Despite being winless, Fels fights on

Seni­or do-it-all ath­lete Jam­iel Hines is just the type of play­er Samuel Fels High School is hop­ing to at­tract as it con­tin­ues to build ath­let­ics cred­ib­il­ity. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHO­TOS


As the play­ers took the field for the open­ing kick­off of last Fri­day night’s AAAA Gold Di­vi­sion Pub­lic League match­up between North­east and Samuel Fels at Charlie Mar­tin Sta­di­um, the skies opened and a heavy down­pour soaked the su­persite’s ar­ti­fi­cial sur­face. Seem­ingly un­af­fected by the con­di­tions, North­east quar­ter­back Daquan Bo­han­nan led his team down­field on its open­ing pos­ses­sion and pro­duced a quick scor­ing drive, one of many on this night in an even­tu­al 43-20 North­east vic­tory.

Less than five minutes had elapsed on the game clock and Fels (0-5, 0-2) already found it­self in an all too fa­mil­i­ar po­s­i­tion — play­ing catch-up. On the Vik­ings’ very next pos­ses­sion, us­ing their wide-open spread at­tack, Bo­han­nan hit Jab­ree Tilgh­man for a 41-yard strike to make the early score 12-0.

In the past, Fels might have thrown in the tow­el. Not this time. Enter fourth-year head coach Bill Har­rigan and his nev­er-say-die at­ti­tude.

The Pan­thers col­lec­ted them­selves on their very next pos­ses­sion and drove 51 yards in nine plays to cut the de­fi­cit in half as the quarter ended. It was Har­rigan’s first big group of seni­ors that led the drive. Seni­or quar­ter­back Isai­ah Brinkley con­nec­ted twice with seni­or wideout Jy­lil Reed­er for 31 yards. Seni­or tail­back Jam­iel Hines con­trib­uted with two car­ries for 15 yards on the march.

“We have a big group of seni­ors that we haven’t had in two years,” Har­rigan noted after the game. “Jam­iel has been a steady four-year starter for us. He is very ath­let­ic and con­tin­ues to get bet­ter. Wheth­er it’s re­ceiv­ing or run­ning, there isn’t any­thing that he hasn’t done for us.”

Of course, North­east (3-2, 1-1) didn’t ex­actly give up as a res­ult of Fels’ scor­ing drive. Bo­han­nan went right back to work and con­nec­ted with wideout Shimeek Carter on a 52-yard touch­down pass.

On the Pan­thers’ next pos­ses­sion, after three pos­it­ive plays, Brinkley was forced from the pock­et and re­leased a back­ward lat­er­al pass that got loose on the turf. The ball was re­covered by Fels, but not be­fore a 21-yard loss. 

The Vik­ings re­gained pos­ses­sion and en­trus­ted the in-the-zone to Bo­han­nan cre­ate more may­hem. This time he con­nec­ted on a 35-yard toss to fel­low seni­or Devon Dillard to close the first half scor­ing with North­east up 24-6.

The second half pro­duced more in­stant of­fense for the Vik­ings, as Bo­han­nan struck two more times from the air. His fi­nal stat­ist­ic­al line, 16-for-24, 341 yards and five scores, was only good enough for co-MVP hon­ors. Carter’s fi­nal tal­lies, 11 re­cep­tions for 217 yards and two scores, also in­cluded a 75-yard in­ter­cep­tion re­turn for a touch­down.

“Today, we gave up too many big plays on de­fense,” Har­rigan noted. “You’re not go­ing to get away with do­ing that in this di­vi­sion.”

Second half high­lights for the Pan­thers in­cluded two touch­down passes from Brinkley, in­clud­ing a well thrown corner route to seni­or Nadir Hud­son. The fi­nal tally came on a short post pass to Hines, who ex­ploded in­to the open field and took the ball the rest of the way un­touched for a 44-yard touch­down. The late push made the fi­nal score more re­spect­able.

“Every week, we are get­ting closer to play­ing 100 per­cent of the game,” Har­rigan said. “We have had two games where it was a tale of two halves and we’ve had two oth­er games where there was a 75 per­cent ef­fort with 25 per­cent miss­ing throughout the game.

“We do a good job of string­ing plays to­geth­er, but we of­ten fall short of get­ting the ball in the end zone,” he ad­ded. “I think that we still have to turn the corner with the guys and their men­tal ap­proach … feel­ing that they don’t be­long on the same field as these oth­er power pro­grams. It’s my job to get them to start real­iz­ing that they are a good foot­ball team.”

Samuel Fels High School’s foot­ball pro­gram, along with its en­tire ath­let­ic de­part­ment, is look­ing for re­spect­ab­il­ity. Ath­let­ic dir­ect­or Mark Heimerdinger likes what he sees from Har­rigan, a Cent­ral High and Kings Col­lege gradu­ate. The boss is proud of his head coach’s strides in mak­ing the Pan­thers com­pet­it­ive.

“Bill is start­ing to get kids with the de­sire, but maybe not the foot­ball ex­per­i­ence that oth­er neigh­bor­hood Pub­lic League pro­grams are get­ting,” Heimerdinger said. “He and his staff are do­ing a good job teach­ing the fun­da­ment­als. As a school, we need to build a tra­di­tion to at­tract the loc­al neigh­bor­hood tal­ent.”

Har­rigan is work­ing hard to build his pro­gram. He loves the chal­lenge of play­ing the best teams each week in the AAAA Gold Di­vi­sion.

“It’s a good foot­ball cli­mate,” he said. “We have a lot of un­der­class­men and are dress­ing about 80 play­ers total. We have a lot of young guys that are new to foot­ball who are good ath­letes, but not ne­ces­sar­ily nat­ur­al foot­ball play­ers.”

The ad­min­is­tra­tion at Fels is work­ing hard to re­move the neg­at­ive stigma as­so­ci­ated with pre­vi­ously be­ing on the ‘per­sist­ently dan­ger­ous’ list of Phil­adelphia pub­lic schools. Heimerdinger has been left im­pressed by second-year prin­cip­al Shawn McGuigan:

“He (McGuigan) has taken the school from per­sist­ently dan­ger­ous to safe,” Heimerdinger said. “There are no longer kids walk­ing the halls while class is in ses­sion. Fels is pur­su­ing ex­cel­lence both aca­dem­ic­ally and ath­let­ic­ally. He has taken on the chal­lenges at the school and de­feated them. We need that brand of con­sist­ency.”

In the mean­time, the ath­let­ic pro­gram is com­mit­ted to mak­ing a pos­it­ive name for Samuel Fels in the Pub­lic League.

 “In ad­di­tion to Har­rigan’s ef­forts, we have George Dufn­er in base­ball and George Ewerth in soc­cer, who have re­ceived coach of the year hon­ors in their re­spect­ive sports,” he said, re­fer­ring to the an­nu­al North­east Sports Awards Ban­quet. “They are both great teach­ers of the game.” (Heimerdinger, the long­time bas­ket­ball coach at Car­din­al Dougherty, led the Fels hoops pro­gram to an im­press­ive 18-win turn­around sea­son last year that earned him his own coach­ing ac­col­ades.)

The im­me­di­ate road ahead for Har­rigan and his play­ers is no walk in the park. They still have yet to face the meat of their sched­ule, in­clud­ing per­en­ni­al powers George Wash­ing­ton and Frank­ford.

“Our main goal is to stay in this di­vi­sion; however, we need to come up with some wins,” Har­rigan said. “Any win at this point would be looked at as a pretty ma­jor up­set. I feel like we are close to turn­ing the corner. Guys stayed with it to­night and nev­er got down even though North­east was up big. They dug deep and showed some pride.” ••

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