Will Blackmon, the 12 year-NFL veteran and Rhode Island native paid close attention to the 120 plus area high school football players who participated in the second annual Blackmon/Rowley Combine held over the summer at Bishop Hendricken.
“Who is that?” asked Blackmon as he watched two players battle in a fierce one-on-one competition at the end of the combine. “That kid can ball.”
The “kid” Blackmon was referring to was Andrew Andella, a 5 ’10,” 175 pound senior captain on the St. Raphael Academy football team.
Although Blackmon now lives on the West Coast, he pays close attention to the RI high school football scene, in which he was once a star player. He said he had never heard of Andella.
A two-sport student-athlete who also plays hockey, Andella wasn’t surprised he hadn’t been on Blackmon’s radar.
As a junior, Andella played on a Saints team that started the season a disappointing 0-6. Although Saints would improve by the end of the season and go on to win two of their final three games in Division 1A, they failed to make the playoffs.
‘We started 0-6. No one was going to follow us all season. I was under the radar,” said Andella.
So this summer, leading up to his final season of high school football, he made sure others knew who he was. He worked hard in the off-season, He trained with best friend and teammate Devin O’Malley, the Saints’ quarterback. Andella put on 20 pounds and became noticeably stronger.
He attended camps and combines, including the annual Blackmon/Rowley Combine at Hendricken, run by Blackmon and Kyle Rowley, the former Hendricken and Brown quarterback, who spent 14 years in the Arena Football League.
“Attending the Blackmon/Rowley Combine was a great opportunity for me. No one is going to go to your games when your team is 0-6. But going to the combine was a great opportunity for me to play with and against the best players in the state. I made sure in the drills I competed against the best players there. I wanted to make a good impression. I wanted to get noticed.”
He certainly did.
Of the 100 plus high school players who attended the Blackmon/Rowley Combine, Andella was one of many who impressed Blackmon, the former Boston College and Hendricken All-American.
“I never heard of the kid until he came to the camp, but that just shows you that it’s important to explore all avenues until the right set of eyes see you,” said Blackmon. “I can’t wait to see who emerges next camp!”
Blackmon’s eyes were focused on Andella.
“I was impressed with his competitive spirit. He accepted every challenge we threw at him. Not only did he accept the challenge, but he also won,” said Blackmon. “Andrew impressed me with his coverage and discipline during one on ones. He was patient and didn’t lack an ounce of confidence.”
Andella said was thrilled to receive praise from Blackmon.
“It means a lot to me…especially because no one knows about us and our team,” said Andella. “Will Blackmon didn’t know about me… It was a great opportunity to show him and others what I could do.”
— Will Blackmon (@WillBlackmon) July 7, 2019
The biggest point of emphasis at the Blackmon/Rowley Combine Camp: One-on-one competition.
— Ian Steele (@ISteeleABC6) July 7, 2019
“If I were his coach I would feature him little more on offense, for example, slants and quick outs. Maybe some wild cat. He is a very good athlete,” said Blackmon.
Andella, an honor roll student, is hoping to attract attention from college coaches this season. However, he emphasizes that helping Saints have a winning season that includes a playoff appearance is first and foremost.
“We’ve definitely improved this year,” said St. Raphael’s veteran head coach Mike Sassi. “We’re young. The biggest problem with us in Division I is we have 45 kids total…22 are freshman. We are currently starting four freshmen on the varsity.”
Sassi will look towards Andella, who was selected as captain by his teammates, to lead the young squad.
“Andrew is a great kid. He one of the best captains we’ve had. He keeps everyone on track and takes care of all the little things so our staff doesn’t have to worry about certain things. The kids respect him,” said Sassi.
Sassi said Andella’s hard work in the off season has paid off.
“The biggest thing about Andrew is he Improved his body a lot in the off season. He got a lot stronger. He has more of a burst this year than he has before. He can probably play eight of 11 position on our defense if we needed him to. Our plan is to move him around from week to week and see where he fits best…see who we can pick out on the other team that we don’t (want to) have any fun that night…sic Andrew on him.”
As Sassi and Andella headed to practice, a young boy about 10 or 11 years-old leaned up against the fence at O’Brien Field. He sent a clear message to Sassi.
“Hey coach,” the boy said to Sassi. “You better win the championship.”
And with that, the boy turned away from O’Brien field and continued on.
“That motivates me,” said Andella.
With a team filled with underclassmen that competes in the state’s premier division, a championship may be a lofty goal. Andella has set his initial goal of making the playoffs, but equally as important to him is preparing the young players on the team for the future.
“Most of all, “I am hoping to lay the foundation for the younger players,” said Andella. “That’s the main thing. I want to pave the way for the young players. I want to leave after this season knowing these young guys have developed and have built a strong foundation for our program.”
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