EXETER, N.H. -- James DiBenedetto had a hard time getting on the field when the St. John’s Prep football team had the ball last season. It’s unlikely the same will be true this fall.
DiBenedetto, a 6-foot-4 wide receiver, caught a touchdown pass and another pass for a two-point conversion to help St. John’s Prep defeat Tewksbury 16-8 to win the Under Armour 7-on-7 tournament’s North Regional on Saturday.
“We still have a strong running team here, but coach (Brian) St. Pierre likes to throw the ball,” DiBenedetto said. “As you can see, we’re a pretty strong with passing. It’s good to win this. This really shows how much chemistry the team has.”
DiBenedetto, who will be a senior this season, is a Topsfield resident who played primarily safety and outside linebacker last season.
“It was hard to find an offensive position for him last year,” said Mike O’Leary (son of former St. John’s Prep coach Jim O’Leary), who coached the Eagles in the 7-on-7 event. “There was a senior at the X (wide receiver) last year, so he was all over the map (on defense). This year he’s moving to the offensive side of the ball.”
DiBenedetto was part of a deep group of receivers that seemed to separate St. John’s Prep from most of the competition Saturday. That group included 6-foot-4 tight end Jake Burt, wide receiver Michael Calascibetta and wide receiver Owen Rockett. Burt also caught a TD pass against Tewksbury. Rockett capped the scoring with a two-point-conversion catch.
Calascibetta is known as “Gloves” because he once was the only player to wear gloves to a quarterback/receiver camp. Burt, a Lynnfield resident, committed to Boston College in April. He said Virginia and Harvard were also in the picture when he chose BC.
“I wanted to play a higher level of football than the Ivy League, so BC was everything I wanted in a school,” Burt said. “It’s always good to start off the season with a win, no matter what kind of football it is. It’s still football.”
St. John’s Prep, which used both A.J. Carrigan and Oliver Eberth at quarterback, also won the North Regional last year, when the Eagles went on to win the tournament championship. Carrigan was with St. John’s Prep last season. Eberth is a transfer from Andover.
St. John’s Prep went 3-1 in pool play, and then won single-elimination games against Marshwood (South Berwick, Maine), Danvers and York, Maine, to reach the championship game. The tournament featured 40 teams.
“Our quarterback play was good,” O’Leary said. “They did just what we asked them to do. Between James and Jake, those are two very tall, tall kids. Very tough to cover for small corners out there.”
Championship bound: By reaching the North Regional’s championship game, St. John’s Prep and Tewksbury each advanced to the New England championship, which will be held July 30 at Bishop Fenwick High School (4 p.m.).
The New England championship will feature 10 teams: the finalists from each of the three regionals, plus four wildcard teams. The South Regional will be held today at Oliver Ames High School in North Easton, and the East Regional will be July 26 at Bishop Fenwick.
Jaguars make strong statement: Windham (N.H.) handed St. John’s Prep its only loss. The Jaguars were led by 6-foot-2, 215-pound quarterback Brendan McInnis, who will be one of the top QBs in New Hampshire next season.
Dartmouth, Brown, Merrimack College, Holy Cross and the University of New Hampshire are among the schools that have shown interest in McInnis.
“Dartmouth has emerged as the frontrunner,” McInnis said. “Right now I’m focused on getting to UNH (the site of New Hampshire’s state championship games), then I’ll try to make a decision.”
Windham won its first five games before it lost to Tewksbury in the quarterfinals.
New digs, same success: Former Longmeadow coach Alex Rotsko led Marshwood to a 4-0 record in pool play, but the Hawks were eliminated by St. John’s Prep in the Round of 16.
Longmeadow had a 184-38 record in Rotsko’s 19 seasons as head coach. He guided Longmeadow to 15 consecutive Super Bowl appearances.
“You get a lot of work on both sides of the ball,” Rotsko said when he was asked about the value on 7-on-7 events. “This is a great opportunity to work on your pass game, work on your defense and also to look at personnel. The big thing is you don’t waste a week or two weeks in preseason having a kid playing in some position he’s not going to be able to play. It saves you a ton of time.”
Marshwood lost to Kennebunk in last year’s Western Maine Class B championship game, and is expected to be one of the top teams in Class B this year.
“We hope to be in the thick of it again,” Rotsko said.