Not Your Average Joe’s: St. Joseph’s Prep primed to reign in PCL, PIAA again
The Catholic League Red Division is filled with a host of powerful football teams, led by defending PIAA Class 6A state champion St. Joseph’s Prep.
St. Joseph’s Prep returns a solid core of players from last fall’s powerful state champions, starting with junior quarterback Kyle McCord, who threw for 2,883 yards and 35 touchdowns last fall and was voted the Catholic League Red Division’s Most Valuable Player.
“There aren’t many quarterbacks at the high school level who can throw with his accuracy and power,” said St. Joseph’s Prep head coach Tim Roken of the Ohio State commit. “He’s got a high football IQ, and while he doesn’t talk a lot, he’s got a great work ethic that sets a good example for his teammates.”
McCord is surrounded by some potent offensive weapons, including junior wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr., who made 50 catches last fall for 724 yards and eight touchdowns, while receiving first team All-Catholic League honors; and senior running back Kolbe Burrell, a University of Buffalo commit who gained 923 yards last fall in 158 carries last fall, scoring 12 touchdowns and receiving first team All-Catholic League honors.
The Hawks’ skill position players will get a big boost from their veteran offensive line, which is led by third-year starting senior guards Casey Stephenson and Matt McGeary, and second-year starting tackle Matt Lombardi, a Tulane commit. Last fall, Stephenson received first team All-Catholic League honors, while McGeary was a second team All-Catholic selection.
“We have a lot of experience in our offensive line, which really helps our attack,” said Roken. “Casey and Matt have been with us a long time and are two [standout] leaders.”
The Hawks, who outscored their opponents by nearly 30 points per game last fall, allowed only 15 points per contest and have plenty of standout returning players on the defensive side of the ball.
Up front, returning starters include senior Anthony Leneghan (a second team All-Catholic League selection last fall), senior Andrew Bailey, junior Nick Yagodich and junior Giambi Nesbitt.
At linebacker, returnees include senior Liam Johnson, a first team All-Catholic League selection last fall; and junior Jeremiah Trotter Jr., a second team All-Catholic performer who made 13 tackles in the Hawks’ PIAA 6A state championship victory last year.
“Liam is a leader on defense – he has three older brothers who played for St. Joe Prep; he’s grown up with our program,” said Roken. “Jeremiah is stepping up more as a big brother – he runs like a deer, hits like a Mack truck, and can play multiple positions.”
In the defensive backfield is senior Anthony Rightley, who made five interceptions last fall, three in the PIAA 6A state championship game. He is also dangerous as a receiver – he grabbed five touchdown receptions in 2018.
Roken, in his first year as head coach of the Hawks, has been coaching for St. Joe Prep for a decade, and most recently served as offensive coordinator and assistant head coach. He replaces Gabe Infante, who in nine years coached the Hawks to 91 wins and four state titles and is now the Temple University running backs coach.
“Gabe could not have done a better job preparing me and all of us for this day,” said Roken. “We have the same [remaining] coaching staff as last year, and they really help me in my [new] role.”
St. Joseph’s Prep will start its season with three challenging non-league games. The Hawks will travel to Georgia to play Marietta High School, about 25 miles northwest of Atlanta, Aug. 30. Last year, Marietta had one of the toughest schedules in the country. The Hawks then travel to Rutgers University Sept. 6 to play Washington, DC powerhouse St. John’s, which was ranked in top five in the nation last year before being upset in the league championship. On Sept. 13, St. Joseph’s Prep will host IMG, the noted athletic power from Bradenton, Fla. which was ranked second in the country last year according to MaxPreps. IMG had a 40 game win streak, dating back to 2014, snapped in a loss last year to Mater Dei.
“The biggest key for us this season is keeping our focus, day by day,” said Roken. “We can’t look back at last year, we have a whole new group of [player] leaders, and we need to continue to develop every day.”
Another strong team in the Catholic League’s Red Division is Archbishop Wood, which posted a 4-1 league mark last fall (9-4 overall), its only Catholic League loss coming against St. Joseph’s Prep.
Wood came into last fall as defending PIAA 5A state champions, and got hot after an 0-2 start, winning nine of its next 10 games as well as the Catholic League 5A title and the District 12 5A championship. Wood advanced to the PIAA 5A state semifinals before falling to Penn Hills by a touchdown.
Wood lost 28 seniors to graduation last spring, and has only six seniors on its squad this fall. While the graduation losses include three-year starting quarterback Jack Colyar, most of its offensive line, and most of its defense (and leading rusher Tom Santiago has transferred back to William Tennent), Wood returns some quality players in OL/DE Charlie Mininger (captain), RB/S Ryan DiVergilis (captain) and WR/DB Cardel Pigford.
Many of the players on Wood’s roster have been with the program for a couple of years and were able to get into the end stages of the team’s lopsided contests last fall.
Wood head coach Kyle Adkins said, “We’ve lost a lot, both in experience but also just in terms of bodies so there are a lot of position battles. It won’t be solved anytime soon. We feel good about what is coming up, but they’re going to have to prove themselves.
“It almost feels like you’ve got a fresh crop [every season] to some degree but it’s always exciting. You get to see what you have and how guys develop, how they matured physically and mentally. This year is really no different.”
The Vikings will be facing a challenging non-league schedule before they tackle their Catholic League foes, including Pope John XXIII (N.J.) Aug. 24, Maryland Freedom Aug. 31, Christ the King Sept. 14, Peddie School Sept. 20 and Central Dauphin East.
Also in the Catholic League’s Red Division is La Salle College, which posted a 3-2 regular-season league mark last fall. La Salle posted a 5-6 overall record – two of the losses were to St. Joe Prep, one was against Archbishop Wood, and the other three defeats were to tough non-league opponents at the beginning of the season. In the Catholic League 6A final, La Salle lost to state champ St. Joe Prep by only 10 points.
Many of the starters from last fall’s solid La Salle team return this year. The team has some potential offensive firepower in senior quarterback Jack Machita, who had two solid games last fall before getting injured for the season; receivers TJ Meachum and Abdul Carter; and sophomore running back Sam Brown.
Defensively, La Salle is led by senior linebacker Dillon Trainer, and up front, a solid defensive line is headed by end Ryan Savage. The secondary has good athletes, including Meachum, who led La Salle with three interceptions last fall.
La Salle’s key matchups will be with St. Joe Prep Sept. 28, and probably the Catholic League 6A championship game. La Salle’s last win over Prep was in the 2015 PCL final. La Salle is also looking for its first win over Archbishop Wood since 2014
For Archbishop Ryan last fall (8-4 overall, 2-3 league), its only four defeats were to Red Division opponents St. Joseph’s Prep, Archbishop Wood and La Salle College. While Ryan lost quarterback Jahlil Sanders (22 TD passes and 800 rushing yards last fall) to graduation last spring, the squad returns multi-talented junior Tyreek Chappell (33 catches for 680 yards and 10 TDs, 511 rushing yards and six TDs in only 62 carries).
Father Judge (3-8, 1-4) lost its leading passer (Shane Dooley) and two leading rushers (Dooley and Katob Joseph) to graduation last spring, but return their leading receiver in senior Shane McGovern (35 catches).
Roman Catholic (1-10, 0-5), which ended its season on a high note last year, a 35-0 win at Roxborough, will be looking to move up in the Red Division this fall.
While the Catholic League Blue Division last fall was led by Conwell-Egan (13-1 overall, 7-0 league), Bishop McDevitt (8-4, 5-2) and West Catholic (12-3, 6-1), several other squads are looking to crash the Blue Division party.
One of those teams looking to move up is Archbishop Carroll, which has been on the upswing the past couple of years. The Patriots improved from a 3-8 record in 2018 to a 5-6 mark (2-5 league) last fall, thanks in part to the development of first-year quarterback Russel Minor-Shaw, who threw for a school record 18 touchdown passes and 1,051 yards.
Minor-Shaw is back this fall to lead the offense, after being sidelined by a broken arm for the Patriots’ two playoff games in 2018, the second contest a 9-0 loss to Cardinal O’Hara in the Catholic League 4A final. He also was a running threat last fall, picking up 378 yards in 101 carries.
“Russel is a dual threat, keeps defenses honest,” said Carroll head coach Kyle Detweiler. “He’s a lot more familiar with our language this year, and he’s really progressed as a passer. He had a strong pre-season camp.”
Minor-Shaw’s chief targets should be senior Mike Dempsey, a big-body possession receiver; speedy junior Malachi Hansen, and 6-foot-3 junior tight end Darryl Simpson Jr. The Patriots have a couple of promising running backs in juniors Brennan Robinson and Jalil Warren.
Defensively, the Patriots are led by senior linebacker Richie Kimmel, a first team All-Catholic League performer who made 166 tackles, 18 of them for loss. Kimmel is a second-year captain with a 3.9 grade-point average who is getting looks from some Ivy League programs.
Carroll suffered two losses to Cardinal O’Hara last fall, the first one a 21-7 defeat, and the Patriots will be eager to get another crack at them Sept. 20.
“Giving up just one touchdown to O’Hara in the playoffs and losing left a sour taste for us,” said Detweiler. “We’re looking forward to playing O’Hara again.”
The Patriots will play at several interesting venues in 2019, including Villanova University (vs. West Catholic Sept. 13) and Rutgers University (vs. Seton Hall Prep Aug. 30).
Cardinal O’Hara was a solid contender in the Blue Division last year (7-4 overall, 4-3 league), led in the early going by junior running back Keed Kpoto, who picked up 771 yards (and eight touchdowns) in 125 carries before suffering a broken collarbone and missing the last four games of the season.
Kpoto, a first team All-Catholic League selection at running back, is back again this fall, and should get plenty of help from a veteran front line led by senior Joe Kelly, a second team All-Catholic League offensive lineman last fall, and senior guard Joe Caponi, who received second team All-Catholic League honors as a defensive lineman.
Lansdale Catholic (2-7 overall, 1-6 league last fall) has a strong running back in senior Danny Dutkiewicz, who gained 1,286 yards and scored 11 touchdowns in 231 carries last fall, averaging more than 5 yards per carry and receiving first team All-Catholic League honors.
Defensively, Lansdale will go with a 3-4 scheme. Their most recognized returning defender is Kevin Gianoni, who received second team All-Catholic League honors at linebacker.
Bonner Prendergast (3-8, 1-6 last fall) has not had a winning season since 2014, but has been experiencing increased player turnout the past few years under coach Jack Muldoon. The Friars return their leading rusher from last fall, senior Charles Ingram, a second team All-Catholic League running back who gained 529 rushing yards (more than five yards per carry) and scored seven touchdowns last fall. Bonner Prendergast also returns its starting quarterback from last fall, senior Kyle Lazer, who threw for 654 yards and six touchdowns. The Friars also return their two leading receivers from last year, Ingram and junior James Welde, a pair of second team All-Catholic League second team selections who teamed for 41 receptions last fall.
By Bruce Adams; firstname.lastname@example.org