, Salem, MA

Sports Special

September 6, 2012

St. John's Prep thinking big with plenty of experience, speed

The good news for the St. John’s Prep football team is that one prominent preseason poll has the squad ranked fourth in the entire state this fall.

The bad news? The Eagles’ ranking is good enough for only third place in the Catholic Conference.

“That says it all about the strength of our schedule and our league,” said veteran St. John’s Prep coach Jim O’Leary “They have us ranked behind Everett, Xaverian, and B.C. High — all teams we play.

“We have a really good group of kids who are enthusiastic, love the game and are willing to work hard. I really enjoy coaching them, but the bottom line is we have to win more games. Last year we only had four wins; a lot of (last year’s games) could have gone either way. We could easily have had three more wins if we had senior experience.”

That shouldn’t be a problem in 2012; the Eagles have 26 seniors, including 10 returning starters on both sides of the ball.They are strong and experienced, especially in the skill positions. Overall team speed — 25 players on the roster were clocked at 4.8 seconds or faster in the 40-yard dash — and experience should bode well for the Danvers parochial school.

Junior running back Jon Thomas is one Prep standout who will be getting national attention. He has grown two inches and put on 25 pounds; at 5-feet-11 and 195 pounds, Thomas is bigger and stronger than he was a year ago when he led the team in rushing with 1,102 yards and 14 touchdowns. He is joined in the backfield by senior captain Alex Moore from Boxford.

Thomas is sometimes used as a single back and is the fullback in the team’s Power I formation.

Seniors Gerald Kahari (flanker), captain Lucas Bavaro (split end) and Anthony Bongiorno (tight end) will also be key offensive weapons for senior quarterback Jack Sharrio. The 5-foot-9 captain from Marblehead completed 50 passes for 638 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 148 yards and four TDs last fall.

“We’ll throw the ball more this season,” said O’Leary. “(Sharrio) has such good receivers (that) we’ve got to find a way to get the ball in their hands and also distribute the ball better to spread the field.”

There is depth in the offensive line; O’Leary plans to two-platoon because of the strength of the team’s schedule, using as many fresh bodies as possible.

Senior captain center James Fagan is the only senior starter back on the O-line. The left guard is junior Dom Hooven, left tackle is sophomore Jacob Palmer, junior Kent Blaeser is at right guard and junior Sean Hoey at right tackle. All except Palmer have varsity experience and started at least a few games a year ago.

Senior Zach Burt will serve as the Eagles’ second tight end, and punter Stephen Camarro and kicker Alex Soucy also return.

Defensively, Bongiorno and senior Tucker Mathers are back at defensive end while F. J. Murphy and Corey Jean-Jacques return at the tackles. The linebackers are also experienced, led by junior Sean Smerczynski (a starter since freshman year) and R.J. Pizzano.

Jesse Patterson, Natty Cabral, Chris Newton are the outside lineabackers. The secondary is solid with Moore, Bavaro (who can also play outside linebacker as needed), Kahari and Michael Fawehinimi back. The versatile Moore can help out at linebacker, cornerback, or safety.

“Overall, this is one of the fastest defenses we’ve ever had,” said O’Leary. ““I am concerned that we have only one senior on the O-line; even though the younger guys have game experience, there’s a lot of growth to go there. The other thing that concerns me is the injury bug, especially early on. We can deal with a few, which is to be expected, but hope we don’t see a rash of them.”

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