By Phil Anastasia
Alex Padovani remembers hearing the play call in the huddle and smiling to himself.
It was a pass.
He was a wide receiver.
This was something special.
"We barely pass," Padovani said in reference to Hammonton's run-first, Wing-T offense. "I was all happy."
Moments later, Padovani's junior season was all but over. He suffered a fractured femur in his right leg on Hammonton's first passing play in the first quarter of the first game against Holy Spirit.
One year and two days later, Padovani is set to begin his senior season with lots of extra motivation: To make up for missed time as a junior, and to join forces with his teammates and return the Blue Devils to their customary spot among South Jersey's elite programs.
It's a bounce-back season for both the player and the team.
"Our senior class has a chip on its shoulder," Padovani said as Hammonton continued preparations for Friday's season-opening showdown with Holy Spirit in a class of Cape Atlantic League American Division contenders.
Hammonton slipped to 5-5 last season for a variety of reasons -- inconsistency on both sides of the football, a rash of injuries, an unforgiving schedule in the new and stacked American Division.
But the biggest factor might have been loss of Padovani for most of the season. The 6-1, 180-pound athlete is the Blue Devils' most versatile, valuable player -- a standout wide receiver, defensive back and kicker.
"We lost a lot when we lost him," Hammonton coach Pete Lancetta said.
Padovani recovered from the injury in time to play in the Blue Devils' final three games, albeit in a reduced role. He caught a touchdown pass in a season-salvaging victory over arch-rival St. Joseph, the previously-undefeated American Division champion, on Thanksgiving weekend.
"That might have been the best feeling of my life so far," Padovani said of the Blue Devils' 14-6 victory over the Wildcats.
Padovani was fully recovered by winter workouts, played baseball for Hammonton in the spring and attended Villanova's football camp early in the summer.
He committed to attend Villanova on a football scholarship in July. A top student, he plans to major in business or criminal justice.
"It's a dream come true," said Padovani, who is projected as a wide receiver with the Wildcats. "I loved that school since before I even started playing football. I loved their basketball team when I was a little kid."
Padovani said he is determined to make the most of his senior season, especially since he missed so much of his junior season.
But he said the driving force for himself and many others in the proud program is push the Blue Devils back into the mix as Cape Atlantic American Division and South Jersey Group 4 title contenders.
"We know that 5-5 is not us," Padovani said. "We want to make sure that people know what Hammonton football is all about."
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