Boston High School: Jim O'Leary

Continuity comes full circle for Burt, St. Pierre

August, 23, 2014
Aug 23
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.”

St. Pierre succeeds O'Leary at Prep

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17
DANVERS, Mass. – After longtime St. John’s Prep football head coach Jim O’Leary announced his retirement from coaching earlier this week, the school named former Eagles star quarterback Brian St. Pierre as successor Friday morning.

The Boston College product and 8-year NFL pro becomes just the third coach to head Prep’s program in the last 47 years, following Fred Glatz (17 seasons) and O’Leary (30 seasons).

Beyond his gridiron exploits, St. Pierre’s connection to the program runs deep. His father, David, was the Eagles’ team physician, so the 34-year-old Salem native has been on Prep’s sidelines from before the time he could walk.

[+] EnlargeJim O'Leary
Scott Barboza/ESPNFormer St. John's Prep star and NFL quarterback Brian St. Pierre (left) became just the third Eagles head coach in the last 47 years, following Fred Glatz (center) and Jim O'Leary. O'Leary retired this week after 30 seasons at the helm.
St. Pierre continued his time with the Eagles last season, as an assistant coach under O’Leary, following his retirement from the NFL.

“The memories of my formative years were on the sideline at St. John’s Prep,” St. Pierre said during a press conference on Friday. “This place is very special to me. Playing for Coach [O’Leary] was one of the best experiences of my life. I played football for a while, but the memories I have playing for him, here, stand out as much as any that I ever had.”

Following his pro career, St. Pierre weighed other coaching opportunities at the college level and in the NFL, along with a stint working as a sideline reporter for BC football radio broadcasts.

But the previous year, spent back at his alma mater, brought St. Pierre full circle.

“The year I had this year, as an assistant coach, was as fun as I’ve had in football in a long time,” St. Pierre said. “I understand it’s time, but I’m sad that after 30 years it’s over for [O’Leary], but he knows that I want him around the program as much as possible and he’ll be a huge benefit and resource for me to have him still on campus in the A.D. role.”

O’Leary said he’d considered stepping away from coaching “thirty times” before, but decided the moment was appropriate after three decades at the helm and with his responsibilities as Prep’s athletic director increasing.

He compiled a career record of 207-11-2, with 24 winning seasons. During O’Leary’s tenure, the Eagles won nine Catholic Conference titles, making six Super Bowl appearances, including a pair of wins in 1997 – with St. Pierre under center – and 2001.

“I’ve been blessed with great players, not just the great ones who went on to play in the NFL,” O’Leary said, gesturing toward St. Pierre, “but the little guys who didn’t play much and every day who made the program great. The good players would have been good no matter they’d went, but those guys — the special teams players — and there’s hundreds of those guys who came to practice every day, put up with my nonsense and bought in. They made us successful.”

Before introducing St. Pierre, O’Leary took to time to thank his wife, Doris, and his children, Emily and Michael, for having supported him during his time spent focused on matters of football.

St. Pierre admitted his coaching style is influenced by his mentor and that fans should expect to see the same brand of football that made the Eagles successful under O’Leary. He also added he expects to have O’Leary around the program as much as he desires.

“He’s as good as a motivator as I ever came across,” St. Pierre said of O’Leary. “I played for a lot of guys and Bill Cowher was a great motivator, but Bill Cowher couldn’t hold a candle to some of his pregame speeches.”

After graduating from BC, St. Pierre was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the fifth round of the 2003 NFL Draft. He also played with the Baltimore Ravens and Arizona Cardinals before making his first and only career start with the Carolina Panthers in 2010.

St. Pierre, who now resides in Georgetown, also works with the school’s alumni relations staff.

When asked by Glatz, who was in attendance for the ceremony, whether he hopes to match O’Leary’s win total, St. Pierre responded that he only wants to emulate those who’ve come before him.

“You’re living up to two living legends in the coaching fraternity,” St. Pierre said. ‘I’m not going to be as successful as them, I’m sure, but I will aspire to be. But they’re perfect examples of what coaching’s all about. Obviously, they are great examples for me, but it’s a daunting responsibility to take over this program.”

With that comes great responsibility, but it’s what’s familiar to St. Pierre. He confessed to “having a problem” with football.

“I think I like [football] too much,” he added.

Ultimately, that’s what brought St. Pierre back to roost.

“The games are great and the competition is why you’re doing it, but it’s Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, being out in the field with those kids in the fall — I love it. That’s when I’m at my happiest.”

Recap: Xaverian 28, St. John's Prep 22

November, 28, 2013
DANVERS, Mass. -- Xaverian fought through adversity on Thanksgiving Day to hold off a fierce upset bid by Catholic Conference rival St. John’s Prep. The Hawks lost four players, including star running back Shayne Kaminski to injury in the first half, but prevailed in the second half for a 28-22 victory over the Eagles, securing the Catholic Conference title.

“The Prep came out hard like we expected them to. It was just a matter of who wanted it more and today we wanted it more,” said Xaverian junior quarterback Jake Farrell.

Kaminski got the Hawks off on the right foot as the senior jolted up the sideline for a 90-yard touchdown run on the second play from scrimmage for the Hawks. The score stood 6-0 after a failed extra point attempt.

“The [second] play of the game we had a big play from Shayne [Kaminski],” Xaverian head coach Charlie Stevenson said. “He went 90 yards for a touchdown and then after that things went a little south for us in terms of injuries. We lost some key guys early on in Shayne, Kenny [Kern] and John Dean, and were playing with a lot of subs out there.”

The tide quickly turned as injuries mounted for Stevenson’s team. After forcing a St. John’s fumble on the goal line, Xaverian fumbled the ball one play later, leading to a safety.

Michael Fawehinmi returned the ensuing free kick 75 yards for a touchdown and all the momentum had swung the way of the Eagles. St. John’s running back Cody Harwood broke free for a 46-yard touchdown pass early in the second quarter to extend the Eagles lead to 10.

“Whenever something bad happens, it just tumbles out of control,” said Farrell. “They had us on our heels. It was a matter of whether we could pick ourselves back up.”

Pick themselves up they did. The turning point in the game was a 60-yard touchdown bomb from Farrell to Damion Wood to cut the St. John’s Prep lead to three heading to halftime. It allowed the Hawks to gain some confidence and get back in the game before the second half.

“We’ve been trying to get that going for a couple weeks now,” said Farrell. “[Wood] is a great athlete and we finally got him going. I just threw it up there and he jumped up, hauled it down and took it in.”

Billy Leroux gave the visitors the 20-16 lead after the break with a five-yard score on the ground, but Jim O’Leary’s team answered back.

Eagles quarterback Mike Geaslen capped off a nice drive by rolling out to the right and finding Jack Lambert for the touchdown. The Eagles failed to convert the extra point, but the Prep had taken the 22-20 lead with just over two minutes to play in the game.

Xaverian would not be deterred as Farrell led his team down the field with a beautiful series. The junior signal-caller was a perfect 5-for-5 on the drive. His touchdown pass to A.J. King with just 28 seconds left gave the Hawks a 28-22 lead after a successful two-point conversion.

“Everyone was counting on me to get it done and I didn’t want to let my teammates down and they didn’t want to let me down. It was a group effort. The offensive line – that last drive was a credit to them. They were amazing,” said Farrell of the game-winning march down the field.

“At the end of the game we were playing with our fifth, sixth and seventh linebackers, but they gave us enough to win the football game,” Stevenson said. “I guess that’s what being a good team is all about. That was a great win for us. I’m really proud of our guys overcoming adversity, sticking with it and bringing the win home for us.”

Despite the loss O’Leary recognized what a great game it was: “It was back and forth. It was one of the classic games we have with Xaverian every year. It’s why people come. It was a very physical game today.”

The season is over for St. John’s Prep, but Xaverian has one last game against Central Catholic at Gillette Stadium to decide the Division 1 state title.

“We just have to work with what we have,” Farrell said. “Obviously, we hope that Shayne [Kaminski] and Kenny get better. They might be back or they might not, but we had a bunch of guys step up today and play really well. We got to see what we can do with that.”

Recap: No. 22 BC High 13, No. 4 St. John's Prep 7

October, 19, 2013
BOSTON -- Trailing highly-touted St. John's Prep by a touchdown at the half, Boston College High quarterback Sean Holleran got, in short, "a good chewing" from his head coach Joe Gaff. Players were getting open, looking for a good throw, and the 5-foot-10 junior was not holding up his end of the bargain, including a bad interception late in the second quarter.

"I deserved that chewing," he recalled, with a laugh.

Tied late in the game, before a boisterous home crowd at Viola Stadium, Holleran came through with the throw his coach was looking for, then let his feet do the rest of the work. His orchestration on what would be the game-winning eight-play, 66-yard delivered BC High (4-2) its biggest statement win of the season, a 13-7 decision over Prep (4-3) that improved them to 2-0 in the Catholic Conference and gave them three straight wins since their bye week in late September.

"Sean is the toughest kid as they come," Gaff said. "He took a good chewing at halftime, and he came out in the second half and responded incredibly. He made some choices tonight, giving and not giving the ball, and he made some great runs."

No play was more important on that final drive, perhaps, than the 18-yard strike to junior receiver Geoff Stillman on third and six at their own 38. Stillman, split out wide to the right, ran a slant to hash marks, where Holleran lasered the ball into a tight window. With quick reflexes, Stillman cradled the ball in traffic and ground forward for the first down.

"He came in, the linebacker stepped up and he made a great catch over the middle," Holleran said. "It takes a lot of guts to do that, and he went up and got it. It paid off for us."

That throw to Stillman was followed up with a 16-yard scramble, then a nine-yard option keeper, sprung loose by a sealing block downfield from tight end Connor Walsh but stepping out of bounds at the Prep 19. After a Prep offsides call, Holleran scurried for eight more yards on an option keeper with a fake pitch, then Mitch LaFerriere capped the winning drive with a six-yard plunge with 46 seconds remaining.

"[I was] just reading the defense and going with it, you know?" Holleran said. "Our pass game wasn't really there for us today, we had to get it done on our feet, and that's what we did."

The point-after kick was blocked, but BC High's fortunes took a favorable bounce when Prep's ensuing hook-and-ladder attempt was fumbled on the exchange in the boundary. Ismail Asongwed pounced on the loose ball for BC High, and they proceeded to run out the clock.

With 37 seconds left, a few timeouts to spare and 64 yards to go, the decision could be considered high-risk. Yet the Prep nearly pulled it off, likely marching to paydirt if not for the fumble. Prep head coach Jim O'Leary said he even considered calling a hook-and-ladder to open the game up.

"We had practice that this week, and we actually thought about opening the game up with it," he said. "The first play, we didn't get the yards we needed or something, but it's not a bad call. It looks likes it's going for a touchdown and then he puts the ball in the ground. More than anything else, ball security was the issue tonight. We just can't be turning the ball over like that, on the road, down here."

Brendan Smith led BC High on the ground with 15 carries for 97 yards, while Prep quarterback Mike Geaslen completed 7 of 11 passes for 96 yards and ran in the lone Prep score on a sneak from the one-foot line.

Prep linemen suspended: As if it wasn't snakebitten enough with the loss of Maryland-bound all-world running back Johnny Thomas (knee) for the season, three of Prep's top linemen were missing from tonight's action due to what O'Leary called "school disciplinary action".

Asked if the suspension could carry into the postseason (Prep has a bye next week, the final week of the regular season), O'Leary said, "If we make the playoffs, we'll see. I suspect with those kind of issues, that there's consequences that extend more than one game."

Harnais makes early exit: BC High lost one of its top running backs, senior Robert Harnais, five minutes into the contest on what would have been a sure-fire touchdown. On the first play of BC's second drive, from its own 12, Harnais took a toss sweep around the edge and took off for daylight before blowing a tire around midfield. The play, officially a 48-yard scamper that could have easily been an 88-yard TD, was Harnais' last of the night. He finished with three carries for 54 yards.

It was more than just a simple cramp. Harnais had to be carried off the field by two teammates, putting no weight on either leg. Gaff confirmed it is an issue with his left hamstring, with an unknown timetable.

"Imagine? He's gone on that, that's a touchdown on that," Gaff said. "It's a hamstring issue. Unfortunately, he's worked his body so hard all season and he's been nicked up all year. Hopefully, we'll get him back at the end of the year."

The Walls of Morrissey Blvd.: Coming out of its bye week, after some miserable first-half showings, it's safe to say BC High has cleaned things up on the defensive front. Two weeks ago, in statistically its best performance to date, the Eagles held then-No. 8 Brockton to 112 yards of total offense in a 6-0 shutout victory. Tonight, they held Prep to 135 yards of total offense, including just 39 rushing yards, giving them a total of less than 250 yards allowed combined against two teams ranked in ESPN Boston's Top 10 at the time.

With a front seven led by Steve DiCienzo and Chris Solis, this defense has developed a nastiness at just the right time, with the first round of Division 1 South playoffs two weeks away.

"This is unreal," Holleran said of the defense. "It's taken a lot of pressure off me, I'll tell you that much. It was a couple plays that got it back for us, and second half we put it in."

Check Mate: At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, Walsh plays a unique chess piece in BC High's slowly-evolving offense. Able to set the edge lined up tight in a three-point stance, or seal an outmatched defender inside or outside for a big gain when split out on the perimeter, he plays a significant factor in the run game. In the passing game, he can be a matchup problem when isolated out wide, either in a double-slot formation or opposite trips, as BC High did tonight.

In the first half, Walsh was split out wide as a split end four times and was targeted twice, with no catches and one drop. In the opening drive of the second half, BC ran exclusively out of a double-slot formation with Walsh at split end, running mostly zone read plays but also targeting the big tight end once with no success.

On the game-winning final drive, Walsh again was put out on the perimeter, and he made several big blocks to spring Holleran loose for first-down gains.

"He's a big body, got great hands and moves really well for a big guy," Gaff said. "We've got some confidence moving him out. You've got Stillman, the tall target, with the big catch down the middle on that last drive, so it's nice to have some big bodies on the outside of Sean, who's not the tallest guy to see some big targets."

Said Holleran of tonight's strategy with Walsh, "We were just looking to hit Prep wherever we could. We saw an advantage on the outside with Walsh, and we tried to get it there. It was there, I just couldn't hit him."


SJP 0 7 0 0 --- 7
BCH 0 0 7 6 --- 13

Second Quarter
S - Mike Geaslen 1 run (Josh Hilty kick) 8:20

Third Quarter
B - Sean Holleran 1 run (Jack O'Brien kick) 2:56

Fourth Quarter
B - Mitch LaFerriere 6 run (kick blocked) :46

Recap: Governor's 27, St. Sebastian's 14

October, 6, 2013
NEEDHAM – Governor's Academy did not lead for the first 43 minutes of it's game last night against St. Sebastian's.

No matter.

The undefeated Governors scored three fourth-quarter touchdowns to power past the Arrows, 27-14, and improve its winning streak to 21 games, the best such streak in ISL football.

“We really scrapped it; we knew what we were in for,” Governor's coach Jim O'Leary said. “This team's a tough team. We know they're physical so we said 'we're coming after you.'”

The game was owned by Brandon Lopez. The Governor's tailback rushed 33 times for 210 yards and a pair of touchdowns, the second of which iced the victory in the final minute. Along with a committee of other tailbacks, Lopez and the Governor's were able to wear down St. Sebastian's.

“We just knew that after a while we would wear them down,” O'Leary said. “We were focused and we knew what he had to do in the second half. I think we caught them a little off guard.

In the early going, it was St. Sebastian's who dictated the terms of engagement. The Arrows only ran 18 offensive plays in the first 24 minutes, but held a 7-6 lead at the break. The defense was able to slow down Governor's triple option.

On Geoff Wade's first pass of the game he found Matt Daniel for a 43-yard touchdown down the St. Sebastian’s sideline the Arrows up 7-0 midway through the first. The duo also connected on a 41-yard score in the third quarter.

The Arrow defense turned Governor's over twice on downs in the first half and, along with a missed Governor's field goal, went into the half up 7-6.

In the second half St. Sebastian's were unable to convert on key plays on turned the ball over twice.

“We had a couple of big scores but we felt we could do some things that our kids couldn't do as well,” St. Sebastian's coach Bob Souza said. “We were moving the ball; we just didn't execute.”

TOTAL CONTROL: It took a while for Lopez and the triple option attack to get going, but once it did it was suffocating. Govenor's ran 29 more plays than St. Sebastian's and used drives of 7:53 and 5:24 in the second half to soften up the Arrows.

Souza said that once the waves start coming it's hard to stop.

“They run an offense we haven't seen so it's hard to prepare for, and they run it well,” Souza said. “It's hard to simulate; that's a tough offense to stop.”

Lopez touched the ball on nearly half of Governor's plays (33 of 67), but it was players like Edward Bettencourt and Tom Vailas who were the X-factors. Vailas rushed 16 times for 46 yards and a touchdown, and Bettencourt touched the ball five times and scored Governor's opening touchdown.

AIN'T NO STOPPING US NOW: After the clock reached zero the Governor's bench, and sizable student section, spilled onto the field to celebrate the win. After 21 consecutive victories O'Leary said that he won't let his team get complacent.

“We don't take days off; we don't take plays off,” O'Leary said. “We go to work every day.”

Recap: No. 4 Everett 35, No. 3 St. John's Prep 14

September, 28, 2013

DANVERS, Mass. – They say if you give a man an inch, he’ll take a mile.

If you give John DiBiaso a bye week, well, that doesn’t bode well for the opposing football team.

Following a lackluster 20-8 loss to Xaverian at home two weekends ago, No. 4 Everett got back to basics in its one-week reprieve. The Crimson Tide’s week spent tidying up their messy performance in the former week showed in Saturday’s matinee duel against another Catholic Conference power in No. 3 St. John’s Prep.

First order of business? Shutting down, or at least, slowing down, the state’s most feared rusher in Johnny Thomas.

Second? Getting in a time machine and going back to the future with a refigured offense, shunning the spread, which found success in recent years, in favor of a vintage Everett staple — the flexbone.

It all was there in the Crimson Tide’s emphatic 35-14 win.

So did their head coach spend the week off pouring over old game plans and film, trying to unearth old gems?

“It wouldn’t say it was homework so much as it was a lot of practice,” DiBiaso said. “We practiced very hard.”

DiBiaso was less than amused with his team’s level of execution following the loss to Xaverian, so one can imagine the vigorous tenor of the Crimson Tide’s practices in the week since we saw them last.

Also, Everett (2-1) received an addition shot in the arm in the form of a new addition – senior running back/linebacker Isaiah Davis.

Davis, who previously suited up for Lynn English, was granted a waiver last week allowing the 5-foot-9, 180-pounder to see his first game action of the season with the Crimson Tide. He had an immediate impact, first scoring on a 15-yard run for a 7-0 first-quarter lead. Then, after Everett recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, Davis ran for his second score from 2 yards out.

“I can’t be more happy for him, he’s been waiting patiently for his opportunity,” DiBiaso said. “He got it and he came up very big. He played fantastic and I think he put himself on the map among the elite players in the state.”

The Crimson Tide amassed a three-score lead by early in the second quarter, after Joe D’Onofrio’s 2-yard touchdown run.

But Prep (2-2) countered, making it a two-possession again before the half was out.

Running their two-minute drill, the Eagles drove 74 yards in two minutes even to set up Mike Geaslen’s 6-yard touchdown pass to Owen Rockett on the final play of the half. The game clock had nearly expired before Prep got the snap off, with Geaslen lofting a fade over the head of the defense on a schoolyard-ball type play.

The Eagles whittled the lead down to a touchdown in the fourth, with backup running back Cody Harwood running for a 4-yard touchdown with 9:32 to play.

Harwood entered the game after Thomas, a preseason All-Stater and early season Mr. Football favorite, left the game to a right knee injury.

But Everett would not be denied. Following Harwood’s score, the Crimson Tide chewed up 64 yards on three plays with quarterback Raheem Wingard selling the option and zooming up the left sideline 25 yards for a 28-14 lead with less than eight minutes remaining.

The Eagles’ final two drives ended in a Crimson Tide fumble recovery and turnover downs, respectively, before D’Onofrio iced it with his second rushing touchdown of the game.

“We just can’t spot them points, I don’t care how good you are – not against them,” Prep head coach Jim O’Leary said. “It was very similar to the [Bridgewater-Raynham] game. The second half, we made mistakes and the ball didn’t bounce our way.

“There was no magic involved. They played well, they had a bye week and they coached them up.”

Greater cause for concern: Thomas, a Maryland commit, left the game after a late third-quarter carry.

While attempting to cut to the sideline, the senior was met by duo of Everett tacklers and driven to the turf. After being attended to by trainers, Thomas walked off the field under his own power, but with staff members flanking him under each arm. He did not return.

Postgame, O’Leary said Thomas was examined by the doctor on hand, but didn’t want to speculate to the injury’s long-term severity, pending an MRI.

“We’re not going to play with 10 guys,” O’Leary added. “We’re going to play with 11 next week and, hopefully, we get him back.”

The concern over Thomas’ injury wasn’t exclusive to Prep’s sideline.

“He’s a great back,” DiBiaso said. “He got a lot of good yards and our prayers are with him. We hope it’s nothing serious.”

Grounding the Eagles: As was after Thomas’ injury, great attention was paid to the Prep back, who accounted for 86 yards on 17 carries in the first half alone, in the lead up to Saturday’s game.

With two weeks to game plan against the Eagles’ ground game, DiBiaso again mixed things up.

Josh Palmer, a 5-foot-9, 205-pound defensive tackle, was moved back to linebacker, joining an already stout corps. The move allowed the Crimson Tide to play a 3-5 base, at times stacking all 11 players in the box, in hopes of neutralizing the state’s top running talent.

“We recognize [Thomas is] the best player in the state and we were going to try to mold our defense to try to force them into doing other things to beat us,” DiBiaso said. “We put Josh [Palmer] back at linebacker with Angel [Duarte], C.J. [Parvelus] and Lubern [Figaro] and Isaiah [Davis] shadowing [Thomas] the whole game.

Of course, a plan is just that. Without players versatile enough to plug into the system, it falls flat.

“He’s just an athlete, he can play anywhere,” Duarte said of Palmer joining the ranks of the LBs. “He’s got the speed, he’s big. We put him out there anywhere and he did a great job for us.”

The Times They Are A-Changin’: After watching his son, Jonathan, break multiple state passing records during his career with the Crimson Tide, Everett’s offensive groupings have steadily morphed in the last two years.

It’s not anything new, but Saturday might have marked an unofficial return to the good ole days. DiBiaso reflected on his new-look, old-feel offense.

“You’re a stupid coach if you do something that your personnel isn’t equipped to execute. We’ve run the spread successfully for about four years, but our personnel is more fit for this.

“We have three good running backs and an option-style quarterback, so shame on me for not doing it earlier.”

With Davis, D’Onofrio and fullback Marquis Holman holding it down in the backfield, the Crimson Tide has tried to strike balance on offense.

Wingard made two big connections to Lukas Denis (2 passes defended on defense, as well), helping to set up two touchdown drives.

“He made two good catches on play-action passes, and if you’re going to run that offense, you have to hit on play-actions,” DiBiaso said of Denis.

Of course, there’s still room for improvement though: “I think we did a decent job. We’ve only been running it for two weeks, so hopefully we’ll get even better as weeks go on.”

Recap: Governor's Academy 20, Lawrence Academy 0

September, 21, 2013
BYFIELD, Mass. -- It is hard to predict when Governor's Academy's winning streak will come to an end. But by all accounts, following their 20-0 dismantling of Lawrence Academy in Saturday's ISL season-opener, the belief is it won't be anytime soon.

The Governors, winners of 19 straight games, flexed their muscle on both sides of the ball, keeping the Spartans at bay throughout to start off the year at 1-0. GA pressured LA quarterback Kyle Howes all afternoon and, for the most part, held the Spartan rushing attack in check. LA finished with 157 yards, just 53 coming in the first half.

"That team has some great weapons and their wide receiver (Chris) Garrison is a Division 1 talent so we had to know where he was on the field at all times," third-year Governors head coach Jim O'Leary said. "We're not there yet and didn't play our best game but we're going to get better. Hats off to our defense today. I'm an offensive guy but our defense really kept us in this game. The way these kids play football, they play so hard all the time."

Garrison finished with seven receptions for 48 yards but was shadowed constantly. LA quarterback Kyle Howes seemed to be under pressure each time the ball was snapped into his hands as he was never allowed to get comfortable in the pocket. The senior threw for 88 yards on 13 of 25 completions. When the Spartans attempted to run the ball, GA's defensive line was just as stingy. They continuously pushed the Spartans front wall backwards and, in the process, took down the running backs several times for negative yardage.

Despite the offensive inadequacies, the Spartans did reach the Governor's red zone three times -- once making it to the one yard line. But all three times the Governors defense held their ground by keeping LA out of the end zone.

While GA's offense sputtered in the opening quarter, it began to find its rhythm late in the frame. A 59 yard pitch and catch from senior quarterback Thomas Vailas to Edward Bettencourt helped set up a Vailas 25-yard scoring pass to tight end Dan Healey to put GA ahead 7-0 with 11:21 remaining before the half.

The Governors saw a golden opportunity to add to their total moments later wasted. Facing a fourth-and-8 on the LA 28, O'Leary, instead of attempting a field goal, decided to keep his offensive unit on the field. The decision backfired after Vailas was picked off by Howes.

"I'm still a gambler," admitted O'Leary. "I took a chance early and it almost killed me but thankfully my defense bailed me out."

The Spartans were unable to convert the turnover into points, and with time ticking down in the half, GA got the ball back and didn't disappoint this time. Standing on the LA 46, Vailas rolled to his right and somehow managed to thread a pass in-between defensive backs Howes and Jake Cassidy and into the hands of receiver Larsen Bidstrup for a touchdown putting the Governors up by two scores heading into the break.

The Spartans (0-1) began the second half with a solid drive which was snuffed out on the GA 16. The Governors, finishing with 312 yards, took the ensuing possession and marched 82 yards capped off by Vailas' 4 yard keeper over the goal line with 15 seconds to go in the third quarter.

"We work hard every day in practice with our base offense and we believe it is going to work," said Vailas (4-of-9, 138 yards). "Our offensive line and our backs are tough. We're just going to continue to pound. Our defense came up huge today. Defense wins championships and I feel we have the toughest kids in the state."

Despite LA's poor showing offensively, head coach Paul Zukauskas can come away knowing he saw a silver lining in the form of running back AJ Dillon. The freshman, taking the brunt of the carries, gained 88 yards on 22 carries and should be a fixture in this program over the next four years.

"A.J. is only a freshman but he's going to be a very good player for us," said Zukauskas, in his third season at the helm. "He's a real-tough kid. Give Governors the credit. They have a true football program going on right now. They have a great coaching staff and you can see it in the way their kids play.

"We had some chances early but just couldn't pop it in. Their running game kept pounding us and we eventually got tired. But we're fine. This is just the first game so we feel as though we have a lot we can improve on. But our best players need to play better."

Recap: No. 4 St. John's Prep 40, No. 13 Central 21

September, 21, 2013
LAWRENCE, Mass. –- Another week, another incredible game from Johnathan Thomas.

Thomas, St. John’s Prep’s highly-touted running back, exploded for 228 yards on 27 carries on Friday night—lifting the Eagles (2-1) over Central Catholic (2-1), 40-21. He even made his presence felt on the defensive side of the ball too, returning an intercepted Mike Milano pass 107 yards for a touchdown to put a ribbon on the victory late in the fourth quarter.

Central Catholic got off to a quick start on their first drive, flying downfield on a seven play, 80 yard drive that took less than two minutes off the first quarter clock. Central’s star back, University of New Hampshire commit D’Andre Drummond-Mayrie (13 carries, 88 yards, TD) got the ball five times and anchored the first scoring drive.

“The first drive was ridiculous,” Prep coach Jim O’Leary said, “and the last [Central] drive and a half was a little disappointing. But inbetween that we got some points, and then the defense showed a lot in the second half. They’re a good football team, 40 is deceiving.”

Prep answered back later in the first quarter though, as Mike Geaslen (7-of-9, 94 yards, 2 TD) threw a 24-yard pass to Owen Rocket, Rocket fumbled the ball at the five yard line, but it rolled into the end zone and was recovered by Michael Calascibetta for a Prep TD. Geaslen ran in a touchdown in the second quarter, and later threw a touchdown pass up the sideline to Logan Mahoney for a 35-yard touchdown.

“We stretched the field a little bit -- Jake Burt had a catch early, Rocket had an catch early. We did enough to get people out of the box…and then the offensive line could do their thing,” O’Leary said, “I think Michael [Geaslen] is growing considerably. He’s been steady, almost 70% completions in the first games—great touchdowns and yards and we because need him to get those people out of the box, it helps our running game.”

Thomas takes it back: On the following Central drive, Thomas caught an interception in the back of Prep’s endzone, and what happened next will in all likelihood live in folklore.

Instead of kneeling the ball down in the end zone, Thomas took the ball out and shed tacklers all the way to the opposite goal line -- a 107-yard interception return for a touchdown.

“I didn’t even realize it was in the end zone, I thought it was at the one, but then I went out of the end zone and I had to bring it out or it would have been a safety,” Thomas said.

The star back had his coach scratching his head on the sideline, but O’Leary was able to breathe a quick sigh of relief when Thomas flew up the middle of the field and brought back the score.

“I don’t think he knew where was because of all the lines on the field. I was telling him ‘go down, go down, go down,’ and then about half way up Michael Fawehinmi threw a crushing block right in front of it and broke it even more,” O’Leary said.

200 yards, again: This makes back-to-back weeks that Thomas has rushed for over 200 yards, totaling 263 yards last week in a win over Brockton. He didn’t get to 200 in week one, but he managed 161 yards in a losing effort against Bridgewater-Raynham. Thomas thanked his offensive line for his big gains, but also half-jokingly talked about Prep’s new tightly-fitting Under Armour jerseys.

“Over 200 again...the offensive line I have to give all the credit to them. They did a great job of making holes,” Thomas said, “The new jerseys, skin tight, so if they’re trying to arm tackle me they can’t -— can’t grab that. So they have to frame me up.”

O’Leary, while in awe of yet another exceptional performance from Thomas, made sure to point out that the passing game as an integral piece of Prep’s attack.

“We know what [Thomas] is, clearly he’s our star, the star of the game, but we had a lot of guys make some good plays today," O'Leary said. "Brandon Kahari on a couple screens made big plays. Michael Geaslen threw the touchdown pass...that kind of opened it up for us right there."

Thomas agreed, noting that the passing game forced Central’s defense into check.

“It definitely helps because the linebackers have to look for the pass, they can’t just come all the way up and look for me," he said. "They have to drop because we have guys like Jake Burt, Owen Rockett, who can make great plays...Logan Mahoney. It definitely helped me.”

Defensive adjustment: After giving up 21 points at halftime and watching Drummond-Mayrie and Milano (11-of-21, 183 yards, TD) make plays all over the field, O’Leary’s assistants went to him with the idea of playing a Cover 2 in the second half to help stop the bleeding. With Thomas switching from outside linebacker to safety, Prep was able to essentially take Central’s passing game away across half of the field.

“I had a deep path. It worked out, we shut them down pretty good. I personally had deep path, so I had to make sure a guy didn’t get behind me,” Thomas said.

The move was a bit of improvisation by O’Leary and his staff, but Drummond-Mayrie only rushed for 32 yards in the second half, while Central’s offense didn’t score a single touchdown after the half.

“We don’t run Cover 2, but we had to pressure those guys on the outside and put Johnny back there. It takes the wear-and-tear off [Thomas] too,” O’Leary said. “It was a change-up that we didn’t do in the first half.”

Will Governor's win streak continue through 2013?

September, 19, 2013
BYFIELD, Mass. -- Third year head coach Jim O’Leary and the storied Governor’s Academy football team are riding an 18-game undefeated streak as they prepare to start the 2013 ISL football season.

Gov’s went a perfect 9-0, for the second consecutive year under O’Leary, and completed the perfect season with a 42-27 victory over Cheshire School (Conn.) in the Tom Flaherty Bowl Championship.

“These kids have the streak going and everyone is going to be gunning for them,” O’Leary said. “We are excited to begin the season.”

O’Leary knows that he will have a tall task ahead of him in replacing a veteran group from last season that included three-year staring quarterback and New England Player of the Year Tate Jozokos. The dual-threat quarterback and three-sport star is now a member of the University of North Carolina lacrosse team.

“Tate is a player that is hard to replace,” O’Leary said. “As a coach, you don’t experience many athletes at his level throughout your career.”

The job of following Jozokos as the next quarterback of Gov’s will be between senior Tommy Vailas and sophomore Seth Harrell. Vaillas saw time in the backfield last season for Gov’s, while Harrell was just a freshman backup in 2012.

“Those two guys are still battling it out for plying time,” O’Leary said. “They both throw the ball very well so I think our passing game may actually be a bigger weapon for us this year than it has been in the past.”

O’Leary will also have the task of replacing All-ISL performers Eli Morrissey (RB), Ryan Macri (OL/LB), and Colin Smith (TE/K).

“Those guys were all such important parts of our team last year,” O’Leary said. “We are certainly inexperienced at certain positions but I like our team speed and defense coming back.”

O’Leary is excited to return a number of veterans, led by three-year defensive starters, and pre-season All-ISL nominees Andrew “Bug” Carper and Jesse Gwozdz.

Both co-captains are Division 1 lacrosse commits, with Carper headed to University of North Carolina and Gwozdz headed to play at Fairfield University.

“Both of those kids are as good as anybody around,” O’Leary said. “They are kind of like our book ends, one on each side. They are both so athletic, fast, and tough and people notice them right away when they are in the game.”

Lineman James Leary is another co-captain and University of Vermont lacrosse commit. Leary and fellow co-captain OL/DL Mark Hoffman will also be counted on to provide senior leadership and to provide production in the middle of the field.

“James is a four-year starter for us and he provides a lot of experience on both sides of the ball,” O’Leary said. “Mark is another kid who came on real strong last year for us and we are looking for real big things from him.”

Gov’s continues to get great gridiron production from their lacrosse talent at the school. This season will be no different as Carper, Gwozdz, Vailas and Leary will team with WR Larsen Bidstrup and WR / DB Teddy Bettencourt to represent one of the top teams in New England lax.

“I think Tate (Jozokos) would the first to tell you that the reason why he was so great at lacrosse is that he played three sports,” O’Leary said. “We need to continue to do a better job at getting the multi-sport athletes, as that is where the big-time athletes come from. They compete each and every season and the type of speed an athleticism translates from sport to sport.”

2012: 9-0 (ISL Champions, Tom Flaherty Bowl Champions)
Coach: Jim O’Leary (3rd season, 18-0)
Returning Starters: 12 (5 offense, 7 defense)
Key Returnees: Andrew “Bug” Carper, Sr. RB/LB, 6-0, 196 lbs.; Jesse Gwozdz, Sr. RB/DB, 5-11, 193 lbs.; James Leary, Sr. OL/LB, 5-10, 190 lbs.; Thomas Vailas, Sr. QB/DB, 6-0, 182 lbs.; Mark Hoffman, Sr. OL/DL, 6-0, 210 lbs.; Tyler Harrington, Jr. OL/DE, 6-3, 240lbs.; Brandon Lopez, Jr. RB/DB 5-10, 160 lbs.; Seth Harrell, So. RB/DB, 5-11, 182 lbs.
Key Newcomers: Connor DeSantis, Jr. DT, 6-2, 330 lbs., Zack Coffey, So. WR, 6-3, 194 lbs.
Strengths: Team Speed on Defense.
Weaknesses: Inexperienced at offensive skill positions.
Outlook: Carper and Gwozdz will be counted on to lead a veteran defense but the two will also be fixtures in the offensive backfield where they will both play the running back position. Replacing All-ISL running back Eli Morrissey (Boston University lacrosse) will be no easy task but both veterans will look to share the duty. Second-year OL/DL Tyler Harrington, from Haverhill, is being recruited by a number of Division 1 teams, according to O’Leary, and could be a standout this season. O’Leary highlighted newcomer Connor DeSantis, who is a 6-foot-2, 330 DT as someone to watch. “He came to us this year from another school and we feel like he will make a big impact, right away,” O’Leary said. “Every game in the ISL is a tough game,” O’Leary stressed. “I do not care if you play a team that has no wins yet o their schedule, they will still give you some trouble. Lawrence Academy is the pick by some to win the league this year. They certainly have great talent. LA’s Chris Garrison (Tight End) is one of the best athletes in this league. I think he may have scored a touchdown every possible way last year.”
St. John’s Prep senior running Johnny Thomas is a little upset about the way last year ended.

Sure, the Eagles ran over Brockton to win the Eastern Mass. Division 1 Super Bowl, but the Maryland commit wanted more.

“I really wish we could’ve played Everett,” he said reflecting on last year’s team.

Well, Thomas and the Eagles might get that wish this season, as both No. 1 Prep and the No. 2 Crimson Tide will compete in Division 1 North this year, a result of the MIAA’s new playoff alignment.

But Thomas stopped himself before going too far, looking forward to a potential playoff showdown with Everett. He acknowledged the momentous expectations that are placed on the top team in ESPN Boston’s preseason Top 25 poll, but also saw a trap.

“We need to avoid all the ESPN headlines, that we’re ranked No. 1 and all of that.”

He trailed off, “I appreciate that, we really do, but that doesn’t mean a thing. Most of the time, that can go to your head. So you just have to have the right mindset to deal with that.”

Of course, there are weighty expectations on Thomas, himself, as well.

An ESPN Boston All-State first teamer as a junior last year, the Salem resident ran for 1,794 yards on 220 carries with 15 touchdowns. But he also did so sharing part of the load with 2012 Mr. Football Alex Moore, who added 857 yards and 14 touchdowns during his senior season.

This year, Thomas will be the Eagles’ feature back, and – without Moore beside him — he’s solely in the spotlight.

“I think that with Alex leaving the program, teams are going to be keying on me,” Thomas said. “And you know that can actually be good for the team because we have some guys who are under the radar and who are going to make big plays.”

That could come in the passing game. While Prep head coach Jim O’Leary traditionally has featured a streamlined playbook that is comprised of running plays, almost exclusively, the Eagles have the wherewithal to air it out. Behind senior quarterback Mike Geaslen, junior Jake Burt and Owen Rockett provide intriguing options in the passing game.

But make no mistake, the Eagles will maintain the same identity.

“I’m not saying we’re going to be balanced, run versus the pass,” Thomas said, “but I think teams need to pay attention to us throwing on them.”

That means a healthy dose of Thomas running out of the backfield. With additional reps, a 2,000-yard season seems well in grasp for Thomas.

To prepare for that, Thomas and his Eagles teammates have laid the preseason groundwork for the grueling challenge ahead: the Division 1 title defense.

“Everything that we do in the offseason, it makes you a well-rounded player,” Thomas said. “It’s not work specifically in one area, it’s everything. We do speed training, yoga to strengthen the whole body. Everything we do at the Prep, it’s going to help you at the next level.”

Coach: Jim O’Leary (30th season, 200-106-2)
2012: 11-1, won Eastern Mass. Division 1 Super Bowl
Key Returnees: Johnny Thomas, Sr. RB; Jake Burt, Jr. TE/DB; Owen Rockett, Jr. Ath./DB; Michael Fawahinmi, Sr. RB/DB; Mike Geaslen, Sr. QB; Brendan Kahari, Jr. RB/LB; Kent Blaeser, Sr. G/DT; Sean Hoey, Sr. OT/DT.
Strengths: Skill players, defensive secondary.
Weaknesses: Depth at linebacker, offensive line.

Outlook: Prep’s defense was dealt a blow in early going when preseason All-State linebacker Sean Smerczynski withdrew from the school. That will challenge the second tier of the Eagles defense, which already lost several players to graduation of the 2012 squad. Prep’s offensive line, which returns all but one starter from last year (center Sean Lovett is the lone new face). The O-line should become a strength by season end, with preseason All-Stater Kent Blaeser bolstering the group.

Prep has a serious challenge out of the gate, opening with Div. 1 South power Bridgewater-Raynham on Saturday. “They like to pound the ball down the middle,” Thomas said of the Trojans.”They like to play tough-guy football. They’re not like Oregon, passing the ball all over the place. They want to run it down your threat.”

Football Notes: High praise for breakout candidates

August, 26, 2013
A few notes and observations from the first week of MIAA preseason football:

Lofty, Loyte-y Comparisons: It's probably the worst-kept secret at St. John's Prep that junior tight end Jake Burt had one of the best summers in the program. All summer long, the 6-foot-4, 224-pound Lynnfield native dazzled in passing leagues and 7-on-7 tournaments, out-muscling defenders on 50/50 balls and boxing out others on goal line plays.

All summer long, coaches at the Prep program have raved about his development; and melded with his prowess on the school's basketball and volleyball teams, many are projecting highly for Burt, who is entering his first season as full-time starter after serving in part-time duty with the varsity last fall.

But perhaps no praise yet has been as high as the name head coach Jim O'Leary dropped on Tuesday morning, following a press conference to introduce the school's new baseball coach. Making a comparison to former great Jon Loyte -- an All-American who starred at Vanderbilt and Boston College, and had a brief cup of coffee with the New York Giants in 2010 -- O'Leary was blunt.

"I love Jon Loyte, but he [Burt] is more athletic," O'Leary said. "He's not as physically imposing as Jon was. Now, he weighed in last night [Monday, Aug. 19] at 6-4-1/2, 224 pounds, [and] he ran a 4.8 40. I thought that was impressive last night."

Burt dabbled last year in an H-back role, lining up both in the backfield and on the perimeter, and also took some snaps at quarterback in "Wildcat" packages. Expect him to take a similar role this fall, as the Eagles try to live up to their preseason billing as the state's No. 1 team and capture a second straight Division 1 title in the first year of a true MIAA State Championship.

It could be a similar situation to what St. John's of Shrewsbury had in 2010 with Richard Rodgers, the monster tight end/defensive end currently entering his third season at Cal. The 6-foot-4 Rodgers lined up both in the slot and split out wide, creating a matchup problem compounded with the added running threat of quarterback Dan Light, a converted tight end who is now manning a similar spot at Fordham.

"It's not our first rodeo here, we're probably going to use the talents that our people have," O'Leary said. "I think that you saw that situation last year, running some wildcat stuff. The trouble is, he sets the edge so well blocking, that it's going to be difficult to take him out of that tight end position. And his ability because he's 6-foot-4-1/2, to be split out as a wideout, similar to what St. John's Shrewsbury did with the kid that went to Cal, Rodgers, they used to split him out.

"It's a good matchup for us out there. Honestly, as weird as this sounds, we're probably gonna have to throw the ball more than we did last year. We need to take people out of the box."

High remarks from a former coach: One week of preseason in the books, and senior transfer Joe D'Onofrio is already making his presence felt at Everett High, scoring twice in yesterday's scrimmage with Lynn English. That comes as no surprise to his former coach at Pope John XXIII, which has since co-oped its program with Chelsea due to lack of numbers.

"You can quote me, Joey’s a stud. He’s a stud, man," said Brian Vaughan, now the head coach at Boston English. "Not a lot of people know about him, people try telling me he's not gonna play at Everett, and I laugh. I'm shocked he was with me at Pope John -- he's a stud. Some of the things he's done for me the last two years is just ridiculous. He's a perfect fit for them."

After his freshman season at Everett, D'Onofrio transferred across town to Pope John, and made his impact felt immediately in Vaughan's patented spread attack. In D'Onofrio's sophomore season of 2011, he ranked second on the team in receiving behind ESPN Boston All-State selection Malcolm Brown, while also rushing for 1,106 yards on just 105 carries.

Last fall, D'Onofrio earned Catholic Central Small MVP honors after carrying 174 times for 1,356 yards and 16 scores. Offensively, blessed with high-4.5 speed, he got touches in every skill position, including quarterback; defensively, he was just as vicious, making downhill plays from both the safety and outside linebacker spots.

Among the most talented players he's worked with in his two-plus decades of coaching, Vaughan recalls back to his time as an assistant at his alma mater Lynn English, and to former defensive tackle Matt Curtis, an athletic savant who overcame dramatic hardships to captain Harvard's football team in 2008.

"[Joe] would always wow you on offense, but when he'd come upfield from an outside linebacker or safety spot, he comes up and he's laying the wood," Vaughan said. "I've been coaching high school sports for a long time, and he's up there with my favorite athletes. He’s up there with Matt Curtis from the early 2000's. Obvioulsy he was a defensive tackle, but his athletic ability was crazy. He was a defensive tackle that returned kicks for us."

So what should folks in Everett expect from D'Onofrio this fall?

"What they should expect is someone who will work hard and do whatever it takes to win," Vaughan said. "He's definitely a team player, whatever you ask him to do he's gonna do it 120 miles an hour. Personally, I expect nothing but a lot of good things over there. [Everett head coach] John DiBiaso does an excellent job with the talent that he has, and Joe is going to fit right in and continue to have the success he's had at the high school level."

Secret ingredient? The first touchdown of No. 21 Needham's preseason came from a name familiar to the hardwood.

John Madsen, the 6-foot-6 senior star forward for the Rockets' basketball squad, is back out for football for the first time since his freshman year. You could say he's made his impact felt already, scoring the first of two Rockets touchdowns in Saturday's scrimmage with Newton South, hauling in a pass from senior quarterback Ryan Charter.

Needham is one of those programs that typically draws unique crossover talent, led this year by Mike Panepinto, a 2,000-yard rusher last fall who is committed to UMass for lacrosse. Two years ago, lacrosse star Mark Riley was a stud on the gridiron, stretching the field vertically as a flex tight end to earn ESPN Boston All-State honors.

Basketball backgrounds typically translate well to the tight end position -- see Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, and Jimmy Graham at the NFL level. It's a work in progress, but you can't teach size, and so far Madsen has demonstrated a wide catching radius. He will likely stick at wide receiver, and won't play defense.

"He can catch, and he’s tall, and in terms of playing wide receiver those are two very good intangibles," Rockets head coach David Duffy said. "If we can get him up to speed on the offense...I'm hoping he improves every week, but he’s working hard at it. He's gonna be another weapon we can utilize, because everybody is going to be keying on Mikey [Panepinto]."

Hines' legacy preserved at St. John's Prep

January, 27, 2013

WILMINGTON, Mass. -- Prior to Saturday afternoon's game against BC High, the St. John's Prep hockey team listened to a pregame talk from Steve and Sue Hines.

The Hines' are the parents of Derek Hines, a former St. John's Prep student and hockey and lacrosse player, in whose honor the game was played. After graduating from the Prep, Derek Hines went on to West Point where he continued his hockey career and graduated in 2003.

He went on to complete Ranger and Airborne school while serving as a graduate assistant with Army's hockey program before joining up with the 173rd Airborne Division. Initially stationed in Italy, Hines was ultimately deployed to his unit in Afghanistan.

On Sept. 1, 2005, in Baylough, Afghanistan, his unit came under attack while conducting security operations. Hines was shot and killed at the age of 25.

[+] EnlargeDerek HInes
Bruce Lerch for ESPNBoston.comMembers of the St. John's Prep hockey team make a presentation to the family of former Eagles standout Derek Hines. Hines, who also starred at Army, was killed in action in Afghanistan in Sept. 2005.
After completing his first season as the head hockey coach at St. John's Prep, Kristian Hanson created the Derek Hines Memorial Game, which is now in its fifth year. Inspired by Hines' tale of bravery and courage, the Eagles are 4-1 in these games after Saturday's 3-2 victory over BC High.

"For us a hockey program, to give a little bit back to the family, to give something to the foundation, it's special for us, it's special for me as a coach," Hanson described. "It's something that we started five years ago and its grown into something pretty special. Each year we look forward to it and I thought today was a wonderful day overall for the foundation."

Sue and Steve Hines talked to the Eagles about Derek's life, the can-do attitude with which he took to everything, and what it meant to them to be part of the St. John's Prep family.

Steve Hines told the team an emotional story about something his son once told a friend of his named Eddie Hill, a Newburyport native who spent 13 years playing minor league hockey and was a second round pick of the Nashville Predators in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft.

"When Derek was in Afghanistan he had a chance to to talk to Eddie and he explained to Eddie about when he's in a helicopter, getting ready to jump out of a helicopter on a mission, he had the same feeling as in a locker room," Hines said after the game. "He got that same feeling in the helicopter he got in the locker room before a game and that's what I talked to them about. I said, 'You're part of something special and this feeling, not everyone gets to experience that.'"

The speech was so inspiring that Hanson didn't say a word to his team when Mr. Hines was finished speaking. He didn't need to.

"It's such a good cause and when Mr. Hines came in and talked to us, Coach Hanson didn't have to say anything afterward," said Eagles junior forward Jimmy Currier, who was the star of the game with two spectacular goals. "Everything he said ... he gave us his whole story ... his work ethic ... never give up and do it for your team and for everyone around you."

The team had a surprise in store for the Hines family as well. Through fundraising efforts, the players earned enough money to not only make a sizable donation to the 1st Lt. Derek Hines Soldiers Assistance Fund, but also to purchase new uniforms emblazoned with the Stars & Stripes in Derek's honor. The most important jersey of all was one bearing the number 23 and the Hines name, which hung behind the Eagles bench during the game.

Sue and Steve went on the ice before the game where St. John's Prep Athletic Director Jim O'Leary and the team presented them with a check for $4,000 for the foundation.

"He means a lot to our community," O'Leary said. "The parents, there's a scholarship they have at school plus they have this foundation. His brothers played here afterwards also so they are part of our community. As long as Kristian is here and I'm here, we're going to continue to do this kind of thing for them. They're outstanding people."

BC High coach John Flaherty and his team were looking forward to this game as well. Flaherty spoke earlier in the week about what an honor it is for BC High to chosen to participate in the Hines Game for the third straight year and opened his postgame remarks Saturday with thoughts of the Hines family.

"It was a great game for a great person," Flaherty said. "To honor Derek Hines like they're doing, it's quite a tribute and its well deserved. BC High is honored and privileged to be a part of this game. To see Mr. and Mrs. Hines out there accepting a check to help their foundation, it's great."

For the Hines family, the incredible outpouring of support they have received since Derek's tragic passing has been invaluable. While nothing will ever erase the grief of the tragedy they've endured, like so many other military families across the nation, the efforts of the St. John's Prep community have been as helpful as it gets in coping.

"All of this is about people helping people," Mrs. Hines explained. "People helping us deal with the grief that we've had. We can't change what happened but we can use the donations that they give us to make a difference in a soldier's life. It's amazing how the love from these people helps us to help other people."

Recruiting: Prep's Thomas running patiently

January, 18, 2013
St John's Prep running back Jonathan Thomas may be known for his above-average speed, but he appears to be in no hurry to select the school where he'll play college football.

Recruiting NotebookThomas, who will be among the top recruits from New England in the Class of 2014, raised his profile by running the 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds at the Under Armour Combine earlier this month. His time was the second fastest overall at the event, and the top time among juniors.

“Right now it's early in the process for me,” Thomas said. “I don't have a No. 1 school. I'll be taking a lot of [unofficial] visits to schools before next season.”

Thomas said Massachusetts is the only school that has extended a scholarship offer, but he expects both Boston College and Virginia to offer soon. Brown and Dartmouth have also shown strong interest.

“My grades are there, but I don't think I'll be going to the Ivy League,” Thomas said. “I want to play at the [FBS] level, and I know I can.”

Thomas, a Peabody resident, said Connecticut and Penn State are two other schools that have shown serious interest. He attended camps at BC and Virginia last summer, and said he's being recruited exclusively as a running back.

“I would like to go down South and play, but right now [BC] is an option,” Thomas said. “Coach Addazio [BC head coach Steve Addazio] is good friends with Coach O'Leary [St. John's Prep coach Jim O'Leary] and he knows what he's doing. He's no stranger to big-time football programs. They're definitely on my list.”

Thomas, a 5-10 1/2, 200-pound junior, helped St. John's Prep win the Division I Super Bowl last season. St. John's Prep defeated Brockton, 48-28, in the championship game.

Thomas finished the season with 1,794 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns on 220 carries. He also caught nine passes for 153 yards and three touchdowns.

“I just want a good academic school with good Division I football,” Thomas said. “Whoever has interest in me, I have interest in playing for them.”

Bedford (N.H.) High School's James Caparell may have been the best quarterback in New Hampshire last season, but he's still waiting for his first scholarship offer.

Caparell has received interest from mix of FCS and Division II schools, but said at this point his future is unclear. A postgraduate year at Worcester Academy is also a possibility.

Rhode Island, Marist and Albany are among the FCS schools that have shown interest. He's also been contacted by several Division 2 schools in the Northeast-10 Conference, including Merrimack, New Haven, St. Anselm and Stonehill.

“Merrimack and Stonehill have already said they were going to give me money, it's just a matter of how much,” Caparell said. “I'm just looking for a good program at the highest level I can compete at.”

New Hampshire has also shown interest in Caparell, but not as a quarterback. The Wildcats already have several young QBs on their roster.

“They're really the only school looking at me as an athlete,” Caparell said. “I would still get some reps at quarterback, but they see me as a potential wide receiver or defensive back, which I've played.

“I'd like to play quarterback [in college], but it'll really come down to money and the school. Picking the right school is important just in case something happened and I couldn't play football.”

Caparell completed 153 of 233 passes for 2,265 yards and 25 touchdowns last season. He also rushed for 536 yards and 11 touchdowns on 87 carries. He completed 579 passes for 5,389 yards during his four-year varsity career.

Sanford (Maine) High School running back Alex Shain has accepted a full scholarship from Division 2 Assumption last week. Shain rushed for 1,413 yards and scored 28 touchdowns last season, when he also made 43 solo tackles. He is one of three finalists for the Fitzpatrick Trophy, which is awarded annually to Maine's top senior football player. … Running back/defensive back Brendan Flaherty, a key piece on the Beverly High School team that won last year's Division 2A championship, committed to Holy Cross earlier this week. Flaherty rushed for 1,496 yards and 18 touchdowns on 160 carries last season. He also caught 10 passes for 236 yards and four touchdowns. … BC High fullback/linebacker Luke Catarius couldn't pass up an opportunity to play in the Ivy League. Catarius committed to Bryant in December, but told ESPN Boston earlier this week that he intends to attend Princeton. Catarius suffered a broken bone in his right ankle during BC High's first scrimmage last season, and missed first seven regular-season games. He learned that he had been accepted to Princeton last weekend. …. Three-star wide receiver David Coggins (Sacred Heart/Waterbury, Conn.) said he plans to attend prep school next season, but has yet to select a school. Coggins committed to Boston College last year, but parted ways with BC before the start of his senior season.

Recruiting information regarding high school or prep school players in New England can be sent to Roger Brown at

Recap: St. John's Prep 21, Andover 0

November, 28, 2012
LOWELL – His football team was held to 66 yards of total offense and failed to score in the first half of Tuesday night's Eastern Massachusetts Division I semifinal against Andover, so St. John's Prep coach Jim O'Leary exited the locker room at halftime with a simple plan: Give the ball to Jonathan Thomas.

Thomas, a junior running back, ran for three second-half touchdowns to propel St. John's Prep to a 21-0 victory at Cawley Stadium.

Thomas finished the game with 208 yards rushing on 28 carries.

“They take chances [on defense],” O'Leary said. “So at halftime the coaches made some adjustments in our blocking scheme. We came out and knew what we were going to do. We were going to pound it at them.

“He can play. There's a reason he's a Division I scholarship player, and it showed tonight. We're gonna put the ball in the hands of people who can make plays.”

Thomas scored on runs of 1, 19 and 47 yards. His 1-yard touchdown run opened the scoring with 3:31 left in the third quarter. His two other touchdowns came in the fourth.

Thomas gained 184 of his 208 yards after halftime.

“We're a second-half team, and we knew what we had to do,” Thomas said. “We came out and executed.”

The game's turning point seemed to come late in the third quarter, after a 22-yard completion from Andover quarterback C.J. Scarpa to Will Heikkinen brought the ball to the St. John's Prep 12-yard line. Before Heikkinen was brought to the turf, however, Alex Moore forced a fumble and scooped up the loose ball.

The Eagles then drove 90 yards in nine plays and took a 14-0 lead when Thomas scored from 19 yards away and Stephen Camaro added the second of his three point-after kicks. Thomas accounted for all 90 yards in the drive. He gained 71 yards on the ground, and caught a 19-yard pass.

It was victory No. 200 for O'Leary. It also earned St. John's Prep (10-1) a berth in Saturday's Division I Super Bowl. St. John's Prep will face Brockton (9-3) at Bentley University at either 2 p.m. or 6 p.m.

Brockton advanced by beating Weymouth, 33-7, in Tuesday's other semifinal. St. John's Prep defeated Brockton 27-12 during the regular season.

“Coach O [O'Leary] is a great coach,” Thomas said. “I'm happy for him.

“We still have a lot of work to do. We have one more game, and I'm ready for it.

Andover moved the ball inside the St. John's Prep 15-yard line four times in the loss. Two of those drives ended with a missed field goal.

“I take responsibility,” Andover coach E.J. Perry said. “We should have been able to punch it in, and that's my fault.”

It was the third time St. John's Prep has shut out an opponent this season. Andover scored at least 40 points in six of its 11 regular-season games and entered the contest averaging 40.8 points per game

“Against this team here you can't let them have the home run,” O'Leary said. “You just can't give up the big play. When they get down close, our athletes are very, very good. From the 30 in, we started running man to man because we can run with them there. Then we can put extra people in the box and bring pressure.”

Thomas has played sparingly on defense this season, but was used there Tuesday night. He made a big hit on Scarpa on a fourth-and-five play in the fourth quarter. Scarpa was held to a 1-yard and Andover turned the ball over on downs. Two plays later Thomas powered his way through the line for his 47-yard TD run.

“We let up a lot of yards, but when other teams get into the red zone we don't let them score,” St. John's Prep defensive back Lucas Bavaro said. “We knew we had to step it up because they were knocking on the door a couple times in the first half.”

Scarpa completed 16 of 28 passes for 162 yards. He was intercepted twice. Scarpa entered the contest with 32 touchdown passes and five interceptions this season. … Andover running back Jack Sylvester gained 146 yards on 15 carries. … St. John's Prep has won eight games in a row since dropping a 19-7 decision to Everett. … The Eagles will be making their first Super Bowl appearance since 2010.

St. John's Prep 0 0 7 14 – 21
Andover 0 0 0 0 –0

Third Quarter
SJP—Thomas 1 run (Stephen Camaro kick), 3:31.

Fourth Quarter
SJP—Thomas 19 run (Camaro kick), 7:12.
SJP—Thomas 47 run (Camaro kick), 4:48.

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.”