In Week 6 of the MIAA football season, undefeated teams will clash in different corners of the Bay State.
To the north, top-ranked St. John’s Prep (5-0) will host second-ranked Catholic Memorial (5-0) in a Catholic Conference showdown. To the south, Old Colony Regional (4-0) welcomes Blue Hills (5-0) in a Mayflower Small battle.
Conference supremacy is on the line at both venues, and both visiting teams bring double-digit win streaks to the fray. That is just about where the similarities end.
The sidelines of Glatz Field in Danvers are certain to be alive with photographers, college scouts, and fans from across the region curious to see a rematch between the past two Division 1 Super Bowl participants.
In Rochester, Blue Hills puts a 12-game win streak on the line against a tough Cougars squad that has outscored opponents, 140-26, through four games. There likely won’t be any scouts on site to watch these schools do battle, with many of their players planning to enter the workforce after graduation. But for the coaches and student-athletes involved, the spirit of competition is everything.
“We feel like it’s paradise,” said Blue Hills coach Ed Madden (’08), who took over as head coach at his alma mater after current athletic director Ed Catabia stepped down from his coaching duties last spring.
“These kids aren’t worried about scholarships, or getting into the paper, or any of that stuff. All they want to do is learn football and play together. It’s so pure. And it’s not unique to Blue Hills, it’s the case at a lot of vocational and regional schools.”
Drawing from nine towns, the technical school in Canton has found tremendous success over the past several decades.
Madden, a four-year center and defensive tackle at Blue Hills, began his 16-year coaching career as a volunteer, eventually become defensive line coach and defensive coordinator. He’s still running a similar offense that was employed at Blue Hills under Dave Walsh, his son Mike Walsh, and Vin Hickey, with Catabia taking the baton as head coach over the past 13 years.
Madden said he spends about eight hours each week watching each play from the previous game more than a dozen times, so he can give each player a grade (ranging from +2 to -2) for their performance. His players have been quick studies, with senior tight end Tommy Taylor picking up a 98 percent score this season despite donning the pads for the first time this spring to help Blue Hills post a 6-0 record in Fall II.
Running a variation of the Wing-T offense, Madden praises the work ethic of his primary ball carriers: senior Eric Mann, junior Jake Reissfelder, and sophomore Caiden Montas. But the system wouldn’t thrive, Madden asserts, without sophomore center James Bennett, senior left tackle John Ierardi, and senior quarterback Anthony Graziano.
“We stick with Dave Walsh’s system,” Madden said. “It’s evolved a bit under me, but for the most part still intact. It’s labor intensive, but helps the kids really learn the offense, and it’s just a great way for everybody to appreciate each other, because everybody on this offense has to contribute. Unlike a spread [offense], where you can have a few athletes and highlight their abilities. Unfortunately for us, it’s not that easy.”
While Catholic Memorial might make a spread offense look easy with a bundle of talented wideouts running crisp routes all over the field, it has taken plenty of work for the Knights to be firing on all cylinders.
After going 4-0 during Fall II with linebacker and fullback Owen McGowan serving as emergency quarterback, the Knights welcomed junior quarterback JC Petrongolo back from a shoulder injury this fall, and have re-established their versatility with a lethal passing attack.
Petrongolo and his junior wideouts have combined for 12 touchdowns through four games (CM won via forfeit in Week 3), with Kole Osinubi and Jaeden Skeete each hauling in four scores. Skeete, a Hyde Park resident, also has a 22-yard pick-6 to his credit.
Skeete is headed to Boston College, while Osinubi is leaving his recruitment open and lists Florida, Michigan, and BC among his top choices. In order to make it to one of those premier programs, Osinubi plans to continue showcasing his skills at the highest level, and the competition won’t get much tougher than Friday night at the top-ranked Eagles.
“Prep is a strong team,” said Osinubi, who hails from Brockton. “This is everything that we practice for, we just got to work our hardest, stay calm, and do what we do best.”
For CM fourth-year coach John DiBiaso, who led Everett to 12 Super Bowl titles over 26 seasons, it isn’t difficult to keep elite players focused on the task at hand, because performing well against top teams is the best way to get recruited at the next level.
“Everything is based on how well you do on the field, so that’s what I tell them,” said DiBiaso. “7-on-7 [games are] great, [college] camps are great, but if you don’t do it on the field in actually game situations, you’re not going to get the opportunities you should have.
“So its important to practice hard and play on a winning team. That’s why you come to a school like CM and play in the Catholic Conference. I used to tell the kids from Everett the same thing. That’s why we play against the best.”
The Knights also feature talented junior wide receivers Mervens Amazan and Matt Rios, as well as junior running backs Carson Harwood and Datrell Jones. Senior Devon Marshall is the only CM player not from the Class of 2023 to find the end zone this year, with both scores coming off punt returns.
With bright futures ahead of them, it’s understandable that these juniors are eager to show what they can do on the biggest stage.
While serving as an assistant coach for the South All-Stars at the 2017 Shriners’ Classic, Catabia said he got a sense of how different the priorities can be between top prospects, and his Blue Hills players.
“Their mind-set is entirely different, and it’s great that they’re looking to take advantage of their opportunities,” Catabia said. “For our kids, they might not have the opportunity to play in college, but for all our sports, they have the chance to be a leader, be a league all-star, and maybe set a record at Blue Hills. Those are positive achievements.”