Moving the Chains
---- — Expectations are high for the Bishop Fenwick football team — and this group of Crusaders wouldn’t want it any other way.
Experience and leadership are high on the team’s list of strengths due in large part to the fact that most of Fenwick’s key players are heading into their second, third and even fourth year starting. But further examination of this team shows that its bond began forming well before the fall of 2010, when this group of seniors walked through the Fenwick doors.
Three of the team’s five captains — Nick Bona, Charlie Maistrellis and Eric Razney — have been close friends for as long as they can remember. For a public school team, that wouldn’t be unusual. But at Fenwick, which has players from Melrose to Newburyport, that lifelong friendship could pay dividends on the field this fall, starting Saturday in the season opener at Hamilton-Wenham (1 p.m.).
“We’ve been going to school together since St. John’s (of Peabody), probably preschool. It’s been awhile,” Bona, a starting quarterback and linebacker, said. “We didn’t start playing football together until sixth grade. Definitely one of the main reasons we went to Fenwick was that we all wanted to play together.”
Officially, the trio didn’t hit the gridiron together until eighth grade. Bona moved to Peabody when he was in the second grade, but started playing football in Salem when he was 7 years old. When he was in the sixth grade he started playing for Peabody Pop Warner, along with Razney.
Maistrellis got his feet wet with the sport by playing flag football, then joined Pop Warner in the eighth grade. He fell in the love with the sport instantly.
Bona and Maistrellis each earned starting spots in Fenwick’s defensive backfield when they were freshmen.
“I love the intensity. It’s not an individual sport; you have to depend on everyone else,” Maistrellis, a wide receiver/safety, said. “We basically don’t even have to say anything. We look at each other and know what we’re thinking and what we’ll do.”
That connection could be critical to Fenwick’s offense now that Bona is taking over at quarterback. Maistrellis and Razney are both speedy targets who should be able to keep the defense honest for bruising junior running back Rufus Rushins.
Maistrellis and Razney can each take the top off a defense with their speed. Maistrellis is also a threat to line up in the backfield and take a handoff, and he stops and starts as well as anyone in the area.
Razney, meanwhile, is “all speed” according to Maistrellis. With a top 40-yard dash time of 4.43, it’s safe to say Razney is among the fastest football players in the area.
“Our timing is great. It definitely helps to know their strengths and whatnot,” said Bona, who played wide receiver last year and led the North Shore (and set a new Fenwick record) in tackles with more than 150. “They both have speed, good hands and know how to get open. If they run a route and there’s someone there, they know how to move and get open. They’re smart.”
The three friends have a solid understanding of one another on the field, but they also put the work in.
“Nick knows I have speed and he can throw the ball as far as he can, and I’ll run and get it. We have a good connection,” Razney said. “All three of us would go down to Fenwick when we didn’t have Gridiron Training, running routes and lifting on days off.”
Bona, Razney and Maistrellis are focused on helping Fenwick prove itself in 2013. The Crusaders were 8-3 last fall but lost three straight games in October, including a heartbreaking 14-12 loss to St. Mary’s that more or less cost them the Catholic Central League title.
This year, with the new playoff system in place and a spot in Division 5 North, Fenwick’s chances of playing in the postseason have increased dramatically. Their goals, however, have spiked as well.
“From what I’ve seen I think we’re capable of winning a state championship, but we have to stay focused,” Bona said. “After winning a couple games we can’t get cocky. We have to keep our heads on straight.”
Keeping their heads on straight means not overlooking any opponents, and the Crusaders know they can’t look past the Generals. Hamilton-Wenham crushed Fenwick, 46-13, two years ago and won in OT, 14-8, last year.
“It’s going to be a tough, hard-fought game,” Razney said. “We’ve been talking since August 19 that we really just want to show them what we’re made of.”
The Mark Bettencourt era at Peabody High begins tonight in Lynn against Lynn English (5 p.m.) — and history is stacked against the new head coach. The Tanners are coming off an 0-10 season and haven’t defeated the Bulldogs since 1973, going 0-6 in that time.
Speaking of streaks, St. John’s Prep is going for a program-best four straight wins over Brockton when the two teams meet Saturday at Cronin Stadium in Danvers (1:30 p.m.). The Eagles won at home, 22-15, in 2011; went to Brockton and prevailed, 27-12, during the regular season last fall; and crushed the Boxers, 48-28, in the Division 1 Super Bowl last December at Bentley University. Brockton, however, still leads the all-time series, 15-9.
Moving The Chains, a column on North Shore high school football, runs each week during the season. Contact staff writer Matt Jenkins at firstname.lastname@example.org or 978-338-2658, and follow him on Twitter @MattJenkins_SN.