Quick learners Soslow, Carter shift Haverford School into title mode

HAVERFORD — Just a few months ago, Jack Soslow didn’t know the first thing about being a football player.

The Haverford School senior knew about kicking, in the abstract sense that he could really get some distance on a soccer ball. But Soslow admits the little things — likely simply putting on a jersey over his pads — forced the most uncomfortable of his transitions to the gridiron.

From those humble beginnings, Soslow has become one of the Inter-Ac’s deadliest weapons. He’s launched 31 kickoffs for touchbacks this season, constantly giving the Haverford School defense a leg up. He’s booted 11 field goals, two shy of the Philadelphia record, according to former Daily News staffer Ted Silary. His 52-yarder against Archbishop Ryan in September is believed to be a Delco record.

One kick at a time, Soslow has represented a microcosm of the Fords’ season, one which they hope to end in grand fashion Saturday in a rivalry showdown with Episcopal Academy (5 p.m.) The kicking position could’ve been a question mark, one of a select few confronting the Fords, one that could’ve prevented the Fords from standing on the precipice of an undefeated Inter-Ac season.

Instead, Soslow has managed to make the kicking game an overwhelming positive. And while much of that has to do with his still emerging abilities, it also speaks to the atmosphere that coach Mike Murphy has fostered within his team.

“I would’ve thought, watching the Eagles, there would’ve been more hate for the kicker,’ Soslow joked after practice Wednesday. “… But the team has totally embraced me. Every time I miss, they’re like, ‘˜All right, kick it again.’ Every time I make it, they’re so excited. It makes it so much easier knowing that I’m around these guys, fully supporting me in everything I do.’

“I think it’s just the way that the guys on this football team are,’ Murphy said. “We’re lucky in the sense that we’ve got a lot of guys that are competitors, a lot of guys that have a goal as a team in mind that they wanted to compete for an Inter-Ac championship, and they weren’t going to let anything get in the way.’

Another example of the way the Fords (8-1, 4-0) have meshed centers on quarterback Kevin Carter. The junior entered as an obvious talent, having shown glimpses of his athleticism as a backup last year.

This season, the signal caller has flourished, throwing 14 touchdowns against four interceptions. Three of those picks came in a Week 1 loss to West Catholic, a result looking increasingly like an aberration.

While many of the pieces around him were proven playmakers or established linemen, Carter’s greenness could’ve been the weak link. Instead, he’s become one of the most dependable quarterbacks around, and much of the credit for Carter stepping in and prospering stems from the framework provided by the veteran corps around him.

“I think we’ve all just done our jobs,’ senior tight end Derek Mountain said. “Kevin hasn’t been trying to do too much. We’ve all been carrying our own weight, and that works fine for us. … We have playmakers on our team, so everyone just sticks to the assignments.’

Murphy attributes his team’s success in large part to the competition up and down the roster that has forced his players to constantly improve.

“For the first time in a while, you had seniors battling seniors,’ he said. “Looking back, that was a really good thing for this football team because nobody was able to be complacent, just kind of come in and say, ‘˜well I’m a senior and there’s a sophomore behind me.’ It was, ‘˜whoa, I’m a senior, but there’s another senior who really wants to play.”

The final test of that depth will come Saturday when a struggling EA team (5-5, 1-3) comes calling. The circumstances recall the 2012 collision when Episcopal stood at 9-0, trying to cap a perfect season with an Inter-Ac crown at Sabol Field. That day, a Haverford School squad that struggled mightily earlier in the season gave EA a run for its money, the Churchmen barely escaping with a 21-14 win and a blemish-free record.

Despite the role reversal, both coaches have gleaned lessons from that encounter.

“We talk about how fun it is to play spoiler,’ EA coach Todd Fairlie said. “It would be a great opportunity with an arch-rivalry to spoil a phenomenal season and really something special that they’ve done. I’m sure it just wouldn’t be the same for them if they finished with a loss to us.’

“I look back, we’re in that football game,’ said Murphy, whose team has clinched at least a share of the title for a second straight year. “They did a nice job of finishing it, but that game could’ve gone the other way. And that was a definite message to this team. … No one really expected us to compete with that team, and we did. We gave them all they could handle that day.’

From EA’s perspective, there’s more than just revenge at play. The Churchmen have lost their last two games, scoring a total of 14 points.

Setting aside Haverford School, Saturday’s game represents a last chance for EA to not only salvage something from a disappointing season, but an opportunity to finally play the way they envisioned this season, exceeding their mediocre level of late.

“I don’t think we’ve played our best game yet this season or a game that really signifies the team that we thought we had,’ Fairlie said. “We haven’t put together four quarters and been pretty sound. Hopefully this week, we’ll put it all together. There’s not a better opportunity than now.’

As for the Fords, the common refrain was about not taking the Churchmen for granted. While a portion of the title is sewn up, you get the impression that adding the asterisk of a shared title, especially at the hands of a rival, would mar the accomplishment considerably.

“Our message has been that we haven’t accomplished what we set out to accomplish yet,’ Murphy said. “And I don’t think there’s a guy on this team that’s taking this upcoming game for granted at all. They know it’s a rivalry game; they know what can happen in this game. And they know we have to finish in order to say what we want to say at the end of the season.’

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