Northeast Times

Ready for some football?

— After too long of a lay­off, one of the best times of the year in the North­east is upon us — foot­ball sea­son.

Fi­nally, at long last, the sum­mer doldrums are com­ing to an end. 

After three months of rest­less in­activ­ity, foot­ball sea­son will shortly be back in full swing. This week­end, all sev­en area teams will kick off their 2012 sea­sons, from loc­ales ran­ging from Ire­land, the Jer­sey shore and in our back­yard at North­east High School, which will host three of the five loc­al open­ers. 

The fi­nal day of Au­gust of­fi­cially wel­comes high school foot­ball back to North­east Phil­adelphia. In the Pub­lic League, Wash­ing­ton looks to off­set the loss of its best of­fens­ive play­er by win­ning coach Ron Co­hen his 13th league title; Frank­ford hopes to ride re­cord-set­ting quar­ter­back Tim Di­Gior­gio to com­plet­ing some un­fin­ished busi­ness. North­east kicks off 2012 with a brand new head coach; Samuel Fels subs in one do-it-all play­maker for an­oth­er; and Ab­ra­ham Lin­coln hopes los­ing 23 seni­ors to gradu­ation will not pre­vent an­oth­er sol­id sea­son. 

In the Cath­ol­ic League, Fath­er Judge hopes a trip to Ire­land starts a sea­son for the ages, while Frank McArdle and Arch­bish­op Ry­an look to build on a pos­it­ive cam­paign and hopes to win the pro­gram’s first league game since 2007. 

Nobody knows how things will look come Novem­ber, but in the fi­nal week of Au­gust every team starts anew, with freshly formed cham­pi­on­ship as­pir­a­tions gain­ing strength in the minds of the play­ers, coaches and fans. How the chips will fall re­mains to be seen, but whatever the case, the North­east Times is thrilled to have foot­ball back for what is sure to be an­oth­er mem­or­able sea­son. 

PUB­LIC LEAGUE

AAAA GOLD DI­VI­SION

George Wash­ing­ton

Last sea­son: 8-4 over­all, 5-1 league (won Pub­lic League cham­pi­on­ship)

Head coach: Ron Co­hen, 28th sea­son (Ca­reer: 241-69-2)

Out­look: Wash­ing­ton is no stranger to Pub­lic League suc­cess, but the 2011 sea­son even sur­prised long­time head coach Ron Co­hen. Co­hen is set for his 28th sea­son on the Wash­ing­ton side­line and last year won his 12th league title since 1989. But the Eagles spent most of 2011 play­ing as semi-un­der­dogs in a sea­son that Co­hen called “very strange” after Wash­ing­ton took down favored Frank­ford in a 20-13 cham­pi­on­ship thrill­er.

The deep Eagles could be back in the driver’s seat this sea­son des­pite los­ing the im­mensely tal­en­ted Ha­keem Sill­man to gradu­ation. Sill­man rushed for more than 1,700 yards and 27 touch­downs in 2011; now, the team plans to re­turn to a “run-by-com­mit­tee” ap­proach to off­set Sill­man’s ab­sence, with seni­ors Don­ald Smith and Mar­quis Ed­wards (a North­east trans­fer) and 5-foot-5 ju­ni­or Ken Ever­age. Fol­low­ing last year’s blue­print, Wash­ing­ton will ro­tate two seni­or quar­ter­backs in Dave Gav­rilov and Al Au­gustine, who com­bined for 12 touch­downs and more than 1,000 yards a year ago. Gav­rilov is a typ­ic­al pock­et pass­er, while Au­gustine, who has a schol­ar­ship of­fer from Towson Uni­versity, can beat you with his feet. The team’s top three re­ceiv­ers — Shaquan Al­len, Rene Vil­la­fane and Rasheed Black — all re­turn. 

Known for pro­du­cing standout de­fens­ive play­ers (cur­rent Uni­versity of Flor­ida de­fens­ive tackle Shar­iff Floyd and Bal­timore Ravens line­back­er Jameel Mc­Clain come to mind), this year’s name to watch is Justin Moody, a 6-foot-3, 280-pound two-way line­man who already has sev­er­al schol­ar­ship of­fers to choose from. The Eagles are used to win­ning be­hind strong run­ning backs, deep of­fens­ive and de­fens­ive lines and im­pact­ful spe­cial teams play­ers, all of which should be par for the course again this sea­son.

“The truth of the mat­ter is, I al­ways think we should be good,” Co­hen said. “We lost some key play­ers, but our kids like the chal­lenge. They ex­pect tough games, so men­tally, they’re ready for it. I’ve been around long enough to know the ball doesn’t al­ways bounce your way, but I like the to­geth­er­ness of this team.”

Frank­ford

Last sea­son: 8-3, 6-0 (lost in Pub­lic League cham­pi­on­ship game)

Head coach: Will Dog­gett, second sea­son (Ca­reer: 8-3)

Out­look: With Will Dog­gett’s first sea­son at the helm of Frank­ford’s foot­ball pro­gram came re­cord-break­ing per­form­ances and an un­blem­ished reg­u­lar sea­son league mark. It was as story­book as it gets, that is, un­til Wash­ing­ton took ad­vant­age of some costly Pi­on­eer turnovers in the cham­pi­on­ship game. With that crush­ing loss in Novem­ber still fresh in their minds, Dog­gett and com­pany hope to fin­ish what they star­ted. 

Luck­ily for Frank­ford fans, Tim Di­Gior­gio re­turns un­der cen­ter. Last sea­son, Di­Gior­gio ob­lit­er­ated Pub­lic League passing re­cords by throw­ing for 2,357 yards and 30 touch­downs. His ar­sen­al of weapons was di­min­ished by gradu­ation, as Sa­voy Mar­tin, Kelly John­son, Mike Brown, Mar­quan Scott, Aaron Al­lis­on and Brandon Strong and their 114 catches (of Di­Gior­gio’s 136 com­ple­tions) are gone. That leaves seni­or Renz “Rodeo” Compton as the team’s top re­turn­ing wideout, who re­gistered eight of his 21 re­cep­tions for touch­down catches in 2011. Compton’s young­er broth­er, Wydell (Lorenzo Compton, Renz’s twin, is the team’s cen­ter), is also ex­pec­ted to con­trib­ute at wideout, as is Prince Cooper and trans­fer Den­zel Tur­boville. 

The Pi­on­eers will in­tro­duce plenty of new faces on the of­fens­ive line and de­fens­ive unit, as DT Kadar Jones and OT Unique Dav­is are the most es­tab­lished hol­d­overs. 

“Not a day goes by where I don’t think about that [cham­pi­on­ship] game,” Di­Gior­gio said. “We know we have to for­get about it, but we also use it as mo­tiv­a­tion. We ex­pect to be pretty sol­id, a good foot­ball team that ex­pects to win that Pub­lic League cham­pi­on­ship game.”

North­east

Last  sea­son: 7-5, 3-3 (lost in 1st round)

Head coach: Jim Adams, first sea­son

Out­look: North­east last won the Pub­lic League cham­pi­on­ship in 2010, but a lot has changed since. The Vik­ings turned in an in­con­sist­ent, un­even 7-5 cam­paign last year, and for the most part, the team al­tern­ated wins and losses un­til the fi­nal three, all North­east vic­tor­ies. Now, they will have to clash with Frank­ford, Wash­ing­ton and the rest of the un­for­giv­ing Pub­lic League without head coach Chris Ri­ley, who stepped down to con­cen­trate on his du­ties as the school’s ath­let­ic dir­ect­or.

In Ri­ley’s place steps Jim Adams, who served as one of Ri­ley’s top as­sist­ants the past few sea­sons, and was the former coach’s top choice to fill the va­cant po­s­i­tion. Adams will cer­tainly have his hands full, but his know­ledge of the league and North­east’s pro­gram should help him keep the Vik­ings in the con­ver­sa­tion. Wheth­er that hap­pens this sea­son re­mains to be seen, es­pe­cially as the quar­ter­back po­s­i­tion works it­self out. North­east has three QBs who will likely see ac­tion in the seni­or trio of Dav­id Pul­li­am, Har­old Al­ex­an­der and Daquan Bo­han­non. All three will be needed on both sides of the ball, but one of Adams’ goals is to have each guy play at his biggest strength po­s­i­tion, which likely means Pul­li­am get­ting the ma­jor­ity of the reps un­der cen­ter, while Al­ex­an­der es­pe­cially will be turned loose as a de­fens­ive back as he seeks to catch the eye of col­lege re­cruit­ers. 

Oth­er names to watch out for are re­ceiv­er Devon Dillard (21 catches, three touch­downs) and OL/DL Bern­ard Hou­s­ton, who should an­chor the de­fense, likely the team’s biggest strength while the of­fens­ive unit for­mu­lates an iden­tity. Of­fens­ive play­makers Shimeek Carter, La­quille Nes­bitt and Mar­quis Ed­wards are gone, which will leave op­por­tun­it­ies for oth­er guys to step up. No mat­ter what, the Vik­ings will have to count on the seni­ors to off­set the loss of Ri­ley, a proven win­ner.

“We have some great kids,” Adams said. “The seni­ors are the ones go­ing through the greatest trans­ition, and I ex­pect the team to be com­pet­it­ive and to give their best ef­forts at all times. If we block and tackle bet­ter than our op­pon­ents, then we’ll be right back (where we want to be).”

Samuel Fels

Last sea­son: 4-8, 2-4 (missed play­offs)

Head coach: Bill Har­rigan, fifth sea­son (Ca­reer: 17-28)

Out­look: Bill Har­rigan has the un­en­vi­able task of keep­ing the Fels Pan­thers com­pet­it­ive in a di­vi­sion that in­cludes heavy­weights Frank­ford and Wash­ing­ton, Cent­ral (newly ad­ded to the Gold Di­vi­sion), as well as re­spec­ted pro­grams North­east and Ger­man­town. In 2011, Fels went 0-5 against those teams, los­ing by an av­er­age of more than 29 points per game. The Pan­thers will face an even big­ger obstacle without their top play­maker from last sea­son in wide re­ceiv­er Ni­jay Kelly, who hauled in 61 catches for 1,075 yards and 11 touch­downs in his fi­nal two sea­sons.

“We played those teams much closer than the scores in­dic­ated,” Har­rigan said. “Com­ing in­to this sea­son, we only lost three starters, so our ex­pect­a­tions couldn’t be much high­er. We want to con­tin­ue to pro­gress and show that we be­long in this di­vi­sion while con­tinu­ing to es­tab­lish ourselves as a pro­gram.”

Kelly’s place in the spot­light will now be oc­cu­pied by seni­or do-it-all ath­lete/play­maker Jam­iel Hines, a four-year starter. Hines’ pres­ence was felt all over last sea­son, as he car­ried the ball 42 times, caught 11 passes and plucked five in­ter­cep­tions on de­fense, two of which he re­turned for touch­downs (he scored an ad­di­tion­al three TDs on the ground and two in the air). Har­rigan re­ferred to Hines as an “in­cred­ible ath­lete who would play nose guard if I asked him to,” and his ver­sat­il­ity on both sides of the ball will be key to Fels be­ing able to stay com­pet­it­ive in league play. Hines won’t be alone, as the Pan­thers re­turn 19 starters in what Har­rigan is hop­ing will be the most ac­com­plished sea­son in the sev­en-year his­tory of the pro­gram.

Ad­di­tion­ally, quar­ter­back will be a po­s­i­tion to keep an eye on, as Fels had six play­ers take at least one snap at the po­s­i­tion. In the op­tion of­fense that Fels runs, the QB po­s­i­tion isn’t as vi­tal, but someone will need to feed Hines and oth­ers the ball. Three names to watch will be Isi­ah Brinkley, also a de­fens­ive back, Marc Prompt and Mes­si­ah Mitchell, a trio that com­bined to throw 10 touch­downs last year. Be­sides need­ing someone to step up un­der cen­ter, the Pan­thers will be un­der­sized at the line of scrim­mage, and will need strong per­form­ances from Hines and the de­fens­ive unit as a whole to stay afloat. 

“This is go­ing to be our chance, our op­por­tun­ity to prove we can com­pete with these teams on an even foot­ing,” Har­rigan said.

AAAA SIL­VER DI­VI­SION

 

Ab­ra­ham Lin­coln

Last sea­son: 7-5, 5-1 (lost in 1st round)

Head coach: Ed Mc­Get­tigan, third sea­son (Ca­reer: 12-12)

Out­look: Lin­coln has been a mod­el of con­sist­ency in the Pub­lic League of late, suf­fer­ing just one over­all los­ing sea­son since 2007. But that sea­son was the last time the Railsplit­ters really sep­ar­ated them­selves from the pack, win­ning 10 games and ad­van­cing to the Pub­lic League quarterfi­nals. To do so this sea­son, Lin­coln will have to ab­sorb the loss of 23 seni­ors to gradu­ation, re­turn­ing just four starters on a team that won five of its six di­vi­sion games a year ago.

One of those four starters is seni­or quar­ter­back Miguel Sanc­hez, the un­dis­puted lead­er of the Lin­coln of­fense. In 2011, Sanc­hez threw for 1,169 yards and 10 touch­downs, three of which came in a win over Fels. Led by the vet­er­an sig­nal caller, of­fense should be the team’s strength. The oth­er re­turn­ing starters are OL/DL John Lewis, LB Kaelin Burke and DB/RB Gio­vanni John­son, who had two in­ter­cep­tions last sea­son and will get some looks at run­ning back.  

“If we give our best ef­fort every week, we should be a con­tender,” Mc­Get­tigan said. “We have a lot of ded­ic­ated stu­dent-ath­letes on and off the field, and ob­vi­ously it helps to have your start­ing quar­ter­back back. A lot will de­pend on if we’re healthy, but the guys worked real hard dur­ing camp, and it’s my job to make sure they’re pre­pared for game day.”

CATH­OL­IC LEAGUE

AAAA DI­VI­SION

Fath­er Judge

Last sea­son: 7-4, 2-2 (lost to La Salle in semi­finals)

Head coach: Tommy Coyle, 13th sea­son (Ca­reer: 70-71)

Out­look: By the time this foot­ball pre­view prints, the Cru­saders will be nestled some­where out­side of Dub­lin, Ire­land, where they will kick off their 2012 sea­son in the grand­est of fash­ions. It took a lot of hard work and gen­er­ous con­tri­bu­tions from a pleth­ora of people, but this Fri­day head coach Tommy Coyle and a Judge trav­el­ing party of al­most 200 people are ex­pec­ted to be in Ire­land to root the Cru­saders on against Notre Dame Academy of Scott­s­dale, Ar­iz.

It will be the trip of a life­time for sure, but just a few short days after they re­turn to the states, Judge will be in ac­tion on the road at Coun­cil Rock South. Coyle and as­sist­ant Fran Cos­tello have already vowed to start pre­par­ing for Coun­cil Rock on the plane ride home, but will such an ex­tra­vag­ant trip burn Judge out or push the team in­to shin­ing even bright­er?

Every­body on the Judge side seems to be­lieve it’s the lat­ter, and it will have to be in the Cath­ol­ic’s AAAA di­vi­sion, which in­cludes per­en­ni­al title con­tenders La Salle, St. Joseph’s Prep and Ro­man Cath­ol­ic.

It won’t be easy, as the Cru­saders lost 24 seni­ors to gradu­ation, in­clud­ing cap­tain Eric Con­dron, top rush­ers Matt Smal­ley and Raul Quinones (more than 2,000 yards from scrim­mage and a whop­ping 37 total touch­downs), start­ing quar­ter­back Rob Daniels and top re­ceiv­ers John Land­is and Tim Mills. 

As tends to be the case, loss brings on op­por­tun­ity for oth­ers. At the fore­front of Judge’s trans­form­a­tion will be quar­ter­back Ry­an Mack­iewicz and a core of track-and-field standouts (Smal­ley was a track star him­self, so the blue­print has worked in the past for the Cru­saders). 

Emer­ging names ex­pect­ing to help on of­fense in­clude DB/RB Mar­quis Sea­mon, a long jump­er, and sprint­ers WR Sean Fitzger­ald and RB Samir Bul­lock, as will tight end Al­bi Ar­apaj, who caught 16 passes a year ago. Matt Robin­son and Brandon Spatz will con­trib­ute on both sides of the ball, while DT Dan Toner and OT Vince Lostracco should an­chor the lines. Coyle has com­bated key losses by com­pil­ing depth, which the Cru­saders will need to har­ness if they ex­pect to hang with La Salle, Ro­man and the Prep.

“I’d tell all of ours fans and sup­port­ers to get ready for a fun sea­son,” Lostracco said. “And ex­pect us to be play­ing for a cham­pi­on­ship in Novem­ber.”

Arch­bish­op Ry­an

Last sea­son: 5-6, 0-4 (missed play­offs)

Head coach: Frank McArdle, fourth sea­son (Ca­reer: 8-25)

Out­look: The Raid­ers may not have won a di­vi­sion game since Frank McArdle took over four years ago, but pro­gress isn’t al­ways meas­ured in total vic­tor­ies. Ry­an has been a league doormat for sev­er­al sea­sons, but the pro­gram seems to be turn­ing a corner.

Over the last few years, the Raid­ers have had trouble win­ning any game at all, suf­fer­ing through a 20-game los­ing streak that spanned al­most two full sea­sons in 2008 and ’09. However, last year, while still re­main­ing win­less in league games, Ry­an won five of its sev­en non-league con­tests.

“We’re way bet­ter than we were last year,” McArdle said. “Last year we proved we’re a tough out and we’re not a pushover any­more. Our kids feel those days of the past are over.”

Ry­an ex­pects to build around its of­fens­ive line, which fea­tures four re­turn­ing starters and a con­ver­ted de­fens­ive line­man (Ed Bier, Bri­an Rob­bins, Joe Ruskowski, Joe Hans­bury and Ry­an McGee) to pro­tect who­ever is the start­ing quar­ter­back. Vy­ing for the job are Mark Os­taszewski and Judge trans­fer Bri­an Kennedy, one of whom will be re­pla­cing the gradu­ated Mike Anusky, a “huge lead­er” who threw for 1,111 yards and 13 touch­downs a year ago. Kennedy is more of a typ­ic­al pock­et pass­er, while Os­taszewski can use his feet to make life dif­fi­cult for the op­pos­i­tion. Neither has es­tab­lished him­self as the defin­it­ive choice just yet, but McArdle praised both for their hard work and ded­ic­a­tion in the off­season.

An­oth­er name to look out for on both sides of the ball is Bobby Ro­mano, a tal­en­ted base­ball play­er who is opt­ing to re­place Mike Palmer as the team’s most ver­sat­ile play­maker. Jeremi­ah Ag­rio-O’Re­illy (Penns­bury trans­fer) and Dylan Row­an (the team’s lead­ing rush­er last year) will be in the mix at tail­back.

“Our motto is ‘Keep chop­ping away,’” McArdle said. “This is the best time of the year, as we pre­pare all year to get to Au­gust. That down peri­od for Ry­an, I think, is over, as we’re way bet­ter than we’ve been in a long time. I know we’re bet­ter and how hard the kids have worked. I want them to start see­ing the res­ults they de­serve.” ••

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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