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Football Monday

St. Clement’s football pitch proves a hit

JIM VENABLE ILLUSTRATION

St. Clement is just one win away from the Catholic Central Small championship and a trip to the playoffs.

With a win Saturday over Marian, the Anchormen (4-1, 3-1) would finish tied for first with Cathedral, but St. Clement would win the league by virtue of the tiebreaker.

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And for 11-year coach Colin Walsh, it’s been a long time coming for the Medford school — to be able to see the postseason, let alone control their own fate.

When Walsh took the position at his alma mater in June 2002, his first sign-up meeting drew only nine kids.

Walsh, a 1991 graduate and a fireman by trade, had a message for the small group: “Guys, we need at least 15 players to make this work.”

So, the kids recruited and got the six other bodies necessary in time for training camp.

Walsh had his team.

Over his first six years, St. Clement’s mark was a dismal 4-59. Two years later, they cracked the .500 mark, and have gone 6-4 each of the past two seasons.

So, how does a school in the shadow of Tufts with fewer than 200 students slowly but steadily improve from year to year? It starts with a convincing pitch, on and off school grounds, from Walsh. From the day he took over the program, he has walked the halls at the end of the school day, asking kids to give football a try.

“Give me two weeks,” Walsh tells the kids, “and if you don’t like it, you can turn in your gear.”

Walsh even cancels postpractice sprints if his players convince more students to try out.

Even now, with 38 players on the roster and one win away from the playoffs, Walsh hasn’t stopped.

“You can’t stop it,” said Walsh, who turned 40 last week. “I have to do it every day.”

And some of the Anchormen’s best players have come from outside the immediate Medford-Somerville area.

Senior quarterback and Everett native Michael Sullivan transferred from Pope John this year after the school canceled its football program. Sullivan chose St. Clement instead of attending Everett High, the No. 1 team in Eastern Mass., and Sullivan’s 17 touchdown passes are tops in Division 6 and fifth in all of Eastern Mass.

Senior receiver Junior Oyaronbi (eight touchdowns) transferred after spending his freshman year at Revere High. Oyaronbi was strictly a basketball player at Revere before Walsh convinced him to play football.

Senior running back Deron Hines (three touchdowns) is from Chelsea.

“Part of our success is we’ve been able to grab athletes from other areas,” Walsh said. “Along with the success, more people want to come, of course.”

The three-headed monster of Hines/Sullivan/Oyaronbi came up huge in St. Clement’s biggest game of the season, Oct. 4 against defending Super Bowl champion Cathedral. The Panthers have traditionally dominated the Anchormen, including a 40-13 win last year.

But things are changing at St. Clement — including the result.

On the first drive of the game, Sullivan audibled out of a run play and hit Khaneil Bruce for a 25-yard score to put the Anchormen up. The TD catch was Bruce’s 10th of the season, tops in Division 6.

St. Clement iced it in the fourth with a Sullivan-to-Oyaronbi 40-yard touchdown strike to make it 14-0 with two minutes to play, ending Cathedral’s 13-game winning streak.

“Once we had beaten Cathedral, we knew that the goal was in reach,” Walsh said.

The win gives the Anchormen the tiebreaker over the Panthers, leading to Saturday’s win-and-in scenario.

But even if St. Clement makes the playoffs and makes a run toward the Division 6 Super Bowl, Walsh will still roam the halls.

There’s always room for one more.

For players of the week go to Boston.com/schools.
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