With the summer sports doldrums officially in the rearview mirror, here’s a look at what to expect from the other area teams as the first week of the high school football season is set to get underway this weekend:
PHILADELPHIA CATHOLIC LEAGUE CLASS AAAA
Last season: 3-6, 0-4 in division
Head coach: Mike McKay, first season
Outlook: For the first time in more than a decade, there will be a new man in charge on the Judge sidelines. Out after 13 seasons is Tommy Coyle (who stepped down to take the job at Penn Charter, where his kids attend school) and in is Mike McKay, a former Judge quarterback and 1976 graduate of the school. Key returning Crusaders include senior running back Marquis Seamon, who broke his wrist in Judge’s season-opener in Ireland and missed the rest of the season, as well as seniors Nick Rome and Kevin Kovacs, who split time as JV quarterback in 2012 and will compete with Upper Moreland transfer Zach Carroll for the starting job in place of the graduated Ryan Mackiewicz. The Crusaders also return Tom Bayer and Dan Sipps on the offensive line, and McKay hopes holdovers Jeff Mills, Kevin Lang and Tim Breslin are ready for increased roles on the line. They should have decent depth on defense at the line and with the linebackers, who return senior standout Joe Nigro.
Coach says: “The offseason went real well. The kids have bought into the new staffs and schemes, and they’re enthusiastic and eager to get after it. I’m not the type of guy who wants to make any of this about me; I’m just excited to see that enthusiasm and hard work translate to the games so that I can see if we’ve come as far as I think we have in the last four months.”
PHILADELPHIA PUBLIC LEAGUE CLASS AAAA- GOLD DIVISION
Last season: 8-3, 4-1 (lost to Frankford in Public League championship)
Head coach: Ron Cohen, 29th season (Career: 249-72-2)
Outlook: Washington’s next win will be head coach Ron Cohen’s 250th career victory, and the Eagles are hoping to make it back to the league title game for the eighth year in a row. Cohen has had a legendary career at Washington since he took over in 1985, winning 12 Public League titles, the most ever by a head coach. Though they’ll be without Pittsburgh commit Justin Moody, as well as fellow graduated seniors such as Al Augustine, Shaquon Allen, Dave Gavrilov, Kendale Truitt, Marquis Edwards and Deya Mhiesen, among others, Cohen will still have plenty of help in his quest to bring his team back to another title game. Rasheed Black is an exciting playmaker at wide receiver, while Zaire Hollerway, Brandon Brown and Dawayne Young return to the O-line. Hassan Brockman adds depth as a receiver and backup QB, while Ken Everage is expected to start at running back. Taking the place of the two-headed QB attack of Gavrilov and Augustine will be John Santos, who Cohen says has performed well in camp and could provide stability to the position. Defensive end Tyrone McNeil and linebacker Shawn Henderson highlight the returning defenders.
Coach says: “We have a nice, young team, and while our numbers are a bit down, the attitude is up. In our two scrimmages, I saw a lot of things we still have to work on. We’re not as further along as maybe I would have hoped, but it’s time to put it all together. I think our passing game will speak for itself, and we’ve got top quality players on both sides of the line. Once we get the running game going, we’ll look forward to the spirited competition in our division.”
Last season: 7-5, 2-3 (lost to Frankford in semifinals)
Head coach: Phil Gormley, first season
Outlook: Gormley, a former Northeast assistant from 1998-2008, takes over for Jim Adams, who stepped down after one season. Gormley had been the head coach at Jenkintown the last two seasons, and despite the fact that the Vikings lost a lot to graduation (QB Daquan Bohannan, WRs/DBs Shimeek Carter and Devon Dillard, OL/LB Shahir Gates, OL/DL Bernard Houston and Division-I signee David Pulliam, among others), Gormley’s familiarity with the league should make the readjustment to a new coach and scheme easier to handle. Returning talent includes Anthony Pulliam, David’s brother and a two-way player; William Okrafo, an emerging star on the defensive line; Michael Coleman, a DE/LB combo; and Natwan Curtis, a WR/DB. Other names Gormley said to look out for include Gladimir Paul, a TE/DE; Stephen Rowe, who started at middle linebacker last year; and junior Teddy Filisame, who is expected to take over for Bohannan at quarterback.
Coach says: “We’re still young, and there’s no way of getting around that. It’s taking some time to come together, mainly because my way is a bit different than what they’re used to, but they’re coming around. We’re heading in the right direction and have taken some really positive steps. What I really want is for us to tackle and block every single day … you can hit a baseball off a tee all day long, but unless you face live pitching you’ll never be a good hitter. The same goes for tackling. Overall, I’d say I’m pretty happy with where we’re at.”
Last season: 3-9, 1-4
Head coach: Bill Harrigan, sixth season (Career: 20-37)
Outlook: Samuel Fels has felt the challenge of being a relatively new program that plays in a division with traditional, established programs like Frankford, Washington, Northeast and Central. In his sixth season as the Panthers’ head coach, Bill Harrigan believes this can be Fels’ most competitive season yet, most notably due to the commitment and camaraderie of the players assembled on this year’s roster. Harrigan said there were “a lot of guys who have made significant improvements in their game, almost too many to name,” though he singled out four-year varsity player Jylil Reeder (the team’s leading receiver a year ago) and four-year starter Bennie Smith at linebacker. Harrigan also said it’s the best work ethic he’s seen from any of his teams to date, and if his players keep the right attitude all season and don’t get down on themselves when they make mistakes, Fels could be a pesky out to their division foes.
Coach says: “We’re a team in every aspect of the word this year. I guess what I’m most impressed with is the closeness they’ve displayed as a group and the fact that they’re excited to be out there playing football every day. Instead of getting down on each other, they’re pushing one another to get better. We’ve scheduled some tough non-league games to prepare for the division, because as we’ve seen, good teams like Washington and Frankford, they reload instead of rebuild. I think we’re starting to build that culture within our program. Instead of saying, ‘Can we win?,’ we want to walk on the field and say, ‘How much are we going to win by?’ ”
CLASS AAAA- SILVER DIVISION
Last season: 4-8, 4-1
Head coach: Ed McGettigan, fourth season (Career: 16-20)
Outlook: Lincoln is looking for a bounce back after suffering through just the program’s second losing season since 2007. Of the team’s four wins, two came on forfeits by the other team, and head coach Ed McGettigan is hoping for a quick turnaround. Senior Devon Thompkins will take over for the accomplished Miguel Sanchez at quarterback, and other names to highlight include senior running backs LeRon Strothers and Damarkus Jones, middle linebacker Steve Callahan, two-way senior lineman Cody Kettyle and defensive back Travon Williams, a transfer from Ryan who led the Raiders in interceptions a year ago. Where the Railsplitters need the most work seems to be on the defensive side of the ball, as a Friday afternoon scrimmage against Gratz showed that the team needs work on tackling. They get to the ball just fine initially, but wrapping their arms around the ball-carrier to prevent big plays could make or break the season.
Coach says: ”Our goal is to win the division and get to the playoffs, as always. We have to improve on defense. We can’t give up the long plays like we did against Gratz. We jumped offsides twice too, so it’s all about being mentally there and doing the little things right. We still have a lot to figure out, and so far it’s been a learning experience for the coaches and players. We’ve made the switch to a no-huddle spread offense, and the hope is the new scheme puts us in a position to outman teams not with our size, which we lack, but with speedy skill players.”