DANVERS, Mass. -– For most high school football programs, hiring a new head coach and replacing all but three offensive starters would mark the beginning of a transitional year, but St. John’s Prep is no ordinary program.
Since 1967, the Eagles have won four state championships and 14 Catholic Conference titles under the tenure of just two head coaches. So when Jim O’Leary, who took over coaching duties for Fred Glatz in 1984, retired this winter, he says he was thrilled to be replaced by Prep alum Brian St. Pierre.
“I’m really pleased we found one of our guys,” said O’Leary, who is now solely the school’s Athletic Director. “[Brian’s] philosophy is very close to mine, and the entire staff is back from last year, so it’s not as big of a transition as compared to how it be in other places.”
St. Pierre wasn’t just a student at Prep. He was on the sidelines from the time he could walk, accompanying his father, who spent some 38 years as the football team’s physician.
After an impressive career as the Eagles' quarterback, St. Pierre played at Boston College before getting drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2003 NFL Draft. He spent eight years in the NFL, but came back to his high school alma mater every offseason to work out.
It was during one of those throwing sessions that St. Pierre first met standout tight end Jake Burt, who was just a freshman at the time. Now a senior that has verbally committed to Boston College next year, Burt says that St. Pierre was an invaluable resource throughout the recruiting process.
“I would go and meet with him about all the different colleges, and it was great because he went through the same process. He was able to give me great advice. He told me not to rush anything, and I was able to make the best decision for me.”
Like St. Pierre, Burt has been around campus since he was a kid, and says that he began using the field to practice when his oldest brother enrolled at Prep in 2007. He’s one of four siblings that have graduated, or are currently attending the all-boys school, and has been an integral part of the football team since he joined the varsity squad as a fullback and special teamer during his sophomore year.
“My family’s been around here for a long time,” Burt said during the break between practices this Thursday. “And it helps being familiar with the program. There were a lot of things going on this offseason, so having someone who is also familiar with program in coach St. Pierre come on board has definitely made the transition smoother.”
Last year, the 6-foot-4, 235-pound tight end hauled in 28 balls for 367 yards as a featured part of the Eagles offense. Now Burt will play alongside a primarily new offensive line, and catch passes from a new quarterback, as senior A.J. Carrigan competes with junior transfer Oliver Eberth for the starting job.
The two signal callers were able to build a rapport with Burt as St. John’s won the Under Armour Northeast 7-on-7 North Sectional tournament this July. Eberth and Carrigan split reps during the tournament, and while they both targeted senior wideouts Owen Rockett and James DiBenedetto often, they were effusive in their praise of Burt.
“Jake’s the guy you want on your team,” Carrigan said. “He can do it all. He blocks well, he’s got great hands, he’s got speed, he’s just the all around package that you’re looking for as a quarterback because you can always trust he’s going to make a play.”
Since Burt is an experienced player that was a part of the 2012 Super Bowl winning team at Prep, his coach is holding him to a high standard as a senior.
“I just want him to take on a leadership role, and he’s already started to do that. I don’t worry about Jake, but I want him to raise the performance of the guys around him,” said St. Pierre.
Whichever QB starts this year will be grateful to have a dependable target like Burt, because four of the top 10 teams in our statewide preseason polls are on the Eagles’ schedule. They’ll open 2014 the season with games against No. 6 Bridgewater-Raynham, No. 9 Brockton, No. 2 Central Catholic, and No. 3 Everett during the month of September, and it doesn’t get much easier after that.
“Our schedule is brutal,” St. Pierre said before a practice, “but that’s why I came to this school as a football player, that’s why these kids come here, and that’s why I wanted to coach here. There are no easy weeks. Every week’s a playoff game and that’s part of the allure of coming here. It’s certainly going to be a challenge, and we’re looking forward to it.”
Regardless of the results, St. Pierre says he’s glad to be back at St. John’s Prep. “I had opportunities to coach at the college or NFL level, and could’ve gone that route, but this just felt right. I had a great experience here, and this place has always felt like home to me, so it’s just a natural fit.”