Football tradition has taken on new meaning the last three years at Bishop Hendricken, with the Hawks winning the Division I Super Bowl in each of those years and snapping a 13-year championship drought in the process.
In reaching those heights, there have been constants. All three teams have had standout defenses, with the right mix of offensive firepower thrown in. They’ve also had unquestioned leadership from their senior captains.
Two games and two wins into the 2013 campaign, the Hawks are hoping that all those same pieces fall into place, and that it leads to another championship when December comes.
Already, they can check the senior leadership box off their list.
On a team with highly-touted players all over the field, it’s the four senior captains – Michael Scarcella, Thomas St. Pierre, Mitch Lucci and Nick Mariano – that help keep it grounded.
They may not get as much credit as they deserve – or as much as some of the other players on the team receive – but if the Hawks do pull off the first four-peat in Rhode Island’s Super Bowl era, they will likely have been as important as anyone in getting it done.
This year’s Hendricken team is their team, and they’ve waited patiently – often in the background – to be able to say just that.
“I think anybody who puts a helmet on or anybody who’s competitive wishes they could be in the limelight a little more and they wish they could see their names in headlines more, but I think they know their role,” head coach Keith Croft said. “At this point, we need senior leadership. You cannot minimize the importance of senior leadership on a championship level team.”
It’s no coincidence then that the Hawks have had that in spades the last few years. This year’s captains were paying attention from the start. In 2010, the year that finally put Hendricken football back on the map, the team’s four linebackers – Ethan Ferreira, Mike Lippe, Stanley Sainterlien and Mark Vargas – paved the way.
“Our freshman year, when we had that group of seniors, I remember as a freshman that I looked at them and I always wanted to be one of them,” Mariano said. “That was a good team that year. I’ve always tried to build my play and leadership skills off of what they did that year.”
In 2011, quarterback Ryan Brannigan was the catalyst for a colossal upset of undefeated La Salle in the Super Bowl, and he and fellow captains Laionel Cintron, Max Heintzelman and Andrew Breting each were named first-team All-State.
“My sophomore year, when they had Brannigan, Lionel, Max Heintzelman and Breting as captains, the biggest thing that I noticed was in the Super Bowl, the first time against La Salle,” Scarcella said. “I remember feeling empty, having no energy whatsoever, and just looking up to these seniors and seeing them continue, even though I knew that they had nothing like I had nothing. It gave me motivation that I thought was unbelievable.”
Last season, as the Hawks upset La Salle for a second consecutive season in the Super Bowl, it was linebacker Marco DelVecchio leading the way. He was named first-team All-State as well, along with fellow captains Mario McClain and Nick DeCiantis, while Joe Vincent was another huge part of the team’s leadership stable.
“Marco always led by example,” St. Pierre said. “Everything he did, you knew that’s what you were supposed to do. That’s kind of what I learned from him.”
The difference between this year’s crop of captains and past captains is the paths they took. Ferreira was a big contributor as a sophomore, and a star as a junior, as was Brannigan – who scored the game-winning touchdown in the Super Bowl his junior year. Heintzelman started as a sophomore as well, while DeCiantis was key contributor in his sophomore campaign too.
The Hawks have players like that on this year’s team too, but they aren’t the captains. None of the captains contributed much their sophomore years. They were all starters last year, but were overshadowed by a lot of the Hawks’ big-name players. A lot of those players graduated, but standout juniors Lee Moses and Power Kanga both played last year as sophomores, and senior quarterback Patrick Gill piloted the team to the title last year. Senior running back Remington Blue was the Super Bowl MVP last season.
Yet it’s Lucci, Scarcella, Mariano and St. Pierre that the team elected as its captains. The coaches don’t have a say in the voting process. Only the players do.
That, more than anything, speaks to the character of the four.
“I think the best part about it is being elected by your teammates,” Scarcella said. “The fact that your teammates look up to you as a leader on the team, it just gives you all the motivation to do your job.”
Croft refers to all four players as program kids, meaning that they played freshman football, junior varsity their sophomore years, broke into the lineup their junior years and are poised to emerge as even bigger pieces in their final seasons.
Scarcella has had to wait behind a talented group of receivers the past few years, but has kept himself ready, saw time last year and now has a chance to be one of the top receivers in the division. He’s also broken into the lineup defensively, starting at outside linebacker.
Lucci, at 5-foot-9 and 170, isn’t the biggest, but he’s turned himself into a valuable weapon both catching the ball and playing in the secondary.
“He’s scrappy,” Croft said of Lucci. “He’s a very good role model for how a Hendricken football player should be on and off the field. He’s a great leader, the type of kid you’d be proud if he was your son. I’m sure his parents are. Just a real respectful kid.”
Mariano came to Hendricken as a fullback, and played that position on the freshman team before being approached to change positions his sophomore year.
Fitting with the personality of this group, he accepted without a question. By his junior year, he was starting on a championship offensive line, and he’s reprising his role as a starting guard this year.
“Sophomore year, we were about three or four days into doubles and coach [Frank] Pantaleo came up to me,” Mariano said. “They said they needed a back-up center and I said, ‘Sure, if I can get on the field that way.’ Ever since then, I just kind of worked myself up.”
St. Pierre took a similar path as the other three, although his was even tougher. At only 5-foot-8, he didn’t catch the coaches’ eyes early on but started turning heads with his physicality last year in practice.
Early on in his junior year, Croft elected to put him on the field at inside linebacker. St. Pierre still hasn’t come back out.
“He’s just one of those kids who kept making tackles and kept making plays against bigger kids and more physical kids and faster kids,” Croft said. “We said, ‘You know what? We have nothing to lose, let’s throw him out there.’ He’s never come out of the lineup for us. He’s played every down. He was huge for us last year in the Super Bowl.”
Hendricken hosts East Providence on Friday at 7 p.m., and its four leaders will be the ones who go to midfield for the coin toss, the ones who try to rally the team the before the opening kick.
When the game actually starts, and the stats are tallied up, their names might not jump off the page. Or, they might have big nights. Either way, they’ll be comfortable as the Hawks captains, the seniors who worked their way into their roles, charged with the task of trying to make a magical three years into a magical four.
“That team, our freshman year, they set the stage for us,” Lucci said. “We’re fortunate enough to hopefully continue that streak.”