PAWTUCKET — Football coaches are notorious for possessing tunnel vision. The only thing that matters is the next opponent.
For the talented St. Raphael football team, they’re thinking about November and winning a Division II title just months after getting blown out by Barrington in last season’s Super Bowl.
“If you’re afraid to talk about it then it can’t be a goal, so we want to win a championship,” St. Raphael coach Mike Sassi said after last week’s 10-0 Injury Fund victory over Shea at Max Read Field. “We felt like we left one on the field last year and we came up short. That’s a
good motivational tool because we’re such a young team that that game was a little too big for us.”
The Saints weren’t just good during the spring season, they were dominant on both sides of the ball, going undefeated all the way until the Super Bowl when they ran into a veteran Barrington squad that ran a difficult offense to stop. The Eagles flew to a 34-6 victory that left a
bad taste in the Saints’ mouths.
Most of the kids who were on the Cranston Stadium turf that day are back this season, which means the Saints are not only the favorite to win the Division II title, but likely also one of the best teams in the state.
The Saints are led by one of the most electric offensive players in the state – senior quarterback Andre Depina-Gray – and one of the most feared defensive players in the state – junior linebacker Moses Meus.
There isn’t a quarterback in the state with more experience than Depina-Gray, who started Division I games as a freshman and only got better as a sophomore. The Saints moved down to Division II last season and the division’s defenses had few answers for the senior’s dual-threat
It also helps when you have a cache of talented skill-position players, led by a stable of running backs. Senior Napolean DeBarros came into camp in the best shape since he arrived at St. Raphael, according to Sassi. Meus, Robert Littlejohn and Henrique Ross will also carry the
ball. Ethan McCann will be Depina-Gray’s main pass catcher along with Scott Palardy and tight end Chase Dombrowski.
“I think [Depina-Gray] will go to another level because this has been a progression over the last four years,” Sassi said. “It’s not just about him because we have a good senior core with him, Napolean, Chase and Isaiah. It’s a good leadership group with a really solid junior class.
It’s up to these guys to see how far they want to take it because we felt like we left two or three scores on the field in the Super Bowl.”
Senior offensive tackle Isaiah Delgado is the anchor of deep offensive line which also features Thomas Lawrence, Chris Araujo, Finnigan Schwoebel and Ben Youn.
Defensively, the Saints return eight starters, including six defensive linemen and linebackers. No returner is bigger than the talented Meus, who spent his summer traveling up and down the East Coast competing in football camps that were attended by FBS coaches. Meus will play inside and outside linebacker this season.
“At those camps he saw what was out there and I think he’s motivated to be even better,” Sassi sad. “There are little things to his game he can work on and he knows that. He’s a hell of a player and is very talented, but there are a lot of little things he can clean up in his game. We’re
going to move him all over the place on defense.”
Ross returns at middle linebacker and Molina is back at outside linebacker, while Delgado headlines a talented defensive line that also features Dombrowski at defensive end. Depina-Gray and McCann are the only two returning starters in the defensive back field, but Sassi is
excited about the potential of new starters Palardy and Littlejohn.
In the Injury Fund victory, the Saints overwhelmed an inexperienced Shea offense and forced a pair of safeties in a shutout victory.. The first league game is at Westerly on Sept. 17 and then there’s a visit to Division III Super Bowl champion Coventry on Sept. 24.
“The Super Bowl was a good learning experience for our guys and that’s why we want to play a good non-league opponent in North Kingstown because we want to get used to playing in big games,” Sassi said.
The rivalry clash with Tolman takes place at Max Read Field on Friday, Oct. 15.
Follow Branden Mello on Twitter @Branden_Mello