All of his life, Andrew Guckin heard the stories.
The high school football tales of glory reverberated throughout his family’s household to the point where they became second nature to Guckin.
His uncle, Vince, played linebacker at Father Judge (Class of 1979) and is a member of the school’s football Hall of Fame.
His father Mark and cousin Josh Carfagno (Class of 2008) also played football for the Crusaders, and it seemed to be only a matter of time until Guckin followed in their footsteps.
That is, until he wrote his own story. And it wasn’t for the Crusaders.
Guckin, a junior who plays middle linebacker for the Archbishop Wood High School team, just finished being a part of a team that will one-up any Judge stories his father, uncle and cousin can share around the family dinner table during the holidays.
The Vikings are the newly crowned 2011 PIAA Class AAA state champions; they won the title game, 52-0, on Dec. 16 against Harrisburg-area Bishop McDevitt High School.
It wasn’t so much that Wood had just throttled Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy’s alma mater in the title game (McCoy was on the sideline to witness the Viking triumph in person), or that Guckin’s 75-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter had helped seal his team’s victory by stretching the score to 38-0.
No, the capper on this truly special Archbishop Wood season came down to something much simpler: bragging rights.
“Football plays such a big role in our family, so I definitely heard all of the stories growing up,” Guckin said in the days following Wood’s triumph over Bishop McDevitt. “My dad and uncle and cousin would all take turns telling me about their glory days at Judge, and my uncle especially would have the best ones. But after this season, he finally told me that I had dethroned him in terms of football bragging rights.
“But even more than just bragging rights, football represents so much more to our family,” Guckin continued. “I grew up in it, so I don’t know it any other way. From the minute I started hearing the stories, I wanted to be able to make my own high school football memories.”
Guckin proudly calls his clan a “football family.” He was born in Mayfair but moved to Southampton after kindergarten, and he still lives there today. Although he lives in the suburbs, Guckin always suspected he’d be wearing Crusaders colors when it came time to enter high school. After all, it would only be appropriate considering the family’s lineage.
“My dad wanted me to go there,” Guckin said, referring to Father Judge. “And for a while, to be honest with you, that’s where I thought I’d end up. Wood and Judge both have great football programs, so it really just came down to the fact that I knew Wood would have an excellent team by the time I got there. Plus, I got to write my own chapter by going there instead of Judge.”
For his part, Wood coach Steve Devlin, a Somerton resident, knew from the start that Guckin could play. He first saw his middle linebacker play in an eighth-grade CYO all-star game, and after introducing himself, he told Guckin that he had what it took to play for the Vikings. After watching Guckin play for the Wood freshman team, his intuition was quickly confirmed.
“He’s as tough as they come,” Devlin said. “He’s very instinctive, and it was clear to me right away that he could tackle. If he gets his arms on you, then you’re going down. He’s our coach out there on defense.”
Devlin also called Guckin the “quarterback of his defense,” and it certainly took a lot of hard work for his star defensive player to get to that point. The 6-foot, 195-pound Guckin started as a two-way player while a sophomore, also seeing some time at fullback. After that season ended with a state tournament loss to Allentown Central Catholic, Guckin fully committed himself to elevating his game the following year. For his junior year, he was starting again on defense, but Devlin soon moved him to middle linebacker. Guckin excelled at the position.
After Wood opened the season with a 20-17 loss to Pittsburgh Central Catholic, Guckin led a defensive unit that didn’t allow a first-half touchdown the rest of the season. In fact, Wood did not lose again, reeling off 14 straight victories, including a 70-14 revenge win over Allentown in the semifinals before ultimately knocking off Bishop McDevitt. For opponents, those 14 consecutive Wood wins weren’t even close.
“In the first few weeks, I moved over to middle linebacker and I called the plays on defense,” Guckin said. “Over the course of the season, the defensive unit just really kind of came together as a family. We knew, as a really good team, that the majority of the credit would focus on the offense, but we didn’t care. We just never let up out there, and we had to be great to achieve our goal of winning the state championship. I would say that we achieved what we set out to achieve.”
Now that the season is over and Guckin has had time to reflect on what Wood accomplished, he is beaming more and more with pride. In a family with such deep football roots, a 14-1 season in which his team was far and away the best in the state is something Guckin’s dad or uncle or cousin can’t say they got to experience.
Not that this is a competition, mind you, but Guckin is still happy it seems that way, because he knows this season helped strengthen the already strong bond of a football family.
“Growing up, I would hear stories about playing for Judge and how getting to play in the city title game was the best experience ever,” Guckin said. “Now it’s special that it’s my turn to share my own memories with my family. They all come out and see me play, even my Mom-Mom, who hasn’t missed a single one of my games. It’s really special for me to be able to take my turn carrying the family football torch and to be able to share it with all of them.”
Guckin already is hard at work preparing for his senior football campaign. He’s an equally conscientious performer in the classroom, with a GPA around 4.0 and the hope that both academics and sports will get him into a Patriot or Ivy League college.
ldquo;I haven’t thought about that (the future) too much yet, because I want to enjoy this while it lasts,” Guckin said. “The one thing I know from my family is that this football stuff, it all ends eventually. But the best thing is, we can all bond about this for years to come. We were already a close-knit group, but this has just brought us together even more.” ••
Reporter Ed Morrone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org