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Football Preview: Preacher, line’s ‘beef’ has Haverford School built tough

HAVERFORD >> As the Haverford School’s nonleague football schedule was being leaked, drip by challenging drip, coach Brian Martin braced for the text messages.

“The alumni,” Martin said, smiling. “They would ask: ‘Are you feeling OK?’”

The concern, premature and likely unnecessary, was that the Fords would be challenged by the classic likes of Downingtown West and La Salle, by the mystery of Executive Education Charter from Allentown, from Lansdale Catholic and, Maryland Landon School. From there would begin the ever-competitive Inter-Ac League schedule.

That would be a challenge to any program. But Martin, the running back on the 1991 St. James High Catholic League finalist, was feeling more than OK about it. That’s because the Fords were built for the task. Emphasis on built.

Through steady weight-room work and a desire to build on the 2-1 mini-season of 2020, the Fords will unload an offensive line with close to college-football dimensions. Anchored by 6-3, 265-pound left tackle Isaiah “Preacher” Boyd, the unit includes left guard Noah Andrewson (6-3, 305), center Matt Pante (6-4, 280), right guard Sean Dugery (6-3, 270) and right tackle Patrick Donaher (6-3, 260), a track and field All-Delco.

“Must be the water around here,” Martin said, laughing. “But the offensive line is our beef. That’s our strength.”

It is a convenient year to have such bulk, for as training camp loomed, the Fords were facing a particularly odd quarterback situation. Not that competition for a position is unique, but the three candidates for the job each started one of the games played in the COVID-19-shortened season. Nor was that a coincidence, as Martin had a hunch that the 2021 Fords would be strong, and in many ways used 2020 as a bonus mini-camp.

Seniors Michael Benincasa and Michael Galasso will be involved in the competition, with junior Gavin Wright in the mix. Protected by that line, all should have time to connect with speedy wide receivers Sam Gerber and Chace Knox while Martin trusts his “running back by committee” backfield

“We have three talented quarterbacks,” said Gerber, who has received robust college interest for both football and lacrosse. “And whoever the coaches decide to put on the field, I know every one of them is going to perform and put our team in the best position to win.”

The weight room open to the defense, too, the Fords will attack with a three-man front including ends Boyd and 6-1, 240-pound Michael Barnes-Pace surrounding nose guard Billy Brosko, an All-Delco wrestler.

“They are,” Gerber said, “going to cause havoc.”

With opposing quarterbacks likely startled, linebackers Louie Atkinson, Ian Rush, Sean Dougherty and Aiden Kopen can frolic. Gerber and Will Costin will provide deep coverage while Wills Burt and Knox secure the corners.

“We have a lot of players with experience at the varsity level,” said Boyd, who has received interest from Army, Navy and Air Force, among others. “We were good last year, and we have a lot of players with experience at the varsity level. So I think we’ll be able to do a lot better this year.”

After 17 years as an assistant, Martin was excited last year to become a head coach, confident he had learned from two of the best in former St. James coach Ray Gionta and long-time Haverford School leader Mike Murphy. All things considered, he was thankful to have had the opportunity to coach three games.

The dress rehearsal, though, is over.

“This is it,” Martin said. “This is where we get to have our team meetings. We get to practice. We get to watch film and have team-building activities. I am putting my footprint down. I am making it my own now.”

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