SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Sports

August 25, 2010

Gentleman Jim

League titles, great competition, hundreds of college players — Jim O'Leary has done it all at St. John's Prep

(Continued)

"I think we were the best two teams in New England. There were probably 20 Division 1 or 1-AA players on those teams (combined)," said St. Pierre, who helped the Prep steamroll New Bedford, 25-0, in an academic Super Bowl win the next week.

The Prep went on to win four straight Catholic Conference titles from 2001-04 and played their last Super Bowl in an instant classic in 2002. A team dotted with the likes of John McCarthy, Matt Antonelli, Goff, Nick Borsetti and Zardas fell by a whisker to Everett on Frank Nuzzo's interception return for a TD.

"The Catholic Conference — there's no competition. It's the best high school football in Massachusetts," said Zardas. "The talent we played with and against — to win four straight is an accomplishment."

Taking on all comers

There's little doubt O'Leary could have more coaching victories, and a better winning percentage, if he didn't have the hardest high school football schedule in the Bay State — if not in New England — every year.

But it's not about inflating the numbers. It's about program building and the respect the Prep has earned by playing — and beating — the best teams, which can't be measured.

"My first meeting as head coach, we said we wanted to win league championships, win 70 percent of our games and be nationally ranked," said O'Leary. "The only way to do that was to upgrade the schedule. People come to us because of our schedule and, at the next level, our kids aren't in awe when they travel or play a big game."

Over the years, the Eagles have challenged clubs from Connecticut (Greenwich, Fairfield Prep and West Haven) New York (Holy Cross, St. John the Baptist and Xaverian) and Maryland (St. Joseph's), as well as the Bay State's best including Central Catholic, Brockton and most recently Everett. The Prep halted the Crimson Tide's 63-game regular season winning streak in 2008 behind George Sessoms' monster game.

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