DANVERS — The Catholic Conference has been represented in the EMass. Division 1 Super Bowl each of the last four seasons.
BC High won titles in 2008 and 2011, Xaverian reigned in 2009, and St. John’s Prep lost to Everett in 2010.
So it was a bit more than surprising to see four squads — BC High, Catholic Memorial, Malden Catholic, and Xaverian — with an aggregate 5-14 record through Week 5.
Xaverian (1-4, 1-0 CC) sits atop the conference standings, only because of its win over Malden Catholic in Week 1.
Prep (4-1) is cruising, despite facing four ranked teams in the Globe’s Top 20, suffering its only loss to then top-ranked Everett, 19-7.
“We’ve never shied away from our schedule,” St. John’s Prep coach Jim O’Leary said. “If we can enhance our schedule and play a tougher schedule, we’re going to do that. It makes us a better football program with better players.”
A year ago, O’Leary’s squad lost three straight games before finishing 4-6 overall.
The difference this season: The roster is packed with seniors (25), 15 more than a year ago.
“I’ve never had a group of kids that have stuck together and worked out in the wintertime and got themselves ready as much as this team has, and that makes them special,” said O’Leary, in his 29th season as head coach.
The Eagles have a special tandem spearheading the attack: junior Johnathan Thomas and senior Alex Moore .
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Thomas has rushed for 689 yards and five touchdowns, while the 6-foot-1 Moore has churned out 501 yards and five scores.
“We know we have to perform well,” Thomas said. “There’s a running environment at the Prep, and you have to have a running back who can take the ball 20 times a game and get hit and get right back up.”
On Saturday, Moore carried the load against Bridgewater-Raynham, rushing for two touchdowns while hauling in another in a 20-7 win (he has 10 catches for 159 yards and two TDs).
Thomas and Moore “bring some power and some explosiveness, and once they get into the open field they can take off,” senior captain Lucas Bavaro said.
Bavaro, a 6-foot-1 wide receiver, and the speedy Gerald Kahari flank the sidelines, forcing foes to defend the entire field, rather than focusing on the run game. At 6-4, Anthony Bongiorno is a threat at tight end.
Senior quarterback Jack Sharrio orchestrates the offense, running a no-huddle look, featuring spread and I-formation schemes.
“Now we can spread the field, distribute the ball, and do what we like best, which is run the ball,” O’Leary said. “The same kids were here last year and we were in games, but there’s something about having a senior-oriented team. And that senior leadership is always critical to have a successful season.”
That leadership also helps keep a clear focus on the main goal — to win the Catholic title.
While Bongiorno is proud of the 4-1 start, he knows the Eagles will have their work cut out for them when they open league play Oct. 27 against Catholic Memorial.
“The beginning of the season, it’s not irrelevant, but everyone steps their game up and there’s never an easy Catholic conference game,” he said. “We never pay attention to their losses [early] in the season, but you have to go in with a good attitude.”
But first, the Eagles have to get past St. John’s Shrewsbury on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
It’s a new dawn
Soon after he was hired as head coach at Marblehead in 2009, Jim Rudloff tore down the walls of an old storage closet in the gym, turning the site into a new weight room.
He modernized the equipment the Magicians utilized for film study.
Most importantly, he has helped transform the culture of the football program, which did not win more than five games in a season from 1993-2007.
Off to a 5-0 start, Marblehead has emerged as a legitimate contender to challenge Beverly (5-0) for the Cape Ann/Northeastern Division 2 title.
“I think more than anything else, the transformation has to do mostly with the kids,” Rudloff said. “We started having well -attended youth camps, 7 on 7 tournaments, and going as a team to summer football camps.”
Rudloff has just four returning lettermen in quarterback Ian Maag , linebacker Tyler Bates , lineman Kyle McCormack, and running back Zac Cuzner .
But it is the first time a starting QB has returned for a second season since 2009, in Rudloff’s first season, when Hayes Richardson led the Magicians to the Division 3 Super Bowl.
Maag “is the field general out there — he faced the pressure [as a junior],” Rudloff said. “He’s a huge help, because our team is extremely young.”
Cuzner, a senior back, has sparked an attack that is averaging 24 points per game.
In Week 1, when Pentucket jumped to a 7-0 lead, Cuzner returned the ensuing kickoff 80 yards to trigger a 21-7 comeback.
Last Friday, the Magicians trailed Newburyport 14-0 before Cuzner took back a pick-6 45 yards, the spark for a 23-30 double-overtime victory.
“There have been games when things have been going down the drain, and Zac turns it around,” Rudloff said. “He’s invaluable to the team.”
Bates (10 tackles per game) is the anchor on defense, and the 5-11, 220-pound McCormack has the versatility to play guard, tackle, or center.
Rudloff worked as an assistant at Beverly under Dan Bauer for four years (2005-08); previously, he was the defensive coordinator for Bill Manchester at Marblehead from 2001-04.
When Marblehead and Beverly meet on Nov. 10, it will likely decide the conference champ.
“Coach Bauer is having a great season,” Rudloff said. “I hope all good things come to him. They’re steamrolling people, so we have to make sure we have our pads on and our helmets filled with air before we get there.”
Hillies on the rise
After Haverhill snapped a 32-game losing streak and finished with a 4-7 record in 2011, the Hillies have jumped to a 4-1 start. They dealt Chelmsford (4-1) its first loss of the season Saturday, with Tommy Morgan delivering the winning touchdown to Jordan Javier with seven seconds left for a 30-23 victory . . . Burlington senior Marcus Odiah was held to under 100 rushing yards for the first time this season in a 22-15 loss to Reading . . . Lynn English’s top receiver, Josh Batista, suffered a knee injury in Saturday’s 35-12 win over Malden.