As Frank McArdle rattled off the names one-by-one, his smile grew increasingly wider.
Jesse Wireman, three-year starter; Connor Rooney, three-year starter; Sean Boylan, three-year starter; Joe Hansbury, three-year starter; Bobby Romano, three-year starter; Connor Golden, three-year starter…
Every mention of a returning starter made one thing abundantly clear about the Archbishop Ryan football program: the Raiders are back.
Ryan didn’t get here overnight. In fact, McArdle, a former Raider in the ‘90s, inherited a messy program that had become a bottom-dweller in the Catholic League. Now in his fifth season at the helm, McArdle has re-installed a winning attitude to a once-proud program. The 20-game losing streak and inability to stay competitive against basically everybody?
Now, a year removed from the first winning season and first division victory of McArdle’s tenure, the Raiders bring back a loaded roster of veterans that has McArdle thinking his team is ready to be in the mix for the program’s first league title since 1994.
“We have a lot of kids back, which I’m really excited about,” McArdle said. “For me personally, the expectations are what they’ve always been, which is to be one of the best in the league. When I played here, we were that. We might not be to that point yet, but we’re heading in that direction. That’s good to see.”
Of the aforementioned holdovers from last season’s group that went 6-5 overall, Wireman and Rooney return to stabilize the linebackers; Golden and Romano are skilled on both sides of the ball at WR/DB. Those two, along with two-year starter Jason Dones, combined for seven interceptions a year ago. Boylan, a TE/DE, already has a scholarship offer from Colgate. Hansbury returns to anchor the offensive line, while garnering interest from colleges like Army and James Madison.
“The best thing about all these guys coming back is we spend much less time having to teach them,” McArdle said. “They know how to prepare in the offseason and what it takes to compete and play at this level. That’s huge for us.”
At quarterback, two-year starter Mark Ostaszewski returns after accounting for 13 total touchdowns a season ago. And while Ostaszewski doesn’t dazzle in any one area, skill-wise, his coach sees something else in him that can get this team over the hump.
“Mark’s competitiveness is what makes him stand out,” McArdle said. “He’s got a good arm and he can run a little bit, and when you combine the three, he’s a very strong player altogether.”
The Raiders countered the loss of running back Jeremiah Agrio (1,109 rushing yards, 9 TDs) with two accomplished transfers in Samir Bullock (Judge) and Rushawn Grange (Northeast). As a sophomore at Judge, Bullock tallied 1,086 yards on the ground, including a 190-yard effort against Ryan. Grange added 540 yards, also as a sophomore.
“Both are very athletic and lightning quick,” McArdle said. “That will be a big part of our offense this year. Samir is more elusive and sees his cuts better. Rushawn can pound the ball and be more physical. He hits it hard.”
When asked what he thinks of his new digs, Grange’s braces-filled smile lit up.
“I really love it here,” he said. “Everything about it has been great.”
Other names to look out for are junior center Nick Werez and senior guard Andrew Voroscak, who will replace all-league players Ed Bier and Brian Robbins on the O-line. Junior John Ligouri could also make some noise at tight end.
While McArdle’s overall record at Ryan is still just 14-30, he’s won 11 in the last two years while getting the Raiders back to being a .500 club. Now, the expectations are finally high again outside of the program, which pleases the head coach.
For his part, McArdle really started to see things turn around in 2011, when the Raiders went from two wins in 2010 to five the next. Suddenly, the games were more competitive from start to finish. McArdle also mentioned the yearly season-opener against Cardinal O’Hara in Ocean City, N.J., which has progressively evolved in Ryan’s favor; in his first year, the Raiders lost 56-0 to O’Hara, then 21-0, then 24-14, then 13-7 a year ago.
“I think the best thing about those past struggles is that we appreciate the little things more,” McArdle said. “You appreciate the wins more when they come. I’m grateful for the kids we had when we were losing, because they gave it all they had every day. They paved the way, and now we want to continue to watch it grow and take it to another level.”
Standing under the lights following an evening practice at the Bustleton Bengals Club, McArdle was asked how he’s grown as a coach in his four seasons in charge and how he was able to turn those brutal seasons into something positive.
“When I first got here, I wanted to win so badly that every loss crushed me,” he said. “Then I read a great book by (Seattle Seahawks head coach) Pete Carroll that said, ‘Something good is always about to happen.’ That’s the way we have to think.
“If you lose a game, it’s not the end of the world. You just have to keep chopping away, and if you do, then something good is about to happen.” ••