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Embracing challenge, Academy Park ready to play its game

Academy Park coach Jason Vosheski knows the cards are stacked against his Knights, who face mighty Imhotep Charter in the PIAA Class AAA quarterfinal round Friday night at Plymouth-Whitemarsh.

“They’re good all over,” Vosheski said of Imhotep, which defeated reigning state champion Archbishop Wood for the District 12 Class AAA title last week. “They’re good running the ball and good passing the ball. Our main focus is try and play as disciplined as we can and do the things that have worked for us. We’re not going to try and recreate the wheel and do something that we’re not. We did that in the past and it didn’t work out too well.”

The challenge of facing their toughest challenge to date doesn’t deter Vosheski or his players. They’re going to be prepared, as they have been throughout a historic season of football on Calcon Hook road in Sharon Hill.

“We’re going to be us, we’re going to coach our kids up and we’re going to play a football game,” Vosheski said.

That message has resonated with his players, loud and clear. The Knights are going to play their brand of football, which has pushed them this far, the last team standing in Delco football. Last week, the Knights (13-0) claimed their second District One Class AAA title in three years with a convincing, 26-14 triumph over Upper Moreland, with receiver-turned-quarterback Jawan Collins leading the way with 200-plus yards of total offense and three touchdown runs.

Imhotep features Florida State commit and senior tight end Naseir Upshur, who resembles a Madden ’15 polygon and not a high school player. They have dynamic skill players, such as running back Mike Waters, who has rushed for 1,304 yards and 32 touchdowns. The other guy taking handoffs is Tyliek Raynor, who in just six games has amassed 592 yards and four TDs. The quarterback, Nasir Boykin, has thrown for 1,851 yards and 22 touchdowns.

And that’s only scratching the surface of Imhotep’s immense talent. It has a reputation for being a dominant team in the trenches. The offensive linemen, as Vosheski put it, “look like they’re all in four-or five-inch heels” because they’re so massive. Guard/tackle Johncarlo Valentin, a 6-4, 350-pound monster truck with quick feet, is drawing recruiting interest from several Division I programs, including UCLA.

“They’re exactly like us, but just bigger,” said Vosheski, who has led the Knights to 55 wins since the start of 2010. “They have bigger players up front on both sides of the ball. Otherwise if you look at receivers and backs and things like that, I’m not going to say we’re just as fast or the same, but we’re pretty close.”

The Knights have reached this stage in the season twice in the last three years. Remembering the 2013 campaign, after the Knights defeated Del Val League rival Glen Mills for their first district crown, they had to face juggernaut Wood in the PIAA quarterfinals. That AP team didn’t have its All-Delco quarterback, Brian Ingram, who had suffered a season-ending injury in the Glen Mills game. Vosheski threw athlete Jeff DeVaughn into the fire at the position because he had no other choice. DeVaughn, who is thriving today at the University of Maine, was overmatched. Jerry Lanier, a two-time All-Delco and 2013 Daily Times Player of the Year, was held to less than 100 yards. The Knights fell behind early and had no shot. They put up a fight, but were simply outplayed by a team that would go on to win a state title.

To avoid a similar fate, the Knights have to get off the field on defense when it should and not give Imhotep extra opportunities with its early possessions. That AP defense, which has allowed just 82 points all season, has to be excellent against an Imhotep team that has scored 564 points in 13 games.

“Most of the seniors now were sophomores on that 2013 team.  They’re more battle-tested than the team was two years ago,” Vosheski said. “We’ve seen nothing but adversity the last month of the season, starting with Interboro, Springfield, Great Valley and Upper Moreland. The kids have fought back every step of the way. I think that helps a lot for this game and I think it helps a lot for the kids in the future. You always kind of wonder how a team is going to respond when stuff happens, and they’ve responded every time. Kudos to them. It should certainly help us (Friday night) against that team.”

The Knights have the meanest defense in the county and Imhotep Charter respects the talent it will see. In a story on CBSPhilly.com, Imhotep coach Albie Crosby said of the Knights: “They have one of the best defenses in the state, and I have no problem saying that.”

High praise for a program that had been playing with a chip seemingly all year.

“It’s definitely nice to know that what these guys have accomplished has spread outside of our little part of the state,” Vosheski said. “We’re different than a lot of (Imhotep’s) opponents. They played Archbishop Wood, and Archbishop Wood defensively is very good, you know, but they’re not going to play defense like we’re going to play defense. I’m not saying that we’re better for it or they’re better for what they do, I’ll just say that we’re different.”

And the Knights believe they can be better than Imhotep Friday night.

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