They have explosive playmakers at running back, receiver and in the defensive backfield, as well as a poised senior leader at quarterback. But the secret of Xaverian’s success is buried a bit under the surface.
“He’s a great weapon, our secret weapon,” Clippers quarterback Greg Rando said.
He is referring to senior kicker Michael Marando, one of several soccer players who are making cameos in the CHSFL this season.
While it’s not a new phenomenon, soccer players are making a huge impact this fall on the gridiron and Marando, who regularly puts kickoffs in the end zone, is among the best.
“It’s great because every time we score we know they have to drive 80 yards down field,” Rando said. “In high school, and especially against our defense, it’s hard to drive 80 yards. He helps us get the ball back quickly.”
Indeed, Xaverian coach Joe DeSiena says having an accurate and strong-legged kicker is “an unbelievable weapon on the high school level.”
“High school kids are prone to mistakes and a kick return can change the game,” he said. “To not even let the other team touch the football is a major advantage.”
Marando, a starting center midfielder and captain on the Clippers soccer team, never played organized football before enrolling at Xaverian. But he was asked to do it as a freshman and, after consulting with his father, gave it a go.
He fell in love instantly and has really worked on his craft, attending a kicking camp in Wisconsin over the summer.
“Football is a game of field position so putting the ball in the end zone consistently is very hard,” he said. “You want to be explosive on every hit. You have to have core, leg strength, you have to follow through.”
Because Xaverian’s offense is so explosive, Marando hasn’t been called upon to regularly kick field goals. He is 1-for-1 on the season, kicking a 37-yarder against Fordham Prep, but DeSiena said Marando’s range is even deeper.
“We’re comfortable from like 42 yards,” he said. “I’ve seen the kid drill 55-yarders. From the 25-yard line and in, we’ll call a field goal.”
Marando is one of several soccer players who are hired assassins on the football field. Iona Prep has goalkeeper Alex Kapp for field goals, extra points and kickoffs; Bishop Ford uses midfielder Arber Muric for punts; goalkeeper Joe Cala does the kicking for St. Francis Prep; and, before suffering a season-ending injury, standout defender Benny Cosovic kicked for St. Peter’s. The senior has drawn interest from Rutgers, among other schools.
“I think everybody realizes there’s money out there. College [football teams] need kickers,” DeSiena said. “Most of the time, people don’t have them. We’re in a year this year though where every week we’re facing a kid who could bang the ball in the end zone. The league is filled with kickers.”
While it’s hectic, Marando said he’s able to manage playing two sports in the same season.
“Our [soccer] games are on Tuesday and Thursday and every other day we have practice,” he said. “I come for special teams on Friday and then Saturday and Sunday are the football games.”
Marando is just one part of Xaverian’s very special special teams unit.
“Special teams for us this year has been absolutely huge,” he said. “Having the threat of Laray [Smith] and Zach [Kearney] on kick return has forced teams to kick the ball short and having a kicker who can put the ball in the end zone really puts pressure on the other team.”
Marando is indeed a weapon, just not so secret anymore.