like to be a playoff team,” East head coach Tom Centore said. “But, our first goal is to be division champions. The kids have high expectations.”
East should be particularly strong on the offensive side of the ball, even with losing First Team All-State running back Malik Gavek.
Senior captain Justin Neary will return at the quarterback position after emerging as one of the top signal callers in the state a season ago. Having a returner like Neary at such a key position is a luxury for Centore, who didn’t have to teach the system to a new quarterback this preseason. Rather, the coach and quarterback tandem will simply pick up where it left off a season ago.
“He threw I think 26 touchdown passes last year,” Centore said of Neary. “It’s a big difference because you’re not starting all over again. And, aside from Malik (Gavek) and Jay (Bast), in the skill positions, everyone returns, so that helps with familiarity.”
East’s dynamic receiving group from a season ago will be coming back for another fall, highlighted by senior Isaiah Hinds and junior Robenson Antoine, who was tough to contain with his speed and skill as a sophomore. Seniors Alex Martinez and Anthony Ramos and junior Quinn Lanigan will also provide depth at the wide receiver position.
“We certainly have options on the offensive side of the football,” Centore said.
The most significant addition to East’s squad is unquestionably junior Rayven DeOliveira, who was one of the best players in the state last season as a sophomore at La Salle. DeOliveira will primarily play running back, but he can also line up in the slot and play quarterback, as well.
“He’ll play running back, slot, quarterback, free safety,” Centore said of DeOliveira. “He’ll be everywhere. We have plenty of options with him, and he’ll help us a lot.”
Senior Kei-sean Felix will also handle some of the running back duties for the ’Bolts.
DeOliveira and Felix will run behind an experienced offensive line, which only lost one starter from a season ago.
East’s offensive line will be made up of senior captain Jose Sandoval, James Lemos, Gary Shaw, Dany Gomez, Edwin Torres, Omar Reyes and Dayshaun White.
Sandoval, Shaw, White and Lemos will also play up front on the defensive line. Others contributing on defense will be linebackers Jamari Mason, Hector Duran, Colin Parsons, Felix, Bryan Wasilewski and Ramon Rosario.
In the secondary, Sam Villeda, Martinez, Antoine, DeOliveira, Ramos and Nicholas Chea will strive to shut down opposing passing games.
“We have a lot of versatility, guys who can play different positions and a lot of experience,” Centore said of his team.
Centore pointed to La Salle as the preseason favorite in Division I-B, but he also expects that Cumberland, Central and Barrington will be strong competitors.
“I think La Salle is the team to beat entering the season,” Centore said of the subdivision landscape. “They have a lot of guys returning. But, I think it’s going to be a much more competitive division.”
East got its first taste of game action on Friday night in an Injury Fund matchup with Coventry (Division II). The ’Bolts handled the Oakers with ease in the abbreviated game, cruising to a 22-6 win.
“Offensively it was fine, but we have work to do,” Centore said of the performance on Friday. “It was OK. But, for the first time out, it was a good start.”
East will be traveling to Chariho for a non-league game on Friday at 7 p.m. Centore is hoping that his team will use this week to get better and prepare for the start of league play next Friday at East Providence.
“Just to get better,” Centore said regarding what he’d like to see from his team against Chariho. “Hopefully we can play a lot of bodies and get ready for EP. We want to develop any identity we’re going to have.”