, Salem, MA

October 3, 2013

Football Focus: St. John's offense plans to stay tried, true in face of injuries (with video podcast)

By Matt Williams
Staff writer

---- — What’s next for St. John’s Prep?

Football fans around the Bay State have been asking that question since the school announced earlier this week that star running back Johnny Thomas would miss the remainder of the season after knee surgery.

The answer, according to St. John’s quarterback Michael Geaslen, is more of the same.

“It’s been the exact same. We won’t change; We know coach O’Leary and the way the Prep has always run the ball, and we’re prepared,” said Geaslen. “The concepts don’t change.”

The Eagles (2-2) visit host Malden Catholic (0-3) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in their first action since Saturday’s Homecoming loss to Everett. Between the attention that comes from a game like that, and the injury to the state’s marquee player Thomas, in some ways St. John’s will be happy to get back on the field.

“There’s mixed emotions. Some people have said how can you win without him. We’re going to miss him, but everybody’s confident that we know what we’re doing,” said Geaslen. “It’s still 11-on-11, low man wins out there.”

It seems like the Eagles have been pounding it between the tackles for as long as the football has been brown, and with a veteran offensive line, there’s no reason to think they can’t continue to grind out first downs.

Junior Cody Harwood, who had a touchdown against Everett last week, will get the majority of the carries and sophomore Dillon Preston may see some touches as well. The senior-laden line, led by Kent Blaeser and Sean Hoey as well as Dom Hooven, Jacob Palmer and Sean Lovett, will look to open holes against a Lancer defense that’s allowing 30 points per game and has beaten St. John’s once in the last 16 meetings.

“They keep it fairly simple and there’s a lot of blitzing,” Geaslen said of MC. “We’ve been going through our film sessions, studying them, and we’ll be ready for anything.”

The Eagle passing game may be complimentary, but it’s also developing, improving and dangerous. Geaslen, a senior from Andover, has thrown for 403 yards and three touchdowns so far, which puts him among the North Shore’s leaders.

St. John’s is the only area team with three 100-yard receivers: tight end Jake Burt has 11 grabs for 142 yards, outside receiver Logan Mahoney has six for 115 and a score, and slot-man Owen Rockett has 11 catches for 100 yards and one TD.

“We have the two massive outside guys, and then there’s Owen, the quick, speedy guy who gets lost in the middle, lost in the wash so-to-speak,” said Geaslen, who has completed 34-of-65 passes.

Burt, a 6-foot-5 junior with tremendous athleticism, dominated the summer 7-on-7 football scene and is making those same types of catches in full-contact action. Mahoney, a 6-foot-2 senior, has been as impressive.

“He put in so much work, and he knows it’s his turn. He’s one of the smartest guys out there,” Geaslen said of Mahoney. “He’s usually on the backside, on the opposite side of our formations, and that leaves him one-on-one a lot. With his size and power, I’ll take that all day.”

It’s no mistake that Geaslen, who has accepted an offer to play baseball at Division 1 Northeastern next year, is spreading the wealth among his receivers. It keeps defenses honest, especially when they’re putting extra defenders in the box to stuff St. John’s power run game.

“Something I’ve heard is you don’t want to be blind out there, because then when the defenses move the furniture, you’ll bump into it,” said Geaslen. “You have to spread it out so they can’t cover the same guy all the time, and the great thing for me is we have smart receivers who all know the routes and they know how to adjust.”

As the defending Division 1 Super Bowl champs, the Eagles have a bullseye on their helmets with or without Thomas, who ran for 3,700 yards over 21/2 seasons and is committed to Maryland. Their goals are still to make an impact on the D1 playoffs, though first and foremost they’re focused on this week.

“We don’t talk too much about the playoff system,” Geaslen said. “We know we need to win, and every game is important for that, but we don’t get too much into the details of the points and the rankings. We trust the coaches for that, and we know with the schedule Coach O’Leary puts together that we’re going to be in good shape.”

The Prep’s passing game has improved every week so far this season, and Geaslen and company hope to continue that trend. All is not lost for the Eagles, who like any determined football team plan to keep pounding away.

“It’s all about how you bounce back and fight through,” the QB said. “We’re looking forward to trying to bounce back this week.”