WARWICK, R.I. — When Bishop Hendricken High School student Jehvine Quaweay was prepping for the state championship in freshmen football last year, he received a phone call from a prized alumnus he idolizes.
That alumnus was New York Giants cornerback and punt returner Will Blackmon, who plays in the biggest game of his life on Sunday against the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl in Indianapolis.
But Quaweay and the 27-year-old Blackmon say their common ground goes beyond football.
Both are Providence natives who come from single-parent households. Both say the boys' Catholic college prep school they have in common plays a major role in their lives. Bishop Hendricken, which has more than 900 students, is also the alma mater of the late Steve Furness, who won four Super Bowl rings with the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 1970s, and retired pro baseball player, Rocco Baldelli, who played in the 2008 World Series with the Tampa Bay Rays.
"It was a natural thing that I wanted to follow in his footsteps," the 14-year-old Quaweay said, sitting in the same office at Bishop Hendricken where he took the call from Blackmon. The office belongs to the school Vice President for Operations Paul C. Danesi, who met Blackmon when he first arrived at the school and displays a framed picture of them together. One of Blackmon's former teachers and Danesi helped put Quaweay in touch with Blackmon.
"He's a special athlete, but he's more special as a person," Danesi said.
Quaweay, who is a running back, said he sought out the No. 27 jersey that Blackmon wore in high school and later with the Green Bay Packers. The school retired the jersey number in 2008 in honor of Blackmon, who earned 2001 All-America first-team honors from USA Today and ESPN.com for the standout high-school career that landed him at Boston College. Quaweay was allowed to wear the same jersey number because he was playing on the freshmen team, Danesi said.
"I thought it was an honor," Blackmon said in a telephone interview. "It just shows that I did something right. If there's one thing that you want to do, you want to definitely pave the way for other kids to aspire to succeed."
Blackmon, whose mother died when he was a boy, said he gave Quaweay advice on making the bed, helping out with his younger siblings and making sure his schoolwork never becomes an issue. That will help Quaweay's mother, who is "working extremely hard" raising three children in a single-parent household, Blackmon said.
"He's the man of the house," said Blackmon, who has a 13-month-old son named Ryder with his wife, Shauna.
Quaweay recalled how most of their conversation focused on life at home.
"He just told me to be the best person I could be," he said.
Quaweay added the call was even more meaningful because it came just before the most important football game he's competed in, so far.
"That boosted me even more," Quaweay said.
After talking to Blackmon, Quaweay and his teammates went on to win the freshmen football state championship 36-18 over Barrington High School, capping off a perfect season with a 10-0 record. Quaweay made a conversion just before halftime to lift his team to a 24-12 lead.
Last week, pictures of Blackmon playing in the NFL's NFC championship game were displayed on closed-circuit televisions at Bishop Hendricken, which is located about an hour away from where the Patriots play in Foxborough, Mass. Even though the school is so close to Gillette Stadium, some like Danesi and Quaweay are rooting for Blackmon and the Giants to end their season with a win.
"It just makes us feel like we have a chance. It shows that possibly, that could be us some day," Quaweay said.