Hawks starting over again
The 2012 Bishop Hendricken football team has some tough acts to follow. In 2010, the Hawks won their first Super Bowl title since 1996. Last year, with a whole new lineup, they won again, authoring perhaps the biggest upset in Rhode Island Super Bowl history when they knocked off unbeaten La Salle.
So what’s the encore?
For now, the Hawks aren’t worried about it.
“One of the things I’ve said to the kids is, ‘Listen, we’re not chasing history,” said head coach Keith Croft. “We’re not trying to win our third Super Bowl in a row.’ We just want to follow the same blueprint we’ve followed the last five years – get better as the year goes on, play into December and get into the playoffs.”
That blueprint has obviously worked, especially last year. The Hawks had a host of new starters and struggled a bit early in the season. But they improved every step of the way, and by the end of the year, they weren’t just better – they were the best.
This year’s team has a similar profile. Again, Hendricken lost a lot of talent and experience. And again, the Hawks are just focused on getting better.
“It seems like every year, we lose a really good group of seniors,” Croft said. “This year, no difference. I think we’ve got the basis for being a solid team and I think we’ve got the guys in place to do what we want to do offensively and defensively. It’s just going to take some time.”
The Hawks certainly have some holes to fill. They lost six All-Staters to graduation, including Super Bowl MVP and Warwick Beacon Male Athlete of the Year Ryan Brannigan.
“It’s going to be kind of a different group,” Croft said. “We’ve got some question marks at a lot of positions, but like we tell the kids, we view them as opportunities. We think we have enough depth that kids are going to step in.”
The quarterback position will have a new starter for the third year in a row. The previous two years, there was a senior primed and ready to step in – Mike Maloof in 2010 and Brannigan last year.
The picture is a little different this year. Juniors Patrick Gill and Brandon Kenyon are competing with sophomore John Toppa for the starting job.
“They all have their strengths and their weaknesses, but they’re all good kids,” Croft said. “What’s kind of unique about all of them is that whoever is not the starting quarterback will have a chance to play another position. So that’s a good thing.”
Gill and Kenyon have shared time under center since their days on the freshman team. Toppa quarterbacked the freshman team to the state title last year.
“They’re all fairly athletic,” Croft said. “Gill is a little more of a scrambling-type quarterback. Toppa is more your prototypical drop-back passer, but he’s also athletic. Kenyon is a strong kid who’s got really good footwork.”
In addition to the new faces at quarterback, the running back position will also look different. Last year, Louis Falcone emerged as a standout and earned second-team All-State honors, but he graduated, along with fullbacks Jullion Pope and McKinley Berriman.
Junior Remmington Blue returns with some experience, while senior defensive standouts Marco DelVecchio and Jarrid Witherspoon are in line to get some time in the backfield as well. There are also several talented sophomores who could play themselves into the mix.
“I don’t want to say it’s going to be running back by committee, but I definitely think we’re going to have a lot of kids who can touch the ball and be effective,” Croft said.
Last year, a strong offensive line paved the way for much of Hendricken’s ground success, and the formula will be the same this year, even though the line looks different. First-team All-Staters Andrew Breting and Max Heintzelman both graduated, along with standout Billy Stewart, but the Hawks do bring back seniors Nick DeCiantis and Joe Vincent to anchor the unit. Junior Dallas Sauer is also primed to step in, while juniors Nick Mariano and Brendan Smith are competing to start at center. Senior Mario McClain, a standout on the defensive line last year, may also see some time on offense this year.
“I think as the weeks progress and the weather gets cooler, the line will take care of itself,” Croft said. “That’s the way it usually goes. Coach [Joe] Bucci will have them all figured out.”
On the defensive side of the ball, the Hawks will be led by McClain in the trenches and by the linebacking corps, the team’s most experienced unit. DelVecchio and Witherspoon were starters all year, while senior Erik Olson had grabbed a starting job before an injury late in the season.
“That’s huge having all of them back,” Croft said.
The secondary has some players with experience as well as some new blood. The good news is that there isn’t much separation among a big group of players.
“I think the good thing with the secondary is we have some depth there,” Croft said. “The guy who’s a starter may not just stay out there 99 percent of the time. We’ve got a lot of guys who can contribute there.”
All in all, the Hawks have a lot of guys who can contribute everywhere. Though there isn’t a ton of experience, Croft thinks they’re ready.
“One of the things we’re going to be talking to these kids about is, if you’ve played football here at Hendricken, you’ve tasted success and you’ve played in big games,” Croft said. “I’m not overly concerned with our guys folding under pressure or under the bright lights. I think as we get them acclimated to the system we play offensively and defensively, sophomores, juniors, seniors all kind of goes out the window after the first few weeks anyway.”
If all goes according to plan, the Hawks will make the playoffs, and from there, they’ll see what they can do. Another championship would make the Hawks the first team to win three straight Super Bowls since the 1994-1996 Hendricken teams. But that possibility is a long way off – with a lot of work to do in the meantime.
“Success is going to be determined by what happens in the playoffs, and we’re hoping to be a playoff team this year,” Croft said. “I know La Salle is going to be very good this year, and I’m hearing a lot about Portsmouth. They’re kind of the upper echelon teams. Hopefully, we can sneak in like we did last year. I think we’ll get better as the year goes on, get a little more confidence and we’ll see some of these guys come of age.”