Philadelphia Catholic League Preview: New-look Archbishop Wood, St. Joseph’s Prep favored in loaded conference
After being asked about what it’s like competing in the Philadelphia Catholic League, new Archbishop Wood coach Kyle Adkins couldn’t help but grin.
Adkins may only be 24, but he’s got as good a perspective on the question as anybody else in the league. A former standout at Wood, Adkins went on to play at Ursinus then returned to his alma mater as defensive coordinator before taking over as head coach after Steve Devlin’s departure this offseason.
So, he’s got a pretty good idea of just what that challenge presents.
“It’s so difficult,” Adkins said. “There are a lot of talented football players in our league. There’s a boatload of talented coaches in our league. You see a multitude of schemes and it’s changing week to week so it forces you to adjust on a week to week basis. That’s the fun part, the chess match and getting your kids ready to play is exciting and for the kids, it keeps things fresh.”
Despite winning the 5A PCL, District 12 and PIAA titles last year, Wood didn’t win the PCL Red division. That honor belonged to St. Joe’s Prep, the PIAA 6A runner-up to Pine-Richland. That’s not to discount the third-place finisher in La Salle, which was kept out of the postseason thanks to the Prep in the 6A PCL title game.
The rest of the division consists of Archbishop Ryan, Roman Catholic and Father Judge. While they may not have the year-to-year firepower the top triumvirate do, they all get a little extra juiced for those games and believe they can spring an upset.
Life on the other side of the break, in the smaller school PCL Blue, is no cakewalk either. Cardinal O’Hara, the biggest school in the division, has had two resurgent seasons. Conwell-Egan might have the best player in the division in Boston College-bound running back Patrick Garwo and Bishop McDevitt put itself back in the conversation last year.
Neumann-Goretti came back in a big way last fall as well while Lansdale Catholic faced Egan for the District 1/12 3A title last fall.
Wood is going for its third straight state title and though some things have changed at the Warminster school, the expectations are the same. There’s no big-name player on Wood’s roster this season of the like the Vikings have had the past half-decade, but no shortage of solid football players and guys ready to rise to the occasion.
Senior Jack Colyar is entering his third season as the starting quarterback but the Vikings will still lean on their strong running game and defense to navigate a loaded schedule of games.
“We’ve had situations like that every year where guys are getting pulled and others promoted in the season, even past midseason,” Adkins said. “We’re a staff that’s not afraid to make a change if it’s going to help the team. We think practice the most important thing we do here.”
The Prep, which has been to Hershey past two seasons, winning the 2016 6A state title but losing to Pine-Richland last winter, enters the season again highly regarded. Ranked No. 18 in the country by USA Today, the Hawks retain plenty of experience on both sides of the ball while also facing their yearly challenging of replacing a crop of impact seniors.
Coach Gabe Infante likes to play fast on offense and the return of running backs junior Kobe Burrell and senior Marques Mason means the Prep has a really good foundation to build on. Three-year starting quarterback Marquez McCray graduated and is now at St. Francis, but the Hawks don’t expect to miss a beat with highly-regarded sophomore Kyle McCord ready to step in.
There’s a pair of very familiar names on the Prep roster as well. Linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr., son of the former Eagles great, will see an expanded role as a sophomore while Marvin Harrison Jr., the son of the standout Syracuse and Indianapolis Colts receiver, is in his first season with the Hawks after playing for La Salle as a freshman.
“The preparation, the energy around PCL games, it’s a whole different monster,” La Salle linebacker Brendan Frusco said. “There’s really no other league like ours. There’s a lot of powerhouse teams, every team brings the juice week in and week out and you can’t take a game off because if you do, everyone knows what happens in the PCL.”
La Salle and St. Joe’s Prep meet on Sept. 28, Wood and the Hawks battle on Oct. 12 and La Salle faces the Vikings on Oct. 19.
“It makes you think what’s on the line,” La Salle linebacker Dillon Trainer said. “In the Catholic League, anybody can beat anybody else. No matter what, it’s always a game. When you’re in the middle of one of those games, you think about how everything’s on the line and it could go a long way to determining how long your season goes, so that really adds another factor.”
La Salle has a lot of re-tooling to do after graduating roughly 30 players off last season’s PCL 6A runner-up team. The league only sends one team to the District 12 playoff, so at least for the last few years, the Prep-La Salle games have had an extra bit of importance.
Frusco and Trainer feel there’s a lot of unknown talent on this Explorers roster and they’ve seen a lot of healthy competition so far in practice.
PCL teams like to load up their schedules with the highest level of competition. La Salle will face Imhotep Charter, North Penn, Malvern Prep and Haverford in nonleague, Wood faces McDonogh, Bergen Catholic, Pope John XXIII and Archbishop Spalding and the Prep will battle St. Frances, St. Peter’s Prep and Our Lady of Good Counsel before opening PCL play.
Still, ask anyone who coaches or plays in the PCL and they’ll say there’s something different about the games when it comes time for league play.
“You know all the coaches, you know a lot of the guys on the other teams, most of our guys have grown up playing against each other so that adds a little bit of motivational factor to it,” Adkins said. “You know what that team’s going to run, you know their kids, it’s hard not to get excited about it with all that familiarity between the programs.”
By Andrew Robinson, firstname.lastname@example.org, @ADRobinson3 on Twitter