CANTON — It’s more than two weeks from their Thanksgiving showdown against Bristol-Plymouth, but the Blue Hills football team is spending their Wednesday practice avidly studying tape.
The Warriors know their road to a Division 4A Super Bowl title defense starts with a Mayflower Large championship, and that begins with perfecting their game before anticipating what their opponents might do.
In the small office at the far end of the hall sit three coaches working to answer a seemingly simple question: how many carries has running back Vincent Burton had during his senior campaign?
“He had 214 rushes going into that game,” said one coach, referring to a point midway through the season. “Two . . . six . . . 14. Fourteen rushes brings him to 228.”
“It wasn’t 214,” said another. “It had a six in it. It definitely had a six in it. Maybe 216? That would bring him to 230.”
It takes more than a simple stat sheet to keep up with the overwhelming numbers Burton has posted during his time on Randolph Street. That’s because, as he prepares for his final Thanksgiving Day game, the 6-foot-2-inch, 190-pound fullback from Randolph stands as one of the most accomplished football players in state history.
With at least one game remaining in his varsity career, Burton is third on the state’s all-time career points list with 622, rushing for 86 touchdowns and tacking on 53 two-point conversions. A two-time Boston Globe Division 4A Player of the Year, Burton has racked up 956 carries for 5,275 yards while at Blue Hills. His yardage total is seventh-best in state history.
And he wants very little of the praise.
“I definitely feel like I’ve accomplished a lot here at Blue Hills, and I give all that credit to the kids that I play with,” said Burton. “They’ve done a great job blocking for me all three years I’ve been here. I run like it’s my last carry every time for them, and for this team, because I know that brotherhood and the sport of football means a lot to them.”
At the tail end of an illustrious career, few would blame Burton if he got caught up in his accomplishments. Instead, Burton takes every chance he gets to thank the offensive line in front of him.
He is firm in his declaration that linemen Kevin O’Callahan, Michael Kelly, Rich Kelly, Jeff Sanchez, Mike Niles, David Neil, Will Kiernan, and the linemen that came before them, have as much to do with his success as he does.
They don’t always make the headlines, but their hard work and sacrifice has meant the world to Burton, who has stayed loyal to those who helped pave his way.
“I get letters and calls from preparatory schools saying ‘Hey, come down here [and play],’ but I’ve stayed here because these kids mean something to me,” said Burton. “The kids that I play with are my friends. All three years, I’ve developed friendships and bonds with kids here. I couldn’t leave them out to dry like that.”
Attending Blue Hills had been an early goal for Burton. Since middle school, he knew he wanted to get a jump-start on a career in engineering, and Blue Hills awarded him that opportunity. He quickly joined the freshman football team, and formed immediate bonds with the players around him.
He was voted the team’s Most Valuable Player, but according to fifth-year head coach Ed Catabia, Burton showed little flashes of the star he has become.
“He did stand out a little bit with the freshman team,” said Catabia, “but not noticeable enough to run down field and say ‘Hey, you’re going to be with us [on the varsity].’ ”
Catabia has long been a believer of keeping classmates together. It helps to form a stronger team bond, but more importantly, it’s only right for friends to enjoy playing the game alongside friends.
But sophomore year, as his closest friends filled out the junior varsity roster, Burton was chosen to fill the empty fullback spot on the varsity. Viewing this as his window of opportunity, Burton took the spot.
It took a few games, but the Warriors quickly found out they were dealing with an elite talent. Burton rushed for 1,549 yards and 30 touchdowns, propelling the Warriors to their first Super Bowl berth since 1984, where they fell to Shawsheen Tech, 20-6.
Burton had come to develop a deep bond with his varsity family, much like he had with his freshman teammates the year before. He said seeing the seniors on the team cry following the Super Bowl loss, seeing the hurt in their eyes, was all the motivation he needed for the next season.
So with Burton’s help, Blue Hills returned to the Super Bowl in 2011, and with several of his freshman teammates on the roster, Burton and the Warriors clinched their first EMass Division 4A Super Bowl title with a 16-14 victory over Cathedral.
This season, Burton and his fellow seniors take up 12 spots on the varsity roster. At 9-1, they are enjoying the final few stops of their farewell tour. It’s an experience the close-knit group had been looking forward to for nearly three seasons.
It’s why this Thanksgiving game means so much to Burton. On a day dedicated to family and giving thanks, there’s nothing he would rather do than take the ball for his football brothers and repay their hard work in the trenches with another league title.
“I couldn’t ask for anything more than if we were to win that league title,” said Burton.
Catabia is a firm believer that, with a trainer to prepare him, some patience, and a team willing to take a chance, Burton could be a productive member of a Division 1 or a Division 2 college football team.
College football has been a dream of Burton’s for as long as he can remember — as well as earning a degree from a strong university — but as he starts to look back on what he’s been able to accomplish, Burton hopes to be remembered for something other than his knack for finding the end zone.
“I’ve always stayed humble throughout my whole career, and I wish people would remember that looking back,” said Burton. “The people that take credit for everything, and that claim everything they’ve done in their life is a product of their own talent or ability, those kids aren’t really liked by their peers.
“I’m not cocky. I don’t boast about everything that I do. I just do what I have to do, and I do everything I can for my team.”