Boston High School: Keith Croft

Hendricken again setting pace in R.I.

October, 9, 2013
10/09/13
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That Hendricken High again is among the top football teams in the state, while playing in the top division (Division I), isn’t a major surprise.

Rhode IslandThe Hawks have a long history of reloading instead of rebuilding – which is exemplified by the fact they’ve won three consecutive Division I Super Bowls and have a chance to become the first team in state history (since the Interscholastic League implemented Super Bowls in the early 1970s) to win four consecutive bowl championships.

But the fact Hendricken is 4-0 overall and tied with Barrington for first place with a 3-0 record is a surprise considering the Hawks have a veritable rookie under center – Pat Gill.

Last season as a junior, Gill was under center for exactly zero snaps as the Hawks upset La Salle in the Division I bowl with then-senior Ryan Brannigan leading the way.

But at the end of fall practice and before the regular season commenced, head coach Keith Croft decided that Gill would be his best option at least to qualify for the playoffs if not win that iconic fourth consecutive Super Bowl.

“Pat has been one of the greatest success stories in the history of Hendricken football,” said Croft. “Really, he’s an underdog (for what it’s worth, Gill checks in at 5-feet-8 and 160 pounds) and is the type of kid you root for.”

Gill gave an indication of things to come in Hendricken’s non-league, season opener against a Division II team, St. Raphael, whom the Hawks dispatched by the score of 34-6.

Gill completed a modest 3-of-4 passes for 63 yards and two touchdowns –one a 25-yard strike to Lee Moses and the other a 20-yarder to Mike Scarcella.

“At the beginning, I came into a new role after our Super Bowl championship,” said Gill. “Fortunately, we had a lot of guys back especially in the offensive line. But in the beginning, I really was a little bit shaky.

“Once we got going it was amazing.”

At the least, Gill was semi-amazing during a 36-14 victory over South Kingstown in Hendricken’s division opener.

He passed for 94 yards, including a 33-yarder to superb running back Remington Blue midway through the second quarter for a 7-0 lead. Gill also threw another touchdown pass and dashed 36 yards for a score early in the fourth quarter to break the game open.

“I’m more comfortable knowing how to read the routes better,” said Gill. “I also feel I’m more explosive when I’m running. But I have to get better.”

Gill gave another indication that he was getting “better” during a 38-7 romp over East Providence.

The game was scoreless entering the second period when Gill heaved a 65-yard touchdown pass to Moses.

Altogether, Gill tossed a trio of TD passes – each to a different receiver.

With Gill and Blue leading the way, Hendricken turned a 40-0 Division I victory over Tolman into little more than a half-field scrimmage.

After the dust had settled, the Hawks led the division in both points scored (114) and fewest points allowed (21).

“Since I’m a senior, I know I have more experience and am better able to help the younger guys on the team,” said Gill. “We have a lot of our good skill guys back and we know what we can do.

“We know no other team ever has won four Super Bowl titles in a row. We’re very hungry to win that fourth title.”

ROLLING THE DICE: If La Salle Academy beats out Hendricken for the regular-season Division I title, and perhaps wins the Super Bowl, the Rams can look back on a 22-21 victory over Cranston West on Oct. 4, as the turning point in their season.

The Falcons led 21-14 entering the last 1:45 when La Salle when Jace Pena lofted a short touchdown pass to Keon Wilson with 25 ticks of the clock remaining.

The score also presented head coach Geoff Marcone with a conundrum: Go for the extra point (Pete DeSimore already had kicked two PATs), a tie and overtime, or opt for a two-point conversion which would produce a victory.

Marcone let the Rams decide and they opted for the deuce. Keon Wilson passed to DeSimone in the end zone for the game-winning points.

RETURNING TO THE HARD WOOD: Jane Burgess Schwechheimer has been appointed the new girls’ basketball coach at Lincoln School.

Burgess, who’s married to Pawtucket Red Sox General Manager Lou Schweccheimer, had a stellar career at Warwick Veterans High which enabled her to obtain inclusion in both the Hurricanes’ and the Rhode Island Interscholastic League Halls of Fame.

She later went on to star for St. John’s.

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.

Rhode Island football preview

September, 13, 2013
9/13/13
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Invariably any pre-season football preview at least starts – but doesn’t necessarily end – with perennial Division I power Hendricken.

Rhode IslandCoach Keith Croft’s Hawks are coming off their third consecutive Division I Super Bowl championship (and ninth in school history) but enter the 2013 season with a dearth of seniors.

Only 13 are listed on the roster which means Croft has his work cut out for him looking to replace First Team All-State selections like tight end/defensive lineman Mario McClain, two-way lineman Nick DeCiantis, linebacker Jarrid Witherspoon and linebacker Marco Delvecchio.

Fortunately, for the Hawks, they could be solid on offense since they feature easily one of the state’s top running backs in junior Remington Blue, plus junior quarterback Patrick Gill. Gill seemingly came out of nowhere last season to earn the No. 1 signal-caller position and in the end was a major factor in the Super Bowl as Hendricken upset heavily-favored La Salle.

The key for Gill will be to remain healthy since the only other experienced quarterback on the Hendricken roster, John Toppa, opted not to play football this season.

Without question La Salle coach Geoff Marcone faces a major challenge in his attempt to replace two of the most productive offensive players in school history – First Team All-State running back Josh Morris (the 2011 Rhode Island Gatorade Player of the Year) and First Team All-State quarterback Anthony Francis (the 2012 Rhode Island Gatorade Player of the Year).

Marcone does have 18 seniors on his roster and will choose his starting quarterback from a group that includes sophomores Jace Pena and John Farley.

Keon Wilson again will be the primary target for whoever lines up under center while the defense will be led by linebacker Brendan Lippe.

The two Cranston teams, Cranston East and Cranston West, also could figure in the playoff picture.

East returns First Team All-State running back/defensive back Marquem Monroe who last season scored a total of 14 touchdowns and also intercepted four passes.

First Team All-Stater Marven Beauvais complements Monroe on offense while Alex Corvese is an experienced quarterback.

Cranston West will be a force if the Falcons received production that’s expected from running back Isaiah Alvarez and linebacker Jack Hammond.

***

Division II invariably is the most wide-open division in the state – one reason being the format.

Eight teams are in II-A, eight in II-B and top four in each division qualify for the playoffs.

Cumberland qualified for the Super Bowl for the first time since 2005 and waxed Woonsocket, 49-0, for all the marbles led by a pair of graduated All-State picks – wide receive Mitch Baxter and tight end Trent Vasey.

But the Clippers still have talent, especially in the appropriately-named running back Joe Fine plus linebacker Chris Hayes who led Cumberland in tackles last season.

The Villa Novans, who’ve undergone a resurrection in recent years, will be out to avenge that lop-sided loss to Cumberland in the Super Bowl.

Leading the way will be speedster Will Andino who can run and catch the ball plus junior lineman Shawn Ingram, a potential First Team All-State selection.

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New England Roundup: Rhode Island

December, 16, 2011
12/16/11
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And you wonder why coaches become prematurely gray and develop ulcers?

Rhode IslandJust ask Hendricken coach Keith Croft and Chariho coach Mike Kelly.

Each coach reached for something to soothe their stomachs after his team won its respective Super Bowl.

Hendricken retained its Division I title by upsetting previously-undefeated La Salle, 17-14, while Chariho won the Division II title – the first state football championship in school history – by edging Central, 26-25.

How each team won was the stuff of legend.

La Salle led 14-10 with 55 seconds left in regulation when Laionel Cintron caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Brannigan which helped avenge a 39-14 pasting the Hawks suffered at the hands of the Rams in September.

The championship was the eighth in school history for the Hawks. And, ironically, the reception only was Cintron’s 13th of the season for the run-oriented Hawks.

Chariho trailed 25-20 with four minutes left on the clock thanks to a second touchdown run by Central’s Mike Washington. But on the ensuing kickoff, Colton place caught the ball on his two and sprinted 98 yards for arguably the biggest touchdown in Chariho history – one that produced the 26-25 victory.

The other two Super Bowls had less dramatic finishes but were just as important to the respective victors.

Rogers, which at one time dominated Division I, beat Middletown 27-7 for the Division III title while Mount Pleasant captured its second consecutive Division IV Super Bowl title by outlasting Central Falls, 22-13.

Senior Reeyon Watts helped the Vikings avenge a loss in the 2010 Super Bowl to the Islanders by rushing for 170 yards and one touchdown on 28 carries.

The title was the first as a coach for Rogers’ alumnus Frank Newsome who played on three Division I Super Bowl teams from 1988-90.

Emmanuel Marsh caught a 26-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Dunlap and scored on a four-yard run to pace the Kilties.

In addition, Marsh played a solid game at safety – a position he had not played before the Super Bowl because coach Paul Rao felt he would best fit in a Cover-3 defense.

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New England Roundup: Rhode Island

August, 31, 2011
8/31/11
2:00
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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.

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