WARWICK — “One, two, three – Hawks!”
That’s the rally cry members of the Bishop Hendricken High School varsity football team used during their first official practice last week.
For them, the sport centers on camaraderie. That philosophy has served them well, as they’ve won a record four straight Division I Super Bowl Championships. They are looking for a fifth, which no school has done in Rhode Island since the R.I. Interscholastic League was formed in 1932.
But, said Head Coach Keith Croft, it’s a long season, and they plan to take it one game at a time.
“When you think back on the success we’ve had the last four years, it’s not something that we could have predicted or expected; it’s just been a lot of hard work,” said Croft, who is entering his seventh year as varsity head coach, and has been coaching football at Hendricken for about 15 years. “Like we do every year, we’re approaching this year the same. We’re not trying to win our fifth; we’re trying to win our first. It’s a different year for everybody, but we’re all shooting for the same goal.”
Croft, also the assistant principal of Cranston’s Gladstone Elementary School, said senior Lee Moses, 16, is going to be one of the best players this year. He described Moses as a passionate and talented athlete.
“He motivates through example, as opposed to yelling at kids,” said Croft. “He’s helpful, and has the type of leadership qualities you want.”
Moses, a Providence resident, is the state’s only active player this year to have verbally committed to play football next year in Division I FBS, college football’s highest level. He will attend the University of Massachusetts-Amherst on a full football scholarship, and says he’s thinking about studying business and getting into sports management.
“I love the campus and the coaching staff,” said Moses, who visited UMass in July, and plays as a defensive back and wide receiver. “I went there with my family, and we enjoyed our time there.”
Another appealing factor about UMass is that it’s close to his home. Not only is he happy he’ll be a short distance from family, he’s pleased he won’t be too far from Hendricken.
“Going to this school has meant a lot to me,” he said. “You meet people who are willing to help you and really care. No matter what you’re going through, you always know you have people that you can fall back on and trust. It’s been a blessing to be surrounded by people who care.”
Coach Croft, Moses said, has been a big supporter. He helped Moses throughout the recruiting process, and thinks UMass is a great fit for him.
“Lee’s happy and excited, and we’re excited for him,” said Croft. “We’re going to get one more good season out of him.”
Before the official kickoff of the season, Hendricken will participate in a series of scrimmages the weekend after Labor Day, with ticket proceeds to benefit the Rhode Island Interscholastic Injury Fund, a non-profit organization founded in 1947 to help junior high and high school athletes defray the cost of expensive medical bills and expenses not covered by insurance.
Hendricken will face a scrimmage with La Salle Academy at Cimini Field on September 5. A start time is yet to be announced. Their first official game is against Johnston High School on September 12 at 7 p.m. at Hendricken’s Hayden Stadium.
“We’re definitely going to work really hard this year,” Moses said. “It’s all about teamwork and sportsmanship. The coaching staff has drilled that into our heads since day one.”
His teammates agree. They think it will be an exciting season, as they are welcoming former NFL player Dan Koppen as a volunteer assistant coach.
“Having him on staff will bring a lot of experience to the table,” said senior, Mike Murray, 17. “He obviously knows what he’s talking about, so I think he can help us get our championship.”
Seniors John Troppa, 17, and Zach Radja, 17, shared similar sentiments.
“His knowledge and experience will be great for the younger kids,” said Troppa, with Radja adding, “We’ll be able to see how we should be doing things from a professional standpoint.”
Croft said Koppen, a former All-Pro center for the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos, contacted him “out of the blue.” At first, he thought one of his assistant coaches was joking around.
“It’s not something that happens every day,” said Croft. “He said, ‘I want to get into coaching. I live in Rhode Island and have been following you guys.’ It’s good to have somebody around that’s played on a high level. Maybe he’ll learn something from us, too. High school is a different challenge than working with professional athletes.”
In July 2013, Koppen suffered a torn ACL during training camp and missed the entire 2013 season. He retired in February 2014, and said he’s ready to give back to the sport that’s given him “so much.”
“I’ve always thought about being a high school coach, and I think this is a good start where I can come in and learn from the coaches and kids, and hopefully they can learn a little bit from me, too,” Koppen said to a group of reporters in March. “Coaching is new to me, so I have a lot to learn.”
With the season to begin in about two weeks, the team will continue to practice and train. They said they plan to do whatever it takes to win.
“We have a hard-working group of guys that are just willing to get it done,” said Radja.
For the full football schedule, visit www.Hendricken.com and search the “Athletics” key.