Signs of strength

Archbishop Ryan’s Jon Liguori has proven his power on and off the field. The senior recently helped his mom through a breast cancer battle.


  • Samir Bullock. KEVIN COOK / FOR THE TIMES


In the mo­ments fol­low­ing Sat­urday’s gritty sea­son-open­ing win over ar­chrival Fath­er Judge, Frank McArdle re­it­er­ated the team’s motto to his vic­tori­ous Arch­bish­op Ry­an Raid­ers:

Keep chop­ping.

For Jon Liguori, those words car­ried some ex­tra mean­ing.

In Ry­an’s thrill­ing 21-20 vic­tory over the Cru­saders, Liguori kept on chop­ping after a short five-yard catch turned in­to a 57-yard jaunt to the Judge 1-yard line early in the fourth quarter. Full­back Bob McDe­vitt scored on a short run the very next play, and the Raid­ers nev­er re­lin­quished the lead again in the back-and-forth con­test. 

“I just had a five-yard out pat­tern … I did my route and saw (sopho­more quar­ter­back) Matt (Ro­mano) look­ing at me,” said Liguori, a 5-foot-11, 200-pound seni­or tight end/de­fens­ive end combo. “The de­fend­er and I each got our hands on the ball at the same time and I just ripped it out of his hands. I felt an­oth­er guy hit my back, but I didn’t go down. I got my feet un­der me and just sprin­ted for my life try­ing to win this game.”

Liguori wouldn’t be denied, which is no sur­prise, giv­en that the kid knows a thing or two about de­term­in­a­tion and over­com­ing ad­versity. His mom, Sheryl, was dia­gnosed with breast can­cer to­ward the end of the last school year, an un­ex­pec­ted bomb dropped on the Liguori clan — Jon, Sheryl, dad Robert, older broth­er Nich­olas and young­er sis­ter Au­brey. In ad­di­tion to go­ing to school and get­ting ready for his seni­or sea­son, Jon worked about 20 hours a week as a host at TGI Fri­day’s to con­trib­ute to­ward the fam­ily bills. He sports a tat­too on his left rib­cage of a pink rib­bon with two box­ing gloves and the words “My Mom is a Fight­er.”

On that big fourth-quarter play — and every play, for that mat­ter — Liguori was think­ing of his mom.

“It was heart­break­ing to see her go through that,” Liguori said later. “She had four months of chemo­ther­apy and lost her hair, and that’s a real tough thing, see­ing a wo­man lose her hair. She was al­ways tired, so I just wanted to help the fam­ily out any way I could. Everything I do, on the field and off, is for her. On that play, I know she was in the stands, smil­ing. And what a great feel­ing, know­ing she’s there to see me my seni­or year. I want her there every game sup­port­ing me … it lifts my con­fid­ence when she’s there.”

Sheryl Liguori’s can­cer is in re­mis­sion, and her young­est son said he learned a lot about men­tal tough­ness (one of his greatest weapons on the foot­ball field) from wit­ness­ing his moth­er’s cour­ageous battle.

“She is truly my idol,” Liguori said. “I’m just com­pletely stunned by her cour­age. When everything was go­ing wrong, she still al­ways had a smile on her face, telling us everything would be all right. A wo­man nev­er de­serves to go through that, but she handled it per­fectly. She was al­ways happy and con­fid­ent and nev­er thought of the worst. I’m so proud of her.”

And Sheryl is un­doubtedly proud of her son, who totaled three catches for 84 yards in the fifth an­nu­al North­east Philly Cath­ol­ic Clas­sic. The trophy switched hands for the fourth con­sec­ut­ive year fol­low­ing Ry­an’s one-point win and served as a beacon of op­tim­ism in a sea­son with high ex­pect­a­tions. Des­pite the fact that Ry­an went 8-3 last year, the team missed the play­offs (thanks in part to a 28-17 loss to Judge), something Liguori and com­pany aim to rec­ti­fy in 2014. The all-time series stands at 24-24-2 between the two teams.

“Last year after we lost to Judge, I was heart­broken see­ing all the seni­ors cry­ing,” Liguori said. “I prom­ised my­self that it wouldn’t re­peat it­self next sea­son. Fath­er Judge is a great team, so this is a huge con­fid­ence boost­er to start off the sea­son. Every­one was doubt­ing us, say­ing we lost too many seni­ors, we’re too small or whatever else. This game proved a point. We gut­ted our way to that win and really came to­geth­er as a team. I wouldn’t want it any oth­er way.”

Seni­or run­ning back Samir Bul­lock bruised his way to 140 yards and a touch­down on 33 car­ries, and seni­or wideout Seneca Wil­li­ams hauled in a 25-yard TD catch from Ro­mano. For Judge, Prince Smith scored twice — on an 84-yard kick­off re­turn and a 30-yard hook­up from QB Za­ck Car­roll. Ju­ni­or star run­ning back/safety Yeedee Thaen­rat, deal­ing with cramp­ing is­sues, man­aged just 60 yards on 12 car­ries (and a TD) in what turned out to be a stal­wart Ry­an de­fens­ive ef­fort. The of­fens­ive line — seni­ors John Ferry and Kev­in Schaef­fer, ju­ni­ors Sean Dev­ine and Ry­an Kid­well and sopho­more Brendan Ruskowski — which ab­sorbed heavy losses to gradu­ation, was su­perb.

“We’re young, but we all have po­ten­tial,” Liguori said. “We’re tough North­east dudes.”

McArdle loves his team’s tough­ness, both men­tally and phys­ic­ally, and he sees Liguori as one of his most head­strong lead­ers.

“Back when he was a sopho­more, he saw a kid get­ting bul­lied and he stepped up and ba­sic­ally said, ‘If you mess with him, you mess with me,’ ” McArdle said. “As far as what happened with his mom, we didn’t even know. He didn’t tell us, be­cause he wasn’t look­ing for sym­pathy or ex­cuses. He’s a very strong, spe­cial kid. He cares about people.

“After what he’s been through, foot­ball isn’t that hard. Life is much harder, and to me that’s the ex­plan­a­tion as to why he’s play­ing so much bet­ter. He al­ways had the tal­ent, so I think something just clicked for him. I’ve seen him grow so much as a play­er and a per­son.”

Liguori said he sees par­al­lels to foot­ball and real life. In both scen­ari­os, you’re of­ten faced with un­ex­pec­ted obstacles, and how you re­spond shapes the per­son and his char­ac­ter. He ac­know­ledged that while his moth­er’s can­cer is in re­mis­sion, it could still re­turn at any time. As a res­ult of this thought pro­cess, Liguori said he’s not tak­ing a day for gran­ted as far as his fam­ily goes.

“This last year was a big learn­ing point for me,” he said. “It taught me a lot about sup­port — how to care for your fam­ily and not just your­self. Foot­ball helped get my mind off things, and helped me feel like noth­ing was wrong for awhile. I love foot­ball so much. It’s fun to play, and it teaches you how to be self­less and think about oth­ers. If I didn’t have it, I don’t know what I’d do.”

Luck­ily for Liguori, he’s still got foot­ball on his side, just like he’s still got Sheryl in his corner. All of that should add up to a spe­cial year for the Raid­ers.

“Her can­cer in re­mis­sion is a big weight lif­ted off all of our shoulders,” Liguori said. “It showed me that I can’t take any­thing for gran­ted. We know the can­cer could come back any­time, but that’s something we can’t con­trol. But as of now, she’s can­cer free, and it’s the best feel­ing of our lives. We’re liv­ing every day like it’s our last. We’re go­ing to keep it to­geth­er, keep sup­port­ing her and keep liv­ing our lives. It’s as simple as that.” ••

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