SHARON HILL >> Look over the Academy Park roster and you’ll see several gifted, multi-sport athletes.
You’ll see speed and athleticism, trademarks that have made the Knights extremely dangerous and successful under coach Jason Vosheski.
Consider Teddy Wright, who has shown he’s not just an All-Delco defensive back, but a threat every time he touches the ball out of the backfield. Dazhon Miller, the team’s leading rusher, has flourished in his first full varsity trial. Shymere Stroud and Skylor Fillis are threats in the receiving game.
When it comes to defending AP’s skill players, it’s a chore for any team.
But what about the players who do the dirty work and hardly get credit for it in the press? They have been overshadowed.
The bedrock to Academy Park’s success is the offensive line, which has gone relatively unnoticed in 2016. That’s a good thing, they’ll tell you, because oftentimes when linemen get noticed it’s for all the wrong reasons, such as when they are falling on their keester or bull-rushed by a powerhouse defensive tackle.
Chris Thomas will tell you that it’s all good. Jaion Smith will do the same. They don’t mind staying out of the spotlight. All they care about is handling their responsibilities and staying out of the way.
But linemen playing as well they are don’t get enough credit, and that’s a shame.
“You’re one of the few people I have ever heard say that,” Thomas, a senior guard, said after the Knights’ practice Tuesday. “I wonder how it happens… ”
What matters is the attaboys they receive from their teammates.
“It really helps when the running backs and the quarterbacks let us know that we’re doing our job,” Thomas said.
Smith is a junior center on a unit that includes Thomas, Dan Kemp, Billy Martin and John Ellis. They are vital to Academy Park’s production on offense, which has scored 19 touchdowns in five games. If that number seems a tad low, that’s because the Knights have scored several touchdowns on defense, too.
“Every practice we go as hard as we can. We all have a good, strong bond with each other,” Smith said. “Once we bond together, we play even better… because we trust each other.”
Thomas was nodding along to Smith’s words.
“Jaion and I have different points of view. I’ve been here since freshman year and the setback we had sophomore year was 10 times harder than junior year,” Thomas said, referencing the lessons he learned as a sophomore player when the Knights fell short in the district playoffs. “How we are now, starting off 5-0 compared to how we did two years ago, it’s a lot different today. We’re a lot stronger now.”
Smith knows a thing or two about proving his worth. He was told in the eighth grade that, one day, he’ll be a big part of the team. Now a junior, Smith has been a rock as the lineman with the biggest duty.
“I’ve played center since seventh grade,” he said. “When I was in eighth grade, I talked to Coach Vo and he told me that he will need me in the future, to give it all I got and one day I’ll be a starter. That’s what I did.”
The Knights are burning teams in multiple ways, as they’ve outscored the opposition, 148-39. The offensive line has paved the way for a rushing attack that is averaging 220 yards per game and 5.9 yards per carry. The Knights haven’t skipped a beat after All-Delcos Jermaine Wesley and Jawan Collins, their primary ball carrier last fall, graduated in the spring.
“Honestly, we’ve been with them (Wright and Miller) for a really long time, excluding football, too,” Thomas said. “It’s the bond that you bring together. If it wasn’t for that, yeah, it would probably be a little more difficult. But football is football. You know you have to do your job.”
Miller and Wright are running neck and neck for the team lead in rushing. Miller has 497 yards and six touchdowns, while Wright has 491 yards and five TDs (Wright, it’s worth noting, also has two interception returns and a fumble return for scores).
“They are some great backs,” Smith said. “We know we got them running behind us. We give our all, they give their all, and touchdowns happen.”
The Knights open Del Val League competition Friday night when they host Chester (2-3). They know that successfully defending their title won’t come easy. With AP (5-0), Glen Mills (3-2), Interboro (4-1) and Penn Wood (4-1) all above .500, the Del Val is as strong as it’s been in years. Chester is no slouch, either, with quarterback, Jamir Green accounting for 305 yards of total offense in a loss at Reading last Friday. Devan Freeman is one of the best backs in the league and Braheem Bishop and Davouge Hopkins are playmaking wide receivers. Not to mention, Smith and Thomas will face some of Chester’s bigs on the defensive line.
“Recently we’ve been lighting it up, but the penalties really kill us,” Thomas said. “Some guys on the team think we can still win with 10, 11 or 12 penalties. No, you can’t, especially against an Interboro. They’re a good team. Glen Mills, I heard they’re a good team, too. If we do that against them, some of these teams (in the Del Val), we’ll be lucky if we win.”
It’s that type of attitude that drives the Knights’ offensive line to keep doing its thing.
“Vo tells us every day in practice that no team is going to roll over for us,” Smith said.
“And he tells us that we have the biggest target in Delaware County right now,” Thomas added. “Everyone wants us right now and we’re going to give it to them.”