It’s certainly been a memorable summer — one highlighted by relentless heat waves, Hurricane Irene and even an earthquake — but finally the football season is upon us. And once again, it looks like the local squads throughout the Northeast could become major contenders in the Philadelphia Catholic and Public leagues.
Some squads like Father Judge and Abraham Lincoln have an abundance of returning starters on this year’s roster, while other teams like George Washington are attempting to fill some big shoes of players lost to graduation.
Frankford has a new head coach in longtime defensive coordinator Will Doggett, who was recently promoted to field boss. And defending Public League champion Northeast High School is on a mission to claim another title.
So what can you expect from the seven high school football teams hailing from Northeast Philadelphia? Here’s a look at the Raiders, Crusaders, Railsplitters, Pioneers, Eagles, Vikings and Panthers.
Philadelphia Catholic League
Last year: 0-4 league; 2-9 overall
It has been a tough run for the Archbishop Ryan High School football squad. The Raiders haven’t won a league game since 2007, compiling a dismal 0-16 record in league play (3-29 overall) over the past three seasons.
But according to head coach Frank McArdle Jr., all of that is about to change.
“We’re looking good. We’re going to be a whole lot better than in past years,” said McArdle, now in his third season as the Raiders’ boss. “I think we’ll finally be able to compete with the other teams in our league. We have some returning players with a young, talented sophomore class.”
Quarterback Mike Anusky, a senior and returning starter, is expected to provide stellar leadership for his squad. Fellow seniors include wide receivers Mike Palmer — who also will play at d-back — and Nick Le Van, who led his team in scoring last season.
Senior running back and linebacker Kevin Newell, who had the second-most rushing yards with 377 last year, is expected to again have a strong impact on both sides of the ball this season. Senior offensive linemen include Chris McMonagle, Alvin Allen and junior Ed Bier.
Sam Dumond, a wide receiver and d-back, will complete the Raiders’ core lineup.
“Our offensive and defensive lines are strong,” said McArdle. “We have great senior leadership supported by a very talented younger class.”
Last year: 2-2 league; 8-3 overall
The Father Judge High School football team is shaping up to become a powerhouse in the Philadelphia Catholic League this season.
The Crusaders are returning with a strong contingent of varsity players and, according to longtime head coach Tom Coyle, they have sufficient depth at every position.
“We’re very excited. We have a lot of competitiveness at every position,” said Coyle, a 1987 graduate of Father Judge who has guided the Crusaders for 10 years. “We’re very balanced.”
Brian Hennessey and Rob Daniels — both seniors — will battle again for quarterback responsibilities. Last season, Hennessey started the first six games of the year, with Daniels handling the final five starts.
Senior Raul Quinones — who earned first-team All-Catholic honors last year — and Matt Smalley will work as tailbacks, with wide receivers John Landis and Tim Mills rounding out the Crusaders’ core offense.
Senior defensive ends and returning starters Shawn Hartigan (6-feet-2, 205 pounds) and Anthony Walker (6-feet-2, 200 pounds) are expected to play pivotal roles on defense.
Eric Condron, a senior and the Crusaders’ team captain this season, will be a key part of the offensive line.
“So far, they’re doing very well,” said Coyle. “We have a good number of returning players. We’re excited.”
Philadelphia Public League
Class AAAA Gold Division
Last year: 1-5 league; 5-7 overall
After a tough run last season, the Abraham Lincoln High School football team is back.
And they’re ready for redemption.
“We’re looking very, very good,” said Railsplitters’ chief Ed McGettigan, in his second season as head coach. “Last year was a rebuilding year, so now we have varsity experience.”
Senior wide receiver and d-back Sincere Merced — who snagged 23 passes for 329 yards and four touchdowns last year, and also recorded seven interceptions on defense — will join wide receiver Edwin Waters on offense.
Abraham Lincoln is stacked with senior talent on both sides of the ball, including running back and linebacker Mardy McFarland, running back and d-back John McClam and lineman Damien Chin-Rose. Linebacker Michael Johnson and defensive end and tight end Rodney Hawkins will complete the Railsplitters’ core veterans.
Junior Miguel Sanchez will return to his starting role as Lincoln’s quarterback.
“Our expectations are to improve by coming out with one hundred-percent effort,” said McGettigan. “We want to play hard, smart and together.”
Last year: 4-2 league; 7-5 overall
There’s a new boss on the Frankford High School gridiron.
Of course, many of the Pioneers already know coach Will Doggett from his two years as head coach of Frankford’s junior varsity squad and his past seven seasons working as the varsity team’s defensive coordinator.
However, this season, Doggett takes over as head coach for Frankford, replacing longtime coach Mike Capriotti, who compiled a 48-33 overall record during his seven years as boss.
“I’m excited to see what happens,” said Doggett, who was officially named head coach in May. “I’m really impressed with the guys I’ve been working with on the coaching staff. I feel very blessed. They’re young and have a lot of energy. It’s been really fun.”
The new head coach will have plenty of talent to work with this season. Returning starters include wide receiver and cornerback Savoy Martin, offensive lineman Geoffrey Philippe, wide receiver and defensive end Aaron Allison and running back Kelly Johnson. The four seniors are expected to play an essential role in the Pioneers’ season.
Seniors Brandon Strong and Marquan Scott and junior Renz Compton will see action as both wide receivers and d-backs; Lerenz Compton — Renz’s twin brother — is part of the line.
Newcomer Tim Digiorgio (6-feet-1, 165 pounds) will take over as quarterback, with some help from senior Mike Brown — considered by many as the Pioneers’ most versatile athlete.
“He can play all over the field — quarterback, wideout, running back, special teams,” said Doggett. “He’s quite an athlete.”
Receiver Prince Cooper and senior tight end Kashif Townsend round out the Pioneers’ stellar lineup.
“We’re looking good. We have some young guys and a core group of kids who are doing really well,” said Doggett. “It should be fun to see how it all works out. We’re looking forward to it.”
Last year: 5-1 league; 8-3 overall
After losing 21 seniors to graduation last year — including 18 who received college scholarships — the George Washington High School football team has a lot of shoes to fill.
“We’re young. We have a lot of kids to replace,” said Eagles boss Ron Cohen, who has compiled a 233-65-2 overall record in his 25 years as head coach on Bustleton Avenue. “We have some talent. Right now, they’re all fighting for positions.”
There currently are three quarterbacks vying for a starting role — juniors Dave Gavrilov, Al Augustine and sophomore John Santas.
In addition to the youngsters on this year’s roster, there are some returning starters hoping to make their senior season one to remember.
Senior running back Hakeem Sillman — who led his squad in rushing last season with 911 yards — is expected to once again guide the Eagles’ offense. He’ll be joined by running back and d-back Aaron White.
Melvin McCloud, a 6-foot, 290-pound senior, will work as an offensive and defensive tackle. Justin Moody — a junior who has been highly recruited and already offered a scholarship to play football at Rutgers — will play at tight end and defensive end.
Senior linebackers Pablo Santiago (5-feet-8, 185 pounds) and Melvin Gonzalez (5-feet-10, 200 pounds) will join tackle Tyrone Smith and safety Miguel Cabana on defense. Senior John Navarro will play at linebacker and center.
Last year: 6-0 league; 9-3 overall
Last season, Northeast High School claimed its first Public League championship since 1983, and it looks like they’re ready to repeat.
The mighty Vikings have plenty of returning players with varsity experience. The offensive line — all seniors — will include tackles Josh Wallace and Nasir Bryant, guards Isaiah Rogers and Maurice Jackson and center Jordan Jones.
Juniors Marquis Edwards — whose 756 yards led the team in rushing last year — and Shimeek Carter, who dashed for 499 yards, will be the running backs this season.
The Vikings have three quarterbacks who will see game action this year: juniors Harold Alexander, David Pulliam and Mark Prompt.
Senior linebacker Michael Brown will again lead the Vikings’ defense.
Philadelphia Public League
Class AAAA Silver Division
Last year: 6-0 league; 8-4 overall
The Samuel Fels High School football team has been improving each year since its inception in 2006, a progression highlighted by last year’s undefeated league record.
This year, they’re ready to take it all the way.
“Our overall athleticism is strong,” said head coach Bill Harrigan, in his fourth year as boss. “I’m very excited to be where we are.”
Senior wide receiver Nijay Kelly — who caught 23 passes for 472 yards and 42 points last season — is expected to provide great leadership for this year’s squad. He’ll be joined in the spotlight by running back and d-back Jamiel Hines, a junior who led the Panthers with five interceptions last season.
Senior Stephane Smith will be at quarterback, replacing last year’s star Tyree Rucker, who broke the Public League’s single-season passing record with 1,994 yards.
Smith already has a place in the school’s history book this season as Samuel Fels’ first four-year starter on the gridiron.
Junior center and defensive end Dezhuante White, running back and linebacker Daevon Grasty, and offensive lineman and linebacker Rodney Drayton will round out the Panthers’ core lineup.
ldquo;We lost some important guys last year, so we’re looking for replacements,” explained Harrigan. “I’m very happy with the excitement and the effort of the young guys.
“We’re young, which poses some challenges,” he added, “but it also gives them an opportunity to learn and better themselves for the future.” ••
Editor Melissa Yerkov can be reached at email@example.com