New-look Hawks set for title defense

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There’s no question that seven-time defending state champion Hendricken will be tested out of the gate this fall.

It will travel to New Rochelle, New York on Sept. 9 for a non-league matchup with Iona Prep (8-3, 5-1 in league in 2016) to kick off its 2017 slate, before taking on rival La Salle on the road on Sept. 15 in an early-season rematch of the last three Super Bowls.

“It’s going to be a huge test,” Hendricken head coach Keith Croft said of his team’s first two games. “This is the toughest stretch we’ve had to start a season in a while. We’re looking forward to it. We like to challenge our kids right off the bat and see how they react.”

The Hawks will still have plenty of talent this season, but they will have a tough time replacing arguably one of the best senior classes ever in Rhode Island high school football, with defensive end Kwity Paye (Michigan), quarterback Chris Hindle (Bryant), defensive back and receiver Andrew Hopgood (Bryant), defensive back Anthony Witherstone (Merrimack) and running back Matt DiTondo (Merrimack) all moving on to the college ranks.

And, for the first time in a while, Hendricken has a battle for the starting quarterback position taking place, with senior Alex Mulvey, juniors Ethan Wurster and Evan Rinaldi and sophomores Tom Comella and Chris Tepass fighting for the starting job.

After having a pass-heavy offense for the past two years with Hindle, Hendricken could adopt more of a run-heavy approach this season.

“We’d like to continue to throw the ball successfully, but we may have to pick our spots a little bit more,” Croft said. “One of our strengths is definitely our running backs and offensive line.”

Senior Devin Rivet, juniors Israel Emmanuel and Michael Rodrigues and sophomore Angel Sanchez will all see touches out of the backfield behind an offensive line that will be highlighted by tackles Xavier Truss and Aidan Corcoran and center Jake Picard. There are currently four players battling for two guard spots.

At receiver, Angel Santana is back after a strong season as a junior in 2016. He will be joined by Wurster if he isn’t playing quarterback and sophomores Sanchez and Felix Tepass.

The Hawks should be strong on defense, as well, particularly in the backfield. Defensive backs Dylan Gardner, Zach Brooks and Ahnyia Phrasathane-estacio will all return as starters, and Seun Filaoye and Andre De Los Santos will also be key contributors.

Croft noted that starters hadn’t been finalized for some positions, but he hoped to get some answers following a scrimmage against South Kingstown on Monday and an upcoming scrimmage against Rogers.

“We’re not in a rush to sort things out,” Croft said. “We want to find the right fit for guys.”

Aside from Iona Prep and La Salle, Hendricken will play South Kingstown, St. Ray’s, Cranston West, Portsmouth, Woonsocket and East Providence this season.

With many new faces taking the field, Hendricken may endure some growing pains early. But, the main goal is to be peaking come playoff time.

“As the season progresses and kids get set in positions, I think we’ll get stronger,” Croft said.

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