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Football Friday: Sun Valley looks to avoid bad sting of luck at Oxford

ASTON >> In the midst of discussing their 3-0 start and what the team needed to improve upon, Sun Valley’s Quentin West and Ishy Ahmad had a light-bulb moment.

The two senior Vanguards, both of whom have been integral parts to their quick start, suffered injuries against Oxford in 2015.

And this week, wouldn’t you know, Sun Valley plays at Oxford in its Ches-Mont League opener.

Sun Valley’s Quentin West, left, tries to elude Pope John Paul’s George Gunner, while Vanguards Mike Windsor and Evan Fooks look to block. (Digital First Media/Anne Neborak)

Sun Valley’s Quentin West, left, tries to elude Pope John Paul’s George Gunner, while Vanguards Mike Windsor and Evan Fooks look to block.
(Digital First Media/Anne Neborak)

“I had a concussion the first week of last year and missed two games,” West said. “I came back for  Oxford, this game, and actually ended up breaking my hand.”

Then the realization set in.

“Oh, wow,” he said. “I got hurt against Oxford. That just hit me.”

Not just him.

“We both got hurt against Oxford,” Ahmad exclaimed. “Oh, man.”

Gabe Boccella, senior quarterback and team captain, warned his mates not to jinx themselves.

“Uh, that wasn’t smart to say…” Boccella said.

It’s all good, though. For West and Ahmad, they can use their past misfortunes against Oxford as extra motivation to have a big night and try to help the squad to a fourth consecutive win.

That would be nice, right?

“Yeah, yeah,” West and Ahmad said, followed by some laughter.

Last fall, Ahmad suffered a groin injury that cost him several games. West’s hand injury essentially cost him the remainder of the season.

“There’s nothing worse than missing games,” West said. “No worse feeling than not being able to be out there with your teammates.”

These days, it’s fun to play football at Sun Valley. While Ahmad, West and Boccella are enjoying every moment, they’ll take nothing for granted. They emphasized the importance of starting over this week. Forget all about the previous three weeks that saw Sun Valley gain wins over Pottstown, Pope John Paul II and, most recently, Upper Merion. None of that matters anymore.

“We don’t let 3-0 get to our head,” said Boccella, who attended summer camps at West Chester, Villanova and Delaware. “We just keep moving on. We’re working together as a team and we’re vibing. At practice, the whole senior class are leaders. We’re leading by example. There’s really not a lot of negative attitudes out here, either.”

Added West: “We don’t worry about our record, and we don’t want to get complacent.”

That’s music to the ears of the old ball coach, Ray Gionta, who has been happy with the strides made by both Ahmad and West following injury-plagued campaigns.

“Ishy Ahmad missed four or five games last year, Quentin missed a bunch, too, and (they have both) stepped up and played well,” Gionta said. “Ishy’s been catching the ball and had a couple nice runs on kickoff and punt returns. He has two acrobatic catches. He had one at Pottstown for our first TD of the year. The second game against Pope John Paul (II), early in the game, the ball was a little bit underthrown, and it got tipped and he got knocked down. The ball came right down and he caught it on the 2-yard line and he was on his back when he caught it.”

“Those three guys (Boccella, Ahmad and West) have done an excellent job.”

Despite their September success, the Vanguards haven’t gone unscathed. In the season opener against Pottstown, senior captain and fullback Jon Kester was lost for the rest of the year. He had surgery to repair his lisfranc joint earlier this week.

The absence of Kester does not go unnoticed. He was the heartbeat of the team — and still is, even on the sideline.

“It’s all for Kester,” West said. “It’s just terrible what happened to him his senior year. Every win, every play, every tackle and every touchdown … it’s all for him. He knows that, too. He knows that he’s one of our brothers, and he’s still a huge part of this team, even though he can’t play.”

Kester was the Vanguards’ top offensive performer in 2015, One of the most underrated rushers in the area last fall, Kester was seventh in Delco with 1,256 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Boccella, a longtime friend of Kester’s, said it “just isn’t fair” that Kester will miss the rest of his senior year.

“He was our leader,” Gionta said. “We’re going to miss him.”

West and Ahmad are capable of filling Kester’s shoes. They’ve produced early on, and expect that to continue versus Oxford.

“We just have to keep working hard,” West said. “Working and grinding away. This is like a new season now. We have to keep getting better and better.”

In other positive-vibe news for the Vanguards, they have revived their freshman program this year for the first time in more than a decade. Assistant coach Shane Coyle, who played at Sun Valley from 2003-06, said he doesn’t remember having a freshman squad during his days.

“I was old back then, too,” Gionta joked.

Needless to say, bringing back the freshman team is a good sign that Sun Valley football is on the right track.

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