Defending state champions show no sign of slowing down
PHILADELPHIA >> The seniors at St. Joseph’s Prep have played for teams that have appeared in three consecutive state championship games, and have won two of them.
From that perspective, nothing has changed for the Hawks. They have the same expectation to win the PIAA Class 6A title, just as they did in 2018. And they remain the runaway favorite to win the Catholic League, which they have dominated in five of the last six seasons.
But they do have a new coach, even if he’s a familiar face.
“Coach (Tim) Roken picked up right where we left off,” said senior running back Bryheem Barr. “It’s the same routine, same process, going on for four years now. It’s like nothing changed.”
Roken enters his 10th season at The Prep, where he most recently has served as offensive coordinator and assistant head coach. The Northeast Philadelphia native and Archbishop Ryan graduate steps in following the departure of Gabe Infante, who in nine seasons guided the Hawks to 91 wins and four state crowns. Infante joined the staff at Temple University as the Owls’ running backs coach.
“It’s been a dream of Gabe’s to coach at the college level,” Roken said. “This is something we as a staff knew about Gabe, that he’d have this opportunity. We were prepared and, to be honest, Gabe could not have done a better job preparing me and all of us for this day. The base we have, the staff we have, the culture of our school and team, the players, it all stays the same. Nothing will sidetrack us.”
Infante’s final season at The Prep could not have gone any better. The Hawks (13-0) convincingly won the Catholic League Red Division, District 12 Class 6A title and the PIAA state championship. On average, the Hawks defeated their opponents by 29 points.
The Prep closed the 2018 season ranked in the top 10 nationally in two prominent polls: No. 6 by USA Today, No. 8 by MaxPreps. The Hawks may drop a bit with a new head coach, but so what?
“We don’t care what other people say about us,” said Barr, an Upper Darby native. “We’re trying to start where we left off and we’re trying to get this train going. We’re trying to be the best, win that state championship and play for greatness.”
Roken, in his first go-around as head coach, will benefit greatly from the Hawks returning the Catholic League Red Division’s MVP, junior quarterback Kyle McCord. He led the league in completions, attempts, yards, and touchdowns a year ago.
The weapons around McCord are plentiful.
Injuries significantly limited Barr’s contributions to the 2018 campaign. The 5-7, 160-pound ball carrier logged only 12 carries for 64 yards. He’ll figure in more significantly this season and, while paired with fellow senior Kolbe Burrell, could create a formidable backfield tandem for The Prep. A University of Buffalo commit, Burrell rushed for 923 yards and 12 touchdowns on 158 carries, earning all-league honors.
At receiver, Delaware County product Anthony Rightley is back and, in his second season playing on both sides of the ball, predicts he will be better positioned for success than he was a year ago. Marvin Harrison, Jr., who earned all-league accolades as a sophomore, returns as McCord’s primary target. Harrison hauled in 50 receptions for 724 yards and eight touchdowns. Impressively, the underclassman finished the year as the third-leading receiver in the Catholic League.
It’s easy to see why The Prep is expecting a successful 2019 season.
“It’s exciting to see where we are at this stage of the year,” said Rightley, “and where we hope to be at the end of it.”
“The motto around here is trust and love. We have it for each other,” Barr said. “That’s all we need. It’s time to go to work.”
St. Joseph’s Prep 2019 Schedule
OFFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH
Kyle McCord, Quarterback >> Any conversation about The Prep’s potent offense begins with McCord. Entering his junior season, the quarterback will have a difficult time trying to top last season’s output. He completed 66 percent of his 305 attempts, going for 2,883 yards and 35 touchdowns.
“The biggest thing people talk about is stats, but he’s one of my closest friends, and I can tell you he’s one of the most humble kids I’ve met in my life,” Rightley said of McCord, an Ohio State commit. “He’s still young, still learning, and he wants to keep growing.”
DEFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH
Anthony Rightley, Defensive Back >> Rightley, who hails from the Westbrook Park section of Upper Darby, played quarterback on the school’s freshman team and transitioned to wideout as a sophomore. In his junior year, he split time between wide receiver and defensive back.
Rightley came into his own in 2018. He had only 10 catches for 137 yards to show for it, but half of his receptions went for scores, including one in the state title game. Additionally, he showed his ball-hawking tendencies there, getting three of his five interceptions on the season.
“It was a great game, and I think about it sometimes,” Rightley said, “but I’ve moved on and I want (to win) another one.”
By Christopher A. Vito, For MediaNews Group