Seniors the strength of BB&N football

It turns out the Buckingham Browne & Nichols football team is indecisive, in a good way.

Back when the Knights sat down to vote for their 2013 team captains, the ballots just didn't add up. One senior would have a smattering of votes, and his classmate would have one or two less. When head coach John Papas sat down and tried to do the math, seven players were within a few votes of each other.

So, he did the democratic thing. He made all seven captains.

“That's totally unusual for us,” Papas said. “We've never had over three captains before, but to be honest with you, that speaks volumes about that group of kids. Instead of us determining who the captains were on our own, we decided to go with all seven. Those seven guys have not disappointed at all.”

With a small army of captains, the obvious concern is that there are too many leaders and not enough followers for BB&N. However, Papas isn't too worried. Despite the votes being so close, the team's leaders couldn't be more different.

“That's the beauty of it all,” he said. “These guys are all different types.”

They have vocal guys like linebackers Mike Samko and Connor Campbell, and then they have the lead-by-example offensive lineman in Connor Coady. Meanwhile, the skill guys – wide receiver Mike McCaffrey, fullback Dante Papas, and running backs Frankie Williams and Matt Bonazzolli – are the quiet types.

Papas believes the team's leadership, combined with a strong offseason, will lead the Knights to their 11th-straight winning season.

“We do it with guys like we have on this year's team – dedicated football players,” he said. “Out of the sixteen seniors on this team, eleven of them will play college football. They're all being recruited, so this is a serious football program.”

The Knights will come at opponents with a pro-style attack led by running backs Williams and Bonazzolli, who combined for 1,998 yards last year. The younger Papas is crucial part of the offense at fullback, and uses a “gritty and tough” approach to open holes for BB&N's backs.

“He's rugged, and he's a key to our run game. Everything comes off of him. He takes after his mom,” Papas said, with a laugh.

Cole O'Connor will start his second season under center for the Knights and will look to improve his passing game. O'Connor, a junior, is 6-foot-4 and “we expect him to be better this year,” Papas said.

McCaffery, a Holy Cross commit, will be a big target for the second-year starter.

On defense, BB&N will run a 3-3 stack and “will blitz 90 percent of the time,” according to Papas. His concern on defense is the team's lack of size, which he plans to make up for with quality athletes at linebacker and in the secondary. One of the defensive leaders will be outside linebacker Pat Champagnie, who is fielding interest from the University of New Hampshire and Bryant.

“He's really good. He's probably the best defensive player we have,” Papas said.

The seniors have already made their mark on the 2013 Knights. The team came into camp in good shape, and after three tough scrimmages, Papas can tell BB&N is ready for another winning season.

“Honestly, they've exceeded my expectations as far as preparation for the season. They came back to camp in great shape. We've had three scrimmages against three very good opponents, and we faired well,” he said regarding BB&N's scrimmages against Malden Catholic, Xaverian and Andover, respectively. “I don't judge scrimmages by the score, I judge them by the quality of play, and we've done really well against some really quality opponents.”


Coach: John Papas (11th season, 67-20)

Last season: 5-3

Returning Starters: 17 (8 offense/9 defense)

Key Returnees: Sr. WR/CB Mike McCaffrey, Sr. RB/FS Frankie Williams, Sr. RB/CB Matt Bonazzolli, Sr. FB/OLB Dante Papas, Sr. OG/DE Connor Coady, Sr. OLB/HB Mike Samko, Sr. MLB/TE Connor Campbell, Sr. HB/OLB Pat Champagnie.

Strengths: Team chemistry, senior leadership, experience, toughness.

Weaknesses: Lack of size, depth.

Overview: The Knights are going to pound the ball, and they don't care who knows it. Williams and Bonazzolli are shorter backs, but both added some strength over the summer and are comfortable in the running-back-by-committee approach. The younger Papas is very tough and has no problem lowering his shoulder into a middle linebacker or a twisting lineman. He plays fullback like a linebacker, which makes sense: Last year he led the team in sacks from that position. If O'Connor grows as a quarterback, the Knights will have a dangerous play-action weapon. Champagnie and the other linebackers are going to have to make up for a lack of size up front, but there is a ton of speed coming in on BB&N's relentless blitzing attack. If everyone stays healthy, the Knights should be in good shape to have yet another winning season. However, with 17 returning starters and a ton of senior leadership, a winning record isn't the goal – it's merely something to check off en route to the Super Bowl.