- Scott Barboza, ESPN Staff Writer
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Football in Everett is the constant pursuit of perfection. While Super Bowl seasons are celebrated, they’re also stacked up against each other. Each in the line of champions who roll through the Crimson Tide’s ranks are exalted. But they’re also put to the test of time, with one group’s achievement forever debated against the greats.
With that said, Everett is coming a season for the ages. While running to a perfect record and a Division 1A Super Bowl, the Crimson Tide put forward one of the most dominating performances the city has ever witnessed. Everett’s margin of victory averaged nearly 30 points per game last season, while quarterback Jonathan DiBiaso broke the state single-season touchdown pass record with 44.
Everett loses a few key components from the 2011 squad, including their signal-caller as well as the tough-running Vondell Langston, but its core remains largely intact.
As the Crimson Tide break camp in 2012, questions swirl around the intrigue of who will take over the quarterback duties with a hotly contested battle between Pat Long and Lukas Denis running through the preseason. There was also the speculation Everett might go back its old ways, John DiBiaso's earlier edition, more 10 yards and a cloud of dust – an intriguing option with the Crimson Tide returning a line that averages more than 300 pounds across.
Yet, for all the questions, the Crimson Tide is the runaway favorite to repeat as Div. 1A Super Bowl champions.
And while Everett may have some things to sort out in the early season, John DiBiaso is banking on one of the Crimson Tide’s key returnees to shoulder a load.
The similarities between the aforementioned Langston and senior Kenny Calaj are many, from stature to their styles of play. Langston, now at UMass, was in his Everett career a kind of Kevin Faulk, the player on a successful team who does a lot of little things very well that often goes unnoticed. Whether it was in blitz pick-up, providing DiBiaso time to throw, or his responsibilities at linebacker, Langston was a dependable, heady player.
Of course, Langston and Calaj worked in tandem during the last couple of seasons at Everett.
Calaj has lined up all over the field on offense – from the backfield to the slot – and held down the weak side linebacker role on defense.
But now DiBiaso is counting on the 5-10, 195-pounder to take on a feature role.
“We’re counting on him to replace Vondell [Langston],” DiBiaso said. “We want him to be able to replace the carries Vondell had and with his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, we’re able to do some different things.”
Calaj is the only member of Everett’s class of 2013 to have started since freshman year (although jack-of-all-trades Gilly De Souza also place kicked in 2009). His blend of speed, power and good hands make Calaj a tough matchup. When spread out wide, he has the ability to bowl over defensive backs. While running out of the backfield, he’s tough enough to run in between the tackles.
Defenses also have to keep honest with Everett’s talented pass-catchers Jalen Felix and Jakarrie Washington working on the perimeter.
“Sometime [defenses] will overload one side and try to guess our plays,” Calaj said. “But it’s hard to guess who’s going to get the ball with us because we have so many weapons.”
And, of course, there’s the offensive line, led by Notre Dame commit John Montelus.
“They’re the hardest workers,” Calaj said of the line. “They’re big, but they work hard, too. They’re the ones who sweat the most in practice, they’re tough.”
On defense, Calaj comprises a veteran linebacker core alongside returning starters Jeff Soulouque and Omar Graciano and rising junior Angel Duarte.
Calaj has heard from a smattering of both FBC and FCS schools. Boston College has inquired about his defensive talents while Bryant has told Calaj they’d integrate him into the offense.
But that’s all out of sight and out of mind for now. In a place like Everett, all that matters is here and now and the opportunity to claim a third straight Super Bowl title.
“I want to win another championship, that’s it,” Calaj said. “Then I’d have three rings.”
EVERETT AT A GLANCE
Coach: John DiBiaso (21st season at Everett, 252-63-1 overall)
Last Year: 13-0, won Division 1A Super Bowl
Key Returnees: Kenny Calaj, Sr. WR/S, 5-10, 195 lbs; Jakarrie Washington, Sr. WR/DB, 5-10, 175 lbs; John Montelus, Sr. OT, 6-5, 315 lbs; Mark Fils-Aime, Sr. OG, 6-1, 280 lbs; Mike Ottersburg, Sr. OG, 6-1, 310 lbs; Pat Sullivan, Sr. OT, 6-1, 270 lbs; Gilly De Souza, Jr. WR/DB/K, 5-11, 165 lbs; Jeff Soulouque, Sr. OLB/TE, 6-2, 225 lbs; Omar Graciano, Sr. DE, 6-4, 215 lbs.
Strengths: Offensive line, wide receivers, secondary, kicking game.
Weaknesses: Inexperience at quarterback.
Outlook: The $25,000 question with the Crimson Tide is whether they’ll be more run- or pass-oriented this season. When confronted with the question, John DiBiaso said it comes down a matter of numbers. “I think it will be dependent on the game and depend on how many guys they bring into the box. We’ll adapt with whatever they bring to us.” While Everett might not be able to post a 500-point season as it did last year, they’ll be equally adept playing at a hurry-up tempo as they will be able to play ball control. Perhaps the hidden strength of this squad lies in the secondary with De Souza, Felix and Washington. DiBiaso had high praise for De Souza, who contributes in all three phases of the game, likening his football I.Q. to that of former ESPN Boston Mr. Football award winner Matt Costello (Princeton). Once again, the Crimson Tide will play perhaps the state’s toughest schedule; each of Everett’s first six games are against Top 10-ranked opponents. The slate opens with a vengeance in a matchup of defending Super Bowl champions against Leominster on Friday at Doyle. “That’s a big game for us, it’s a big game for them,” DiBiaso said. “You can bet all of Central Mass. will probably be there. We’ll be ready though. It’s going to be exciting.”