Boston High School: Tucker Mathers

Prep's Moore: 'My time here was a grind'

February, 6, 2013
DANVERS, Mass. -– St. John’s Prep’s National Letter of Intent ceremony this afternoon was a time for special celebration, complete with rounds of photo-op's. But for the Eagles' emotional leader, Alex Moore, it was also bittersweet.

Moore gathered with fellow seniors Lucas Bavaro (Dartmouth), Conor Powers (Hamilton), Tucker Mathers (Tufts), Anthony Bongiorno (Amherst), FJ Murphy (Endicott) and James Fagan (Bates) in a Xavier Hall boardroom for pictures.

For the pictures, each player had one last opportunity to put on their Prep jersey. Afterwards, Moore couldn’t help but hide his feelings.

“Taking off that jersey in there just now was kind of sad, that will be the last time I take off that blue jersey,” he said. “Even just the smell of them, and all the memories that go along with them. For the duration of my time here it was a grind, and it’s another big step for me by going to college -— I have to be prepared for that."

Moore, the Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year and ESPN Boston Mr. Football Award winner, led Prep to an 11-1 record and an Eastern Mass. Division 1 Super Bowl championship. He is one of the most decorated athletes to come out of St. John’s Prep, going out with a bang by averaging just under eight yards per carry at running back and totaling 67 tackles at safety this season. He recently committed to play football at the University of Pennsylvania, a member of the Ivy League.

An outstanding student, Moore has been sure to listen to advice that past Prep football players have given him and his teammates about enjoying the school and coach Jim O’Leary while they can.

“The seniors came back and told us that you don’t really appreciate the Prep until you go until college and you actually see how much farther along you are than other people in college,” Moore said.

“But the thing is, I’m going to University of Pennsylvania, so a lot of people there are going to have the education that I have. I still have to work hard with everything I do. I’m just looking forward to going out, competing and doing my best.”

The talented two-way player showed his humbleness, having little to say about his awards and accolades and how they may build up his hype going into college.

“I don’t really think about it, it’s a great honor being the state’s player of the year," he said. "But I don’t think I have anything to prove, I think if I did have something to prove I would go in there and just do my best to prove it. But I’m not going into it trying to prove anything. I know what I can do as a player.”

The Prep seniors are a tight-knit group, as seen with the amount of congratulatory handshakes and good-hearted ribbing that they gave each other during the ceremony. O’Leary even got in on the act too, moving each of his eight committed seniors around until they were perfectly in place for a picture. It’s a moment that Moore hinted he will miss.

“Today means a lot, we’ve come a long way, and for it to end like this—with all these commitments to these great schools. The hard work that we all put in all paid off, I’m just glad we’re all able to go to a college that we all love.”

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.”

Recap: No. 3 St. John's Prep 21, BC High 16

November, 10, 2012

DANVERS, Mass. -– The stage is now set for yet another Thanksgiving Day game between St. John’s Prep and Xaverian to see who will represent the Catholic Conference in the Division 1 playoffs.

Prep (9-1, 3-0) took care of business on Saturday afternoon’s Senior Day as they defeated a motivated and resilient BC High team 21-16. They will face their archrivals Xaverian (4-6, 3-0) for the outright Catholic Conference title.

“We knew that they were back and they were healthy and that they are one of the best teams in the state,” St. John’s Prep head coach Jim O’Leary said of BC High.

BC High struck first in the opening quarter as senior kicker Jackson Bockhorst knocked home a 37-yard field goal with 6:14 on the clock.

With the BC High defense not giving an inch and the St. John’s Prep defense playing just as stingy, early yards and first downs were tough to come by.

The play of the game occurred in the second quarter and would shift the momentum in St. John’s Prep’s favor as they held BC High on a Fourth-and-One attempt at the Prep 28 yard line.

“We came out slow and but that play certainly changed things for us,” O’Leary said.

After the hold, Prep fed star junior running back Johnny Thomas six times in a row for 72 yards, culminating in a 14-yard touchdown run.

After a three and out by BC High on the following series, Thomas carried the ball five more times in a row en route to his second touchdown run of the game from three yards out.

“Our defense really motivates are offense,” Thomas said. “We just feed off them.”

Thomas ran for a game high 172 yards on 28 carries and two touchdowns. He also added two catches for 31 yards.

After a scoreless third quarter, BC High got the big play that they needed to get them back in the game. Senior quarterback Dan Collins would find wide receiver Tim Johnson for a 52-yard touchdown strike with 6:41 remaining in the game to cut the lead to 14-9 after a failed conversion pass.

On the ensuing drive, Prep used a steady dose of Thomas and Moore as they drove 74 yards in five minutes with Moore finishing off the drive by scoring from four yards out to give St. John’s Prep a 21-9 lead with 1:21 reaming.

“We looked at each other in the huddle and we knew we had to dig deep,” Moore said. “We did not want to leave it on the table so we focused and executed”

BC High would not give in after Moore’s score as Collins would lead them down field and find Skelly Enabuele from 17 yards out with 2.1 seconds remaining before the horn sounded on the following kickoff to end the game.

In the Prep Trenches: The St. John’s Prep offensive line has done it game in and game out this season, led by senior captain and center James Fagan.

The remainder of the Prep line is made up of underclassmen. They include junior left tackle Sean Hoey, junior left guard Kent Blaeser, junior right guard Dominic Hooven, and sophomore right tackle Jacob Palmer.

On the defensive side of the ball the Eagles front seven played well led by junior middle linebacker Sean Smerczynski (12 tackles), senior defensive end Tucker Mathers (eight Tackles, sack), and senior defensive end Chris Newton (two Sacks).

Turkey Day: Xaverian has now won three games in a row and will host this year’s annual Thanksgiving Day rivalry game.

Xaverian has struggled out of league play this season but after defeating Catholic Memorial on Friday 17-7 and BC High last week, 21-17, the match-up should provide a competitive and dramatic ending to the 2012 Catholic Conference season.

“I do not think people understand enough the strength of schedule that we play, BC High plays and Xaverian plays,” O’Leary said. “It is a dog fight. Records do not matter right now. We are 3-0, Xaverian is 3-0 and whoever wins on Thanksgiving goes to the playoffs.”

Thomas poised for breakout for No. 4 Prep

August, 31, 2012
As a freshman at St. John’s Prep, Jonathan Thomas watched running back Tyler Coppola rack up huge numbers for a team that made it to the Division 1 Super Bowl.

Asked what he learned by watching Coppola lead the Eagles to Gillette Stadium, the junior responded, “Just to keep moving. He played with a lot of pain, so I just learned from him to suck it up and keep moving.”

He could have just taken those same cues from his own life experience.

[+] EnlargeJonathan Thomas
Scott Barboza/ESPNBoston.comSt. John's Prep junior Jonathan Thomas is among the best running backs in the state.

When Thomas was seven years old, the Peabody native was skateboarding with his friends, rolling out of his garage when a car coming downhill struck him on his dead end street. The injuries were so serious that he had to be taken into Boston by helicopter.

“I was unconscious when it happened. I don’t remember the helicopter ride or anything,” he said. “They thought I was going to have brain damage and everything. The whole right side of my face, my head, was gone, so they had to stitch it back up. There’s still scars today but it’s not as noticeable.”

The scars may have been more noticeable back then, but they didn’t slow him down. Against his mother’s best wishes, by that summer, Thomas began his football career.

“My mother didn’t want me to play, but it was my brother’s first year, too. My brother went down to play and my dad said, ‘You can help coach.’ But I got in all the drills and stuff and said, ‘I can do this.’ I was the fastest one out there despite my injury.”

By that time, Thomas felt his brush with death had no impact on his ability to play the game.

“I don’t think it had any effect. It’s just a miracle that I’m still alive.”

When Thomas got to the Prep, he had never played cornerback in his life, but was forced to start there as a freshman because of career-ending injuries to Coppola’s brothers, Jared and Brandon.

It was a trial-by-fire initiation to the varsity game if there ever was one. That season, Thomas had to cover the likes of Everett’s Matt Costello (Princeton), Brockton’s Albert Louis-Jean (Brockton) and St. John’s of Shrewsbury’s Richard Rodgers (Cal).

“It was quite an experience coming straight out of Pop Warner to playing the top players in the state. It was a learning experience but it was fun.”

By the time last year rolled around, however, Thomas earned his way into the starting lineup as a running back. With sterling performances against the likes of Brockton, St. John’s of Shrewsbury, Catholic Memorial and Xaverian, he showed the type of potential that already garnered the attention of a number of Division I coaches.

Always blessed with a tree-trunk lower body, Thomas worked with Prep assistant coach Jameson Pelkey over the offseason to improve his speed, which has gone down from around 4.7 in the 40-yard dash to the high-4.5 area.

“I worked on my speed, pulling sleds, hitting the weight room daily,” Thomas said. “I’m working on just every part of my body to get me ready for Division I players coming at me, trying to tackle me. I’m trying to break their tackles: keep my feet moving; keep my legs going.”

“He’s always had that good initial burst,” said Prep coach Jim O’Leary. “Now he has the other burst to go with it.”

Now a junior and three-year starter, Thomas is one of the leaders for a squad that returns 18 starters and wants to go from a 4-6 team to a Super Bowl champion.

“Well, we’ve realized what a great opportunity we have,” he said. “We have nine returning starters on offense and defense. We have pretty much the whole team coming back. It’s another great mindset: we’re ready to get a ring. Everybody’s putting in work.”

And if the Eagles encounter any adversity along the way, expect Thomas to help his teammates suck it up and keep moving.

2011: 4-6 (1-3 Catholic Conference)
Coach: Jim O’Leary (29th season, 189-105-2)
Key Returnees: Lucas Bavaro, Sr. WR/OLB, 6-1, 198 lbs.; Alex Moore, Sr. RB/S, 6-1, 195 lbs.; Jon Thomas, Jr. RB, 5-11, 195 lbs.; Jack Sharrio, Sr. QB, 5-9, 174 lbs.; Gerald Kahari, Sr. CB/WR, 5-7, 162 lbs.; Corey Jean-Jacques, Sr. DT, 5-11, 286 lbs.; Anthony Bongiorno, Sr. TE/DE, 6-4, 233 lbs.; Michael Fawehinimi, Jr. CB/WR, 5-8, 160 lbs.; Tucker Mathers, Sr. DE/TE, 5-11, 195 lbs.; Sean Smerczynski, Jr. ILB, 5-11, 216 lbs.
Strengths: Experience, defense, kicking game, offensive backfield.
Weaknesses: Tough schedule.
Outlook: While the Prep stumbled to a 4-6 record last season, many expect the Eagles to bounce back in a big way this fall despite once again facing a brutal non-conference slate on top of the always-grueling Catholic Conference gauntlet (joked O’Leary, “We’re ranked the fourth-best team in the state and the third-ranked team in our conference”). Most of the optimism centers around a starting lineup that is littered with two and three-year starters. The same defense that held BC High to just seven points last year returns nearly everyone and should be among the best in the state. Last year’s offense was inconsistent but promises to explode with Thomas, Moore and Sharrio in the backfield and Bavaro and Kahari on the perimeter. The offensive line is where the team figures to make its biggest improvement. “We’re so much better than we were a year ago,” O’Leary said of that group, which still only projects to start one senior. Despite all the returning talent, O’Leary is aware that his team needs to find greater consistency to live up to expectations and put last year’s disappointing season in the rear-view mirror. “It’s nice to have players back, but we need to go out and win games now.”

Recap: St. John's Prep 9, Lexington 5

May, 30, 2012
DANVERS, Mass. -- St. John's Prep has been searching for a complete game performance all season long, and if Wednesday's postseason opener is any indication, the Eagles are getting there and may be rounding into form at exactly the right time.

Drew O'Connell ripped home four goals, Mike Harris added a pair and Andrew Belli dished out three assists as No. 13 St. John's Prep claimed a 9-5 triumph over No. 20 Lexington in a Div. 1 preliminary round matchup at Cronin Stadium.

The Eagles (10-9) face a familiar tournament foe in Lincoln-Sudbury in Saturday's first round.

The offense displayed a level of patience that produced quality shooting opportunities for the Prep offense, while the defense locked things down in its own end, something that bodes well in the team's quest to make a fourth straight appearance in the title game.

"There have been times where we've really been connecting and doing what we wanted to do and then there's been times where we just done exactly the opposite," admitted O'Connell. "Putting a full game together has been the key and I don't think it's really happened yet. We just have to keep working towards that and the better we can play, we know our potential, we have a bunch of young skilled players, and if we play our game I think we're a force to be reckoned with."

The sophomore midfielder is unquestionably a force to be reckoned with in his own right. With the Eagles clinging to a 4-2 lead midway through the second quarter, O'Connell and his deadly shot took the game over. He struck for a man-up goal at the six-minute mark, then after Eli Brick potted one for Lexington (10-11), O'Connell struck twice more, burying a shot from the alley and another on a nice rip from up top to help his team take a 7-3 lead into halftime.

"We just worked on possessing the ball, that was our motto," O'Connell said. "We knew they had a good goalie so we just wanted to move the ball as much as we could and really get the best shot possible. We just move our feet and move the ball as quick as we can. Make sure that we're sprinting all the time working hard and just completing our passes without any mental errors. If we connect on all cylinders usually good things happen."

The Colonials scored the only goal of the third quarter when Matt Mazur beat his man along the nice baseline, rolling back toward the field and snapping a shot through inside the far post. SJP responded in the fourth as defenseman Tucker Mathers fired in a goal and O'Connell buried his fourth with 5:16 to play.

The defensive group did its job as well, disrupting passes, forcing turnovers and holding the fort while the offense chipped away.

"Bryan Uva, Lucas Bavaro and Mathers, they're all big," Prep head coach John Roy said of his defensmen. "Dave Letarte gets his stick in all the time it seems to intercept passes. It's really a strong defensive unit. The progress that we've had to make and are continuing to try to make is on the offensive end where we try to control the ball with possession. Here it is a matter of experience and knowing what you can do and if you're able to execute. We have guys that are skilled and now they're getting great experience and hopefully we can build on it."