Monday, November 11, 2019

One Last Chance: Owen McGowan and Barrett Pratt Use Lasting Memory to Help Fuel Catholic Memorial's Super Bowl Run

Former Canton Pop Warner teammates Owen McGowan (kicker) and Barrett Pratt (#7, pictured) now are at the center of Catholic Memorial's Super Bowl Charge.
By Matt Feld (@Mattyfeld612)

In 2011, on a cold Thanksgiving morning on Baker Street, host Catholic Memorial went pound for pound with rival BC High. With a Super Bowl berth on the line and over 10,000 fans in attendance, the two sides refused to give an inch into the latter stages of the second half. Before it was all said and done the scoreboard told what had become a familiar story as the Eagles outlasted the Knights, 13-0, en route to the schools second title in four years. A Knights core that consisted of four Division 1 senior captains was unable to bring home Catholic Memorial's first crown in 35 years.

Weeks earlier, on a grass field in Sharon, Canton's Pop Warner football team was rushing onto the field for a last second field goal try. A conversion needed for a tie and a chance at an overtime win hung in the balance. Snap perfect, hold steady, kick through the uprights. For the fourth and fifth grades involved, it was the thrill of a lifetime. Except the holder and the kicker on that very day are now not only two close friends, but the staples of a Catholic Memorial team hoping to finish the job that the 2011 team was unable to complete. 

"It's pretty awesome looking back on that now," Owen McGowan, the Knights' star linebacker and the one-time clutch, Canton Pop Warner kicker. "At that level everyone goes for it. No one kicks. We kicked and then won the game in overtime. That really started the friendship over football for Barrett (Pratt) and I."

The holder on that day, Barrett Pratt, now commandeers the Catholic Memorial offense as its two-year starting quarterback. Pratt has emerged as a steady senior leader on a team buoyed by young talent. 

"Owen's always been there every step of the way for me as we've pushed each other. It's always been about pushing each other and all of our teammates to the max," Pratt said.

As soon as the two began playing Pop Warner together they were inseparable. McGowan may have been the kicker on that fall afternoon but his upper body strength made him a force to bring down out of the backfield beginning in his elementary days while his innate ability to get downhill provide him with a bulldog-like mentality in forcing opponents to the ground.  

Pratt, meanwhile, took a loving to the quarterback position from a young age with the allure of needing all 11 guys on the field to be successful the catalyst, and his love having the game run through his hands the motivation.

Under the mentoring of their two fathers, James and Bryan, standing on the sidelines as the team's head coaches, they quickly developed a relationship over football.

"Owen and Barrett have always been great teammates and friends," said Kelly McGowan, Owen's mother. "Even in elementary school they looked out for one another and celebrated each other's success."

Except while the two immediately connected over football, quickly developing a habit of regularly watching college football together on Saturday's mornings after games, a fork in the road came when it began time to choose where to spend middle and then high school.

For the younger McGowan the choice was rather straightforward. When Owen was gearing up to enter seventh grade, his older brother Jack was embarking on a junior campaign where he quickly formed into a star linebacker for the Knights. As Owen was slowly beginning to mature into a high school star in waiting as an eighth grader, Jack won Catholic Conference MVP and gave a verbal commitment to Harvard. Most importantly for Owen, Jack's initial presence at CM allowed him to spend valuable around the upperclassmen, develop social maturity, and learn what it was like to be at the forefront of a successful varsity program.

"Once I first got there, I was always around the older guys because Jack was there. He was good to have as someone just to look up to and lead the way" McGowan said. 

Pratt, meanwhile, saw an older brother in David who ventured across the city to Dorchester in order to attend BC High, but Barrett had minimal interest in following similar footsteps. His mother, Carol, wanted him to get a private school education. Barrett desired a a place where community was prominent. It took minimal time to realize that Catholic Memorial fit the mold.

"Coming into CM, I made new friends," Pratt said. "I knew a kid in eighth grade, Aidan Gallery. We made a friend group. When Owen came in he just kinda gelled. He hung around with us - the older kids. He was already very good friends with me, so it was an easy transition." 

Fresh off four years on the Canton Gridiron and enrolled in a new journey in West Roxbury, the two took to doing what they could to positively impact the CM culture. Pratt began his high school career a member of the freshman team, but it just so happened to be that McGowan's physical and mental nature made him so attractive to the coaching staff that he was asked to participate as well despite being only in eighth grade. Then, when Pratt was elevated to the varsity team as a sophomore filling in the role as the team's backup quarterback, McGowan traveled along with him quickly earning an opportunity as an option for the varsity team at linebacker.  

The two watched in November of 2017 as senior quarterback Nick Goffredo completed a last second Hail Mary to Jarrett Martin to complete a stunning, 21-20 victory over then unbeaten BC High under the stewardship of interim head coach Brent Williams. 

One week later, the Knights fell to Xaverian in the sectional final, but a transition was underway with McGowan and Pratt ready to grab the mantle as the pillars of a program set to reach new heights. It just so happened that joining them in their mission come the fall of 2018 would be legendary coach John DiBiaso.

"Being in the program for years, it's been our goal to change the culture at Catholic Memorial," McGowan said. "Coach (DiBiaso) has obviously been the most important in that. He's always so great to us. For a while CM was kind of the team that everyone beats up on in the league. Whether it be St. John's Prep or Xaverian they've always had our number. Changing that idea has been our goal." 

As the two embarked on their first full season as two of the team's centerpieces, the change in dynamics were clear to everyone who laid eyes on the Knights. Surrounded by playmakers Darrius LeClair, Hunter Tully, Zach Mitchell, and of course McGowan, Pratt asserted himself as a quarterback dependent on precision and physicality.  Never overly flashy by piling up eye-popping statistics or showcasing jaw-dropping arm strength, Pratt became one of the more valuable quarterbacks in the state through his dependability, consistency, and seemingly transcendent leadership qualities that allowed the Knights offense to expand its originally believed ability. 

McGowan for his part took off as one of the top underclassmen in the Bay State torturing opponents in all three phrases. 

The twos emergence, combined with a premiere new head coach in DiBiaso and a bevy of surrounding talent, allowed CM to rocket to the top of the Div. 1 South Field. In the Div. 1 South Final, McGowan scored the opening touchdown and was the fulcrum of a standout defensive performance that sent the Knights to a Super Bowl berth.

"It put a lot of things in perspective for us. A lot of us consider some powerhouse but we haven't been able to climb that mountain yet," McGowan said. "That Super Bowl loss reminded us how important every potential extra rep in practice is. That one more you decide to stick around and do could be what wins you a Super Bowl."

The two used the loss, and their tight-knit personalities, to buoy the rest of their gifted returning class. 

A far more vocal leader, than his older brother, Owen used his leadership characteristics to routinely push players in the weight room, extract willingness from his teammates to go out to the field for extra reps, and constantly worked to instill confidence in his teammates. He captured state-wide attention through his commitment to Boston College over the summer. In an effort to improve his quarterback's footwork and awareness, the junior would often spend hours catching passes for Pratt during the offseason surfing the towns of Canton, Needham, and Framingham for an open field. 

Pratt, meanwhile, has used the lessons taught to him by Goffredo and previous quarterback Matt Marcantano to be the glue that sticks all the Knights invaluable pieces together. 
Barrett Pratt (Pictured, #14) prepares himself from the snap alongside Owen McGowan (Pictured, #42)
While all too often the chance to fulfill a championship dream with a childhood friend is reserved for those residing at public school, McGowan and Pratt realize this fall represents one last chance to achieve that aspiration while wearing the Red and Silver.

"This year, before the season, I think was the first time to hit me that this was going to be it of us playing together," Pratt said. "We've been playing since we were seven, eight years old.  This is the last time we'll ever play together. We're going to make it count."

The results so far speak for themselves. Catholic Memorial heads into the Div. 1 South Final a spotless 9-0 with all but one of its wins coming by double figures. Surrounding McGowan and Pratt are superstar athletes in juniors Zach Mitchell, Darrius LeClair, and Jamal Griffin as well as defensive standouts Will Stockwell and Quincy Eutsay. 

Except while the options are certainly aplenty, there are no shortage of times where the former standout holder for Canton Pop Warner just throws it up and hopes his oldest friend is there waiting.

"We have that chemistry where if (Pratt) doesn't know the read, or who's open, then he'll just throw to me, trusting that I am open," McGowan said. "He knows that I'll be there for him." 

Just over eight years ago McGowan and Pratt had what felt like to them a Super Bowl win. A simple field goal was everything. That memory is still prevalent. Now, with their final month of playing alongside each other upon them, they are hoping to make a new lasting memory. One not made in the on a grass field in Sharon, but on the storied grounds of Gillette Stadium. 

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