Boston High School: Michael Calascibetta



DANVERS, Mass. – From an outsider’s perspective, things can’t be much better than they’ve been at the start for No. 8 St. John’s Prep.

The Eagles have now collected three straight wins against Top 10-ranked opponents to start the season, following Saturday’s 27-12 win over defending Division 1 state champion No. 2 Central Catholic.

But Eagles first-year head coach Brian St. Pierre sees it a little differently.

“We’ve majored in making it difficult,” the Prep alum said after his team’s home opener.

After a relatively lackluster first half, the second half provided crescendos and dips in momentum in just about each play.

The Eagles (3-0) defense was the fulcrum for the victory, forcing five Central turnovers in the second half, including three interceptions.

“We were giving up yards early, but they just kept playing and they kept getting the ball for us,” St. Pierre said of his defense.

After Prep tallied the first score of the game on a 74-yard touchdown run by Cody Harwood (14 carries, 149 yards), the Raiders (2-1) responded before the first half was out with a resounding 10-play, 63-yard drive. Michael Milano hit Steven Jackson on an inside slant for a 6-yard touchdown with 13 seconds to play in the half.

Central parlayed the offensive momentum into their opening possession of the second half. Milano (14 of 26, 158 yards; 12 carries, 83 yards) willed the Raiders downfield with several well-executed inside draw plays, including a 32-yard touchdown run with 7:54 remaining in the third. A botched snap on the ensuing two-point attempt kept the Raiders’ lead at 12-7.

After going three-and-out on its ensuing possession, Prep leaned on its defense to get the ball back and, perhaps, reignite the offense.

Sophomore corner Hayden Rockett undercut a route for the first of four Eagles’ picks in the second half with 4:48 to play in the third. Two plays later, Prep regained the lead on Oliver Eberth’s 11-yard out to tight end Jake Burt. Another failed two-point conversion kept the Eagles’ lead at a single point.

Eagles senior safety Art Churchwell provided the next spark, pocketing his first of two takeaways in the game. Churchwell’s interception set up another Prep touchdown drive, coming on another Eberth touchdown pass to Owen Rockett – this time from 57 yards out – for a 20-12 lead at 10:47 of the fourth quarter.

Churchwell was at it again on the next Central possession, recovering a fumble.

While the Eagles were unable to cash on their third straight takeaway, they’d soon have the ball back again with 6:35 remaining in the game on a John Churchwell interception. Prep then salted away any Central comeback bid with a plodding 10-play drive (with a punt and another fumble recovery mixed in the middle), capped with Harwood’s second touchdown run of the day from 22 yards out.

“I think that was one of the most frustrating games I’ve ever coached in because the turnovers just killed us,” Central head coach Chuck Adamopoulos said.

Fearsome twosome: When Eberth transferred to St. John’s Prep, he inherited a pretty good surrounding cast. The Eagles offensive line has been steady throughout the early season in both pass protection and in run support. Harwood has continued producing.

And, of course, there are his top targets: wide receiver Owen Rockett and tight end Jake Burt.

“It’s amazing, defenses are playing us to pass. They’re playing our guys Owen [Rockett] and Jake Burt right now,” St. Pierre said. “They’re putting guys on them, they’re accounting for them, so we’re picking our spots.”

The combination has pushed opposing defenses to pick their poison. In the early going, both Bridgewater-Raynham and Brockton chose to key on Burt – the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Boston College commit. That’s translated to fewer pass targets for Burt – who’s receiving bracketed coverage for the most part – but great opportunity for Rockett to work in space, both underneath and on intermediate and long routes along the boundary.

“Teams key on [Burt], so that opens things up for other players – Rockett, Michael Calascibetta and James DiBenedetto,” Eberth said. “[On the touchdown] and on that fourth down, he’s old reliable. He can go up and get the ball, he can go down and get the ball. He can do anything.”

On Saturday, Prep fans saw perhaps the most balanced offensive attack the Eagles have shown to date. Eberth was more than efficient, completing 8 of 14 for 114 yards. Rockett and Burt had balls delegated to them with balance, with the wideout and tight end hauling in four catches for 84 yards and three catches for 29 yards, respectively.

“The last few weeks I think they’ve game-planned for me a little more, drawing a little extra attention to me,” Burt said. “And then Cody Harwood has stepped up and made plays.”

But what Burt adds to Prep's offense is more than just a big target.

"What goes maybe not seen [but] is obvious is what he does for us in the run game," St. Pierre said. "There’s not a better tight end blocking in the run game in Massachusetts, hands down. He does a tremendous job for us. He is just a great player. He’s very unselfish, does what the team asks him to do. People are keying him – and they should, he’s a very good player."

Harwood once again eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark as well, creating further balance in St. Pierre’s offense.

It’s a question that opposing defensive coordinators will have to consider as the Eagles go screaming toward a playoff berth.

It’s also something that Central, at least on Saturday, couldn’t overcome.

“What’s hard this year is because of the inexperience in our secondary with two new starters it makes it hard for us to just take one guy and put him on someone,” Adamopoulos said. “Last year, we could do something like that, but I think that’s harder this year.”

Northeast 7v7: Prep claims North title

July, 19, 2014
7/19/14
7:56
PM ET
EXETER, N.H. -- James DiBenedetto had a hard time getting on the field when the St. John’s Prep football team had the ball last season. It’s unlikely the same will be true this fall.

DiBenedetto, a 6-foot-4 wide receiver, caught a touchdown pass and another pass for a two-point conversion to help St. John’s Prep defeat Tewksbury 16-8 to win the Under Armour 7-on-7 tournament’s North Regional on Saturday.

“We still have a strong running team here, but coach (Brian) St. Pierre likes to throw the ball,” DiBenedetto said. “As you can see, we’re a pretty strong with passing. It’s good to win this. This really shows how much chemistry the team has.”

DiBenedetto, who will be a senior this season, is a Topsfield resident who played primarily safety and outside linebacker last season.

“It was hard to find an offensive position for him last year,” said Mike O’Leary (son of former St. John’s Prep coach Jim O’Leary), who coached the Eagles in the 7-on-7 event. “There was a senior at the X (wide receiver) last year, so he was all over the map (on defense). This year he’s moving to the offensive side of the ball.”

DiBenedetto was part of a deep group of receivers that seemed to separate St. John’s Prep from most of the competition Saturday. That group included 6-foot-4 tight end Jake Burt, wide receiver Michael Calascibetta and wide receiver Owen Rockett. Burt also caught a TD pass against Tewksbury. Rockett capped the scoring with a two-point-conversion catch.

Calascibetta is known as “Gloves” because he once was the only player to wear gloves to a quarterback/receiver camp. Burt, a Lynnfield resident, committed to Boston College in April. He said Virginia and Harvard were also in the picture when he chose BC.

“I wanted to play a higher level of football than the Ivy League, so BC was everything I wanted in a school,” Burt said. “It’s always good to start off the season with a win, no matter what kind of football it is. It’s still football.”

St. John’s Prep, which used both A.J. Carrigan and Oliver Eberth at quarterback, also won the North Regional last year, when the Eagles went on to win the tournament championship. Carrigan was with St. John’s Prep last season. Eberth is a transfer from Andover.

St. John’s Prep went 3-1 in pool play, and then won single-elimination games against Marshwood (South Berwick, Maine), Danvers and York, Maine, to reach the championship game. The tournament featured 40 teams.

“Our quarterback play was good,” O’Leary said. “They did just what we asked them to do. Between James and Jake, those are two very tall, tall kids. Very tough to cover for small corners out there.”

Championship bound: By reaching the North Regional’s championship game, St. John’s Prep and Tewksbury each advanced to the New England championship, which will be held July 30 at Bishop Fenwick High School (4 p.m.).

The New England championship will feature 10 teams: the finalists from each of the three regionals, plus four wildcard teams. The South Regional will be held today at Oliver Ames High School in North Easton, and the East Regional will be July 26 at Bishop Fenwick.

Jaguars make strong statement: Windham (N.H.) handed St. John’s Prep its only loss. The Jaguars were led by 6-foot-2, 215-pound quarterback Brendan McInnis, who will be one of the top QBs in New Hampshire next season.

Dartmouth, Brown, Merrimack College, Holy Cross and the University of New Hampshire are among the schools that have shown interest in McInnis.

“Dartmouth has emerged as the frontrunner,” McInnis said. “Right now I’m focused on getting to UNH (the site of New Hampshire’s state championship games), then I’ll try to make a decision.”

Windham won its first five games before it lost to Tewksbury in the quarterfinals.

New digs, same success: Former Longmeadow coach Alex Rotsko led Marshwood to a 4-0 record in pool play, but the Hawks were eliminated by St. John’s Prep in the Round of 16.

Longmeadow had a 184-38 record in Rotsko’s 19 seasons as head coach. He guided Longmeadow to 15 consecutive Super Bowl appearances.

“You get a lot of work on both sides of the ball,” Rotsko said when he was asked about the value on 7-on-7 events. “This is a great opportunity to work on your pass game, work on your defense and also to look at personnel. The big thing is you don’t waste a week or two weeks in preseason having a kid playing in some position he’s not going to be able to play. It saves you a ton of time.”

Marshwood lost to Kennebunk in last year’s Western Maine Class B championship game, and is expected to be one of the top teams in Class B this year.

“We hope to be in the thick of it again,” Rotsko said.

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

September, 21, 2013
9/21/13
2:24
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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.”

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