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Northmen football is the name of the game for Keenan brothers

November 30, 2013

From left, brothers Mark (80), Peter (87) and Kevin (62) Keenan gather for a family picture following Thursday’s 53-20 victory over Scituate. Mark, Peter and Kevin are the youngest three of Paul and Barbara’s six sons. Pat and Dan Keenan started the family football tradition at North Smithfield as all six Keenan boys have represented the school at one time. Peter is a high school senior, Mark a junior and Kevin a sophomore. PHOTO BY BRENDAN McGAIR

NORTH SMITHFIELD – Kevin may be the youngest of the six Keenan boys, but he still recalls the fondest moments of his childhood: How his father, Paul, would rave about the prospect of watching his sons represent North Smithfield High's varsity football team – together.

“We'd be sitting in front of the TV watching the Patriots, or be at the supper table, and Dad would bring it up, how we all could play together one day,” offered Kevin of those instances a decade or more ago. “I don't know if he knew it, but we were thinking the same thing.”

His dad's dream now is a reality, as his three youngest boys are not only playing but starting for the Northmen, who – with a convincing 53-20 Thanksgiving Day triumph over Scituate – snatched the No. 3 seed in the upcoming Division IV playoffs.

It gets better: Peter, a senior captain and receiver/defensive end, is on the same lines as Mark, a junior tight end/defensive end. Kevin, the sophomore, starts at offensive tackle, but occasionally rotates in on the other side of the pigskin.

How the family tradition started is a wild story, and it opened with the eldest pair, Pat and Dan. They each played at least three years for North Smithfield – the former as a wide receiver/safety and the latter a tight end/linebacker. Both earned All-Division honors for their multiple talents on the gridiron.

Pat graduated in 2007, and later spent a year on the University of Rhode Island squad before competing for Salve Regina University in Newport for three more. He and Dan, a 2009 alumnus, played together for two years before a new batch of Keenans began entering the school.

They included Joe, Peter, Mark and Kevin, mother Barbara's baby of the bunch.

“Our dad would say to the four of us, 'You're the Keenans, and this will be the Year of the Keenans for North Smithfield's football team,'” Kevin stated, referring to the 2012 campaign, after a recent practice. “Joe was the oldest (after Pat and Dan), and only a year separate us, so we were all going to be Northmen at the same time, with Joe being the senior and me the freshman.

“He wanted us all to play together, but it didn't quite work out that way,” he added, noting Joe didn't compete last season due to unforeseen circumstances.

Noted Peter, a senior receiver/defensive end who undoubtedly will snag All-Division first-team laurels: “Ever since we were little, there's always been a football culture in our family. My dad always loved it, so we grew up watching football, playing sandlot ball with our brothers and friends. It would be all six of us; it didn't matter what age we were.

“When Pat was playing, we'd be throwing the ball around (on a field near the stadium, home or away); we'd even take on some of (North Smithfield's) opponents' little brothers or their friends. We'd play games,” he added. “When we were little, Dad wouldn't let us play for the (North Smithfield) Express youth program because he didn't want us to get burned out.”

When asked if that could've happened, Peter immediately piped up, “Us? No way! … We still went to a football camp in Burrillville, and we had a blast. Honestly, I've been dreaming about this (the trio starting) since I was little, and I'm proud to see how hard Mark and Kevin have worked, how much they want to help us win. I've seen them get stronger, be able to make tougher tackles or block better.

“Last year, we were all on the varsity team, but it was pretty much just me (who started) because Mark and Kev hadn't completely come along, and (Kevin) was only a freshman … Mark worked his butt off, though, and Kevin? He's gained 20 pounds of muscle over the spring and summer.”

Earlier this year, both kid brothers took particular notice of Peter's work ethic – and followed it. They indicated they had good reason.

They watched him and his buddies on the Northmen's varsity basketball team complete its 2012-13 season with a perfect 26-0 mark, that after capturing the state Division III crown with a superb 66-55 win over East Greenwich at Brown.

(They later lost to eventual champion Classical, 61-54, in a state Open Division semifinal at URI's Ryan Center last March).

“What Pete does and how he does it, I understand why he's as good as he is,” Mark admitted while grinning at his immediate eldest. “He's the model for how I want to play. He would tell me how to secure the outside and about the mistakes he had made, how not to repeat them.

“This is amazing, all three of us playing for the same team; it's not a normal experience,” he continued. “We're all teammates, and you have to respect your teammates. The fact we're brothers, I think, makes our relationships closer, more special.”

***

As for the left tackle Kevin, it's his duty to protect senior quarterback Mike Cicerone's “blind side,” and he has with aplomb all season. He's one of many reasons why veteran head coach Wes Pennington's crew has compiled a 5-4 overall mark, though now is only one win away from a D-IV Super Bowl appearance.

(It will battle host Exeter/West Greenwich, the No. 2 seed, in a semifinal at 6 p.m., Tuesday).

Other explanations: Peter has compiled approximately 800 receiving yards (prior to the lopsided win over the Spartans on the holiday), and Pennington calls Mark a “solid blocking tight end who also does a terrific job playing the other defensive end (opposite Peter). We also try to throw the ball to him now and then.

“Those two guys do a really nice job on the (defensive) edge,” he added. “They stop runs to the outside, and they both get after the quarterback real well. With Kevin, he starts at OT, but also rotates in at DT with (junior) Adam Dodd.

“Obviously, all three have made a impact because they've seen significant playing time. Peter's just a talented high school football player, but an athlete, too. Look at how good he is at basketball. Offensively, he's very important because he brings the interest of the defense; he's a big target, so they have to double-team him; that helps the other guys get open.

“He's also the guy we want on the side where the ball will go. His speed, size and experience are all excellent; those traits, they're all invaluable. The Keenans' older brothers were all good football players, and the younger three are following suit.”

Kevin mentioned he never was told he'd become an offensive starter this fall, but trained with his brothers and teammates to achieve his – and his family's – goal.

“I knew last year about the guys who were graduating, and only two current (offensive linemen) were coming back,” he said. “I knew the positions that would be open, so I worked really hard to get one of them.

“Pete and Mark have helped me a lot; they set the bar way up here,” he continued, raising his hand far above his head. “I knew I was going to have to work even harder if I wanted to start with my brothers, get to their level, so I did. I owe them a lot.”

Immediately, Peter laughed jokingly, “Face it, Kev, you hate us …,” to which the kid responded, “No, I don't.”

Returning to his point, he noted, “There are times they bug me, like when they borrow my clothes or hog the (TV) remote … I wouldn't say we have a perfect, rosy relationship, but they're my brothers, and that's unconditional. We also have the same goal: Winning.”

White the Keenans provide the Northmen with the lone family trio, amazingly, Pennington has three other sets of brothers on his squad. They include the oldest Cicerone and junior tailback/safety Nick; senior safety Jake and junior running back/cornerback Cody DeMaire (he's also Mike's backup QB); and junior receiver/outside linebacker/safety Nate and freshman running back/safety Jake Palmer.

“I have 43 kids on the team, and nine are brothers; I've never seen anything like it,” Pennington smiled. “Over 20 percent of the team is made up of brothers; I think that's really unusual. Still, I coach everybody as individuals because they all bring a different set of talents, emotions and mind-sets to the table.

“A perfect example: When Nick Cicerone went down (with an injured left elbow in an eventual loss to non-league foe Plainfield, Conn. on Nov. 1), I never thought about how Mike would react with his brother being hurt,” he added. “Then again, like I said, they're all different. If one is injured on a play, I have to think about who to replace him with to get the best out of the team.

“It is an interesting thought, though.”

One of the highlights of the campaign for the Keenan threesome came in what became a 37-12 home rout of Hope.

“I think it was early in the second quarter, and it turned out all three of us were in on the same tackle,” Peter chuckled. “That was just unreal!”

Chipped in Kevin: “Normally when you make a tackle, you don't know, or you don't see, who the other guy is in on it. But when I realized it was Pete and Mark, I jumped up screaming.”

Mark then issued his feelings: “I was so pumped up, and our teammates went wild. They were yelling, 'Keenans!' I think it brings the whole team closer together. I just hope we have a lot more this year.”

Whether they will or not hinges on what occurs Tuesday night in West Greenwich.

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