This needs to be the year. That’s the feeling around Xaverian. The Clippers flew into last season with high expectations with explosive juniors and sophomores, but issues off the field kept them from really taking off.
Xaverien ended up finishing 5-5 and didn’t fare well against the elite teams of the Catholic HS Football League Class AAA. The squad return a senior-laden team that talked plenty about maturity and learned from what went wrong last season, including Kendall “Speedy” Thomas getting expelled, followed by outer academic suspensions late in the season.
“We never really got a chance to get going with the same team,” coach Joe DeSiena said.
They believe this year will be different and the one where this talented group puts it all together. Xaverian, selected No. 3 in the league’s coaches poll, brings back some of the city’s most explosive players from an offense that ranked fourth in the league. Expectations are high again.
“We were a little bit young,” junior Zach Kearney said. “When we were down we didn’t know how to control it. This year we are more mature.”
Laray Smith, a 6-foot-2, 175-pound senior, will be the team’s feature back after splitting carries with Tushaun Plummer last season. Smith, who has interest from UConn, Rutgers, Penn State and Syracuse, is a shifty, strong runner. He rushed for 828 yards and 11 touchdowns on 108 carries last season. The sky is the limit with a veteran offensive line of Anthony Spadaro, Chris Jones, Derrick Murrell and newcomer Dylan Ecock.
“A lot of people really have faith in me saying I can do this and I might be the best back in the league,” Smith said.
“I really have to prove a lot.”
Proving themselves is exactly what Kearney and last year’s JV starter Greg McGoldrick are trying to do in a battle to replace Greg Rando at quarterback. The 5-foot-9 Kearney was a running back his first two seasons on the varsity. He showed off a solid arm and is working on his accuracy. Kearney would add the ability to make plays with his feet, while McGoldrick is taller at 6-foot-3 and a better pocket passer. DeSiena said he would have no problem playing both.
“He can get there on certain passes you wouldn’t think he would be able to make on the run,” Plummer said of Kearney. “He makes it look like it was easy.”
Whoever wins the job will have plenty of weapons to pick from, starting with Smith, Plummer, senior wideout Sean Binckes and junior Jonathan Badyna. At 6-foot-3, Binckes will be a main target and could also see time at tight end. DeSiena is excited about running back, wide receiver Ty-rel Joseph.
“Anything that comes his way, you don’t hear it touch his hands,” DeSiena said of Binckes. “It’s something special.”
Binckes will also be part of a talented, hard-hitting linebacker corps along with Carmine Colletti, Brian Holliday, Derrick Murrell and Jones. Joe Magnavita and Rocky Iannocone will anchor the defensive line. Plummer and Ryan Gordon should be two dynamic safeties, while former linebacker Zyrel Hardy has transferred to Thomas Jefferson, along with Thomas.
“We are going to be fighting to see who gets the most picks,” Plummer said.
Xaverian is hoping to pick things up from a year ago. DeSiena said to a man they should feel like they all could have done more. A team loaded with seniors knows it’s their last shot.
“This is going to be their last chance in blue and gold,” Kearney said. “So we are looking forward to taking home a ring this year.”