By Phil Stacey
---- — It’s only been a little over a month since Brendan Flaherty left his indelible stamp on Beverly High football history by leading the Panthers to their second Super Bowl triumph in three seasons while producing the school’s best-ever season at 13-0.
Now, the superstar running back/defensive back is ready to continue his gridiron career by staying in the Bay State.
Flaherty made his decision official after receiving his acceptance letter into Holy Cross, where he’ll suit up for the Crusaders on a full scholarship.
“I’m definitely relieved,” said the 17-year-old National Honor Society student. “It was a bit of a stressful process. There were a lot of great options out there both athletically and academically, but in the end Holy Cross was the best decision for my family and I.”
Holy Cross football is part of the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), which plays at the level formerly known as Division 1-AA. As a member of the Patriot League, the Crusaders went 2-9 last season under head coach Tom Gilmore.
The reigning Northeastern Conference Player of the Year will likely begin his college career in the defensive secondary.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Flaherty was being heavily wooed by Ivy League schools such as Penn, Brown and Columbia. Another school, Stony Brook in New York, wanted him as well — as a Division 1 scholarship lacrosse player.
“They’re all great schools, and I’m sure I would have had fun going to any one of them. But I’m happy with my choice,” said Flaherty.
“Playing (football) in college was definitely something I wanted to stick with. I wanted to keep playing at the highest level I could play at.”
The oldest of Tim and Anne Flaherty’s four children could arguably be referred to as the best all-around football player in Beverly’s long and glorious history.
Powerfully built while also possessing breakaway speed, he had a school record 18 rushing touchdowns this past fall along with 1,496 yards on the ground, averaging 9.35 yards per carry. He also caught 10 passes for 236 yards and four more TDs, leading the team in all of the above-mentioned categories. His 160 total points were the most ever in one season for a BHS player. He had touchdowns rushing, passing, receiving, returning an interception and returning a punt as a senior.
In two playoff games against Burlington and Natick, Flaherty had 426 yards rushing and six touchdowns on just 43 carries, averaging nearly 10 yards a pop.
In all, Flaherty had 3,503 rushing yards on 423 carries and 41 TDs; caught 38 passes for 719 yards and 14 additional TDs; completed 3-of-4 passes for 127 yards and 2 TDs; and had 4,349 yards of total offense.
“I have to credit my coaches and the football program in general,” Flaherty said of his four years wearing the Orange-and-Black. “The coaches really teach life values you can take into the real world and develop the skills of every player on the roster. And the teamwork aspect you develop and competitiveness you learn from the game is invaluable.”
Beverly head coach Dan Bauer said it was “awesome” that Flaherty will be going to such a “great school academically (that) has a lot to offer, and it’s a chance for Brendan to play football at a high level.”
Because they could see on film what he could on the gridiron, Bauer was constantly asked by college coaches about Flaherty the person.
“They all wanted to know about Brendan’s intangibles, his work ethic and how he is in the classroom. I told them honestly that he shines in all those areas,” said Bauer. “Schools like Holy Cross that recruit nationally have only so many kids they can bring in, and then they try to whittle that down to the best of the best. That’s what they’re getting in Brendan.”
He’ll join a pair of local linebackers who already play for Holy Cross: junior George Sessoms of Peabody (via St. John’s Prep) and sophomore Andrew Mizzoni of Gloucester.
Last summer Flaherty went to several football camps, including Boston College, New Hampshire, UConn and Holy Cross (the latter of which the entire Panther team attends). He did an overnight visit to the Worcester school a few weeks ago and came away more impressed than ever.
“I got a chance to be around the players and the campus itself ... that’s what really won me over,” he said. “The people there are great. I want to surround myself with good people, and at Holy Cross I can definitely do that.”
Bauer feels that Flaherty could one day wind up on the offensive side of the ball for the Crusaders. “They know he’s a great player; it’s a matter of where is the best fit for the team: safety, outside linebacker, running back or wide receiver,” he said.
“I’m not going there for one particular position, but just to play football,” Flaherty added. “Wherever I can help the team or get onto the field, that’s what I’ll do and try to make the most of the opportunities they give me.”