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The St. Raphael High volleyball team plays on the football field last fall

The back-and-forth exchanges between players didn’t sound great. The Saint-Raphaël men’s volleyball team looked like a team in the midst of a crisis. A saint stepped in and told his teammates to stop fighting and play.

Near the bench, Napoleon DeBarros handed his right teammate.

“It’s not a fight,” DeBarros explained. “We are on the same football team. There is a natural competitiveness.

The conversation ended as quickly as it started and St. Raphael got back to business as if nothing had happened. It’s not something you see on many volleyball teams, let alone one near the top of the Division III standings.

But the Saints are not your typical volleyball team.

Sports programs are similarly constructed across the state. A club player here or there with part-time multi-sport athletes rounding out the rest of the roster. You get basketball players, track athletes, ex-tennis players who couldn’t break through college, or a former baseball player who couldn’t hit a curveball.

This year for Saint-Raphaël? He has football players.

Seven of them to be exact, five of which see some time on the pitch for a side that should be contending for the Division III title.

“We just wanted to have fun,” said Andre DePina-Gray, a center hitter on the volleyball team who recently committed to the University of Rhode Island to play football in the fall. “Volleyball is one of those sports where you can have fun while winning and it’s a great way, just like football, to catch up with your friends and make a lot of memories.”

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You see football players playing other sports. They run on the track, wrestle, play basketball, fill out a baseball team or keep hitting people with lacrosse. Volleyball and soccer don’t exactly go together.

This way of thinking changed with Moses Meus.

Meus is a 6-foot-3, 220-pound junior who can jump higher and is faster than most people you know. He’s an all-state defensive end and linebacker, plays basketball — you can catch him trying 360-degree dunks between volleyball sets — and last spring a teammate recruited him to try the volleyball.

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Turns out being tall and able to jump through the roof comes in handy on a volleyball court. He was a key player on a Saints team that reached the Division III Finals. So this spring, he launched his own recruiting pitch.

“We said if we didn’t win the [football] championship our senior year, we said we had to play volleyball,” DeBarros said. “As soon as we lost, [Meus] was like ‘volleyball season’ right away.

“As soon as I saw Andre come in, I was, like, OK. Then Napoleon comes in. Then [Henrique Ross]. Then Isaiah [Delgado]St. Raphael coach Cory Linhares said. “I was, like, ‘OK, this is going to be something.’ ”

Volleyball was something they did at barbecues or gym class. Linhares was more than happy to figure out how to use their size and athleticism. It is not difficult to understand why.

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DePina-Gray is the perfect example. He’s an All-State safety and, had he learned volleyball when he was younger, he probably could have been an All-State outside hitter as well.

“Andre’s first game – he had 19 kills from the start and he had only been playing for two weeks,” Linhares said. “You see this stuff instantly. Skills from other sports translate.

DeBarros is a running back and safety now trying to become a consistent outside hitter. Ross is a running back and linebacker learning to be a weak side hitter and secondary passer. Delgado is a lineman and while his vertical rise may not be that of his teammates, he does kill every once in a while.

Against Burrillville, Delgado found one that put the Saints up, 19-15, in the fourth set and began to get roasted by his teammates over what was his first of the season.

He laughed and replied, “Hey, that must be my second or my third.”

Although there are a lot of jokes during games, the Saints are not here to have fun. They are trying to win a title.

Linhares places his soccer players — and the rest of his team, most of whom are athletes from other sports — in a training camp to teach them skills instead of relying entirely on athletics.

“We’re trying to cram two, three, four years of volleyball for older guys into three months,” Linhares said. “We try to go hard every day, learning those skills. They make the plays, but consistency is going to be a big thing for us.

It’s important because athletics won’t get you far. Against Burrillville, Meus was the best athlete on the court. It didn’t matter against Burrillville middle blocker Mitchell Farrell, who entered the net and covered Meus on several occasions.

An experienced middle hitter circles the block, but Meus tried to pass again and again and again. He laughed it off after the game, but like a football player breaking down a movie, he explained what he had done wrong and how he needed to fix it.

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Meus and the rest of the volleyball newbies want to be trained because that’s what they’re used to.

” A practice, [Linhares] came in and he was just dedicated to blocking the ball,” Meus said. “He came in, sent it to us and our arms started to blush – but it was good work.”

Trust is also essential and this is something the Saints work on. There’s a slight hesitation, the kind of uncertainty you don’t see with them on a football pitch. That’s what you expect from a new sport.

But every once in a while, the Saints don’t hesitate and something clicks and they go from looking like freshman volleyball players to looking unstoppable.

“Even in [Thursday’s] game, a few swings, I was surprised at myself,” DePina-Gray said. “Usually if I hit it with a ton of power, they usually fly away. Some who landed, I was very surprised.

“If I’m wrong, I’ll go down,” DeBarros said. “But just like football, I get a knock on the ground, I come right back.”

The football guys stay front row and give setter Jonah Venditto – a basketball player by trade – weapons to work with. Geronimo Idarraga, Devan Tavares (a freshman who was on the football team last fall) and Bryce Rodrigues fill the spots in the back row and Kamill Suero plays his role on the team as a versatile hitter on the weak side.

Just like a football team, a volleyball team cannot succeed with just one athlete. St. Raphael works because players learn and compete for each other, all with one goal in mind.

“Win,” DePina-Gray said. “One game at a time.”

Volleyball was supposed to be just fun for them, but it injected competitive juices back into the blood of football players. Now they are ending their high school career doing something they never could have imagined.

“Coming into high school, you have to do as many sports, clubs, whatever you can because sooner or later you’ll be gone,” DeBarros said. “I would love to start my freshman year because as soon as we got on the pitch and started getting into things, it was a lot of fun.”

“Not only is it fun to watch them grow,” Linhares said, “like when Andre makes the connection and hits that one and it’s a kill or Moses, when he gets up and blocks — but those are all from great kids. They’re great kids to be around and they bring great energy to practices and games and they’re just a lot of fun.

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