Boston High School: Anthony Bongiorno

Prep's Moore: 'My time here was a grind'

February, 6, 2013
DANVERS, Mass. -– St. John’s Prep’s National Letter of Intent ceremony this afternoon was a time for special celebration, complete with rounds of photo-op's. But for the Eagles' emotional leader, Alex Moore, it was also bittersweet.

Moore gathered with fellow seniors Lucas Bavaro (Dartmouth), Conor Powers (Hamilton), Tucker Mathers (Tufts), Anthony Bongiorno (Amherst), FJ Murphy (Endicott) and James Fagan (Bates) in a Xavier Hall boardroom for pictures.

For the pictures, each player had one last opportunity to put on their Prep jersey. Afterwards, Moore couldn’t help but hide his feelings.

“Taking off that jersey in there just now was kind of sad, that will be the last time I take off that blue jersey,” he said. “Even just the smell of them, and all the memories that go along with them. For the duration of my time here it was a grind, and it’s another big step for me by going to college -— I have to be prepared for that."

Moore, the Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year and ESPN Boston Mr. Football Award winner, led Prep to an 11-1 record and an Eastern Mass. Division 1 Super Bowl championship. He is one of the most decorated athletes to come out of St. John’s Prep, going out with a bang by averaging just under eight yards per carry at running back and totaling 67 tackles at safety this season. He recently committed to play football at the University of Pennsylvania, a member of the Ivy League.

An outstanding student, Moore has been sure to listen to advice that past Prep football players have given him and his teammates about enjoying the school and coach Jim O’Leary while they can.

“The seniors came back and told us that you don’t really appreciate the Prep until you go until college and you actually see how much farther along you are than other people in college,” Moore said.

“But the thing is, I’m going to University of Pennsylvania, so a lot of people there are going to have the education that I have. I still have to work hard with everything I do. I’m just looking forward to going out, competing and doing my best.”

The talented two-way player showed his humbleness, having little to say about his awards and accolades and how they may build up his hype going into college.

“I don’t really think about it, it’s a great honor being the state’s player of the year," he said. "But I don’t think I have anything to prove, I think if I did have something to prove I would go in there and just do my best to prove it. But I’m not going into it trying to prove anything. I know what I can do as a player.”

The Prep seniors are a tight-knit group, as seen with the amount of congratulatory handshakes and good-hearted ribbing that they gave each other during the ceremony. O’Leary even got in on the act too, moving each of his eight committed seniors around until they were perfectly in place for a picture. It’s a moment that Moore hinted he will miss.

“Today means a lot, we’ve come a long way, and for it to end like this—with all these commitments to these great schools. The hard work that we all put in all paid off, I’m just glad we’re all able to go to a college that we all love.”

Recap: No. 3 St. John's Prep 9, Xaverian 0

November, 22, 2012
WESTWOOD, Mass. -- Thousands of years later, the Greek phalanx remains one of the greatest military inventions to date. The principle was simple, relying on tightly arranged ranks with long spears protruding through packed-in shields.

You can make parallels between the Spartan tactics and this year’s defensive unit of No. 3 St. John’s Prep. The Eagles have been a machine-like, nearly impenetrable while surrendering an average of about nine points per game.

Also, as in those Greek battalions, Prep has been able to replenish its ranks. If one man falls, another steps up and takes his place. Eagles senior defensive lineman Chris Newton is proof positive. Originally a linebacker, Newton has stepped up to play defensive tackle in recent weeks.

Newton and his teammates showed that they haven’t collectively lost a beat, putting together a thorough defensive showcase in a 9-0 blanking of Xaverian Thursday at the Hawk Bowl. In the process, the Eagles (9-1, 4-0) closed out the Catholic Conference title and advance to play Merrimack Valley Large champion Andover in Tuesday’s Eastern Mass. Division 1 playoffs.

“The past three years, they’ve just had tons of formations coming into Thanksgiving Day that you really don’t know what they’re going to do,” Eagles senior defensive end Tucker Mathers (2 fumble recoveries) said. “But we adapt and make plays. And that’s what we’re good at.”

Prep took a first-quarter lead on a safety, with Xaverian punter’s knee hitting the turf in the end zone, and that’s the way it remained through halftime.

The defensive stalemate didn’t cease but for a very brief moment in the third quarter for Xaverian. And Prep made them pay with Jack Sharrio hitting Alex Moore on a 95-yard touchdown pass.

From there, both defenses reassumed their stifling pace.

In total, there were nine turnovers between the teams (six fumbles recoveries and four interceptions). The defensive lines of both the Eagles and Hawks were dominant and disruptive.

“They’ve been playing like that all year long,” Prep head coach Jim O’Leary said. “We’ve given up like nine points per game against one of the toughest schedules that anybody plays.”

On a day chockfull of outstanding defensive performances, Newton might have been the player of the game. Along with fellow defensive tackle Corey Jean-Jacques, Prep was able to get an interior pass rush with Newton racking up two sacks, including a strip-sack in the first half. With Jean-Jaques occupying a double-team for most of the morning, the Eagles were also able to effectively set the edge with ends Anthony Bongiorno and Mathers (2 fumble recoveries).

“He was a linebacker, but we moved him down and made him put his hand down and he’s played so tough,” O’Leary said of Newton. “He’s so undersized, but he goes sideline-to-sideline, he breaks double-teams, and then Corey [Jean-Jacques], they have to double him because he’s so dominant.”

Newton moved from inside linebacker to tackle when run-stuffer F.J. Murphy went down with a season-ending knee injury. He’s taken to his new position.

“It was tough at first, but it’s all about technique,” Newton said. “I’ve just been working as hard as I can on that.

O’Leary and his team were fully prepared for the trench warfare that was about to ensue on Thursday, but it came as a surprise that Prep’s big offensive play came via the pass.

The Hawks defensive line matched the intensity and pressure the Eagles brought with Xaverian’s four-man line of Ray Gobbi , Mo Hurst (1.5 TFL, FF), Elijah Jolly (1 TFL, 2 FR) and Joe Gaziano (1.5 TFL, 1 sack) controlling the point of attack in the first half.

The Eagles’ All-State caliber backfield of Moore and Jonathan Thomas were held at bay, with Moore (1 INT) finishing with a negative yardage mark for the first half. Although, at the end of the day, Thomas led all players with 141 yards on the ground, nearly outpacing the Hawks by himself.

“We knew they play tough defense,” O’Leary said. “We had plenty of chances, in the red zone, in the first half, but we didn’t score. I knew we were in trouble right then.

O’Leary continued, “They put all those people in the box and it came down to us against them. It was just man-on-man, and it was tough.”

But Prep was able to put the game away on the Sharrio to Moore connection. The play was an 8-yard out, designed to pick up a first down. Moore came away with much more, however, after a missed tackle in the flat, a downfield juke and a downfield block left nothing but green in front of the Mr. Football Award finalist.

Thursday’s win meant the Eagles will be right back to work on Friday, with Tuesday’s playoff game against Andover looming.

But, for Prep’s senior class, which returns to postseason play after an absense last year, they’re right on schedule.

“We were looking for this for a while,” Moore said. “We were saying senior year that we would be pretty good, and now it’s here. It’s great living it and we’re just trying to live in the moment.”

Recap: No. 3 St. John's Prep 49, No. 15 St. John's (S) 8

October, 13, 2012
DANVERS, Mass. -– Through the first five weeks of the 2012 season, this much was known about St. John’s Prep and its vaunted rushing attack: the Eagles can play powerful.

And after this afternoon’s 49-8 shellacking of St. John’s of Shrewsbury, before a Homecoming crowd at Cronin Memorial Stadium, we now know this too: the Eagles (5-1) can play fast.

[+] EnlargeJon Thomas
Brendan Hall/ESPNBoston.comSt. John's Prep running back Jonathan Thomas (19 carries, 238 yards, 3 TDs) went over 200 yards for the second time in three weeks as the Eagles rolled, 49-8.
Prep had a field day against the Pioneers’ front seven, piling up over 330 yards in the first 22 minutes with the help of a hurry-up tempo, en route to a 35-0 halftime lead. On the ground, they ran for a total of 355 yards, with almost all of it coming from the two-headed monster of junior Jonathan Thomas (19 carries, 238 yards, 3 TD) and senior Alex Moore (8 carries, 82 yards, 2 TD). Moore also had a 54-yard touchdown catch to put him over the century mark in all-purpose yards yet again.

If you’ve ever watched the Eagles under head coach Jim O’Leary, you know their affinity for the power and the counter trap. But it was the way they did it today that was uniquely appealing, matching the Pioneers’ Oregon-like “Blur” tempo by going equally as fast with no huddle.

“We match up against spread teams. We built our team against spread teams, because we see so many of them now,” O’Leary said. “And the last couple of games, we’ve been going against power teams – and not that we matched up badly, we just didn’t have a whole lot of points. But we’re built this way. We have good athletes.”

The game started off a bit wild, with a Prep three-and-out punt on the game-opening drive getting blocked by the Pioneers’ Kyle Roy. Two plays later, however, Moore came up with a pick, jumping a route in the left flat and leaping at a pass from Pioneers quarterback Andrew Smiley (32-of-47, 280 yards, TD, 3 INT) for running back Shadrach Abrokwah (11 carries, 129 yards).

On the ensuing drive, Gerald Kahari set up the first of three Moore scores with a 57-yard scamper off a short screen to the left flat. Kahari accelerated then cut twice – first northeast, then at a right angle with a short step-back –- to completely reverse direction before getting hauled down out of bounds just short of the right pylon, at the Pioneers two. Moore punched it in on a dive the next play, for a 7-0 score less than four minutes into the game.

From there, seemingly the heavens opened up on the Pioneers’ front seven. Moore made it 14-0 with a 54-yard touchdown reception off a simple pop pass from the left slot, and that was followed by three more scores for the 35-0 score. Thomas reeled off touchdown runs of five and 68, then Moore capped off the explosive first half with a 44-yard counter trey, shrugging off a would-be tackler amidst a scrum to break free down the left sideline.

[+] EnlargeSt. John's Prep's Alex Moore
Brendan Hall/"It was intense" trying to replicate St. John's of Shrewsbury's speed in practice this week, said Prep's Alex Moore (8 carries, 82 yards, 2 TDs).

“I followed my pulling tackle up the hole,” Moore explained. “He made a great block and I made a cut, and someone hit me, but I was able to shed it and get to the outside and get a touchdown.”

(The play, we kid you not, is called “Brockton Left”. Why? Moore didn’t have an answer, saying simply “I don’t know why, but it’s a great play.”)

On the first play of the second half, Lucas Bavaro picked off Smiley for a 33-yard interception return. Thomas finished off the Prep scoring on the next drive with a 75-yard scamper, followed by a six-yard dive into the end zone.

“The offensive line did a great job,” said Thomas, who went over 200 yards rushing for the second time in three weeks. “That’s all I can say. They opened up the holes, and I just went right through them. Alex [Moore] and I had a great day, and we give all the credit to the offensive line.”

Tempo recognize tempo: Shrewsbury is operating at a frenetic pace this season, running a “Blur” offense that is similar to the style Chip Kelly deploys at the University of Oregon, looking to snap the ball within 15 to 20 seconds after the previous play is whistled dead.

With that pace, a sharp inside zone read game with Smiley and Abrokwah, and a number of perimeter receivers sitting in zone holes, it’s not uncommon to see the Pioneers score in bunches – coming into this game, they had surpassed 40 points twice and were averaging 39 points per game.

The Eagles deployed a unique method of preparation this week to get used to the frantic pace of the game, lining up two scout offenses on opposite 40-yard lines during the team defense portion of practice, and having the defensive players sprint back and forth from one scout team to the other each play.

“I really didn’t expect it [the Pioneers’ tempo] that much, we were pretty gassed at some times,” admitted Prep defensive end Anthony Bongiorno, who registered two sacks and a few tackles for loss. “I mean, that was a fast-paced team. We kinda kept it together long enough to make some big plays.”

Said Moore, “It was pretty intense...St. John’s Shrewsbury gets their offense off fast, 15 seconds, it’s like a blur and you don’t really have time to mistakes. You gotta be ready for everything.”


SJS (4-2) 0 0 0 8 --- 8
SJP (5-1) 14 21 14 0 --- 49

First Quarter
SJP - Alex Moore 2 run (Stephen Camaro kick) 7:07
SJP - Moore 54 pass from Jack Sharrio (Camaro kick) 4:23

Second Quarter
SJP - Jonathan Thomas 5 run (Camaro kick) 10:56
SJP - Thomas 68 run (Camaro kick) 7:05
SJP - Moore 44 run (Camaro kick) 1:57

Third Quarter
SJP - Lucas Bavaro 33 interception return (Camaro kick) 10:45
SJP - Thomas 6 run (Camaro kick) 6:25

Fourth Quarter
SJS - John Giacoppe 19 pass from Andrew Smiley (Shadrach Abrokwah run) 6:25

Recap: No. 3 St. John's Prep 20, No. 12 B-R 7

October, 7, 2012

BRIDGEWATER, Mass. - With two talented playmakers such as Johnathan Thomas and Alex Moore in the backfield, why wouldn't St. John's Prep have its own version of the 'Wildcat' formation ready to go?

It's not a set the Eagles rely on often, but when they spring the trap, it has the tendency to yield major dividends. In the case of Saturday afternoon's nonleague clash with No. 12 Bridgewater-Raynham, Moore turned the Prep's 'Wildcat' into a momentum changer.

On the first play from scrimmage of the second half, Moore and Thomas lined up side by side in the backfield with Moore taking the snap. Tight end Anthony Bongiorno sealed off the defensive end and Thomas cleared a hole with a nice block of his own. Moore followed right through and outran everyone down the left sideline for an 89-yard touchdown.

That was the second of three scores on the day for Moore, who totaled 159 yards on the ground with two scores and another 73 yards and a touchdown on three receptions as No. 3 St. John's Prep took down the Trojans, 20-7, at Bridgewater-Raynham High School.

"I never had any original thought in my life and that's what Everett did to us so I said, 'If Everett can do that to us, we can use that ourselves,' so that's what we did," Prep coach Jim O'Leary said with a laugh. "We've been running it but we've been running it a little differently the last couple weeks. We just put him outside and pitch and get to the edge and see what we can get."

Moore turned in terrific all-around effort, adding a fourth-quarter interception from his safety position to his stat sheet. He scored the game's first touchdown via the air, lining up as the inside receiver in a trips-right set. Moore ran a post pattern through the middle and Eagles quarterback Jack Sharrio lofted a perfect pass to him in stride for a 35-yard score.

Then in the fourth, just after Brandon Gallagher had scored to help B-R (3-2) cut the deficit to 14-7, Moore produced another big play. Lined up as the tailback behind Thomas in the I-formation, Moore took a straight handoff and followed Thomas off left tackle. Thomas created room by blocking the defensive end, allowing Moore to bounce outside and race 62 yards to paydirt.

"I was able to hit the outside and use my speed to my advantage and make it a track meet out there," Moore explained. "It was just off to the races from there."

The Prep's offense has been producing extremely well this season, and a lot of that has been due to the willingness to allow Sharrio to throw more often. The senior quarterback completed 7-of-11 passes for 103 yards and the TD pass to Moore.

Battling a very difficult wind, Sharrio's effort loosened up the Trojans defense enough to allow Thomas to join Moore in the Century Club with 110 yards on 13 carries.

"We have to be able to spread the field to get people out of the box," O'Leary said. "We have to do that and so I think that's what we try to do and what we need to do. We're not as comfortable doing that when we don't have the wind. They threw the ball better with the wind also."

B-R coach Dan Buron has never been afraid to schedule some of the state's top teams in an effort to get his Trojans ready for their Old Colony League slate, and hopefully, a postseason berth.

B-R opened with Duxbury, currently riding a 31-game winning streak, bested perennially tough programs in Marshfield and New Bedford, and still have a date with Xaverian before playing its OCL counterparts Dartmouth and Barnstable.

Brandon Gallagher finished with 92 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, while quarterback Jordan Cohen finished 12-of-26 for 176 yards.

"I was pleased with our effort, I think our kids played hard," Buron said. "That's a really good football team and I think we're just not quite there. Duxbury and this team, we're battling them for three quarters and we're just a step away. I think we're getting better every week and I think we can take this as a learning experience. I love playing teams like this. It gets us ready for our league games at the end of October and early November."

ST. JOHN'S PREP (4-1) 7 7 0 6 - 20
BRIDGE. RAYNHAM (3-2) 0 0 7 0 - 7

SJ - Alex Moore 35 pass from Jack Sharrio (Stephen Cammaro kick)
SJ - Moore 89 run (Cammaro kick)
BR - Brandon Gallagher 3 run (Kevin Wadsworth kick)
SJ - Moore 62 run (kick failed)

Recap: No. 4 St. John's Prep 49, Dracut 6

September, 8, 2012

DRACUT, Mass. -- The two-back attack of senior Alex Moore and junior Jonathan Thomas proved to be too much for Dracut on Friday night as St. John’s Prep avenged last season’s 13-7 home-opening loss as they defeated the Middies, 49-6.

Moore and Thomas did their damage early and often as the pair both scored two touchdowns with Moore’s pair coming in the first half on a first quarter 12-yard run and one more in the second quarter from 15 yards out to give the Eagles a 21-0 lead deep into the second quarter.

“We have the two backs who can break it at any time,” St. John’s Prep coach Jim O’Leary said. “Our offensive line played well, and Jack [Sharrio] made some good choices out there.”

[+] EnlargeJonathan Thomas and Alex Moore
Ryan Kilian for ESPNBoston.comSt. John's Prep running backs Jonathan Thomas (1) and Alex Moore (27) combined for 200-plus yards rushing in a 49-6 win over Dracut.
Sharrio managed the game well and also connected on a pair of first half scoring strikes to Gerry Kahari (16-yards) in the opening quarter and a nice 7-yard touch pass to Anthony Bongiorno with time running out in the second quarter.

St. John’ Prep led 28-0 at the half as a result of executing in the red zone, dictating offensive possessions, converting defense to offense and capitalizing on Dracut’s (0-1) special teams mistakes.

In the second half Prep came out and continued to dominate on both sides of the ball as Thomas scored twice in the third quarter before the teams exchanged scores late in the fourth to give St. John’s Prep (1-0) the 49-6 opening night victory.

Moore and Thomas: Moore finished the game with 138 yards rushing on 10 carries, all coming in the first half. Thomas finished with 92 yards on the ground on just seven carries. Both players also made game-changing plays on the defensive side the ball as Moore had an interception and a jaw dropping hit from his safety position to open the second half.

“We have a lot of players returning on defense,” Moore said. “We really want to use our defense to get ahead in games, get interceptions and get turnovers. We just like to hit. We are fast and we use all our abilities to our advantage.”

Thomas was also impressive defensively as the heralded junior back had two interceptions from his cornerback spot, with the second beginning the second half when he picked off Dracut quarterback Tyler Duff and took it 45 yards to the house for a score.

“I can play anywhere on the field,” Thomas said. “If it means stepping up on defense then it means stepping it up on defense.”

Both players lauded their underrated offensive line for the holes that they used throughout the game on the offensive side of the ball.

“They open up holes and we just run through them,” Thomas said. “They do not get enough credit but we let them know we appreciate them. They are the hardest workers on the team.”

Bassett leads youth: Dracut graduated a large senior class from last year’s squad and only returned three players on each side of the ball. The growing pains and transition will be there for head coach Jason Houston and the Middies but there is reason to be hopeful.

“We are only going to get better by paying the likes of St. John’s Prep, Mansfield in Week 3. Our kids want to play the best teams and with the always tough MVC schedule it will only make us better in the long run.

Senior running back and co-captain Zach Basset is a workhorse and two-way rock for Houston and the Middies. The veteran carried the ball 18 times for 87 yards.

“Zach is the kind of football player that any coach would want,” Houston said. “He has played anywhere from freshman year at quarterback to running back to slot receiver. He plays anywhere that you need him to play and it is 100 percent all the time. He is our team leader and he has been our team captain for two years now.”

A program first: The win by St. John’s Prep was the first win over Dracut in the five game history of the rivalry.

“As a program St. John’s Prep has never beaten Dracut,” Thomas said. “The coaches reminded us of that and we had to focus on this being the year and we came out and let them know.”

Dracut took the opener last season 13-7 in Danvers as both teams struggled to get anything going offensively in that match-up.

“It is a nice start for us,” O’Leary said. “It is going to get harder for us, much harder, but I got to play everyone tonight and we played well. This is the first time we have ever beat them and the fifth time we have played.”

SJP (1-0) 7 21 14 7 --- 49
DRA (0-1) 0 0 0 6 --- 6

First Quarter
S – Alex Moore 12 run (Stephen Camarro kick)

Second Quarter
S - Gerald Kahari 16 pass from Jack Sharrio (Camarro kick)
S - Moore 15 run (Camarro kick)
S - Anthony Bongiorno 7 pass from Sharrio (Camarro kick

Third Quarter
S – Jonathan Thomas 45 Interception return (Camarro kick)
S – Thomas 38 run (Camarro kick)

Fourth Quarter
S – Ian Kessel 30 run (Camarro kick)
D – Gabe Morales 2 run

Thomas poised for breakout for No. 4 Prep

August, 31, 2012
As a freshman at St. John’s Prep, Jonathan Thomas watched running back Tyler Coppola rack up huge numbers for a team that made it to the Division 1 Super Bowl.

Asked what he learned by watching Coppola lead the Eagles to Gillette Stadium, the junior responded, “Just to keep moving. He played with a lot of pain, so I just learned from him to suck it up and keep moving.”

He could have just taken those same cues from his own life experience.

[+] EnlargeJonathan Thomas
Scott Barboza/ESPNBoston.comSt. John's Prep junior Jonathan Thomas is among the best running backs in the state.

When Thomas was seven years old, the Peabody native was skateboarding with his friends, rolling out of his garage when a car coming downhill struck him on his dead end street. The injuries were so serious that he had to be taken into Boston by helicopter.

“I was unconscious when it happened. I don’t remember the helicopter ride or anything,” he said. “They thought I was going to have brain damage and everything. The whole right side of my face, my head, was gone, so they had to stitch it back up. There’s still scars today but it’s not as noticeable.”

The scars may have been more noticeable back then, but they didn’t slow him down. Against his mother’s best wishes, by that summer, Thomas began his football career.

“My mother didn’t want me to play, but it was my brother’s first year, too. My brother went down to play and my dad said, ‘You can help coach.’ But I got in all the drills and stuff and said, ‘I can do this.’ I was the fastest one out there despite my injury.”

By that time, Thomas felt his brush with death had no impact on his ability to play the game.

“I don’t think it had any effect. It’s just a miracle that I’m still alive.”

When Thomas got to the Prep, he had never played cornerback in his life, but was forced to start there as a freshman because of career-ending injuries to Coppola’s brothers, Jared and Brandon.

It was a trial-by-fire initiation to the varsity game if there ever was one. That season, Thomas had to cover the likes of Everett’s Matt Costello (Princeton), Brockton’s Albert Louis-Jean (Brockton) and St. John’s of Shrewsbury’s Richard Rodgers (Cal).

“It was quite an experience coming straight out of Pop Warner to playing the top players in the state. It was a learning experience but it was fun.”

By the time last year rolled around, however, Thomas earned his way into the starting lineup as a running back. With sterling performances against the likes of Brockton, St. John’s of Shrewsbury, Catholic Memorial and Xaverian, he showed the type of potential that already garnered the attention of a number of Division I coaches.

Always blessed with a tree-trunk lower body, Thomas worked with Prep assistant coach Jameson Pelkey over the offseason to improve his speed, which has gone down from around 4.7 in the 40-yard dash to the high-4.5 area.

“I worked on my speed, pulling sleds, hitting the weight room daily,” Thomas said. “I’m working on just every part of my body to get me ready for Division I players coming at me, trying to tackle me. I’m trying to break their tackles: keep my feet moving; keep my legs going.”

“He’s always had that good initial burst,” said Prep coach Jim O’Leary. “Now he has the other burst to go with it.”

Now a junior and three-year starter, Thomas is one of the leaders for a squad that returns 18 starters and wants to go from a 4-6 team to a Super Bowl champion.

“Well, we’ve realized what a great opportunity we have,” he said. “We have nine returning starters on offense and defense. We have pretty much the whole team coming back. It’s another great mindset: we’re ready to get a ring. Everybody’s putting in work.”

And if the Eagles encounter any adversity along the way, expect Thomas to help his teammates suck it up and keep moving.

2011: 4-6 (1-3 Catholic Conference)
Coach: Jim O’Leary (29th season, 189-105-2)
Key Returnees: Lucas Bavaro, Sr. WR/OLB, 6-1, 198 lbs.; Alex Moore, Sr. RB/S, 6-1, 195 lbs.; Jon Thomas, Jr. RB, 5-11, 195 lbs.; Jack Sharrio, Sr. QB, 5-9, 174 lbs.; Gerald Kahari, Sr. CB/WR, 5-7, 162 lbs.; Corey Jean-Jacques, Sr. DT, 5-11, 286 lbs.; Anthony Bongiorno, Sr. TE/DE, 6-4, 233 lbs.; Michael Fawehinimi, Jr. CB/WR, 5-8, 160 lbs.; Tucker Mathers, Sr. DE/TE, 5-11, 195 lbs.; Sean Smerczynski, Jr. ILB, 5-11, 216 lbs.
Strengths: Experience, defense, kicking game, offensive backfield.
Weaknesses: Tough schedule.
Outlook: While the Prep stumbled to a 4-6 record last season, many expect the Eagles to bounce back in a big way this fall despite once again facing a brutal non-conference slate on top of the always-grueling Catholic Conference gauntlet (joked O’Leary, “We’re ranked the fourth-best team in the state and the third-ranked team in our conference”). Most of the optimism centers around a starting lineup that is littered with two and three-year starters. The same defense that held BC High to just seven points last year returns nearly everyone and should be among the best in the state. Last year’s offense was inconsistent but promises to explode with Thomas, Moore and Sharrio in the backfield and Bavaro and Kahari on the perimeter. The offensive line is where the team figures to make its biggest improvement. “We’re so much better than we were a year ago,” O’Leary said of that group, which still only projects to start one senior. Despite all the returning talent, O’Leary is aware that his team needs to find greater consistency to live up to expectations and put last year’s disappointing season in the rear-view mirror. “It’s nice to have players back, but we need to go out and win games now.”

Recap: No. 19 Dracut 13, No. 12 SJP 7

September, 10, 2011
Dracut PrepBrendan Hall/ESPNBoston.comDracut junior Zach Bassett came up with the game's first score and was in on a slew of tackles on Saturday.

DANVERS, Mass. -- St. John’s Prep is usually the team with the big, experienced offensive line and overpowering ground attack.

Saturday at Cronin Memorial Stadium, however, it was visiting Dracut which fit that bill, and the result was a 13-7 win.

“We’ve got a lot of things to work on,” Dracut coach Jason Houston said. “It wasn’t pretty.”

Indeed, it was a sloppy game on both ends. But if you think a senior group of linemen pushing its way forward on both sides of the ball is attractive, yesterday’s performance by the Middies (1-0) was a thing of beauty. Dracut, looking to reach its fourth consecutive postseason appearance and third straight out of the Merrimack Valley Conference’s Small Division, received the requisite might from seniors Anthony Metzler (5-10, 280), Mike Schiavi (6-4, 285), Conor McAnespie (5-10, 185), Jack Whelton (6-3, 200), Shawn Butt (5-11, 260) and Jacob MacShane (5-11, 200) to make up for the loss of reigning MVC Lineman of the Year Peter Salem, who was out nursing a minor injury.

Quarterback Jimmy Ryan, a junior making his first start, rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries and completed 10-of-15 passes for 113 yards. The Middies scored on a 2-yard Zach Bassett rush and a 16-yard zone-read keeper by Ryan in the second quarter to take a 13-0 lead into halftime.

Alex Moore (26 yards rushing, 74 receiving) dove over from a yard out for the Prep’s only score with 2:58 to go, but the Middies picked up three first downs and forced the Eagles to burn their remaining four timeouts.

Game over.

“I look at it as a win is a win,” said Bassett, who rushed for 47 yards and also made a key fourth-down stop on Prep quarterback Tommy Gaudet to start the third quarter. “Every win is huge, especially one like St. John’s Prep. But we’re going to look back, enjoy it tonight and go after it on Monday.”

Some other observations...

Middies swarming: Dracut’s defense was billed as a strength coming into the season and it lived up to that reputation Saturday. In addition to the play from the linemen, the linebackers out of Dracut’s 3-5-3 alignment were all over the field. Tony Ngeth, Bassett, Matt Ferrazzani, junior Pat Noonan and Ryan Schwartz were suffocating. St. John’s Prep inexperienced offensive line opened very few holes and those that did appear closed fast.

“I wouldn’t want to play this defense,” Ryan said with a smile. “They’re phenomenal. They’re fast. They’re strong. They just know where to be at all times.”

Filling big shoes: Ryan stepped in for his first varsity start and wasn’t fazed one bit by an excellent group of defenders on the other side of the ball. He executed the zone read properly and made accurate throws in the short-range passing game. He did exactly what the offense asked him to do and more, and it looks like Dracut is going to be set at the quarterback position for another two years. He has a good group of skill players to work with in junior Bryant Tuff, Dante Torres, Ferrazzani, Bassett and Leo Lakmany. All four showed good hands and nice toughness after the catch.

Green in the trenches: The Prep replaced every offensive lineman and it showed. The youth up front resulted in a lot of false starts and missed assignments. That will work itself out in time, though, as the Eagles were cleaner in that regard in the second half. The Prep was also missing senior Brennan Giles (6-2, 286), maybe the team’s most experienced player in the trenches. Either way, Dracut had the advantage up front.

Promising Prep D: The Eagles are going to be excellent on defense. Even with the offense sputtering like it did for most of the game, the Prep defense managed to shut out a good Dracut offense in the second half. Junior nose guard Corey Jean-Jacques (5-11, 291), a wrestling standout who just came out for football this year, is a nice anchor with ends Owen Lynch and junior Anthony Bongiorno providing speed off the edge. Junior Lucas Bavaro, sophomore Sean Smerczynski, junior R.J. Pizzano and sophomore Jonathan Thomas are a nice corps of young linebackers, while juniors Moore, Gerald Kahari and Jack Sharrio are hard hitters in the secondary. Once this offense starts clicking, look out, because the Prep’s defense is good and will be even better in 2012.


DHS (1-0) --- 0 13 0 0 - 13
SJP (0-1) --- 0 0 0 7 - 7

Second Quarter
D - Zach Bassett 2 run (Jacob MacShane kick)
D - Jimmy Ryan 16 run (kick failed)

Fourth Quarter
SJP - Alex Moore 1 run (Connor Shaw kick)