It can be easy to miss 4-foot-6-inch Brendan Cogavin on the football field. But the junior student manager with a rare medical condition has been huge behind the scenes throughout Catholic Memorial’s second consecutive run to the MIAA Division 1 Super Bowl.
A 16-year-old junior from West Roxbury, Cogavin was born with an impartial chromosome 6q, leading to complications including low muscle tone, a cleft palate, and minor heart defects. According to researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital, his condition is one of only two known cases in the world.
Despite those challenges, Cogavin is thriving as an honors student, a captain on the debate team, a junior varsity tennis player, and the newest student manager on an undefeated football team that will meet St. John’s Prep Saturday at Gillette Stadium in a Super Bowl rematch (8 p.m.).
“[Cogavin] is a big personality on campus and everybody knows him,” said CM coach John DiBiaso, the second winningest coach in state history with a 324-78-1 record over 35 years at St. Patrick’s, Weston, Everett, and two seasons at CM.
DiBiaso first met Cogavin in the school cafeteria last winter and said their mutual support of the Green Bay Packers sparked in-depth conversations about football. The coach took a liking to Cogavin, and after attending one of his tennis matches that spring, asked him if he’d like to help out with the football team.
Eager to participate in a sport he said he’s always loved but was unable to play, Cogavin has exceeded DiBiaso’s expectations with his intelligence and attention to detail.
“I’m not the most organized person in the world, and [Cogavin’s] very organized,” said DiBiaso. “Whenever we’re scouting he’ll remind me of the patterns the other team runs or other nuances. He’ll keep me on schedule for walkthroughs and practices. It’s like having another assistant coach. You’d never expect that from a 16-year-old kid.”
Along with fellow student manager Garrett Nelson, Cogavin helps organize the scout team, draw up play cards for the offense and defense, and keep track of paperwork during game week.
Since DiBiaso doesn’t use a formal playbook, Cogavin often offers helpful reminders of which plays the coach intended to run during a game, or about points of emphasis for the defensive game plan.
Senior quarterback Barrett Pratt and DiBiaso both recalled an instance in which Cogavin (nicknamed “Beebs” by his classmates) alertly reminded the coaching staff an injured player had to be replaced on the punt team during a game this season,preventing the Knights from taking the field with only 10 players.
Pratt and fellow senior captain Owen McGowan are two of Cogavin’s closest friends on the team. While he knew both players prior to his time on the sidelines, Cogavin said his new role as manager has strengthened his relationship with them and with the CM community as a whole.
“I love Catholic Memorial and really feel like part of a community here,” said Cogavin. “I didn’t think it could get any better, but then I joined the football team, and it really adds another aspect. The bond gets strengthened and you really become family. It extends beyond the football field into life.”
When he was in fourth grade, Cogavin spent three days at Boston Children’s while recovering from a challenging hip surgery that kept him bedridden for months. It was there he formed his first connection with the CM community by befriending his roommate Matt Freitas, who was recovering from a leg amputation.
Freitas, who went on to a standout career as a wrestler and lacrosse player at CM and is now on the lacrosse team at Williams, helped show Cogavin what it means to persevere.
“[Freitas] had all the right to kind of give up, but he’s overcome so much and is doing a lot of things that are amazing,” said Cogavin. “I have a lot to be thankful for. A lot of people have it worse than me, so I look at that and think, I can do a lot with my life.”
According to DiBiaso, Cogavin never uses his condition as an excuse, even apologizing profusely when he has a doctor’s appointment that conflicts with the team’s schedule.
When he’s present, “Beebs” brings a relentlessly positive attitude to every workout, film session, and practice that inspires the Knights.
“He’s a big part of what we do with his energy and what he brings to practice,” said Pratt. “His condition is not great, but he always has a positive attitude and we’ve rallied around his happiness.”
Since DiBiaso has a daily commute of 45 to 90 minutes from Everett to West Roxbury, he’s especially appreciative of the extra help. The 64-year-old coach still takes time to drop Cogavin off at home, travels with him to scout opponents, and spends extra time looking at film with his young apprentice.
“It’s like talking to an adult. [Cogavin’s] so mature and knowledgeable,” said DiBiaso. “These [student managers] do a ton of work. They’re filling a role that a graduate assistant would fill at a college program. And those grad assistants are really the unsung heroes of college programs.”Nate Weitzer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.