By Jean DePlacido
---- — DANVERS — It was well worth the wait.
The St. John’s Prep football team was honored with new team jackets and impressive Super Bowl rings at their annual banquet Sunday night at the Danversport Yacht Club.
Blue and white balloons decorated every table as players, coaches and parents celebrated the team’s Catholic Conference title and Division 1 Super Bowl victory over Brockton.
“I had some idea what the ring was going to look like, but we never saw the final product,” said senior defensive end Tucker Mathers, who will play for Tufts next year. “It’s the most amazing thing I ever saw in my life. I’m never going to take it off.”
The gold ring featuring a huge blue stone in the middle resembled something suitable for a championship pro team.
“It’s surreal,” said junior middle linebacker Sean Smerczynski. “I couldn’t believe it when I saw it.
“This banquet is a great way to end the year, but we have to get ready for next season. Right now, we have 45 kids in the weight room every morning.”
Head coach Jim O’Leary had every senior introduce himself at the banquet and say where he was going to college. He also brought up all the members of his large coaching staff to explain what their job was and how long they had been coaching at St. John’s.
“I am very, very proud to be the football coach at St. John’s Prep,” said O’Leary, who picked up his 200th victory this past season when the Eagles blanked Andover in the playoff semifinals. “I’ve been coaching for 41 years (the last 28 as head coach), and I can honestly say it’s never been about the wins and losses — even though we’ve won more than we’ve lost — but always about the players and personal relationships. You have to be a good teammate.”
O’Leary told his team the friendships they make now will last forever. He also said he loved all his players regardless of their ability. He reminded people that a year ago, the team only won four games but worked very hard and liked each other, so he considered it a success.
“This season we got to the pinnacle of high school football in Massachusetts,” O’Leary said of his star-studded squad, which lost only to Everett while playing arguably the toughest schedule in the state. “You have to remember the bad stuff and that success is something you have to work for.”
Captains Lucas Bavaro, Alex Moore, James Fagan and Jack Sharrio were each given a football signed by all the players. “This is the best group of captains I’ve ever had,” O’Leary said.
Junior running back Johnathan Thomas, who gained over 1,800 yards last fall and turned a lot of heads recently at a Pro Day in Florida with his incredibly fast time in the 40-yard dash, said the Eagles are already looking ahead.
“Now it’s really about 2013, and the time to focus on repeating is now,” Thomas said. “This was an amazing night, and our rings are so huge and shiny; it’s a great way to wrap up the season. But we have a big group of players, including a lot of young guys, working hard in the weight room. It’s all about getting bigger and stronger to be ready.”
One very special award given out was the Tank Crowley Award, which went to longtime supporter of Prep athletes Terry Blier. A photographer for the school, Blier received a SJP helmet signed by all of the Super Bowl champs.