Xaverian went into Thanksgiving last year with a chance to win the Catholic Conference for the second straight season to defend their Division 1 EMass Super Bowl crown.
Then St. John’s Prep came to the Hawk Bowl and pushed Xaverian around up and down the field, throwing just one pass on a spiked ball, to the tune of a 21-12 victory that sent the hosts home to watch their heated rival go to Gillette Stadium instead of them.
This year, the target is not placed squarely on the back of the Hawks, who check in behind fellow Catholic Conference members BC High and Catholic Memorial as the No. 7 team in the state. With the depth and talent in the Catholic Conference this year though, the Hawks could finish anywhere from first to fourth.
“The Catholic Conference is as strong as it’s been in 10 years,” said one rival assistant coach during the off-season.
That same coach said, “I wouldn’t be surprised to see the ‘X’ shock people (and win the Division 1 Super Bowl).”
Given Xaverian’s history, with four Super Bowl titles in the 1990s under coach Charlie Stevenson and another in 2009, that would hardly be a shock. But for the first time in at least 25 years, the top two favorites heading into the preseason for Catholic Conference play include neither Xaverian or St. John’s Prep.
That is something that Stevenson is smiling about as his team is up at camp in New Hampshire preparing to “shock people.”
The Hawks may not be coming into this season as the favorites, but that doesn’t mean the target on their backs have gone anywhere.
This year, that target will be in the crosshairs of non-league teams like preseason No. 5 Brockton in Week 3, a 23-20 double-overtime loser to the Hawks at Clapboardtree Street a year ago; No. 2 Duxbury, a Division 2 juggernaut capable of playing with anyone and in the state; Bridgewater-Raynham, the No. 8 team in the state and owners of a victory over Xaverian last year; and No. 9 St. John’s of Shrewsbury, a Central Massachusetts powerhouse that has beaten Xaverian just once in the modern era but come closer and closer in the last several years to the point where it is more of a rivalry.
Then, of course, the final three games of the season bring out the same quote by every coach in that league: “every game is a championship game.”
For Xaverian, the Hawks travel to BC High, host Catholic Memorial, then visit the Prep with a chance to earn a little payback in Danvers.
Stevenson knows that stretch isn’t going to be easy to win. But, deep down, everyone knows if the Hawks do, it’s not going to come as a “shock” to anyone.
XAVERIAN AT A GLANCE
Coach: Charlie Stevenson (18th season, 151-47-3)
Last Year: 8-3
Key returnees: Chris Calvanese, QB, Sr. (14 passing touchdowns, 3 rushing); Ryan Farrell, WR/S, Sr.; Kevin Painten, OL/DT, Sr.; Colby Enegren, FB/DE, Sr.; John Warner, TE, Sr.; Andrew Malin, OL, Sr.; Hunter Taute, MLB/FB, Jr.; Matt Stapleton, DE, Jr.; Maurice Hurst Jr., DT/FB, Jr.; Ray Gobbi, OL, Jr.
Strengths: Quarterback, Offensive line, Defensive line, Fullback
Weaknesses: Inexperience at wide receiver, tailback, secondary and linebacker.
Outlook: Calvanese comes back for his second year as a starter and Stevenson will find ways to take advantage of both his considerable running and throwing talents. This is one of the better and more experienced offensive and defensive fronts that Xaverian has had, although the former doesn’t compare to the 2009 edition that powered the Hawks to the Division 1 Super Bowl. The defensive line though will be stout with the likes of Stapleton and Enegren at end and Painten and Hurst at tackle. Farrell has been injured and is out indefinitely, which is a huge loss on both sides of the ball. Without him, the Hawks have zero returning starters in the secondary, made worse by the fact that they lost two of the best cornerbacks in the state to graduation in Joe Colton (Avon Old Farms) and Nick McDaniels (Merrimack). Taute is a potential Division I prospect at either fullback or inside linebacker and will need to hold down the fort in a depleted linebacking corps. Colton’s loss at tailback is huge, as well, as Stevenson has nice young talent there but not at the level where Colton was a year ago. Whether or not this team can fill those holes will determine how well the Hawks do in the always-rugged Catholic Conference.