Last season, for the first time in 14 years, the Bishop Hendricken football team won the Division I Super Bowl. That means that this season, for the first time in 14 years, the Hawks will be defending a title.
But you won’t catch them talking about it much.
“We really haven’t even mentioned it,” said head coach Keith Croft. “That was obviously a special group last year and as the season gets closer, I think we’ll talk a little about it, but it’ll be more based on what they showed us and the example they set. We really haven’t talked about defending the championship. That’s not our focus right now.”
The focus is on getting better.
Because the Hawks know they have some work to do.
Last season’s run to the championship was powered by a 22-man senior class. Most of them were starters and many were multi-year standouts who anchored their units.
It’s a lot to replace, both in terms of leadership and talent.
“Obviously, we lost a lot of kids and we lost a lot of leadership,” Croft said. “We actually have a good amount of seniors this year, but the difference is there’s a lot of inexeperience. We have some depth, but we may not have the star power, the kids with two years starting under their belts.”
As a result, the Hawks will lean heavily on the players who do have that experience.
Senior Ryan Brannigan leads the way. He was a major key for the Hawks last year, earning first-team All-State honors at wide receiver. He was also a standout defensive back, and he even picked up the slack late in the year at the running back spot when Ethan Ferreira was injured.
This year, Brannigan is expected to add another position to his repertoire – quarterback. He’s first in line to replace first-team All-Stater Mike Maloof. Junior Marco DelVecchio is also in the mix, but Brannigan appears to have the edge.
“We haven’t officially said he’s going to be our quarterback, but he came into camp pretty confident that he was going to be the guy,” Croft said. “If he has the type of year we think he can have, then I think we’ll be successful.”
Brannigan has practiced at quarterback in the past and was in the mix for the position last year before Maloof seized it. While he doesn’t have the game experience, he brings a lot to the table and should be a weapon whether he’s running or throwing. In addition to his football exploits, Brannigan is a standout sprinter with Hendricken’s track teams.
“He definitely brings a lot of athleticism to the position,” Croft said. “Mike Maloof did a phenomenal job with his accuraccy last year and that’s very important in our offense. If Ryan can do the same thing, we’ll be alright. He has a lot of tools. The big issue is playing time, but I think he’s going to grow into the position and get more confident.”
The rest of the offense will need to grow into itself too, but the Hawks do have some building blocks.
Max Heintzelman joins Brannigan as a returning All-Stater. He earned first-team honors after a strong season on the offensive line. He’ll anhor that group again this year, along with senior Mike Clapp.
“Max had a good year for us last year,” Croft said. “We have some inexperience in the other spots, but we’ll be bigger than we were last year.”
Hendricken suffered heavy losses in its receiving corps with the graduation of Tim Lyons, Rob Manning and Zach Padula. Senior Laionel Cintron has stepped into the void and could be a breakout candidate after not seeing much time last year.
“He didn’t really get a chance last year, but he’s been working extremely hard,” Croft said.
In the backfield, senior Louis Falcone and junior Jarrid Witherspoon are expected to carry much of the load. Falcone has seen time on special teams, while Witherspoon grabbed a starting job at linebacker when Ferreira was injured last season.
“I think we’ll be able to run the ball,” Croft said. “We’ll build those guys up.”
On the other side of the ball, the Hawks have even more questions. Defense was a calling card for last year’s team, and the seniors did the heavy lifting. That was particularly true in the linebacking corps, where the Hawks lost Ferreira, Mike Lippe, Mark Vargas and Stanley Sainterlien. Also gone are linemen Tim Burnett and Patrick Morris.
“It’s going to be a transition,” Croft said. “Our linebackers kind of anchored everything for us last year so we’ve got some work to do. We’re going to put a lot more into our lines and linebackers. We’ll put the best 11 guys on the field and go from there.”
Growing pains are to be expected. Pushing through, especially in the early going, may be the biggest key to Hendricken’s season.
“We’ve got to be confident and know that we can get better as the year goes on,” Croft said. “At the same time, we’re going to have to win some games early. If we do that and we keep getting better, I think we’ll be in the mix. Our goal is the same right now as it always is this time of year. We want to be physical, get better and be a playoff team.”