CONCORD >> At Garnet Valley, there’s prestige that comes with being an offensive lineman.
Over the last decade, no team has produced more All-Delco linemen than the Jaguars. Coach Mike Ricci would be the first to admit that he’s fortunate to be surrounded by excellent coaches who know how to develop young men for the position.
It’s also the team-first mantra that Ricci continuously preaches, especially appropriate for the boys up front, that leads to success. Without camaraderie, communication and trust, the line cannot accomplish its goals.
“In order to be a good offensive line, there can be no ego,” explained Ricci, who won his 200th game at Garnet Valley last Friday. “It has to be all about ‘we’ and never about ‘me’.”
Alex Yao and Chad Hrvinak are two players who have bought into the system and are thriving for the Jags. Both two-year starters, Yao and Hrvinak have stood out in large part due to their prior varsity experience. Yao, a right guard, and Hrvinak, a right tackle, have shown the way for the other guys on the offensive line.
“I can say, I never go into the games with nerves. Last year I always had butterflies in my stomach, but it’s different this year,” Yao said. “We both have been through this together and we have the confidence to do our job.
“Mainly, during practice we stick together as a unit and do everything together. And when we’re not playing, we’re working together on the sideline. A lot of us have been playing together for a long time, so we have that bond. We communicate really well, too.”
Not surprisingly, Hrvinak and Yao have more than lived up to expectations. With a 6-2 record entering Friday night’s battle with first-place Springfield (8-0), the Jaguars offensive line has spearheaded a rushing attack that is averaging 275 yards per contest.
“I’ve been thrilled with our entire offensive line. Alex and Chad were two of our starters last year and they kind of set the tone for the other guys, for what it takes to be a good high school football offensive lineman,’ Ricci said. “Tom Mahoney, Jake Erley, Joey DiAntonio and Ryan Shomo work in there. (Along with) our tight end, John Ricci, they’ve done a really good job up front. Paul Graham, our offensive line coach, does a really good job getting them prepared. They work really hard and they take a lot of pride in doing the little things right.
Hrivnak also has excelled on the defensive line with a team-high 6.5 sacks. Hrvinak and linemate Rob Monachello (44 tackles, five sacks) have been forces all season for the Jags.
“I’ve been focused on reading my keys, doing my job, and hopefully it works out,” Hrvinak said. “I’ve been working really hard.”
That’s exactly the sort of attitude the Jags need Friday in order to conquer Springfield. With a win the host Cougars can clinch at least a share of the Central League title for the second time in three years.
“For the defense, we have to focus on stopping their big plays,” Hrvinak said.
Springfield has home run potential on offense. Quarterback Johnny Fanelli and multi-purpose senior Joe Kennedy are a dangerous combination.
On defense, Justin Shields, Derek Strain and Dan Gluck power a physical line unit. Pat Clemens and Dwayne Snipes are heavy hitters at the linebacker position.
As for the GV offensive line? It knows what it’s up against.
“Springfield, as we all know, has a very talented defense,” Yao said. “So on offense we just have to go out, stick to our game plan and play the way we know how. I feel pretty confident that we can do that.”
With stinging losses to Ridley and Haverford on their ledger, the Jaguars look to break even, in some ways, by gaining a big victory at Springfield and spoiling its hopes at an undefeated march through the Central League.
“They’re very confident in what they do and they do a very good job with it. And they play very fast on defense,” Ricci said of Springfield. “In addition, they’re also very physical. If you figure to move the ball against Springfield, and to do so consistently, you have to be very sound, your steps have to be right, and we’re hoping that we’re going to be able to do that.
“Offensively, they are big-play. They have the Kennedy kid and some other kids who are very skilled and very athletic. That’s a problem for anybody. I love their linebackers, (numbers) 35 (Snipes) and 32 (Clemens). They’re a very, very good defense and we have to be ready.”