When football coach Keith Croft was preparing to give a speech about Ryan Brannigan at Bishop Hendricken’s athletic banquet, he didn’t have to think too hard about the theme. It was an easy choice.
“The word that comes to mind when I think of Ryan is winning,” Croft said.
And with good reason.
Brannigan graduated from Hendricken this year with a pretty full trophy case. He won two football state championships, two track state championships and four individual race titles at state track meets. Throw in a Division I Super Bowl MVP award, and you’ve got one of the most decorated athletes to come through Hendricken in years.
It was a dream career.
“I’ll definitely remember the two football state championships, track All-States, track championships,” Brannigan said. “It was a lot of fun.”
When Brannigan arrived at Hendricken four years ago, he immediately impressed Croft and his coaches while playing for the freshman team. No matter where he was on the field, his speed and athleticism stood out.
That combination made him a natural fit for track, and he ran with his potential in that sport. As a junior, he was on the first-place winning 4x400 relay team at indoor track states, a finish that helped the Hawks win the team title. He ran the same relay at outdoor states, taking first again.
This winter, Brannigan was a key part of two more winning relays at indoor states. The Hawks won both the 4x400 and 4x200.
For a lot of athletes, that’s a pretty good high school career in itself, but the track wasn’t even where Brannigan made his biggest mark.
On the football field, he shined.
“He was phenomenal,” Croft said. “He played in three straight Super Bowls, won the last two, and just willed us to victory in arguably the greatest upset in Rhode Island football history.”
Brannigan was a contributor as a sophomore when the Hawks lost to Barrington in the Super Bowl. The next year, Brannigan was a junior standout on a senior-laden squad that broke Hendricken’s 13-year title drought. Brannigan, who had played mostly receiver, switched to running back when Ethan Ferreira got hurt late in the year, and he ended up scoring the game-winning touchdown in the Super Bowl.
That, too, would have been enough for a great high-school career, but for Brannigan, there was an encore.
As a senior this past season, he moved to quarterback and captained an inexperienced squad to a monumental upset of La Salle in the Super Bowl.
“It was pretty awesome,” Brannigan said. “Winning my junior year, I thought that was the best. But coming back, I always wanted to go out on top. To be able to do it against La Salle, our rivals, I couldn't think of anything better, especially with us being counted out.”
The Rams were 8-0 and heavily favored. They had blown out the Hawks in a regular-season meeting.
But that was early, when the Hawks were still finding their way. And, when Brannigan was still finding his way.
“He brought a calming presence, and he was a leader,” Croft said. “Even though he'd tell you he wasn't where he wanted to be statistically – and maybe wasn't where we wanted him to be – as the season wore on, he got better and better and more confident. I think his two best games of the season were our two playoff games. They may not have been his best games statistically, but just the way he managed the team and carried himself.”
After a semifinal win over South Kingstown, the Hawks squared off against the Rams and Brannigan did his best to power the upset. He scored a first-quarter touchdown and led a drive that culminated in a field goal and a 10-0 lead.
The Rams came back and seemed to be in control when they went in front 14-10. But with four minutes remaining, the Hawks started an eight-play 62-yard drive and finished it when Brannigan found Laionel Cintron in the corner of the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown.
Brannigan had completed four of five passes on the clutch drive. For good measure, he broke up a pass on La Salle’s last possession, and the Hawks went on to the upset.
Six months later, the memory is still fresh.
“There’s always talk about it,” Brannigan said. “There are always pictures, and people want to talk about the catch.”
Brannigan ended up earning All-State honors for the second year in a row.
“To be honest, we had some questions about putting him at quarterback, just because he had been such a successful player at wide receiver and running back and defensive back,” Croft said. “At quarterback he might be losing touches, so there were concerns. But he answered all of them.”
Brannigan’s next step will be a college career. He’s set to play football at Division III Endicott College in the fall, a program that went 10-1 last year.
Brannigan may just keep winning.
“I think it's a great fit for him,” Croft said. “I think his story is a story a lot of kids in Rhode Island need to listen to. He had a chance to maybe go I-AA or Division II. He just made a decision that he wanted to play right away and play against kids who are at his level skill-wise. I think it's a great move, and I think he's going to have a great career there.”