Leaving the familiarity of high school for the uncharted waters of college is one of the most exhilarating, albeit terrifying, ventures of any young person’s life.
Luckily for Brandon Spatz and Vince LoStracco, they won’t have to go through it alone.
The duo has spent the last four years as classmates and football teammates at Father Judge; last Wednesday, they ensured they would do the same for another four as both seniors signed National Letters of Intent to play college football at West Chester University.
The Judge community is known for the strong bond that is created between students during their time at the school, one that often lasts a lifetime. As a result, it’s safe to say Spatz and LoStracco won’t be getting sick of spending so much time together anytime soon.
“Who doesn’t want to play college football with one of their best friends?” Spatz asked. “That’s the most awesome part to me. We’re good friends off the field and our families became close, so I’m glad we’re staying together.”
LoStracco didn’t argue.
“I can say without a doubt that Brandon is the hardest worker on our team,” the 6-foot-4, 286-pound offensive lineman said. “He has a great family and he’s great to be around. As soon as we found out we’re going to be teammates again, we haven’t stopped talking about it.”
Officially signing on the dotted line for West Chester was the capper on a whirlwind senior year for both players.
It started with the entire team’s trip to Ireland — which LoStracco called “life-changing” — to kick off the 2012 season, one that ended with a disappointing 3-6 record as the Crusaders were beset by injuries at key positions. Despite this fact, LoStracco was named a first-team All-Catholic player at offensive line, while the 6-foot-1, 208-pound Spatz was named to the second team as a linebacker. (He also caught 16 passes for 255 yards as a wideout.)
Then, the two captains dove right into the recruiting process, which could be most closely compared to an actor going on an audition to land his dream role.
And although they ultimately ended up together at West Chester, it wasn’t always such a sure thing.
LoStracco said by phone that he had an offer in his pocket from a Division I-AA school in Indiana (by comparison, West Chester competes at the Division II level), but the lure of staying so close to his family and friends was too strong to turn down.
“My mom has never missed one of my games,” he said. “I don’t know what I’d do without my family, so why play 13 hours away from home when I can be an hour away? Also, West Chester reminded me of Judge in that they all hang out together and are one big family.”
“Family” is a word thrown around a lot in sports, causing it to lose some of its luster. However, anybody that has ever attended or played sports at Judge knows the type of atmosphere and camaraderie the school fosters.
Despite a disappointing win/loss record, LoStracco said that he didn’t think he’d ever enjoy playing with a group of teammates like those of his senior season. Spatz spoke glowingly of former team leaders like Eric Condron, Connor Donohoe, Rob Daniels, Tim Mills and “pretty much all of those guys” for helping him learn how to be a captain and lead by example.
“Playing at Judge and going to school here has meant a lot to me,” Spatz said. “We were all good friends, which made the downfall season much better because we were just enjoying playing football and being with our friends.”
Now, Spatz will get to keep doing so with one of his best friends. The duo continued the tradition of Judge head coach Tom Coyle and his staff sending their players to the next level. In fact, Judge had 21 alums playing some level of college football in 2012 (including four in Division I), according to a “Crusaders in College” document that Coyle e-mailed the Times on Monday.
“All of them have reaped the rewards of being committed student-athletes,” Coyle said. “And I don’t mean just football, but the challenges the school presents academically. They take it seriously, which is why they can walk out the doors here and carry themselves at a high level. The opportunity to be a scholarship-level player is a unique accomplishment, one they worked hard for. We’re proud of all of them.”
How Spatz and LoStracco will project at the next level remains to be seen, but both players are excited about the challenge ahead.
Coyle said Spatz has the ability to play on both sides of the ball, though Spatz said he expected to transition from a linebacker to a strong safety. LoStracco said the coaching staff at West Chester is interested in using him as a center on the offensive line, which would be a new position for him.
“My goal is to go in right away and compete for a starting job,” LoStracco said. “I’ll do whatever they ask of me.”
Said Spatz: “The college level will be much faster, but I think I’m ready for it. I’m excited for the new position and what it will take to better myself there. My brother and my coach at Holmesburg growing up all said they thought I’d play safety in college, so it means a lot that this is how it turned out.”
Both Spatz and LoStracco talked about how thrilling it was to be able to sign a National Letter of Intent. It’s an unpredictable process, one often rife with more twists and turns than an episode of Lost. They got through it due to the support of each other, as well as from those around them. Each player’s parents joined them at the signing ceremony — LoStracco spoke at length about how much it meant to him for his mom to be able to come to all of his future games, while Spatz referred to his father as “my agent” in helping make the right college decision.
“Now we’re just happy it’s over and we can finally relax and look back on it as a great memory,” Spatz said.
Spatz and LoStracco will enjoy a few more months of making memories with their senior classmates before it’s time to move on. As each day passes quicker than the one before it, they spoke of cherishing the fragile time they have left at a school that has meant so much.
“I’m from Bensalem, so I almost didn’t go here,” LoStracco said of Judge. “I would have regretted it. We get to have fun at school, hanging out together and just preparing each other for the next step in life. Being there is like being a kid in a candy store.” ••
Sports Editor Ed Morrone can be reached at 215-354-3035 or firstname.lastname@example.org