With his college decision already in hand, Gladimir Paul has just one more thing to check off his bucket list: deliver Northeast its first league title in four years.
The 2010 championship season wasn’t all that long ago, but a lot has happened since. For starters, Washington and Frankford have ruled the league, playing each other for the last three championships. The Vikings also used three head coaches from 2011-13: Chris Riley, who coached Northeast to its most recent title, stepped down after 2011 to focus on being the school’s athletic director; he was followed by Jim Adams in 2012, who resigned after a year and gave way to former assistant Phil Gormley. Gormley, who got the job late last offseason without much time to prepare, led the Vikings to a 5-7 mark in 2013 and enters this season much more comfortable, hoping to deliver on a campaign that carries with it lofty expectations.
But perhaps the biggest difference is having a senior leader of Paul’s caliber. Paul, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound defensive end/outside linebacker hybrid, committed last week to play his college football at the University of Virginia in the ACC. He was just an eighth-grader the last time the Vikings won the league, and he aims to change that before all is said and done.
“We feel that 2010 championship was a long time ago, and it’s something we want to regain,” Paul said during Northeast’s Monday afternoon practice. “We’ve been working out since January, and we have the perfect coaching staff and a lot of talent on this team. I think we’re a program on the rise, and I’m just real excited to get this year started.”
Northeast has certainly had some recent notable college players, namely Deion Barnes, now a junior defensive end at Penn State. However, following a couple of uneven seasons, having someone like Paul emerge has led to a resurgence in excitement for Viking football supporters.
“I’m real happy about the program we have in place here, and I’m even happier to be the guy the underclassmen look up to,” said Paul, who had an eye-popping 28 sacks in 12 games last season. “I want to put this program back on the map, to be that shining star for Northeast … it’s a role that I really appreciate.”
Gormley said Paul was visited by at least two dozen coaches during the recruiting process, and many college defensive coordinators marveled at how fast his first two steps off the line are. The fact that he’s a bit undersized likely prevented Paul from latching on to an even bigger program than Virginia, but that hasn’t diminished his enthusiasm one bit.
“When you watch Glad on film, he just does things you can’t coach or teach,” Gormley said. “He’s a very instinctive player, and he’s ridiculously fast. And he’s the leader of our team on both sides of the ball. He’s here every day outworking everyone, beating our running back in sprints. When other guys see that, it pushes them. He’s always positive. I’ve never seen him say a negative thing to a teammate, even when someone makes a mistake. His maturity and the team’s progression from last year to this one really go hand-in-hand.”
Paul is Northeast’s unquestioned leader and best player, but he is only one part of a defensive unit expected to turn some heads in 2014. Along with linebacker Steven Rowe, linemen Charles Anderson and Vince Stratton and defensive back Asa Manley, the Vikings don’t have many weak spots and should be exceptionally stingy on the scoreboard.
The offense, which struggled to score points last season, mainly due to the fact that Gormley had to use four quarterbacks, should also be more solidified this year. Manley, after rushing for more than 800 yards as a junior, has converted to quarterback, allowing sophomore Keith Moore to become the featured back after tallying 383 scores and three touchdowns in 2013. Paul, who also lines up at tight end, said to expect a high-tempo, fast-paced “Chip Kelly-style offense.”
“We’re a team to look out for,” Paul said. “It will be nothing like last year, I can tell you that much. Everybody is a lot more prepared. We’re just a better team. Everyone’s eyes are on the prize, and that’s to win a Public League championship.”
While getting to his self-professed goal of 30 sacks may be a tad difficult, Paul will certainly be playing loose, especially given that his college decision has already been made. He said that even though he feels like he doesn’t have much left to prove, he’s still playing with a chip on his shoulder to give him a mental edge between the lines.
“Last year I was good, but obviously that wasn’t good enough to beat Washington in the playoffs,” he said. “Last year I didn’t say much, but I’m trying to be a better vocal leader, a guy who can motivate his teammates to win a championship. With the talent we have and the hard work we’ve been putting in all offseason, we’re going to make it far. I think we have what it takes to play in the championship and win it, without a doubt in my heart.”
As Friday morning’s season opener at Abington (10 a.m.) rapidly approaches, Paul and Northeast’s quest for a title run begins now, and the team’s brightest shining star can’t wait to hit the gridiron in a game that counts.
“I’m fired up, very excited,” he said. “Every morning the first thing that comes to my mind is Vikings football. One of my dreams is to lead this team to a championship, and I feel we have the talent to dominate. Everyone is focused and hungry.” ••