Together We Rise

The 2023 Hawks football team was something special. This group of young men truly understood the meaning of “team.” Here are just a few of their stories.

The 2023 Hawks football team was something special, and it’s not because of the rings they earned at Gillette Stadium. This group of young men truly understood the meaning of “team.” They supported one another through season ending injuries and the tragic loss of family and friends. One minute they were in the weight room and on the field practicing, and the next they were in suits and ties filling buses en route to funerals. Through it all, they lifted each other up ensuring that no one was left behind. As one teammate fell, another was ready to take his place and carry the line. Each young man brought his own story and his own dreams...and each young man set them aside for the betterment of the team. Together they rose until they reached the pinnacle as the 2023 MIAA Division 1 State Champions. Here are just a few of their stories.

His teammates know him as “Junior” or “June Bug,” but at 6’4”, 295 lbs with a 6’8” wingspan, those diminutive monikers don’t quite do him justice. Gregory Celestin, Jr., came up the football ranks with teammates Jonathan Monteiro and Caleb Brown, competing with the Brockton Raiders as youth athletes before joining Xaverian’s Class of 2024. 

Greg’s daily reality straddles two worlds, his hometown of Brockton and his time here in Westwood. “When I talk to my Brockton friends, they tell me how much of a struggle it is over there. I’m grateful I am here at Xaverian and I have this blessing. My mom didn’t want me to have distractions. She wanted me to focus on school and football, instead of being in Brockton where there are distractions left and right. I hear about deaths and people getting caught up in bad things. But I go to Westwood every day; I don’t have to worry as much.” 

For Greg, the differences between the two communities are reflected in how people refer to him.While everyone here calls him Junior or June Bug, his childhood friends just call him Greg. Teammate Jordan Wilson ’25 and Greg are close friends, both inside school and at home in Brockton.Their friendship goes back to kindergarten, and Greg appreciates having him here. “The community is very different here, but at the same time, I feel like it’s still the same me. Jordan sees ‘Greg’ and ‘Junior.’ Same thing with Micah Amedee ’25. I grew up by him in Brockton, and I told him to come over here. Now he plays football with us and he’s making a difference, too.” Greg’s little brother Kyle ’26 is also a Hawk, and he says it meant a lot to him to make it to Gillette playing on the same team as his brother. 

“Every single day, I’m grateful I’m out there with my team. It’s a special year this year. Everybody is a family. Everybody is together. It’s a team, and we made it far.”

Charlie Comella came into his senior season as a Xaverian Hawk with his star blazing. He had committed to Boston College for football and baseball and was gearing up as co-captain for a final run for the State Championship that had eluded his team for the past three years. However, Charlie’s season ended before it even began. He was playing 7 on 7 with his teammates in a summer workout, received a pass, got the touchdown (he notes with pride), but broke his collarbone in the process. He was out for 10 weeks of play and returned in a game against Malden Catholic. Only four plays in, he was dragged down by the defense and broke the same collarbone. 

With his bouncing curls and signature smirking smile, you could easily mistake Charlie’s demeanor and think sitting the season out didn’t bother him. You’d be wrong.

“I tried to put on a smile the entire year. I got excited for my teammates. But when I was just standing there watching those guys play, I was like, ‘Damn, I can’t believe I’m not out there.’ You work year round to get ready for the next season, you finally get there, and you can’t play.” 

The injury didn’t stop him from showing up for his teammates. Instead of supporting his fellow Hawks in the games on the field, he tried to be there for them out of the spotlighted glow of stadium lights. “I tried to be like a coach this year. I tried to show up to everything I could and help my teammates.We still had one common goal and still had to get it done.” 

According to Charlie, that’s what leadership means. “It’s simple - it’s being there for your teammates no matter what.” And when the Hawks won the State Championship, Charlie was there in the glow of the Gillette Stadium lights, smiling alongside his teammates with the trophy secured.

Henry Hasselbeck is the “golden boy” of Xaverian football, or so his teammates call him when they’re giving him a hard time. Put him on a football field, and he seems to instinctively know what to do. He even knows what to say, deftly navigating post-game press interviews like a seasoned professional. It’s in his genes, but saying that takes something away from him that he deserves to own for himself. Yes, Henry’s grandfather, father, and uncle all played in the NFL, but he’s earned his own accolades through hard work, a good attitude, and a strong competitive streak.What he didn’t get from his family, he found here at Xaverian: brothers worth fighting for. 

“Before every game, Greg Celestin is the last kid to run out of the tunnel. I say to him, ‘I got your back, you got my back.’Then he says it back to me, and throughout the game we’ll say that to each other. It became a cultural thing in the team this year. It’s ‘I am going to do everything I can for you, and I expect the same. You lift me up, I’m going to lift you up.’” 

Henry fielded multiple offers for college play, including Michigan State and Boston College, before ultimately committing to UCLA. He was looking for the best place to establish his own name as, at both Xaverian and BC, he’s the son of Matt Hasselbeck ’93, and nephew of Tim ’96 and Nathanael Hasselbeck ’00. But he doesn’t think of that as “pressure” to succeed. He says instead, it’s support. “You have so many more people cheering for you and wearing your colors. My grandfather and my father (who both coached at Xaverian this year) don’t ask me to be an NFL quarterback.They don’t ask me to be a Pro Bowler. They just ask me to be myself, treat kids with respect, and be a good leader.” That said, Henry wants to be an NFL quarterback and a Pro Bowler, and he’s working toward that goal. 

“I really want to play in the NFL; that’s been my dream goal forever. I see it as a possibility, where others see it as ‘only 1% of people do that.’ But if I do everything right, I believe I can get there. If that is the case, bless the Lord. And if it’s not, I’m going to be the best person I can be, the best husband I can be, the best friend I can be, and possibly the best investment banker in New York City…you know, ‘GET BREAD’.” he says in an unnaturally tough voice, hoping for a laugh. And with that you get a peek at the trademark Henry goofiness you see off the field. Not a golden boy, just a teenager looking to be himself and spend time with his brothers.

“It’s never too late I guess,” Caleb Brown says of his first touchdown as a Hawk. It happened in his senior season against Catholic Memorial. Prior to that moment, he was feeling down on football. “Freshman year, I came in with a pretty big head,” he says. “I came in thinking I was going to start on varsity. That didn’t happen. Sophomore year I didn’t get any playing time. It humbled me. You take a beating every day in practice and then you don’t play in the game. It  weighs on you, physically and mentally. I started questioning myself, because football was a pretty big part of my dreams. You’re kind of forgotten, because you’re not in the spotlight. It was hard to keep grinding and doing all of those workouts with nobody watching.” 

Caleb kept working, and he kept showing up. And when two of the team’s spotlight players went down with injuries, Caleb was ready to make plays. It turns out, people had been watching: his coaches and his teammate, quarterback Henry Hasselbeck. When it came time for the Super Bowl, Caleb Brown became the unlikely hero. He added three more touchdowns to his record when it mattered most, helping power the Hawks to a 31-25 victory over St. John’s Prep. The crowd was chanting his name, his teammates were shouting, “We love C.L.B.”, and reporters were standing by to shine a spotlight on him. “I’m definitely going to remember this,” he told them. “It feels like a dream.” 

Caleb, consistently an honor roll student with a knack and fondness for math and physics, hopes to study engineering in college. He’s exploring his options with multiple offers, looking for the right combination of academics and football for the next four years.The goal, he says, is to go to college for free. “The better I do in football, the more scholarship I can get, and the more I can help out my parents.” His parents are his rock, his reason, and his role models. “When I am down, or when I don’t want to go further, I think about my parents and how much they’ve sacrificed for me. They gave me life and they continue to give. Excelling in football and as a man is my tribute to them. I can never fully pay them back.”

Jonathan Monteiro likes to put on a show, and he wants an audience to do it. That’s how he ended up at Xaverian. “The reason I picked Xaverian is because we have the biggest bleachers, and I wanted to play for the biggest crowd. When I’m playing, the crowd makes me feel electric–electricity going through me–because everyone is here for one reason and that’s to watch us play.” 

But Jonathan’s showmanship is about more than applause. He wants to be an example. “Where I’m from, nobody ever made it this far,” he says. “I’m trying to show them that there’s a lot to this world. You don’t have to live like this. You can come out here, you can get a good job. Someone is going to be there for you. That’s the person I want to be. Moral of the story, I want them to see something and realize they can be more in life than what they’re bound to be right now.” 

Jonathan is committed to play at Liberty University next year. He’ll be the first in his family to attend and graduate from college. It’s his family he credits with helping him to see the opportunities in front of him. His mom gives it to him straight. “She is someone who is going to tell you if you’re wrong whether you like it or not, no matter how bad the situation is.” His dad, he says, showed him the way out. “He definitely has his ups and a whole lot of downs. Even with that, he showed me the life you can live when you work hard and you do the right thing. He showed me that if you play your cards right, keep a clean record, stay out of trouble with the law, go to college for free, and get a degree, you can expand yourself on an absurd level. You never know what type of opportunities will come your way.” 

For Jonathan, Xaverian was one of those opportunities. “Just being here is a benefit,” he says. “The teachers I have had here, Mr. MacKinnon, Mr. Watson, Mr. Bowers, Mr. Iannoni, those teachers really helped me become a better student and a better person.This place definitely feels like home.”

Andrew “Hammy” Dufault had a singular purpose this year; to win the state championship. Considered one of the best high school football long snappers in the country, Andrew was selected for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and committed in August to play at Penn State. With that locked down, his senior season was all about securing the MIAA Division 1 trophy at Gillette Stadium. His game plan? Discipline. Discipline. Discipline. That’s how he earned the co-captain title and a spot on the starting line of the varsity team, and that’s what he knew it would take to hang the State Championship banner in the varsity gymnasium. “There are two different types of players,” Andrew explains. 

“There are the ones who come and lift in the morning, do all of the right things, get sleep, etc., and there’s kids who don’t. Three times a week I get up at 5:00 a.m., come here at 6:00 and lift until 7:00, and then have a three-hour practice after school. It’s not easy. Discipline isn’t doing the right thing when Mr. Guinan (Dean of Students) is walking around. It’s ‘are you willing to do what you need to succeed, to make yourself different from everybody else, to rise to the top?’. Whoever is in front needs to be able to get everyone corralled and doing the right thing, to be the best version of Xaverian.” 

Rising to the top is something Andrew has been doing since middle school, when he’d been told he was too small to play offensive line. He took up long snapping as a result, and started at Xaverian in seventh grade. By freshman year, he was playing varsity and learning from the strong captains and players who came before him, like Jack Funke ’22 (BC), Mike Berlutti ’21 (Tufts), and Jon Mould ’23 (Harvard). 

When it came time to take the field at Gillette and lead the Hawks as one of this year’s captains, Andrew says it was nerve-wracking at first. He settled down once the game got underway and then it was all business. “It was definitely something I won’t forget, when it finally ended and I could celebrate on the field. It really put into perspective how much work we put in over the course of the season.” It was all worth it as they lifted that trophy overhead to the cheers of classmates, family, and friends.

Mike “Okie” O’Connor joins Charlie Comella and Henry Hasselbeck on the gridiron as football legacies…all three of their fathers having donned the blue and gold in the 1990s. As co-captain, he’s a leader on the field, but he’s also a leader for all Xaverian students as Class President of the Student Council, a role he has held for four years. 

While Mike says football is his passion, it’s not a career goal for him. Instead, it’s a pathway to college. He’s committed to Trinity College in the fall and says he is excited about the academic opportunities he will find there. “I know I am not going to the NFL, but it’s a dream come true to be playing for four more years. I wanted to use football to get me to a college that would have been difficult for me otherwise. I was looking for good academics along with a good football team I could call my family. Once football is over, I want to be left with a strong foundation and with connections for networking.” 

Just as Mike’s college plan involves a well-rounded approach, he experienced Xaverian the same way, exploring opportunities in leadership, campus ministry, athletics, and academics. “I came with football in mind,” he says, “but once you get here, you open your eyes and realize there’s way more to Xaverian than football. It’s just a small aspect of the opportunities available to you, and I’ve learned that by getting involved in different aspects of the school.” 

When Mike says he’s looking for a family out of Trinity football, he means like the family he found as a Hawk. He notes, “There are so many times during the season when Coach says, ‘Look at the guys around you, recognize the family you have, and have that be what you’re playing for, rather than making yourself look good.’” says Mike. It took on an even deeper meaning for this year’s team when two players tragically lost family members. “I think in a week’s span, we had Will Benting ’25 lose his brother and Matt Spaulding ’26 lose his father, back to back. It was really beautiful to see how we all came together to support one another, and then how we went out on the field and played for one another. We played for the lost members of our teammates’ families.”

The future for Denzil Pierre is more up in the air than his fellow Hawks, but it’s not for lack of talent or drive. The truth is that Denzil took a risk coming to Xaverian, and it cost him a whole season. 

Denzil was a junior year transfer to Clapboardtree Street, and he knew there was a possibility that the MIAA might not give him a waiver to play football - his sport, his passion, and what he sees as his (and his family’s) ticket to a better future. He knew his junior season was critical to getting looks from NCAA schools, but the MIAA denied his request. Faced with the choice between continuing in Boston Public Schools and playing his junior season, or transferring to Xaverian and losing his chance to play, he says, “It was an easy decision.” 

But life hasn’t been easy for Denzil— being evicted, having utilities cut off, losing his sister to violence, and having neighborhood friends die far too young. He’s someone you would expect to have a chip on his shoulder, but instead he praises God for his blessings. Denzil is playing the long game. “No matter where you’re from, you can make it to where you want to be if you put in the effort,” he says. 

While he couldn’t compete with the Hawks his junior year, he could practice with them, and he put in the effort year-round. He took the gridiron by storm when he finally got back out under the Friday night lights this year, helping power the Hawks to a D1 State Championship. And now he waits for a college offer. The scholarship money would be a game changer, and he wants to make it to the NFL so that he can provide for his mother and his extended family. 

“Being a young kid in today’s society, it’s hard to figure out what you’re going to do in the future or how you’re going to beat the giant in front of you. But God gives me peace of mind, knowing that everything will be OK in the end.”
Xaverian is a Catholic, college-preparatory school for boys in grades 7-12. As an inclusive community, we embrace diverse experiences and perspectives, welcoming students and families from all faiths and backgrounds. Through exceptional academics, athletics, the arts, faith formation, and service opportunities, we help young men discover their unique gifts and talents so they can share them with a world in need.