DANVERS – When Tripp Clark and Gus McGee were slugging it out against each other in the Cape Ann League youth travel hoop ranks, each had huge aspirations in sports.
Who’d have ever known that the tough kid from Byfield and the big kid from Newburyport would tackle some of those together on the state’s grandest high school stage?
Saturday night at 8 p.m., Clark, McGee and fellow Newburyport resident Peter Wiehe will take to the hallowed Gillette Stadium turf and lead defending champion St. John’s Prep (10-1) into battle against South champ Catholic Memorial (11-0) in the Division 1 Super Bowl.
There is no bigger game in Massachusetts high school sports — live television coverage, the whole state watching.
It is a gigantic reason these three football monsters chose The Prep.
“For sure, 100 percent,” said McGee, a 6-foot-5, 218-pound tight end.
They are the elite of the elite. And St. John’s most likely would not be there without them.
All three will be making their second straight Gillette trip.
But for the senior Clark, it’s so special because he gets to play his last football game on the field of his heroes.
“This is it. Last game at Gillette Stadium,” said Clark, who starts at the “Mike” (middle) linebacker spot for the Eagles. “I love football but lacrosse is my passion, and I’ll be playing lacrosse at St. Lawrence University next year.
“The emotions are definitely there. Being my last game is at Gillette Stadium, it motivates me to play harder, stronger and do everything I can to get the ‘W.’”
A year ago, Clark started at weak side linebacker for a Prep team that crunched CM in this game, 40-22.
He’s assumed the new position and flourished, according to his coach.
“Tripp has been a senior leader at the Mike. We had a really good one in Pat Keefe last year, and that was a hole we had to fill,” said Eagles’ coach Brian St. Pierre. “Tripp had played weak side linebacker, so we felt pretty good about him assuming that role.
“He’s been awesome. He’s the captain of our defense, quarterbacks it and does a great job. He’s a physical kid, good athlete.” McGee, a junior, weighed his options back in junior high. He readily admits that sports mattered in the process.
An older sister Macy (now at Alabama) had a fine two-sport career at Central Catholic in Lawrence. But Gus wanted more.
The hard work and commitment have paid off with his first scholarship offer coming recently from UMass.
But nothing came easily, even at his size.
“Last year I rode the bench, and this year I’ve gotten a lot of playing time,” said McGee, who has six catches but is still hunting his first career TD.
“Shout out to (QB) Matt Crowley on that one,” he joked.
This year, McGee has been a road-grader, just what the coach was looking for.
“He’s a big, tall tight end, and he’s really improved his blocking,” said St. Pierre. “That was a point of emphasis for us. He’s become a more physical player. He’s got a lot of potential and gives us a really good target.”
A lot of the time when McGee is ripping open holes for Crowley or any of the Prep backs, he does it alongside Wiehe, who took over at right tackle this fall.
At 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds, Wiehe is now a fixture up front. He certainly had to earn his keep.
“Peter is a guy who coming in we had hopes for,” said St. Pierre. “He didn’t do much as a sophomore, and we were hoping he could make that leap. And he really has. He’s solidified the right tackle spot for us.”
The junior certainly appreciates the position.
“Last year and the year before, I was a scout team player. I feel like a lot more part of the team as a starter,” said Wiehe, who is an average sized guy on a Prep offensive line that prides itself on owning the line of scrimmage.
“It’s so special. We work so well as a unit. We’re big. We get things done.”
Of course, like with McGee and Clark, that’s why they’re here.
“During middle school, I played at Newburyport and I loved the staff and coaches there. It was a great way to get into football,” he said. “But in eighth grade, I knew I wanted a higher level, more intense. I looked at a lot of schools, St. John’s seemed like the very best for football. It made the decision pretty easy.”
Down the road Wiehe, who will try rugby this spring for the Eagles, is looking to find a Division 1 football home for college.
But the future and the past, including the loss to CM, just don’t figure right now.
“The only thing that matters now is Gillette and the outcome of that game,” he said.
For both Newburyport guys, it will be the first time as impact guys in Foxborough. Being there a year ago should definitely help with the nerves.
“It was a surreal experience last year, just crazy looking up seeing the whole stadium around me,” said McGee. “I couldn’t imagine being an NFL player and being on that field and being surrounded by a ton of people. It would be insane.”
Saturday night, Wiehe, McGee and Byfield’s Clark – in his case for one last time – get their taste.
Newburyport's Peter Wiehe and Gus McGee and Byfield's Tripp Clark are the three most prominent locals with the St. John's Prep football team, but they aren't the only ones. Salisbury's Sean Bellamy and Newburyport's Don Paglia are also on the roster and will be making the trip to Foxborough for Saturday night's Division 1 Super Bowl against Catholic Memorial.