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St. Seb's tackles high expectations for '13

The St. Sebastian's School football team has to ask itself a tough question heading into the 2013 season.

“How do you duplicate perfection?”

After a 9-0 season, which saw the Arrows win their seventh ISL title and first NEPSAC championship, head coach Bob Souza will head back to the drawing board with yet another talented team. Despite losing nine offensive starters and four on defense, St. Sebastian's looks ready to attack a schedule that's a little tougher than last year's.

“We have a pretty good nucleus of kids coming back, including two of the best kids from last year. We think we're going to be a pretty solid team in the league, but this year the league is more balanced than it has been in previous years,” said Souza, the 2012 Massachusetts High School Football Coach of the Year.

Leading the way is all-everything senior Connor Strachan, who will play both running back and linebacker for the Arrows. Souza, entering his 36th year, said Strachan is one of the best players “and one of the better people” he has ever coached.

Strachan, who verbally committed to Boston College, is considered one of the top football prospects in New England. However, Souza is confident that his Arrows aren't a one-player team.

“At our level, he's been a special player, but as good as he is, we still have kids that are really good players,” he said. “We're a solid team, so it's not all on Connor. We think our depth is going to make it difficult for other teams. You can't just stop Connor. You have to pay attention to a few other guys.”

Several of those “other guys” will play in St. Sebastian's backfield this season. Running out of the I-Formation, the Arrows have three running backs capable of carrying the load. Strachan is the headliner, but senior James Fiore and junior Edosa Onaiwu will split carries.

Sousa is also particularly impressed with Blake Gallagher, a freshman fullback who is playing well beyond his years.

“He's a lot like Connor. He just has tremendous instincts. I would have to think he's one of the top players in his age group, and not just in Massachusetts,” he said. “I can't imagine seeing too many kids who are as physical with better instincts than him.”

There is a quarterback competition going on at St. Sebastian's, and Sousa thinks both guys could be a good fit. Junior Geoff Wade and senior Andrew Corcoran are duking it out for the top spot, and so far Wade has the edge.

“He's a very talented kid, but until you start playing and get into games, you're never quite sure how people are going to respond. He has to respond to make us good offensively,” he said.

Tight end Dan Fulham, who plays both tight and defensive end for the Arrows, will be a big target for whoever starts under center.

Defensively, St. Sebastian's will come out in its traditional 4-4 base set and hope to duplicate its performance last year. The Arrows allowed the least points in the ISL and did so behind a hulking defensive line, which needs to be replaced.

“We were a good defensive team last year. We gave up the fewest points out of everybody last year. Luckily we got a lot of kids back, but what we're missing is guys on the defensive line,” Sousa said. “We lost three guys to graduation, and all three of those guys are really good football players.”

While there are some questions on the line, the Arrows have a ton of young talent ready to step in. Factor that in with three returning linebackers – including Strachan, the team's leading tackler – and St. Sebastian's looks to be on steady ground.

ST. SEBASTIAN'S SCHOOL AT A GLANCE

Coach: Robert Souza (36th season, 154-104-9)

Last season: 9-0

Returning Starters: 9

Key Returnees: Sr. RB/LB Connor Strachan, Sr. TE/DE Dan Fulham, Sr. RB James Fiore, Jr. RB Edosa Onaiwu, Fr. FB Blake Gallagher.

Strengths: Senior leadership, depth at running back, experienced linebackers, culture of winning

Weaknesses: Inexperience on offensive/defensive line, new quarterback.

Overview: There's little doubt that the Arrows are facing a tougher schedule this season. Games against Buckingham, Browne & Nichols and Governor's Academy are tough tests for anyone. However, St. Sebastian's has good depth at its skill positions, and if it can find some continuity in the trenches, Souza may have himself another championship-caliber team. Of course, it helps when your best player is one of the top athletes in the region. Strachan is the best linebacker in the state, and Souza said “Boston College is going to be very happy with the kid they recruited.” Strachan is a stud, and is the type of kid that can change a game by himself. The quarterback position needs to get settled, but in a run-first offense, that shouldn't be too much of a problem. There is a ton of depth at running back, and St. Sebastian's is going to grind a lot of teams down the old-fashioned way. Factor in freshman phenom Blake Gallagher, and it looks like the Arrows are simply reloading.