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New England Roundup: Rhode Island

8/31/2011

At the risk of pilfering a line from Charles Dickens’ immortal novel, “A Tale of Two Cities,” the 2010 football season was the best of times and the worst of times for Hendricken High coach Keith Croft.

Rhode IslandCroft, who was voted the Schoolboy Sports Coach of the Year by Words Unlimited (the state-wide organization of sports writers, sportscasters and sports publicists), guided the Hawks to their first Division I Super Bowl championship in 15 years – and went undefeated (13-0) in the process (Hendricken edged Portsmouth, 20-17, for the title).

The worst of times occurred on November 6, when his son, Caden (who was born on July 4), underwent surgery to have a shunt implanted in the back of his head – because the infant was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, a condition where the cerebrospinal fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord doesn’t drain properly and creates potentially harmful pressure on the tissues of the brain.

Fortunately for Croft and his wife Kerri, the operation was successful and young Caden may be on the sideline (okay, in the stands) as his dad tries to coach Hendricken to another Super Bowl crown.

If the Hawks do repeat, it will be due in large part to two facts:

  • They return a pair of First Team All-State selections in senior wide receiver / defensive back Ryan Brannigan and senior offensive tackle Max Heintzleman.

  • They also will suit up 21 seniors, many of whom saw significant playing time last season.

Brannigan invariably figured prominently in all-purpose yardage since he caught 14 passes for 276 yards and four touchdowns and also carried the ball 64 times for 327 yards and one score.

Heintzelman, who checks in at a solid 6-3 and 290 pounds, was a major reason why the Hawks finished with over 1,000 yards rushing on the season (read the Hawks followed his blocking).

A player who made a significant contribution last season as a sophomore is wide receiver / linebacker Jarrid Witherspoon. Witherspoon was credited with 46 tackles, which included 2.5 sacks.

Without question the biggest hole Croft will have to fill is at quarterback because graduation claimed Super Bowl MVP Mike Maloof who passed for 16 touchdowns and ran for six.

Look for junior Marco DelVecchio to get first crack at plugging that hole.

Others Hawks Croft will be counting on are senior running backs Lou Falcone, Richard Audet and McKinley Berrimen plus senior offensive lineman Paul Fetter.

LUCKY NUMBER THREE?

For most people, seven is considered a lucky number.

For Woonsocket, that number is three – because the Villa Novans are shooting for a third consecutive Division II state championship.

The last time any Rhode Island school accomplished this feat occurred in the 1950s when West Warwick ran off six consecutive Division II titles.

Ironically, the Villa Novans suffered their first casualty even before practice started, and it didn’t involve one of their players.

Highly-respected coach Carnell Henderson tore a tendon in a quadriceps muscle in a freak household accident in late July.

In Henderson’s absence, assistant coaches Derek Grinkin and John Marsella have been running practices as Woonsocket prepares to improve on last season’s 10-2 record – which included a 24-14 Super Bowl victory over Blackstone Valley rival Tolman.

Graduation did a number on Woonsocket since barely 10 seniors return for another season – most notably running backs Orlan Thomas, Kyle McKellick and Ryan Brochu; quarterback Kory Nordby; and offensive lineman Zach Lasalle. But the most significant losses include First Team All-State selections Jesse Charrette (WR/DB) and safety Oswald Torres

FROZEN OUT

Unlike college and pro sports, for example, off seasons are relatively quiet on the high school scene. But that wasn’t the case this summer when it came to girls’ hockey.

Karen Emma (sister of 1991 Hobey Baker Award winner David Emma when he played for Boston College) departed Bay View Academy under yet-to-be explained circumstances (read the school has refused to say if she was dismissed or left on her own accord).

All Emma did in her eight seasons at the East Providence school was win three Division I state championships and finish as the runner-up to Mount St. Charles in the other five campaigns.

She was replaced by Bengals assistant coach Lorie Blair, who played her college hockey at Providence College.

An even more eminently successful coach was dismissed – 72-year-old Dick Ernst who’s been coaching high school hockey for every season but one since 1962. Most recently, Ernst coached La Salle – a position he held for four seasons, during which time he won the 2009 Division II state title and finished second in 2008.

Walking behind the bench this season for the Rams will be Sean McNamara, who at one time was the assistant boys’ hockey coach at La Salle.

Mike Scandura has been covering high school sports, college basketball, football and hockey, plus minor league baseball in Rhode Island since the early 1970s. A native of Oswego, N.Y. he’s a member of the Words Unlimited Hall of Fame which is the statewide organization of sportswriters, sportscasters and sports publicists.