The Salem News
— PEABODY — The questions have been sprung on Bishop Fenwick football coach Dave Woods all season, and the answers have been stuffed with a seemingly endless line of superlatives.
All of the questions — varying in length and line of thinking — ultimately have come back to this:
What makes senior captain Nick Bona so good?
It’s become such a routine that the people around Woods can do the answering for him. Take, for example, a conversation that recently transpired in the Woods household.
“My son (Steven) is 10 years old and he asked if I thought we’d win the Super Bowl, and if I thought we could win even if Rufus (Rushins, Fenwick’s star running back) didn’t play,” Woods recalled. “Before I could even answer, my wife (Kristine) said, ‘Nick won’t let them lose.’ That describes him to a T. He will not let us lose.”
Bona, a quarterback/linebacker, has one more opportunity to make sure the Crusaders don’t lose, this time on the biggest stage of his life — Foxborough’s Gillette Stadium against 10-2 Northbridge tomorrow night (8 p.m.) in the Division 5 Super Bowl.
As much as the Nick Bona story is about all that he has accomplished and all that he stands for, it is also about the one thing he lacks — size.
Standing just 5-foot-8 and weighing somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 pounds, Bona doesn’t have the size of a prototypical quarterback or linebacker for the Pop Warner A level, never mind a high school team. Still, Bona plays the game like a rabid animal, trying to bite anything that moves.
He is driven by a goal of playing college football and competes with a constant chip on his shoulder, forever out to prove that his small stature cannot stop him from having a big impact.
“It’s not about the size of the dog in the fight,” Bona’s Twitter bio reads.
On the football field, Bona just doesn’t join the fight, he brings it.
He is Fenwick’s alpha dog. He possesses the power and ferocity of a Pit Bull, the fearlessness of a German Shepherd and the speed and agility of a Greyhound — all wrapped up in the body of a Jack Russell Terrier.
‘Tough as nails’
Bona’s statistics and accomplishments speak for themselves.
In his first season as Fenwick’s starting quarterback, he’s completed 76 of 146 passes for 1,319 yards, 16 touchdown passes and only six interceptions. He’s just as dangerous tucking the ball under his arm, having run for 835 yards and 12 scores.
As good as those numbers are and as important as he is to the Crusaders’ offense, he’s even more impressive on the defensive side. He’s always flying to the ball and if he can’t make the tackle, he’s taking on a blocker or clogging a hole.
However, tackling is what he does best. Last season, he set a new Fenwick record by posting more than 150 tackles. This year the defenders around him have boosted their performance, due in large part to the non-stop motor Bona has displayed every season since he was a freshman.
“He’s as tough as nails,” fellow senior captain and offensive lineman Charlie St. Pierre said. “Nick puts his body on the line for the team every single play. He’s an unbelievable player.”
Bona, who was recently named the Catholic Central League MVP, delivers hits — on offense and defense — like it’s a test of strength contest every time he makes contact with an opposing player.
Whether he intends to or not, that approach has a major impact on the way his teammates play the game.
“Obviously by stats you can tell he brings offensive and defensive skill, but at the same time he brings a sense of motivation,” senior captain James Traversey said. “When he makes those big sticks, there’s a feeling of adrenaline we all get. That gets us fired up, propels us to win these games. Without him and his attitude this would be a different football team, for sure.
“He’s probably the toughest kid on the North Shore on the football field. That’s definitely an inspiration for all of us to be more like him.”
Where he wants to be
At any given moment of a Bishop Fenwick football game, if you look onto the field and can’t find Nick Bona it can mean one of only two things. There’s either something seriously wrong with him (“Unless I can’t walk I’ll be on the field playing,” Bona said), or Fenwick has just scored and is kicking an extra point.
Bona is just as important to the Crusaders on the kickoff teams as he is to their offense and defense. Fenwick kickoffs usually go something like this: Bona kicks off, sometimes as deep as the goal line, sprints down the field avoiding blocks the whole way, then sticks the return man.
“Every single time he kicks the ball and then goes and makes the play. Every single play,” St. Pierre said.
“One play, I think it was against Austin Prep or Archbishop Williams, he went in and missed the tackle, but he got up and went back down the field and tackled the kid. It was spectacular.”
When Fenwick is receiving, Bona takes pride in delivering punishing blocks that could help spring dangerous kick returners, Charlie Maistrellis and Eric Razney.
If it weren’t for senior Kyle Russell’s decision to give up soccer and go out for football, Bona would be kicking the extra points, too.
“I can kick them, but it’s one less thing to worry about. I can get a little rest at least,” Bona said. “Honestly, I don’t even drink water (on the sidelines). I just stand there to catch my breath and get back on the field.”
The field is where he wants to be.
Not much has changed since he was a 12-year-old all-star on the Peabody West baseball team that advanced to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Penn. Back then he was one of those glue guys, the type who zigzagged around the diamond filling any open spot as pitching and lineup changes were made.
He’s the same way now. It doesn’t matter where he’s needed; he’ll gladly accept the challenge.
“I hate standing on the sidelines, even though I haven’t really had to this year,” Bona said. “It’s boring standing over there and it’s boring not making plays. I feel like if you’re not making plays, then you’re just being lazy or something. You should be able to make every play.”
The dog with the most fight
Too often college recruiters expect players to fit a certain mold. Height and weight are heavily scrutinized and carry just as much importance as desire and commitment.
Every year, across all sports, some high school athletes are overlooked and slip through the cracks because they’re not ‘built’ to play a particular sport at a high collegiate level.
Currently, it seems like Nick Bona is one of those athletes.
His goals for college are high, but not unrealistic. Bona isn’t expecting SEC coaches to be banging on his door, but he believes he’s good enough to play Division 2, maybe 1AA, football.
“Honestly, probably what’s driven me the most is that I want to play college football,” Bona said. “I think that probably makes me play the way I do. I feel like if I wasn’t (aiming) to play college football I’d still play hard, but there’s something extra that pushes you because you want to play at the next level.”
Bona feels like he could be a strong safety in college, wherever that may be. Staying true to his personality, though, he’d play any position he could to get on the field.
He’s heard from a few Division 3 schools so far — a level he’s not ruling out, but he’s not ready to settle, either.
“A lot of people say size doesn’t matter, but a lot of people say too that I’m probably not getting the same looks I would if I was 6-feet or something,” Bona said. “I think you have to make up for that with your physicalness, your quickness and how you play the game.
“The first thing they look at is going to be your measurables, and I don’t really have those. So I have to make up for it with everything else.”
Woods has been watching Bona make up for what he lacks ever since he started as a safety freshman year. The veteran coach always thought Derek Collins was the best football player he coached,and knew it would take a lot to change his stance on the linebacker/fullback from the 1998 and ‘99 teams.
Woods had to break the news this season to Collins, who is now an assistant coach with Fenwick.
“As coaches we’re always comparing the ‘99 team to this team because they were 12-0. That was Derek’s team and he was 6-1, 210 pounds and played with an awful lot of heart. He did a lot of the same things ... but Nick takes it to another level,” Woods said. “Up until this year he was probably the best kid I’ve coached, but I’m not sure we can say that anymore. When we talked about it Derek said he’d gladly hand over the title to Nick.”
Bona’s heart will be on display one more time in his high school career tomorrow night, and there’s one more title he’d like to secure.
By all accounts, Northbridge is expected to be the highest hurdle standing in front of the Crusaders. But Fenwick has the dog with the most fight, and his only plan is to win.
“We definitely want to go out with a bang. It would be the worst feeling in the world to go in and lose and finish 12-1. I don’t think I’d be able to live with myself if I lost the last game of my high school football career,” Bona said. “I’m going to do my part to make sure that doesn’t happen.”