PEABODY — Paula Hannon had no choice but to position a couch in the middle of the 24-by-26-foot great room in her Melrose home. It was the only way she could stop her three sons, Fran, Kevin, and Dan from knocking each other to the ground.
In the space, covered wall-to-wall with green carpet, the Hannon brothers used white tape to mimic yard lines, effectively transforming the family’s leisure room into an indoor gridiron.
Once Fran, at the time 8, knocked his 6-year-old brother Kevin headfirst into the fieldstone fireplace, Paula Hannon decided it was time to stop the football.
“Fran was only mad Kevin bled on the football,” she said.
From that moment forward, Paula and Frank Hannon had no doubt their sons were going to play football. Once Fran was in the sixth grade, all three were enrolled in Melrose Pop Warner.
This Thanksgiving morning, Fran, a senior quarterback, Kevin, a junior linebacker, and Dan, a freshman slot receiver, will suit up one last time together for Bishop Fenwick as the 7-3 Crusaders take on Austin Prep.
“It’s a unique experience [playing with my brothers],” Fran said. “Throughout the whole team, we like to think of ourselves as a big family, and the fact that we have siblings on it just adds to it. The sense of loyalty and community is enhanced by that, but it’s also something we’re just a small part of.”
Dave Woods, in his 15th season at the helm of the Fenwick program, said he cannot recall ever having three brothers on the team at the same time.
Woods, who also serves as the school’s athletic director, said he does not think it has ever happened in school history.
“The [Hannons] definitely interact with each other differently,” Woods said. “Fran is different with Kevin than he is with Dan, and Dan is different with Kevin than he is with Fran, but Fran is definitely the big brother for all of them. Both of them look out for Danny, being the freshman, but all three have each other’s back.
“They definitely have a bond that goes beyond just being teammates, but the team can see it and it definitely builds team chemistry. The team is tighter, and it rubs off on the rest of the team.”
Fran, a 6-foot-1 captain, has thrown for 1,179 yards and 11 touchdowns, while rushing for 575 yards and six scores operating the spread attack.
If he throws for 20 yards in Thursday’s game, he will become only the second player in school history, along with Ralph Renzulli (2004-05) to have rushed for more than 1,000 yards and passed for more than 2,000 in a career, while starting just 19 games.
“Fran is a tremendous leader, a great football player, and a tough kid,” Woods said. “To have that in your quarterback is pretty nice, and he definitely brings a toughness to our offense and that permeates through the team everywhere.”
Kevin, also used as a blocking fullback on some offensive sets, is the anchor of the Fenwick defense, tallying 88 tackles in 10 games.
“Kevin is the same way,” Woods said. “He’s a real physical kid on defense. He’s quiet, and he doesn’t say much, but when he hits, he can hit. And it’s nice to know they’re going to give you everything they’ve got all the time.”
While Dan has not seen any playing time under the Friday night lights, he plays with the junior varsity regularly, but practices every day with the varsity and dresses for both home and away games.
“It’s nice to have two brothers to look after me,” Dan said. “And it’s great practicing with the [varsity] because they’re a lot faster and quicker, but it’s making me better practicing with kids more experienced than me.”
Dan entered Bishop Fenwick this year as a freshman, but Fran and Kevin began their high school careers at Malden Catholic, playing under coach Jeff Smith, and both transferred to Bishop Fenwick as juniors. According to their mother, the brothers transferred to be closer to their summer home in Rockport, easing the commute for summer football workouts.
After Fran attended Malden Catholic his freshman year, he attended the Family Foundation preparatory school in Hancock, N.Y., and then came to Fenwick his junior year.
Fran had to adjust to the school by himself, but Kevin had the luxury of following his brother’s lead.
“He paved a pathway for me,” Kevin said. “I got to know kids better, and he was there for me when I wasn’t with anyone else and he was someone to talk to. He’s really supportive of me. He’s a good older brother.”
Likewise, Fran’s brotherly support resonates on the football field, according to Crusaders’ junior tight end James Traversy.
In Week 7, Bishop Fenwick lost to St. Mary’s, the Catholic Central (large) champions, in heartbreaking fashion.
Trailing 14-12 with just 37 seconds remaining, Bishop Fenwick fumbled on the 1-yard line and the Spartans recovered, sealing the victory.
Although it was just the first conference game of the season, it put St. Mary’s on an inside track to win the title, and the Crusaders, who are 2-2 in conference play, finished second.
But Traversy, who grew up in Melrose with the Hannons, remembers the way Fran handled the loss.
“Fran has been a huge role model in my life,” Traversy said. “He works hard, and I kind of aspire to be like him. He’s been a true friend on and off the field.
“St. Mary’s was a hard-fought game, but [Fran] never got down on us. We made some plays we shouldn’t have, and it wasn’t his fault. It was our fault, but he never yelled at us. He’s just full of confidence, and he filled us with it every day.”
After the loss to St. Mary’s, Fenwick lost to Archbishop Williams 32-24 the following week. But since then, the Crusaders have won two straight games, beating Cardinal Spellman and Arlington Catholic.
“We started out awesome at 5-0, and lost a couple of tough games to tough teams, but we’re back on track and it’s been a good season,” Fran said. “We’re hoping to get to 8-3, and there’s definitely a lot of positives.”
For any football program, it is difficult to watch seniors move on, and Woods admitted it is going to be tough to watch Fran Hannon leave.
But the eldest Hannon brother will be missed off the field, too. Likewise, the Hannon brothers’ bond and positive contributions transcend the gridiron.
Since the summer of 2011, Fran has helped Sam Parker of Melrose, a boy with cerebral palsy.
When Fran’s schedule became too hectic, Kevin helped as well, lifting Sam to bed at night. Fran, who has narrowed his college choices to the US Naval Academy, Tufts, Georgetown, and Boston College, will not be around to help Sam as much once he leaves for college.
But his legacy will be carried on by both Kevin and Dan, who will continue what their brother started for the Parker family.
“It’s a really humbling experience,” Kevin said. “The Parkers do an extraordinary thing taking care of Sam; they sacrifice a lot for him, and the little thing that we can do doesn’t compare.”