Malden’s Vernon Sainvil commits to playing football at Saint Francis Xavier

Malden grad makes impact in Nova Scotia

There are 12 players on each side of the ball instead of 11, and only three downs to advance 10 yards. The field is 35 feet wider and the defense has to line up at least a yard away from the offense.

Those are the rules that Vernon Sainvil (inset) has been playing football by the last two years at Holland College, a community college on Prince Edward Island roughly 600 miles northeast and a 10-hour drive away from Boston. He has listened, learned, adapted, and succeeded.

And after committing to join the storied program at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia next season, entering as a junior, Sainvil has a message for some of the young folks who might be getting an earful from coaches on football fields around town: Appreciate it.


“Every day I had a coach in my ear, telling me to do this or to do that,” the 20-year-old Sainvil said of his playing days at Malden High (2009-10). “I just had to get better for them not to yell at me.”

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Sainvil joined the high school football team for the same reason many other kids join: He wanted something to do with his friends.

With natural footwork from his days on the basketball court, Sainvil was a project with legitimate upside. He says he was embarrassed at first, but for two seasons, he anchored the offensive line at Malden High, allowing six total sacks. He was a big reason why in the fall of 2009, the Golden Tornadoes nearly beat Everett for the first time since 1991, taking the Crimson Tide to overtime.

Admittedly not the most focused student, Sainvil was pushed by Joseph Pappagallo and his coaching staff at Malden High.

After the sudden passing of former Malden High teammate Ernst Larochel Jr., who died at 20 as he was preparing to play basketball at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Sainvil’s goals and dreams took a big step forward.


With limited college options, Sainvil was discovered by Michael O’Grady , the vice president at Innovation, Enterprise, and Strategic Development at Holland College, who also serves as a recruiter for the football team. “When you don’t do good in high school with your grades, whatever option you get to go somewhere, you take it,” Sainvil said.

O’Grady, who worked at Harvard before moving on to Holland, attends Malden football camps every year. Sainvil was joined by Malden’s Garvin Cius and Chris Miller on the Holland roster this past fall.

“We help them out with school work,” said Holland football coach Mark MacDougall . “They get tutoring and academic support.

“Vernon seemed like a young kid. He’s so big [at 6-foot-4, 290 pounds]; you forget how young they are sometimes. But it was a really good experience for him to get on his own. He grasped the opportunity. Some kids do and some kids don’t.

Like Sainvil’s former coaches, though, MacDougall learned that the young giant needed a little nudge with motivation.


“He’ll relax if you let him, but he does like the game,” the coach said.

“As long as you’re on him and that sort of thing, it’s not really a problem for him. It’s part of the maturing process. Maybe some of it was the fact that he wasn’t in the limelight when he came here.

“You don’t play the way he does if you don’t like football. You can see when he turns it on.”

Now Sainvil will head to St. Francis Xavier, which produced three players who were signed by the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League this year, as a much-improved offensive lineman who learned to love the game, if only to give him a better life.

At first, admittedly, Sainvil was not very good. “After a few weeks of practicing I became a better athlete,” he said. “I just played because I was good at it.

“Until college.”

Palleschi lifts Tufts

Tufts men’s basketball coach Bob Sheldon says Tom Palleschi , a freshman from Haverhill and an alum of Phillips Academy in Andover, just needed to lose a little baby fat.

“Can we call it that?” Sheldon said. “Let’s call it that. He got into the weight room at the end of his high school career at Andover and lost some of his baby fat. He actually weighs less but he’s stronger now.”

The 6-foot-8, 240-pound center made an immediate, surprising impact for the Jumbos, which entered Saturday’s NESCAC semifinals against Amherst with a 17-8 record.

Palleschi worked his way into the starting lineup in 17 of the team’s 25 games, entering Saturday fourth on the team with 9.7 points per game and second with 151 rebounds.

Most impressively, he’s been the king of swats underneath the basket, with his 45 blocks second in the NESCAC.

“He’s kind of what our defense needed,” Sheldon said. “I think he’s the best rookie in the league. He’s one of the better big men we’ve seen all around. He’ll be one of the best big men in the league.”

Around and about

Salem native Sean Stellato excelled on the football field and basketball court at Marist College, and now the agent represents NFL players such as New England Patriots Kyle Love and Kyle Arrington . Stellato will be inducted into the Massachusetts chapter of the National Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame on March 9 at the Venezia restaurant in Dorchester. . . . .

Lynn Classical product Jasper Grassa poured in a career-high 30 points Wednesday night as the Bentley men’s basketball team (9-15) toppled Northeast-10 co-leader and host Franklin Pierce (18-6), 66-60, in Rindge, N.H.. . .

Football official certification classes will begin at 7 p.m. on March 19 at the Irish-American Club in Malden. Successful candidates will be certified to officiate high school, prep school and youth football. Call course instructor Mike Roccia at 617-543-5979 for more information.

Jason Mastrodonato can be reached at