Hawks have joined a protection tradition
Since 2010, when the Bishop Hendricken football program started its run of three straight Super Bowl titles, the Hawks have had big, veteran offensive linemen leading the charge.
This season, the Hawks aren't huge, and they most certainly aren't veteran — but they're still leading the charge.
With only two starters back in the fold from last season, Hendricken had to find a way to keep its tradition of tough, run-blocking offensive lines intact despite some brand new faces.
"I'm happy with where they're at," Hendricken head coach Keith Croft said. "They've probably exceeded expectations. But there's still a couple of weeks left, so hopefully they keep making some individual improvement and as a unit they get stronger."
The two guard spots were locked down before the season began, with returners Dallas Sauer and Nick Mariano manning the positions as two of the best in the state. The other three spots were there for the taking.
Croft made that point known during a meeting last November. He needed players to step up and it started with a commitment in the off-season.
"He said to the rest of us, 'There are three spots, and we have this many guys who are going to fight for them. If you want it bad enough you've got to go out and get them,'" said center Sean Kelly. "Myself and a bunch of the other guys, we put in the work in the off-season."
Kelly rose to the top of the newcomers, grabbing the reins in the middle of the line. Fellow seniors Griffin Porter and Tyler Champlin earned the tackle spots, while seniors Chris Celona and junior Kyle Ciquera have been on the field as well.
It came together quickly, and before there was even a chance for criticism, the Hawks’ new-look line was opening up holes for the backs and keeping quarterback Patrick Gill on his feet.
"I definitely think it's a process, going from the guys we had last year to adding new guys," Sauer said. "It was tough. But these guys have been around, they know the plays and they were ready to step up and take control."
Predicated on running, Hendricken's offense has scored the third-most points in Division I. Star running back Remington Blue has found plenty of room to run, racking up nearly 2,000 yards on the ground.
The line has gone from a question mark at the beginning of the season to a strength.
"Towards the beginning of the season we didn't really know what our identity was as a line," Mariano said. "But as the season progressed, we definitely found what it was — running the ball. We go into every game with the mindset that we are going to run, we are going to run as hard as we can for as long as we can until it doesn't work."
At this point, it's a tradition. Kelly remembers admiring it from afar two years ago.
"I'm thinking, 'Okay, I'm never going to be that big. I know that much,'" he said. "But every year I put in a little bit more work and, granted we're not the same size as them, but I feel like we're playing with the same intensity, same confidence and I feel like we're getting the job done as best we can. We're trying to uphold that tradition."
Hendricken will be the No. 2 seed when the playoffs open up on Dec. 3, and it will host No. 3 Portsmouth in the semifinals.
As the weather gets colder, Croft is famous for telling his teams that they will need to run the ball to win. That's how Super Bowls are won in Rhode Island high school football.
The Hawks have a pretty good foundation.
"We've had a lot of good linemen, and they've been somewhat unheralded," Croft said. "I think our skill guys have always gotten run, but it seems like year after year we always find five pieces that, worst-case scenario, are solid and best-case scenario turn into a very good run-blocking line."
- Kevin Pomeroy