- Scott Barboza, ESPN Staff Writer
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DANVERS, Mass. -- On a splendid late summer day in the late afternoon, the St. John's Prep coaching staff is holding an open audition for which place kicker will handle kickoff duties. The No. 12 Eagles have four lively legs in camp, including seniors David Pope and Connor Shaw who shared responsibilities last year.
One by one the kickers lofted the ball into the air, drawing "oohs" and "aahs" from the coaching staff. The hangtime of each kick was shouted out by assistant Jameson Pelkey.
"Look at us, all standing out here, a half hour after practice watching kids kick off," head coach Jim O'Leary said with a half smile. "What do we do with our time?"
The place kicking duties will be just one of a few pressing questions following the defending Catholic Conference champions through the preseason. The most glaring of those questions will be who's on the offensive line? The five road-graders who led the way for Tyler Coppola's Conference MVP performance and 2,000-yard season in 2010 have all graduated and O'Leary's left with a group of 10 or so unproven junior and sophomore linemen.
"We're very green there," O'Leary said of the returning linemen.
It's a theme throughout Prep's ranks; the Eagles return just 15 senior gridders out of the 100-plus players who've been in Prep camp in August.
Still, the returning group has placed big goals in front of the team, which walked off the Gillette Stadium field dejected after a rough bout with Everett in the Division 1 Super Bowl.
"We all know that wasn't our best game," senior captain and quarterback Tommy Gaudet said.
"I think our goal is to get to the Super Bowl and do what we weren't able to do last season," co-captain Owen Lynch added.
Gaudet, for one, would like to forget the painful memories of watching the Crimson Tide roll all over the Eagles, 31-7. Following a shoulder injury sustained during the Prep's win over Catholic Memorial in Danvers, Gaudet played the remainder of the season while wearing a shoulder brace. He could barely throw the ball by the time the Eagles faced off against Xaverian for the conference title on Thanksgiving Day and into December.
Gaudet had surgery to repair the damage to his shoulder in the offseason and he's back to feeling 100 percent.
"The spot that I'm in, as the starting quarterback for St. John's Prep, I'd never give that up," Gaudet said of playing through the pain in last year's postseason, "not just because of some injury."
That attitude is what O'Leary hopes will carry his team against the stiff competition of the Catholic Conference. With BC High and Catholic Memorial returning teams laden with Division 1 recruits and the Hawks constantly circling, the road will not be easy.
"We've had a pretty intense camp and Coach O'Leary has kept telling us that nothing's going to be easy," Lynch said, "and nothing's going to be given to us this year."
ST. JOHN’S PREP AT A GLANCE
2010 record: 8-5 (Lost Division 1 Super Bowl to Everett)
Coach: Jim O’Leary (28th year, 186-89-2)
Players to watch: Lucas Bavaro, Jr. WR/S, 5-11, 165; Tommy Gaudet, Sr., QB, 5-11, 190 lbs.; Owen Lynch, Sr. TE/DL, 5-11, 200; Alex Moore, Jr. RB/DB, 5-11, 175; Gerry Kahari, Jr. RB/DB, 5-7, 140; Johnathan Thomas, Soph. RB/DB, 5-7, 140;
Strengths: Defensive experience, kicking game.
Weakness: Lack of experience on offensive line.
Outlook: Many will ask how the Eagles can ever hope to replace Tyler Coppola, but the concern over the backfield pales in comparison to the lack of experience on the offensive line. "We have to replace 2,000 yards with Tyler, but we're looking to do that with two or three people instead of one," O'Leary said. Part of the backfield solution will be Alex Moore, who stood out in Prep's playoff victory over New Bedford last year with both an offensive (rushing) and defensive (interception return) touchdown. Don't expect O'Leary to deviate from his playbook of counter-trap sweep and options, but look for the newly healed Gaudet to air things out a bit more in play action. For as inexperienced as most of the offensive unit will be, a majority of the Prep defense either started or saw significant action last season. And it all starts with safety/linebacker/rover/human missile Lucas Bavaro. The kid can flat out hit and bring a Rodney Harrison-like blend of intelligence and physicality to his game. Look for Lynch to pick up the pass rush slack left by graduated defensive end Ryan Delisle.
1760dCorey J. Allen