Since the creation of the Rhode Island high school football Super Bowl in 1972, teams have won three straight championships on five different occasions – but nobody has ever won four.
This season, for the first time since 1997, a team will have a chance to do it. But you won’t catch that team talking about it much.
“We don’t really talk about it,” said Bishop Hendricken head coach Keith croft. “I think we really just try to take it one year at a time. Every year is different. Every year is unique. It hasn’t been mentioned this week.”
That’s been the M.O. each of the last two seasons for the Hawks, and it’s obviously worked. Hendricken broke a 13-year championship drought in 2010, reset everything with a largely new group in 2011 and won again, then did it one more time last year, shocking unbeaten La Salle for its third straight title.
While building a championship tradition, the Hawks don’t focus on the championships – they focus on what it takes to get there.
As they chase number four, whether they talk about it or not, it’ll be a different formula again.
Last year, the Hawks were breaking in a host of new players at skill positions, but they had a foundation to build on in the trenches.
It’s the other way around this year.
“It’s kind of the opposite this year,” Croft said. “We’ve got a lot of skill guys coming back this year, which we feel good about, but the bedrock of our team the last few years has been our offensive and defensive lines. So it’s a little different for us.”
The Hawks lost four first-team All-Staters to graduation, all of whom helped build that bedrock foundation. Mario McClain and Nick DeCiantis anchored the offensive and defensive lines, while linebackers Marco DelVecchio and Jarrid Witherspoon were the heart and soul of a gritty defense. Standout linemen Joe Vincent, Michael Crisione and Tyler Joseph are also gone.
Seniors Nick Mariano and Dallas Sauer are returning starters on the offensive line, but they’re the only ones with significant experience. Players like Chris Celona, Sean Kelly, Ed Barber and Christian Wesolowski will need to step up.
“I think we’re going to have a lot of depth,” Croft said. “I don’t know how it’s all going to pan out. I think it’ll take about a month to get all the pieces in place. I don’t know if we’ll have the star power that we’ve had the last few years, but I think the kids that are there worked hard in the off-season and they’re looking good so far. We’re pretty pleased with what we’ve been seeing.”
The best news? If the Hawks can square things away and mold another strong unit, their now-experienced skill players can take over.
Among the returning standouts are quarterback Patrick Gill, running backs Remmington Blue – the reigning Super Bowl MVP – and Power Kanga, receivers Mitch Lucci, Mike Scarcella and Matt Duffie and defensive back Lee Moses, who doubles as a punt returner.
Gill, a senior, won a quarterback competition in fall camp last year. By the end of the season, he was a threat with his arm and his feet.
“We’ve got Gill coming back and he’s looked sharp so far in the preseason,” Croft said.
John Toppa, the back-up last year as a sophomore, is not with the team this season.
In the backfield, Blue is coming off second-team All-State honors as a junior. He had a solid season then broke out in the playoffs, capping his performance with 160 yards and two touchdowns in the Super Bowl.
Juniors Kanga and Gary Gibbs will also be back.
“Remy had a great postseason and he’s worked extremely hard in the preseason,” Croft said. “I think him, Power, Gary Gibbs in the backfield, it’s the type of backfield where we have a lot of options.”
Lucci, Scarcella and Duffie are among the top options out wide.
Defensively, the Hawks have big shoes to fill on the line and in the linebacking corps. Inside linebacker Thomas St. Pierre is the only full-time starter back in the front seven.
Scarcella and senior Bryce Famiano saw some time last season at linebacker and they’ll be in for bigger roles this year.
“We have guys coming back who have played a lot, but until you’re out there every snap on Friday nights, it’s an adjustment,” Croft said.
The Hawks won’t need to do much adjusting in the secondary, where Moses, Duffie, Kanga and Lucci are back in the fold. Moses, Duffie and Kanga were thrown into the fire as sophomores last year and more than held their own.
“Those guys had their sophomore moments last year, but they made some plays for us,” Croft said.
In all, the Hawks have a lot of talented pieces. It’s just about –again – molding the team into a contender.
“Like any team, I think the next three or four weeks will tell a lot,” Croft said. “We’ve got some good scrimmages coming up – we’ve got Chariho coming in and we’re really excited about going to Barnstable, one of the best teams in Massachusetts.”
Some will dub the Hawks the favorite to make it four in a row, but Croft and his team aren’t buying. Cranston East returns two All-Staters, a standout quarterback and a lot of talent up front. The usual suspects like La Salle, Portsmouth and Barrington will be there too.
“The way we’re approaching the preseason is that we think Cranston East is the favorite,” Croft said. “The two All-Staters they have coming back, their quarterback, the line is coming back. I really think they have all the pieces in place. Do I think we’re going to have a good year? I’m hopeful. Our goal is the same every year – get into the playoffs and see what happens.”