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Catholic League 2019 Preview and Team-by-Team Breakdowns

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Cardinal O’Hara Lions 

Cardinal O’Hara’s Keed Kpoto. (MNG Photo)

Kpoto, Lions aim to clear daunting district hurdle

MARPLE >> Watching a team’s season-ending loss, Keed Kpoto says, is infinitely more painful than playing in it. If anyone should know, it’s him.

A broken collarbone caused Kpoto to miss the final four games of Cardinal O’Hara’s 2018 season, including its loss to Imhotep Charter in the District 12 Class 4A championship game.

“It hurt a lot not being able to get into that game. It was hard watching it, knowing I could’ve done something to make (the outcome) better,” said Kpoto, who enters his senior year. “But this is a new year. That game is over. It’s time to turn the page and start new.”

Kpoto and Cardinal O’Hara are setting the bar quite high for their 2019 campaign. The Lions believe they have the talent and savvy to return to the top of the Catholic League Blue Division.

Also helping their cause? Recent memory. The end of the Lions’ last three seasons have been mirror images. Each time, they have lost to Imhotep at the Germantown Supersite in the district final.

For O’Hara’s seniors, the sting from those defeats has not subsided. They expect it to serve as a motivating factor.

“It was crushing losing to the same team,” Kpoto, a first-team All-Catholic Blue selection, said. “We’re tired of losing in that game. We want to make a name for ourselves. We want to show what we can do.”

“It hurts, but we’re not looking back in the past,” said Joe Kelly, a senior who gives the Lions a reliable and capable anchor up front and on both sides of the ball. “If we play them again, we want a different outcome. That’s all there is to it.”

Cardinal O’Hara defensive end John Caponi, right, has Devon Alexander in his sights. (MNG Photo)

The captain in the trenches, Kelly is expecting contributions from his teammates on the offensive line. John Caponi will play at guard, after earning first-team all-Catholic honors on the defensive line in 2018. Cole Gehret and Dan Organ, juniors at guard and center, respectively, bring upperclassmen leadership to a veteran-heavy front five.

The Lions, who went 7-4 overall in 2018, will build their offense around Kpoto. The shifty back racked up 771 yards and eight touchdowns on 112 carries, finishing as the league’s seventh-leading rusher. He averaged 110 yards per contest, good for fifth in the league.

Kpoto’s injury, he admits, taught him the value of taking care of his body.

“Honestly, I think I’ve gotten bigger, faster and stronger as a result of the work I’ve put in since (the broken collarbone),” he said. “The strength coaches have been great with us. I think you’re going to see a better pass-catcher and a better pass-blocker. I told myself, ‘You don’t want to be just a back that stays in for first and second down. You don’t want to come off the field on third down, or at all.’”
That seems to be the theme for Cardinal O’Hara.

“Guys hit the weight room. You can tell. Everyone looks bigger this year,” said Chris Sheffer, a two-way player who lines up at middle linebacker and tight end. “Our entire team is (composed of) guys who have bought in. Even the younger guys want leadership roles, which is amazing. It has us excited and ready to go.”

Cardinal O’Hara’s Cole Sprague pulls down an interception. (MNG Photo)

OFFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH

Joe Kelly, Lineman >> Kelly anchors a talented, veteran offensive line. The senior earned second-team all-Catholic Blue accolades a year ago. Kelly, with a combination of his experience, strength and fitness over the last 12 months, could see an improvement on the field and in the postseason awards he racks up.

“It’s nice to be viewed that way (as a leader), but our entire O-line is going to be good,” Kelly said. “We have a new line coach (Greg Isdaner). He’s also our strength coach, so after practices, he’ll work us hard. He’s a good guy who explains everything in good detail, and he pushes us to be better and stronger.”

DEFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH

Chris Sheffer, Middle Linebacker >> With the loss of co-captains Chris Kirby and Lou Perri to graduation, Sheffer will have a more significant leadership role, as Hogan and the Lions will look to Sheffer as their coach on the field. The junior, who measures at 6-2, 190 pounds, is up for the challenge.

“We have a really strong linebacker corps, and I’m just a part of it,” he said. “Brandon Schumm next to me, we’ll both be calling out plays together. Our secondary, our line, We might be young, but we have really good players everywhere. We can potentially have a great defense.”

By Christopher A. Vito, For MediaNews Group

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Cardinal O’Hara Lions 

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