FRAMINGHAM — Connor Sullivan crossed the goal line three times Saturday afternoon, helping to power the Lowell Catholic football team to a convincing 38-12 win over host Marian.
And the senior captain did so knowing that his late father, Ed , was looking over him with a sense of pride.
“I just know my dad’s watching, so I just play as I would play if he was watching on the bench coaching me,” said Sullivan.
Ed Sullivan, who had coached his son in four sports as a youth, died in July 2012 from an infection of unknown origin, a devastating blow for the Sullivan family.
But Connor has held his head high, knowing his father is always with him in spirit.
When Sullivan was 5, he started wrestling under his father’s tutelage, eventually developing into a state champion. The elder Sullivan also coached his son on the basketball court and on the baseball diamond, as well as on the gridiron.
“Instead of him being up in the stands not really telling me what I did right and wrong, he was always there watching from the sideline,” said Sullivan.
“We’d just go home and talk about the games . . . it was awesome,” said Sullivan, who, along with his sister Sarah , now 15, also helped his father coach in the Tewksbury Challenger League, a T-ball league for children with disabilities that his father cofounded.
On July 12, 2012, Ed Sullivan, a 50-year-old home builder, was raking L.A. Field in Tewksbury, down the street from his house, preparing for his Junior League all-star team’s sectional matchup against East Boston.
He came home with a rash on his foot that soon spread to his knee, a concern for his wife of nearly 20 years, Joan.
“I told him we should probably go to the emergency room and get it looked at, but of course, being a man, he didn’t want to go,” she said.
The next morning the rash had spread to his hip, and when Ed got out of bed, he fell on the floor, prompting a 911 call. At the hospital, Joan was told that had he been healthy, he would have had a 50-percent chance of survival. But he was not healthy: he had both leukemia and hemochromatosis, a genetic liver disease that runs in the Sullivan family. She gathered the family, knowing that her husband was in his final hours. He died later that evening.
Two days afterward, Connor Sullivan mustered the strength to play in the first game of the sectional tournament that his father had looked forward to coaching him in.
“Honestly I probably wasn’t ready to play, because before the game they did a ceremony for him and I just lost it then,” said Sullivan, who eventually helped guide his squad to a sectional championship. “But instead of taking it negatively and just quitting and giving up, I’ve just tried to be positive because I knew that’s what he would want me to do.”
Sullivan used his father’s death as motivation to improve all facets of his life, on and off the field.
“Losing your dad is rough. That’s like losing a role model,” said fellow senior captain Brent McCarthy. “Most people would fall back, but he just kept pushing forward.”
Lowell Catholic coach Rick Sampson, who calls 5-foot-8, 175-pound Sullivan his most versatile player, said “he came out and actually improved quite a bit and never hung his head.
“He’s just a quality young man, a hard worker, and well-respected by his teammates and peers. I just can’t say enough good things about him.”
Joan Sullivan lauds Sampson, saying the coach has become a father figure in her son’s life, assisting with his college applications.
“Rick’s always telling me, ‘I love him like a son,’ ” said Joan. “When he’s on the sideline you can just see this connection between the two of them.”
It is a connection that Sampson tries to make with all of his players. Before this season he invited his captains to his home on Sawyer Lake for a day on the water in New Hampshire.
Fostering that unity has materialized on the field. LC went 10-1 last season, the most successful campaign in program history.
This fall, the roster has increased from 36 to 50 athletes.
“Our kids are our best recruiters because they’re getting all these first-year kids to come out because they tell them how much fun they’re having,” said the third-year head coach.
However, the Crusaders (2-1) graduated several key skill players, and their inexperience showed in a 30-0 loss to Whittier on Sept. 20.
But they bounced back against Marian, led by Sullivan and a 235-yard, three-touchdown rushing performance from senior captain Chris Tamukedde .
As senior receiver/linebacker Kevin Paige noted, “It’s kind of like the [Tom] ‘Brady and the rookies’ situation with the Patriots right now,” as the young Crusaders are also beginning to hit their stride.
They will need to be on top of their game against St. Clement, which scored 94 points in its first two games.
“They’re fast, they’re physical, and we’re just going to have to play near-perfect football,” said Sampson. “We’re just going to take it one week at a time and just try to be a hard-working team, learn every week, and get better every week.”
Prep loses Thomas for season to injury
St. John’s Prep senior Johnathan Thomas , leading the state in rushing with 748 yards and eight touchdowns, will undergo season-ending surgery after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament against Everett Saturday.
Losing the Maryland-bound back is an obvious blow, but coach Jim O’Leary remains optimistic.
“We’ve always run the ball very well, we’ve always had a primary back, and so now we’re going to have to have a new primary back,” he said. “[Junior] Cody Harwood came in the other day and scored a touchdown after [Thomas] went out. He’s been practicing that position and they’re ready and prepared to go.”
Prep lost starting fullback Greg Kobelski (separated shoulder) the previous week.
“We lost 29 seniors last year and we had to make adjustments for all the people we lost,” said O’Leary, also the Eagles’ athletic director. “Yeah, Johnny’s very high-profile, he’s a special player, but we’re not going to change what we do offensively or defensively. He did things that normal high school players don’t do; that’s what made him so great . . . but that doesn’t mean that we still can’t be a successful team.”
Arkalis position swap sparks Shawsheen
Reigning Commonwealth (Large) Conference champion Shawsheen Tech struggled early after graduating three key offensive playmakers.
The Rams lost their first three games, but last weekend it appeared they found their man to fill the offensive void: junior quarterback-turned-back Chris Arkalis, who ran for all five Shawsheen scores in a 32-8 romp over Greater Lowell.
“He had a sensational game,” said coach Al Costabile of Arkalis, who had 263 yards on 15 carries. “He has the type of speed that when he runs with the football, there’s always a big chance for a big play opportunity.”
The Rams graduated the school’s passing record holder, Mike O’Hearn (Curry College), go-to receiver Devonn Pratt (wrestling at George Mason), and Globe All-Scholastic running back Paul DePlacido (WPI).Taylor C. Snow can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @taylorcsnow.