Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Final Approach: Wes Rockett Ready to Put Finishing Touches on Family Legacy at St. John's Prep

Wes Rockett joined by his brothers Hayden (far left) and Owen, and his parents, following a victory his sophomore year. (Photo courtesy of the Rocketts')

By Matt Feld (@Mattyfeld612)

It’s a Saturday afternoon and on the opposing sidelines, away from an overjoyed Everett home crowd, is a despondent Wes Rockett.

Moments earlier, on fourth down and five, Rockett had nearly made an improbable catch in St. John’s Prep’s pursuit to dethrone the Crimson Tide only for the ball to go off the edge of his fingertips. His full-extension, all-out diving attempt had been for naught.

Rockett slammed his hands to the ground, meagerly jogged backed over to the sideline, let out a sequence of overbearing frustration, and flipped his helmet away. 

The events and emotions are nothing uncommon. It may as well be part of his game-day routine.

They are an integral component of being a star wide receiver. The feeling that you are not only talented enough to make the plays not even attainable for others, but that you are able to impact the game in a way that nobody else can.

“There’s no hiding it,” said Rockett. “I get frustrated often because I want to perform and win so badly.”

Rockett’s competitiveness is displayed both in his performance on the field and his antics away from it. The countless ripped buckles, bursts of rage, and throwing of the equipment is a routine sign not of selfish frustration, but of missed opportunity. A desire to win that can only be emitted by those who have loved the game of football since they were little.

“I have been a fan of it since I was born,” said Rockett. “Watching my older brothers play helped me fall in love with it.”

Yet for Rockett, it’s a feeling that this is final chance while in high school to showcase what he is capable of to the rest of Massachusetts. His career largely limited due to abnormal slip-ups, non-contact injuries, a bevy of time on the sideline, and incessant pain, this football season represents one final opportunity for Wes to cement the Rockett’s legacy at St. John’s Prep.

The Rockett's admiration for football goes well beyond Wes' time as an Eagle. Wes’ father, Bill, is in the Hall of Fame at Marblehead High School for his play at quarterback.

But while Bill has undoubtedly been an influence on the youngest member of the Rockett family, Wes’ biggest inspiration comes from his siblings.

“They have all had a huge impact on me, just from making me tougher and more competitive,” recalls Wes.

Football was a mainstay in the Rockett household from the moment that Owen, the oldest of the three, was born.

Owen started as a quarterback in fourth grade and stayed with the position up through middle school. The addition of two little brothers, Hayden and Wes, who shared an endless tank of energy meant that Owen now had two additional playmakers to implement into his backyard offense.

While Owen had a desire for being under center, Hayden developed the early build of a running back. It was only natural that Wes slid right in as a future potential slot receiver.

“We just all got along great,” said Owen, now a senior at Colegate University. “We were always out to get the best out of one another.”

When it came time for high school there was little debate about where the three would attend. It had been decided as soon as the three of them were born.

“As soon as we had three boys, we knew it was going to be straight to the Prep,” said Kate, the mother of the three boys. “My husband had wished he had hone, and it just allowed the three of them to play at a higher level on top of the academics.”

Owen’s days of a quarterback ended quickly upon entering high school. His quickness, terrific hands, and talents as runner made him an easy candidate to move to wide receiver for Jim O’Leary’s Eagles.

As a sophomore, he watched from the sidelines as Johnny Thomas led am uncontainable St. John’s Prep offense to the 2012 Div. 1 Super Bowl over Brockton.

In the stands behind Owen were his two younger brothers cheering him on from the Bentley University stands.

“There was nothing that got Hayden and I fired up like watching Owen do well,” said Wes. “Watching him at Gillette winning the Super Bowl was incredible. We were screaming. We may as well have been winning it”

Even more exciting for the Rockett family was that by the time Owen was a junior, he and Hayden had the opportunity to play alongside one another. They went from being competitors fighting for control of the football behind their home in Marblehead to preparing for battle with the same color uniform on.

They no longer simply shared a car ride home but an equal angst towards losing.

“Hayden and Owen got so much closer,” said Kate. “And it just made Wes want to be part of it all when he got to high school.”

Hayden made an instant impact, making the St. John’s Prep varsity football team as a freshman while the five-foot 10-inch Owen became one of the top skill players in Massachusetts.

Over the course of two seasons as a starting wideout for the Eagles, Owen was named a two-time Catholic Conference All-Star. His senior year in 2014, under new Eagles’ head coach Brain St. Pierre, he compiled 43 receptions for 736 yards and 11 touchdowns. For his career finished with 1,083 receiving yards and 15 scores.

After entertaining a handful of Patriot League schools, Owen elected to continue his playing career at Colgate where he currently has 818 career receiving yards and eight touchdowns. Just as he had done in the backyard a decade earlier, the eldest of the Rockett boys had paved the way for his two younger brothers.

“I just wanted to make it an easier process on the two of them, and I feel like I did that,” said Owen.

Hayden basked in the glory of reaching the pinnacle of the St. John’s Prep football program for four years. At 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds he found himself more built than his two other brothers, allowing him to muscle his way past smaller defensive backs when lined up in the slot. 

He was a Catholic Conference All-Star and had his moment in the sun his senior year against rival BC High. Hayden caught passes for 87 yards and a touch, and also corralled an interception.

Just like Hayden had with Owen, Wes received a pair of years alongside his older brother on the sideline when he entered in 2015.

He expected to only receive one when showed up on the initial day of tryouts and was joined by 90 other fellow freshman.

“Wes came home shocked how many kids were there,” said Kate. “He thought there was no chance he was going up.”

Then the next day, Wes received a pleasant surprise when St. Pierre walked over to him, asked him to put on pads and a helmet and join the varsity team for practice. As Bill walked up from the varsity side with Hayden following practice, there was Wes right by his side.

“And then day two came, and they put him on third string and Wes mad,” said Kate. “It was just that he always wanted to be involved, playing with the big boys. He was going to get there.”

Wes did in fact get there, appearing on the special teams unit and lining up alongside Hayden throughout his freshman fall.

Everything was lining up perfectly with Wes getting the chance to fulfill his goal of being a three-sport athlete. But in the winter, while a member of the Eagles’ freshman basketball team, Wes experienced what initially looked to be a minor injury to his knee.

He received a cortisone shot, missed a mere day of practice, and played through the pain.

Wes broke out as a sophomore, vaulting to the top of most valuable players in the Catholic Conference and making an impact all over the field. With the Catholic Conference title on the line versus Xaverian, Wes caught seven catches for 110 yards.

“I felt like I was finally coming into my own, and following in my older brothers’ footsteps,” said Wes.

The knee discomfort remained, but he simply elected to end his short basketball career, and stick with lacrosse in the spring.

The physical activity and nagging injury came to a head during the Eagles’ camp last August when Wes suffered a non-contact, torn-meniscus that kept him sidelined for the entire 2017 season. His junior season was spent cheering from the sidelines.

Taking football away from Wes was akin to a child forgetting his favorite blanket on a long car ride. The emotional and mental impact gradually took its toll.

“You get mad when you lose a player in fantasy football, but then you experience something like that yourself and its horrible,” said Wes. “You’re a full year away from your teammates, the game. You don’t really miss those Xaverian, BC High, and Everett games until your away from it all.”

Just as he did when he was younger, while being playfully tortured by his older brothers in a casual game of two-hand touchdown football, he turned to them for inspiration. He squeezed any ounce of reassurance and encouragement as he could out of them as he drubbed through days of physical therapy and 6 a.m. training sessions.

Wes looked primed to return to the lacrosse field this past spring but a slip while walking in the kitchen in late winter led to a re-aggravation of his meniscus injury. What looked like a potential five-month injury turned into a year-long slog.

“We probably pushed it a little bit, but we definitely want to risk losing any more time to football, so he Wes had to sit out the lacrosse season,” said Kate.

The most difficult aspect of all for Wes, however, came when he was finally cleared in June following a final clean-up procedure. He was tenuous and hesitant, left searching for the explosiveness he held prior to his injury.

Seven on sevens over the summer brought fear, concern, and a feeling of forgetfulness of what was what like to excel on the football field.

“My brothers picked me up from a motivation standpoint,” said Wes. “They were the ones that pushed me to get back to where I once was. To see Owen succeed on the football field for Colgate, and Hayden while here at the Prep, is a dream come true. I just hope to be able to really show what I am capable of this fall.”

At long last, after three weeks of going scoreless to begin the season, Wes broke out on Friday night for a pair of touchdowns, reaching the end zone for the first time since 2016.

It’s the final months of football for the Rockett family up at the Prep. These weeks are the last scenes of a three-act performance.

Behind the competitive ire are what his teammates describe as a warm, joyous kid. In the waning moments of his high school football career, however, do not expect to see any of that from one of the feistier players in the section.

All Wes is hoping for is that his final helmet toss is not to the ground, but straight up into the air.

“I didn’t want to go anywhere else," Wes noted emphatically. "The competition, the school, its always been the Prep and it’s because of what’s happened, and what’s to come.”

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