For the first time, perhaps ever, McQuaid is the team with the target on its back this season.
The Knights are two-time defending Class AA champs. That’s twice as many titles in the last two seasons as McQuaid had won in school history previously.
The trophies are making a difference. Head coach Bobby Bates says more kids want to play McQuaid football lately and he now has 160 in the program.
Probably more important is that the kids are listening. Winning is always very persuasive. Bates’ system isn’t something he has to twist arms about anymore.
“It’s just a standard now,” Bates said. “That’s what we’re tying to accomplish. Before, we might have had to pull guys in and always getting after guys to do this. Now, it’s just a standard. They know they have to go do this.”
“Summer workouts were here early. The numbers were just amazing. 55 to 70 kids every day. It shows that people are really committed here,” senior quarterback John Mahar said. “People are willing to come out, wake up at 7:30am, drive here, push sleds, run sprints and get in the weight room until 10:30.”
Mahar is part of a new guard that wants to make sure the football success at McQuaid isn’t short lived. The Knights lost 23 seniors from last season’s championship team. That includes all-everything runner Joe Cairns. Even Mahar acknowledged that’s tough to replace.
The offense might be a bit more multiple this season with Mahar at the helm, but McQuaid is not going to reinvent the wheel four months after earning a second straight sectional brick.
“We’re doing the same things. We just have different guys in place,” Bates said.
Winning is still new enough at McQuaid that most of the varsity players remember what it was like before championships were a yearly thing. Remember, this is the school that calls Aquinas its rival.
“We know what it was like when McQuaid was always losing to Aquinas,” junior Xaye Collier said. “McQuaid was never that powerhouse team that we are now, so we have to keep our head low how it was (when we won a championship) and keep the same attitude as that.”
“Aquinas was the team to beat and now we’re where Aquinas was,” senior Parris Smiley said. “It feels good, but we’ve got to keep our chin down. Keep grinding and keep pushing. We’ve got to continue the tradition.”
The Knights will have some help this year. Hopefully.
For the first time since 2019, football stadiums can be full in Section Five this season. McQuaid boasts one of Rochester’s most boisterous fan sections. They can and do have an impact.
“I can’t wait to hear our student section cheering all our names,” Mahar said. “I can’t wait hear the crowds in the stands, thousands of people. Running out from the locker room and running through the crowds of people while the student sections are lining the fences. It’s going to be unmatched.”
“McQuaid don’t have cheerleaders, so it’s like that extra,” Collier said. “It’s really helps on the field, especially playing in front of them.”
“I can finally have my entire family come to these games support me,” Smiley added. “The student section as well. That’s like the 12th man for us. It feels amazing. I love it. Back when I was a sophomore listening to these guys cheer for Andrew Passero and all those guys, it felt great. I get to finally experience that as a senior now.”
One thing Passero and even Cairns never experienced was trying to live up to championship expectations. It’s a brand new pressure at McQuaid, but it’s a pressure the Knights have been chasing for decades.