WHITEMARSH >> Jawan Collins wasn’t on the football team two years ago when Academy Park won its first District One Class AAA championship.
“Basketball was more my thing,” the senior quarterback said.
Collins, a super athlete and the shining star Friday night in AP’s 26-14 victory over Upper Moreland for the District One title, wasn’t around the first time the Knights won this game. Back then, Collins was another student in the crowd, watching with awe as Daily Times Player of the Year Jerry Lanier and Co. accomplished something never before done by an Academy Park football team.
Collins is the prototypical athlete that coach Jason Vosheski has invested in during the Knights’ run to prominence in Delaware County and District One.
“There’s always been talent, but a lot of talent just walks to school and plays basketball or wrestles and doesn’t play football,” Vosheski said. “With Jawan, this is only his second year of actually playing with us. If he had played as a sophomore, it would be ridiculous how good he could be. We’re getting a bunch of kids like that now.
“(Senior receiver) DeAndray Covert, same thing. He only played two years. (Junior safety) Davoughnte Brown, this is his first year playing with us. But we are getting those basketball-type players, those athletes, who know how to play football.”
And that’s the most noticeable quality about where the program stands today. The kids who would normally spend their spring, summer and autumn months playing hoops in the courtyards of Sharon Hill, Folcroft and Darby are now under the watchful eye of Vosheski and his staff year-round.
“We’re getting more kids now who are athletic and know how to play the game,” Vosheski said.
Vosheski is building a monster at Academy Park. But what, exactly, turned Academy Park from a struggling Del Val League program to the powerhouse it is today?
It goes back to 2008-09 when All-Delco athletes Eric Gilbert and Kabongo Bukasa were laying the groundwork of this great era of Knights football.
“In 2008, we overachieved,” Vosheski said. “We won the games we should’ve won and lost the games we’ve should’ve
lost. Some of those games we played well and had a chance to win. We were one game away from making the playoffs that year. If you look at that team, it overachieved, but it set the standard. They were gym rats and they worked their butts off in the offseason. ”
The following season, the Knights got back to the district playoffs, and were promptly smoked by Interboro in the first round. Yet, it was another building block and lesson well-learned, for the coaches and players. Every year since 2009, the Knights have been contenders for a district championship. They’ve won three Del Val titles in four years and, after Friday night, two district crowns in three years.
Vosheski is a respected teacher and coach. The kids listen to him. He doesn’t mince words with them, and the players never take his words lightly.
“They probably hear me in their nightmares,” Vosheski said. “We tell them at the beginning of the year, you’re better than every other kid because you’re putting up with us, the coaches, all year long. You’re sweating in the summer and playing hard in the season, and you have to constantly hear from us, myself and the coaching staff. We’re all very, very similar.”
The Knights are fortunate to have a player like Collins, who rushed for 188 yards and three touchdowns Friday, including scoring runs of 57 and 54 yards that put the Knights in the driver’s seat in the second half. Collins gives props to his linemen: Nykeal Jalloh, Chris Thomas, Dan Kemp, Marion Holmes and John Ellis. At 6-4, 350 pounds, Jalloh is the big boy of the bunch, a rarity on a team that is built on speed and athleticism.
Jalloh came to Academy Park from Downingtown East his sophomore year. He immediately bought into the winning culture that Vosheski had created, and Jalloh saw the trust and respect the players had for each other. That is a defining characteristic on this year’s squad.
Sure enough, when the Knights were down by eight points at halftime, they never stopped believing in each other.
“The coaches tell us to stay humbled and focused all the time,” Jalloh said. “And do whatever it takes to win. This is a team that I love to death.”
When talking to his players after the game, Vosheski reminded them how important it was to “win with class and lose with class.” Except the Knights (13-0) haven’t lost yet in 2015.
They just keep winning.
To contact Matt Smith, email email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @DTMattSmith.
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