Penn Wood’s talented linemen stick together

LANSDOWNE >> There’s a sense of unity and trust among Penn Wood’s linemen. They  push each other, but most of all, they have each other’s backs.

Jordan Johnson and Kenny Ngaima have showed the way as the Patriots’ offensive and defensive line units have received positive reviews during the Patriots’ 1-1 start.

“We talk a lot of trash to each other and, personally, we just like to challenge each other,” said Johnson, a three-year starter  who is flourishing at left tackle and defensive end. “We’ll be pre-snap and Kenny thinks he’s about to get to the quarterback before me. I look at him, like, ‘Nah, you’re not.’  We have good camaraderie. We’ll hang with each other outside of school and everybody knows each other,  so we know how we are and we know how to talk to each other when somebody is down. That’s just how we roll.”

This new-look Penn Wood team, which opened the season with a shutout victory over Bensalem before losing a tough decision to Marple Newtown in Week 2, has opened some eyes around the county.  Penn Wood travels to A.G. Cornog Field to play Haverford High (1-1) Friday night at 7.

It’s been five years since the Patriots were a force in the Del Val League. It was during a time when All-Delco and Baylor star-turned-NFL mega-prospect Shawn Oakman was tearing the league shreds.  It’s apparent that this Patriots squad is the best the school has seen since the Del Val title run of 2010.

With lines headed by two powerhouse talents in Johnson and Ngaima (guard, end), the Patriots are going to be tough to beat once the Del Val schedule kicks into gear next month.

Ngaima, a senior, returned to football this year after sitting out his junior season.

“We know how to cover our weaknesses,” Ngaima said. “If we’re in full protection and I know we have a speedy guy on the outside, I will tell Jordan or someone to go get him and I’ll go get the man up top of him. It’s about communicating with each other. Everybody on the line is capable of doing one or two things, whether it’s stuffing the hole and going after the QB. If one of us is not as fast, we have someone else who can cover that. We all have different roles.”

The stats speak for themselves. On the offensive side, Johnson and Ngaima have been instrumental in helping senior Tayvon Ruley become one of the most dangerous running backs in the county. Ruley leads all Delco rushers with 311 yards. On the flip side, offenses have struggled mightily to run the ball against the Patriots’ big boys up front.  Through two games Penn Wood’s defense has allowed  just 1.8 yards per carry. The Patriots are first in Delco in that particular defensive category, a hair better than Ridley (1.9).

Last week the Patriots, despite the loss, received solid performances from Johnson, Ngaima, James Williams, Tyquon Brodie and Kwayan Adams on the D-line. It’s been a collective effort on both sides of the trenches.

“That’s what I think makes our line so unique,” Johnson said. “For example, James (Williams) might not be the fastest guy, but he’s the hustle lineman. When Davee (Rush) comes in the game, he’ll make a tackle in the backfield. Everybody has their own attributes. Kenny can sack the quarterback and stop the run, James can do the same thing and power up the middle. It makes everybody look good as a unit when everybody is going after it.”

The Patriots’ improvement on the offensive and defensive lines is a testament to assistant coach Sal Oropollo. “Coach O”, the former longtime head coach at Academy Park, is one of the most respected and beloved high school football coaches in Delco.

“As far as work ethic, I don’t know if there’s any other coach that works harder,” Johnson said. “The amount of time he puts into watching film, making up copies of install for the defense, he does so much. You can come over to his house to watch film and he’ll take you to any game. He’s there for you.”

“Coach Sal is a football coach, but on this team, he’s pretty much a mentor,” Ngaima added. “Every time you go up to him, it’s not going to be a five-minute conversation. It’s going to end up being a 20-minute discussion. It always happens. When he calls my name or I call his name, I know it’s going to be a long discussion. He brings a new life to it. He’s helped us get over mistakes. He says it’s OK because, since he was in the Army, if they made a mistake they would come home in bodybags. But if we make a mistake, somebody gets knocked on the ground but you get back up. We understand that analogy and we’re able to play it better. It’s OK to make a mistake, but just don’t do it twice. That’s what he’s taught us.”

And those lengthy teaching lessons with Oropollo are starting to pay off for Johnson, Ngaima and the rest of Penn Wood’s hard-working linemen.

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