Our resident league journalist Matt Diano is back for another season, we will be rolling out his previews for each division this week, today we start out with his break down of teams in the AAA Division for 2017:
Record: 9-3/Lost in the AAA League Title Game to Cardinal Hayes, 41-39
How close were the Crusaders to pulling off a remarkable three-peat last season? About as on the door step as one can get without reaching the mountain top….Trailing by a mere two points, the two-time defending champs from Westchester had all the momentum on their side following an amazing 43-yard touchdown pass with 26 ticks remaining in regulation …All that separated them from extending the game to overtime was a single unsuccessful pass on the 2pt conversion attempt….On an afternoon where their then junior signal caller, Michael Nicosia, completed 20 of 31 passes for 341 yards and four scores, to see the contest end the way it did was heartbreaking no matter which side of the aisle you were sitting….With those memories still undoubtedly weighing heavily on their minds, Stepinac will be as hungry as ever to start a new streak in 2017…And make no mistake about it, despite significant losses to graduation, the talent is very much present for great things to be accomplished on Mamaroneck Avenue.
In addition to having their field general, Nicosia (completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,314 yards and 25 touchdowns) back under center, the Crusaders will feature one of, if not the best overall athlete in all of Catholic football in the person of two-way senior, Trill Williams….A showstopper, a head turner, a game-changer and any one of the infinite labels you can attack to the Syracuse bound running back/defensive back, if not for an ACL injury suffered early into his 2016 campaign, there is more than a good chance that it would have been Stepinac celebrating on Mitchel Field last November….Williams, who was recently named to the LoHud Super 11 squad, is the kind of rare specimen that even when you game plan to stop him, he still has the uncanny ability to inflict severe damage. At the time of his injury, the 6’2, 190-pounder was averaging nearly 10 yards per carry and had scored four rushing touchdowns on just 11 touches….Defensively, he is a lockdown cornerback who has the ability to take away the opponent’s best receiver week in and week out. If you throw the ball in the direction of the future Orangeman student-athlete, you asking to have it picked and returned to the house….The return of a healthy Williams, who is said to have actually gained a step thanks to the rehabilitation process gives the Crusaders that explosive ball carrier they will need to replace the two-headed monster of Antonio Giannico and Johnathan Gomez, who combined last season to run for 1,682 yards and 17 touchdowns….His impact on the other side of the ball will also be essential as he will be counted on to lead a secondary that graduated among others, Tyger Winston (4 INTs, 5 pass defenses) and Devonte Myles (2 INTs, 8 PDs).
Complementing Nicosia and Williams on offense will be a trio of wide-receivers who after serving as apprentices to All-Catholic recipient, Brandon Gasparre, a season ago, all are ready to have breakout performances in 2017…Finishing second on the team last year in total receptions with 32 for 381 yards was Alex Thomas….Shawn Harris Jr, who as a super sophomore was on the backend of that aforementioned 43-yard TD pass in the AAA finals, is a star waiting to be discovered. The deeper into the season we went, the more Harris started to provide a glimpse into what he has instore for the rest of the league during the next two years. Of his 21 catches, 317 receiving yards, and three touchdowns, 11 for 219 yards and all three scores came in his team’s final three games of the year…Look for Isaiah Walker to close out his scholastic career by blowing away his 2016 totals of 6 catches for 80 yards and 1 TD.
Alongside Williams, the men who will be tasked with taking charge of a defense that graduated a trio of all-state players—Gene Brown (DE; 1st team), Devonte Myles (DB; 5th team), and Louis Blackwell (LB; 6th Team) will be last season’s second-leading tackler/2017 captain, Justin Hairston (103 stops, 3 INTs, 10 pass defenses), Kevin Gray (48 tackles as a sophomore middle linebacker), Matthew Mitrakos (37 tackles, 2 sacks), Alexis Pena (27 stops, 2 sacks), Joey Cappiello (34 tackles, 5 PDs), Eric Darcy (31 tackles), and Douglas Simmons (25 tackles, 2 QB hurries as a 10th-grader) among others….The aforementioned [Isaiah] Walker will also be an asset in the defensive backfield, as his eight pass break-ups in 2016 were among the best on the team.
Stepinac will need to be good early, as they are pitted against St. Anthony’s in week #2 in what could be a preview of the 2017 championship contest.
Record: 8-5/AAA League Champions, beating Stepinac, 41-39; lost in the Catholic State Title Game, 50-44, to Canisius (Monsignor Martin)
A rather atypical rags to riches story a season ago, Cardinal Hayes entered the 2016 season as the returning league runners-up. Hence, when they started out the year 0-3, the words “shock” and “confusion” could not be uttered enough by the pundits at home…..Winless and perhaps written off by many at this point, rather than sulk and/or go through the motions the rest of the way, the CJ O’Neill led squad dug deep inside and found the kind of magic that would have made Walt Disney proud….Victors in eight of their final 10 contests, Hayes fulfilled their destiny when they squeezed out a 41-39 thriller over two-time defending champion, Stepinac, to become the official kings of the AAA Catholic League scene….The boys who call the Bronx home would darn-near do one better, as they led the Catholic State title game late in the 4th quarter before surrendering a heart-ripping touchdown on the final series of the game to lose 50-44 to Monsignor Martin Champion, Canisius.
One season later, Hayes, who is the only school to win all three divisions of the NYCHSFL, finds themselves in the much desired, but often pressure-intensive role of the hunted…..Gone is all-everything Quarterback, Christian Anderson (currently playing at West Point), who led not only the league, but the entire Empire State last season in yardage (3,653) and touchdown tosses (37), while also running for 500+ yards and finding the end zone with his feet on ten different occasions….To put it bluntly, to fill the shoes of Anderson will be an almost impossible task. Therefore, if you are expecting the Hayes passing game to be as dynamic as it was this time last year, you are probably setting yourself up to be disappointed….That having been said, even though 4,000 yards of offensive weaponry may have moved on to the collegiate level, does not by any means point at a rebuilding year for our reigning champs…In fact, rather than doubt them, we are predicting that Hayes will very much be in the hunt to go back-to-back….The means by which this happens may deviate from a season ago, but with multiple major NCAA Division I commits on their roster, there may not be a more physically talented cohort anyway in the state of New York.
While the ringleader [Anderson] may no longer be donning the #1 jersey he made legendary, many of the supporting cast that enabled him to put up such gaudy statistics are very much back and ready to make a future icon out of Anderson’s successor, Sofian Massoud….Standing at the forefront of the Hayes offensive arsenal is a stud who may be short in stature, but is a giant in terms of talent, Senior triple-threat, Lucas Nunez….A recent commit to Sacred Heart, it goes without saying that if Nunez was a little bigger then the 5’8 he is listed at, every college in America would have been hot on his tail following a junior season where he led NYS in receiving yards (1,582) and touchdown catches (21)…A special individual who dazzles and amazes the crowd EVERY time the pigskin in his hands, the future Pioneer can beat you from anyway on the field, whether it be on a deep route, as a kick returner, or even as a defensive back. If Deion Sanders is the original “Primetime”, then Lucas Nunez is “Showtime” because no matter the capacity in which he is being utilized, he is pure entertainment and you cannot take your eyes off of him for a split second.
Now, Nunez alone as a receiving threat would be sufficient to give opposing Defensive Coordinators nightmares for the next three months…However, he is far from a one-man band as it pertains to the passing catching corps that will power Hayes this season….Joining him in making up what is unquestionably the best group of receivers in the Catholic League will be fellow seniors, Elijah Jones and Emmanuel Oliver….Jones, who at 6’4 Is a match-up problem for 95 percent of defensive backs in the country, will play his college ball at Boston College. As a junior in 2016, he finished third on the team in catches with 30 grabs for 657 yards, and seven touchdowns….Oliver, who like Nunez, has a game that is much larger than his frame, actually tied his 2nd Team All-State teammate, with 58 catches for just under 700 yards and two scores….Both Nunez and Oliver 2016 All-Catholic honorees.
Hayes will also be able to move the ball on the ground with ease, as they
bring back the team’s leading rusher from a season ago, senior Carlos Fernandez…A jack of all trades out of the backfield, Fernandez gets the most out of all of his limbs and appendages. As a rusher, he gained 753 yards on 159 carries (4.7 average) and scored 10 touchdowns. As a receiver, he was just as dangerous, making 28 catches for 363 and three additional TDs….Tahshawn Brinson, who made his name known more on the other side of the ball (Was the Defensive Player of the Game in the AAA finals in 2016) gives Hayes yet another bullet in their holster. As a sophomore watching his two elder peers handle the bulk of running opportunities, when the chance(s) came his way, he capitalized, rushing for a little less than six yards (5.8) per carry to the tune of a 486 yard season. His six touchdowns on the ground trailed only Anderson and Fernandez.
Often overlooked, but a key ingredient to winning on the scholastic level is the ability to own the trenches….If you are looking for a person who is going to go that in spades this season, you need explore no further than Syracuse bound, Qadir White. A behemoth of a man at 6’7, 335-pounds, White was a student-athlete that we references last year as a potential difference-making lineman and our opinion of him has not wavered ever since….With White protecting him, the sensational sophomore, Massoud, should have ample time to look over the defense and make smart decisions. When dealing with a first-year starter under center, this extra few seconds is as valuable as diamonds, which makes White possibility the most valuable person for a program of gems.
Many of the names references above will be performing double duty, so don’t be surprised if at some point this season, you see the same young man garner weekly honors for his contributions at two different positions….For instance, one week Brinson was the Defensive MVP of the triple-A championship; seven days later, he was dominating on the ground and being recognized as one of our Thanksgiving breakout performers….Massoud is another excellent person who fits into his category. Just because he is assuming a much larger role on offense does not mean he will be any less reliable from free safety where he was the 2016 team leader in interceptions with five.
Some other faces that were on last year’s title winner and are on the brink of a breakout now that they are a year older and asked to sit at the helm will be: Antonio Colclough (Sr. DL), Randy Brito (Sr. DB), and Juan Rosario (Sr; DL) among the notables…In speaking with News12 Varsity, all three student-athletes were acknowledge as being pertinent to a collective repeat attempt.
Cardinal Hayes will be inactive during the opening week of the 2017 season. But alas, when they do take the field the following weekend (September 16th), there will need to have their “A” games working for them as hook up with Iona Prep in a clash of the 2016 AA champs vs. the AAA titlists.
Record: 4-5/Lost in the AAA Quarterfinal to Stepinac, 44-21
While the end result (a loss in the opening round of the playoffs) may have been the same between 2015 and 2016, we would be remiss if we did not note the amount of progress that the Mineola based Flyers made from one year to the next….After struggling two seasons ago, the Marianist school emerged with a competitive .500 regular season record in the powerhouse AAA division in their first season under the guidance of Kevin Dolan….Included in their quartet of victories for the Crimson & Gold was a 24-16 win over a monsignor Farrell team that earlier in the year had knocked off eventual champs, Cardinal Hayes….Therefore, despite the graduation of their starting quarterback [Matt Chmil] and leading rusher [Frankie Tangredi], Chaminade has reason to believe that they will continue their upswing.
Adding to the excitement and positive vibes felt by Flyer Nation is the knowledge that in addition to bringing back an experienced group of seniors, many of whom saw significant time in 2016, they also will be promoting a bunch of proven student-athletes that helped the junior varsity to a semifinal berth in 2016.
On paper, the strength of the team appears to come on the defensive side of the ball, as Chaminade will be anchored by a 2017 News12 Varsity Preseason Top-100 LI Player, Liam Siegler…A standout on the defensive line, Siegler’s ability to consistently win along the line will be essential to the success of the unit as a whole.
Joining Siegler in headlining the Chaminade defense will be fellow 12th-graders, Jack Shelley, and Colin Hanley….Whereas the former [Siegler] will set the example for the D-line, It will be Shelley and Hanley’s respective responsibilities to set the tone for the linebacking corps and the defensive secondary…In Newsday’s 2017 High School preview, Hanley was singled out for his stellar talents as a pass rusher (from the SS position) and a run stopper.
Further adding to the depth on “D” will be Dominick Speranza, Connor Fitzgerald, and Andrew Pace, who will bring maturity to the group.
Spotlighting those charged with the goal of lighting up the scoreboard will be senior wide-out Chris Nicholas…The only other Flyer named to the top-100 list, at 6’4, Nicholas is going to be a major red zone weapon…Despite being a part of a senior-laden offense in 2016, Nicholas found a way to get noticed, making 31 catches for 547 yards and six touchdowns. Having been elevated to the top receiving option, one would have to expect that those already impressive numbers will continue to climb…Like many of the Chaminade players, Nicholas is a multiple-sport athlete and will take his God-given gifts to Chapel Hill in the fall of 2018 as a part of the University of North Carolina lacrosse program.
Record: 7-2/Lost in the AA quarterfinals to Xavier, 28-27
A team that for two years (2015, 2016) was so immensely talented and freakishly athletic that it could have hung with any Catholic program regardless of classification, many times in 2016, we were so bold as to suggest that if there were a AAA school, the Royals may very well have gone all the way…Unfortunately, as naturally gifted as they were, costly errors would prove detrimental to CTK, as they made a shocking quarterfinal exist in the AA playoffs last season, losing a rematch of the 2015 finals, 28-27 to Xavier.
The majority of the superstars that put King back on the map during the previous two seasons moved on to higher and more grandiose levels of football after 2016…..Losing 21 players, including their top-2 running backs (Siddiq Muhammad and Hasan Chambers), their top-4 receiving threats (Tosin Oyekanmi, Anthony Lang, Justin Terry, and Aron Sanabria), and three All-State defensive players (Lang-1st team DL, Terry-2nd team DB, and Jonathan Coste-4th team DL), to say that the squad that will be making their triple-A debuts are youthful and untested might be the understatement of the season….Still, fully aware of how much skill walked across the graduation stage last spring, Head Coach, Jason Brown, gave off a sense of confidence when speaking with News12 Varsity….He referred to his 2017 cohort as “program kids,” meaning that even if they lack reps, they all know the system and appreciate the shoes that they must fill.
If the loss of so many bonafide studs at the same time is the bad news, the good news is that one man who makes a return in 2017 is the team’s leading tackler from a year ago, Nicholas Hunter….An All-Catholic selection, as well as an Honorable Mention All-State honoree, Hunter averaged double digit stops as a junior, racking up a total of 82, while adding three sacks, and a fumble recovery….If you were a coach who was in desperate need of role model, you could do no better than Hunter. He is a gamer who by his mere presence will make the younger guns around him better.
Aiding Hunter in championing the defensive call to arms will be a pair of devastating two-way linemen, Prince Williams and Felix Jerez…Williams was credited with 24 tackles in 2016
Andre McGann, who has paid his dues sitting behind Muhammad and Chambers, is much better than his 2016 total of 136 rushing yards would indicate…In the case of McGann, because his touches were so minimal, look not at the yardage and focus instead on the fact that when the ball was in his possession, he averaged 5.7 carry….Now that he is “the guy”, you should expect that McGann is primed for a banner season that will make his name one that will remain on the tongues of the populace for each of the next two seasons.
Per the interview with News12 Varsity, Coach Brown pointed at the following newcomers are being potential impact forces this season: Tirek Murphy (Soph. DB/ RB), Nathaniel Prophete (Jr. QB), Tahliq Battle (Soph. RB/DB), Donte Goodwyn (Soph. RB/DB), Zephron Lester (Soph. DL/OL), and Darryl Fuller (Jr. OT/DT).
The Royals will be fortunate to get an early gauge as to what 2017 may have instore for them when they face Chaminade during week #2….Should they succeed in upending last year’s #6 seed in the AAA playoffs, it will mean that they have reason to believe that they will find themselves again in the hunt for Catholic only up a class this year. _____________________________________________________________________________
Record: 8-3/Won the AA League Title over Holy Trinity, 35-14
Last season when it was announced that the Gaels would be dropping down a division to double-A, head coach, Joe Spagnolo, made no bones about the fact that he and his team were out to make a statement and get their triple-A status reinstated….Mission Accomplished!
Boasting a roster of just eight seniors last season, the New Rochelle based program was an offensive juggernaut, averaging nearly 450 yards of total offense en route to claiming the top prize in the AA division with a 35-14 triumph over top-seeded Holy Trinity.
Having been rightfully restored to the top level of competition, the Gaels are not content to just be back among the big boys; rather, with so much experience returning in 2017, their feeling is that they have as good a chance as any other team to be the last ones standing come mid-November….And, having taken a gander at their depth chart, we tend to concur with their aggressive assessment.
In much the same way that Notre Dame was bestowed the unofficial nickname of “Tight End U.” because of their propensity for developing elite players at the position, if the moniker “Quarterback HS” was to be given out, that distinction would unanimously go to Iona Prep….Over the years, whether it be Sean Mara (4th team in 2006), Ryan O’Neil (3rd Team in 2007), Tyrae Woodson-Samuels (2nd Team in 2008/1st team in 2009), Robert Madison (5th Team in 2014), or most recently, Michael Apostolopoulos (2nd Team last season), no school has made a habit of putting their signal callers on the All-State list seem as common as Iona Prep…..While Apostolopoulos’s 2,731 yards and 30 TD passes (3rd in both categories among all NYS quarterbacks) means that the Gaels will have some mighty massive cleats to fill, the coaching staff is very optimistic about the young man pegged to step under center, junior, Derek Robertson….The varsity back-up at Stepinac in 2015, when Spagnolo accepted the position at IP, his phenom protégé elected to follow, despite knowing that he would spend the 2016 campaign down on the junior varsity…When you consider the receiving corps he will have at his disposal, if the 6’2, 170-pound 11th graders is as good as advertised, the rest of AAA should consider themselves officially on notice.
Bringing back their top-4 pass catchers from 2016, including second-team All-State/2017 Super 11 selection, Michael DeGasperis, we are talking about a unit that collectively snatched 181 balls for 2,671 yards and 29 touchdowns….While DeGasperis (77 for 1,123, 8 TDs) deservedly tends to get the bulk of media attention, it should be noted that he was not the lone IP receiver honored by LoHud. Also making the Super 11 team was combo running back/WR, Ki’Shyne Shipmon, who caught 48 balls for 662 yards and a team-leading 10 TD receptions. The senior Renaissance man was also quite lethal as a ball carrier, running for an additional 519 yards four touchdowns on just 41 handoffs….Not to be overshadowed by anybody is Johnryan Freeman, who would without a doubt be the #1 option for most teams, but has to “live with” being a modest #3 among this loaded group. Still, even with his two teammates having huge seasons, Freeman still compiled some incredible numbers as a junior, finishing second on the team in both yardage (792) and TD catches (9), and third in total receptions with 43….With the possibility of Shipmon assuming more ball carrying duties in 2017, the stage is set for someone like Sean Fleming (13 catches for 94 yards, 2 TDs) to step up and assert himself as a viable alternative to the big-3. At 6’4 and over 200-pounds, Fleming is going to be able to out-muscle a lot of defensive backs, which should serve him well on 50/50 balls.
Looking to do some manhandling in the trenches will be the twin tower duo of senior center, Derek Farraro (6’6, 285) and 6’7, 300-pounder, Jack Doty (OL/DL)…Per Rivals.com, Farraro has drawn the interest of NCAA Di programs such as Bryant, Maine, and Rice; On pure size alone, it will not be long before Doty joins him among the heavily recruited….These two beasts were key members of an O-line that paved the way for the Gaels to run for 190 yards per game and score 28 rushing touchdowns.
Astonishingly, if you thought the offense was rich in returning talent, you’d be overwhelmed by the amount of experienced players that grace the defensive side of the ball….Of the top-10 leading tacklers on last year’s AA title squad, six remain, including overall top man/senior captain, Joseph Colaio-Coppola, who made 106 stops and had a pair of interceptions as a defensive back….Speaking of top notch secondary players, Malkelm Morrison (65 tackles) was so respected as a junior DB that he was voted to the All-Catholic Team in 2016…. Jacob Hargraves and his 47 tackles from a season ago is another “one to watch” in the defensive backfield…..Luke Tobia (94 tackles, 4 sacks), Matt Disanto (84 tackles, 1 INT), as well as Freeman head up a strong linebacking unit….Junior DE, Joe Rodda, will be the cream of the crop on the DL. As a 10th grader, Rodda was second on the team with 10 tackles (48 overall) for a loss.
Iona Prep will not have to wait long if they are eager to plant their title contender flag in the ground….During the first three weeks of the season, the Gaels will square off with Rhode Island perennial powerhouse/7x Defending State Champion, Bishop Hendricken, before commencing league play against Cardinal Hayes and St. Anthony’s on September 16th and 23rd respectively.
Record: 7-3/lost in the AAA Semifinals to Stepinac, 20-10
As the saying goes, “defense wins championships” and this Lion squad will be nothing if not extremely talented on the defensive side of the ball….Returning more than half of their starting 11 on a unit that pitched two shutouts and held opponents to a modest average of 15 points per game, if the Staten Island based school is going to make a serious run at the crown, it will be on the backs of their fierce defensive play-makers.
Headlining the group will be 2017 Third Team All-State linebacker, John Kelly III. The epitome of a “refuse to surrender an inch” philosophy, the United States Naval Academy appointee was a tackling machine in his junior season, racking up a team-leading total of 105 stops. Kelly would also rank 1st among Lions with six sacks, and proved quite valuable when asked to drop into pass coverage, recording five successful pass break-ups….Forcing four fumbles a season ago, anytime Kelly is in the neighborhood, the ball is destined to come loose.
While no one would dispute that the aforementioned Kelly is the heartbeat and/or backbone of what should be an unrelenting Farrell defense, it should be acknowledged that he will have plenty of company in the persons of fellow seniors Jake Valensi, Sean Koppenheffer, Anthony Mangi, and James DePalma to name a few….Valensi, who finished just behind his highly-touted teammate, with 73 tackles, gives Farrell perhaps the best 1-2 punch in the league among its linebacking corps…Koppenheffer, who joined Kelly on the 2016 All-Catholic squad as an 11th grader, will be the linchpin of the D-line….As a junior, the 6’2, 225-pound DT led Farrell in tackles for a loss with five stops in the backfield. His 59 overall tackles ranked him third on the team, as did his three sacks….Mangi and DePalma will be the policy makers in the secondary. Last season, they combined to make 84 tackles, and had 12 successful pass defenses….Senior NG, Paul Wessels is our sleeper pick to have a monster season in his scholastic swan song. As a reserve in 2016, he managed to make 20 tackles and had a sack.
Hit hard by graduation on the offensive side of the ball, 2017 will represent an opportunity for many new names and faces to assert themselves and carve out their own legacy the same way that the likes of Gavin Monreale (1,418 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns), Frank Patalano (56% completion percentage, 1,234 yards throwing, and nine TD passes), and Rocco Miraglia (32 catches, 606 receiving yards, four touchdown receptions) did a year ago in their senior seasons….DePalma, who only had 53 carries for 231 yards as a junior tailback, will likely get first crack at replacing his All-Catholic predecessor [Monreale]….Junior, Mike Regan, will be the field captain under center….And Anthony Lasako, Christian Tait, and Patrick McSweeney all impressed during camp and will contend with one another in the hopes of emerging as that much needed “go-to” receiver that Miraglia showed himself to be in 2016.
After opening up the new season against an opponent from New England in week #1, Lions fans will have September 16th circled on their calendar. On this date, Farrell will have their annual battle for bragging rights with fellow SI program, St. Peter’s….There will be no rest for Farrell following this inner-borough clash as the next four weekends will witness them being opposed by St. Anthony’s, Stepinac, Iona Prep, and finally defending champions, Cardinal Hayes….Weeks 4-7 will definitely be defining ones on Amboy Road.
Record of 6-3/were defeated in the AAA semifinals by Cardinal Hayes, 49-35
A year removed from the frustration and heartache that the injury bug can inflict, multiple times last season, it seemed that as soon as the Friars established a comfort zone with a particular starting quarterback, that student-athlete would soon-after suffer an injury and be forced onto the shelf…First it was senior Bo Waters, who got off to an amazing start, tossing for close to 700 yards and five touchdowns in his first two appearances as the STA signal caller…However, an injury to Waters would result in the birth of one of the best stories of the 2016 season—The Rise of Greg Campisi….A sophomore who did not even start the year on the varsity, it did not take Campisi long to establish himself as one of the top field generals in the Catholic League. Posting an immaculate 6-0 record while throwing for 930 yards and 12 TDs, the 10th grade standout was a major catalyst in St. Anthony’s winning the regular season title and earning the top-seed in the triple-A play-offs….And then, just when they needed him most, he too went down, sustaining an injury prior to the semifinal round….While Waters (who had since returned from his ailment) who had an impressive night in the loss to Cardinal Hayes, it was apparent that the Friar offense missed the presence of Campisi (who two weeks prior had torched this same Hayes defense for 300 total yards (138 on the ground) and three touchdowns (two rushing).
While we will never know what may have happened had Campisi remained healthy, the smart money suggests that after two years of watching others lift the trophy that once held permanent residency in Huntington, that 2016 very well could have/should have been the year that the streak and tradition reignited….After all, with Campisi at the controls, the Friars bested all three of the other semifinalists by an average margin of more than a touchdown.
Featuring eight News12 Varsity top-100 players, St. Anthony’s is without question a major title contender in 2017….What’s past is prologue and with a wealth of speed, precision, and power up and down their roster, the Rich Reichert mentored juggernaut is fully ready to write their own Shakespearian novel with them as protagonists inflicting revenge on all enemies of the kingdom.
Armed with a balance of impact returning players on both sides of the ball, St. Anthony’s is capable of winning every possible type of game. If you engaged them in a shootout, you should be forewarned that Campisi, the running back tandem of Sean Bryan and Julian Chung, as well as future UCONN wide-receiver, Heron Maurisseau-O’Neil are all too willing to treat you to a fireworks display….Making themselves known commodities despite not being #1 on the depth chart at the onset of the 2016 season, every single one of these student-athletes possesses game-changing skillsets…Both Bryan (467 yards on 57 carries w/six touchdowns) and Chung (71 yards on just eight touches, 1 score) averaged more than eight yards per handoff. If need be, each can also be used as a pass catcher out of the backfield, as last season Chung finished fourth on the team with three TD catches (out of 11 total grabs for 156 yards); Bryan had eight catches for 119 yards and one touchdown….Maurisseau-O’Neil, who if not for the fact that he was stuck behind three All-Catholic receivers last season, would already be a household name, is not only going to surpass his 2016 totals (12 catches, 173 yards, 4 TDs), he is going to shatter them and make them look pedestrian in comparison. In much the same way that Nunez took Anderson to new heights last year, we cannot wait to see what feats the Campisi-to-HMO will be able to accomplish this season.
As if having homerun hitters at all of the so-called skilled positions was not enough of an edge, St. Anthony’s will also bolster one of the top O-lines this season…Returning four polished road graders (Jack Donovan, Mike Leahy, Matt Savarese, and Peyton Tomaiko) in the war zone, opposing defenses may begin to resemble Swiss cheese with all of the holes that will be opened by this foursome.
If the occasion calls for a low-scoring affair, Reichert and his staff have every reason to feel confident with the ability of his D-unit to keep any and every opponent in check….Up front, reigning All-Catholic selection, Nick Greer is a man among boys. Already the owner of team and individual Catholic State titles as a heavyweight on the wrestling team, all that remains on his scholastic bucket list is to win it all on the gridiron…A force in the middle, Greer’s arms are the places that ball carriers go to die….Spearheading the pass rush will be Bucknell bound, Grayson Cherubin….Ryan Vahey, who is the third and final top-100 News12 Varsity stud on this defense, is equally effective in both run and pass coverage. He will highlight the linebackers.
As they do most years, the Friars will test themselves during the first week of the season by facing a tough out of state opponent (Delbarton; NJ)….However, once league play kicks off, they will be afforded every chance possible to re-announce themselves as the crème de la crème of Catholic football. Similar to Monsignor Farrell, STA has a monster stretch where they play Stepinac (Sept. 15th), Iona Prep (Sept. 23rd), Farrell (September 29th), and then their nemesis, Hayes (Oct. 7th), on four consecutive weekends.
Record: 4-6/Lost in the AAA Quarterfinals to Cardinal Hayes, 46-24
Semifinalists back-to-back years in 2014 and 2015, the Eagles were substantially better than their 4-6 record might indicate….In fact, in the weeks leading up to their quarterfinal loss to the eventual champs from Hayes, Mark DeCristoforo had St. Peter’s playing some of their best football of the season. While the end results did not go in their favor on either occasion, in the last two weeks of the regular season, the Eagles took AAA runners-up, Stepinac, to overtime (losing 27-20) and only lost 7-0 to #2 seed/rival Monsignor Farrell….If one or two things goes differently in those games, you could just as easily be looking at a 6-3 record and an entirely different first round match-up.
As they put the 2016 season firmly in the rear-view mirror, the question of the hour becomes, “is there life after Bobby Wing.”….A two-year workhorse at tailback, whenever StP needed a big drive or to kill some clock late in games, Wing was the man who put the team on his back and carried them in 2015 and 2016….Last year, Wing rushed for 1,301 yards and 19 touchdowns on his way to being named to the All-NYC Team by News12 Varsity….Similar to what we said about [Christian] Anderson earlier in this preview, it is impossible to replace the intangibles and consistency that such a dynamic player like Wing delivered.
In the absence of an All-Everything player like the departed Wing, you might expect St. Peter’s to change up their game-plan a bit in 2017 and focus more heavily on the passing game….In fact, if there is a single area on the field where the Eagles might be strongest, it probably would be at wide receiver, where they bring back one of the top pass catchers in AAA, Chris Ledlum….One of, if not the top overall sophomore performer in AAA last season, the 6’6 WR made 44 catches for 660 yards and six touchdowns….Complementing him will be Navy appointee, Shakim Douglas. Known more for his defensive prowess as a shutdown DE, the 6’3 TE/slot receiver is so physically strong that he will be able to over-power most of his counterparts, whether it be in lobbying for position on a pass attempt, or serving as a lead blocker on a rush….A third weapon out wide will be Frank DiMattina, who has shown himself to be so versatile that Coach DeCristoforo said that if need be, he could serve as a QB, an RB, or a pass-catching threat. Earning the praise of his mentor, many feel that if he was playing at another school, DiMattina, has the stuff that would make him a #1 option. DiMattina made 14 catches for 124 yards during his junior campaign…..With a first-year varsity player, Sonny Badnya, penciled in as the starting quarterback, it will be essential that these three men all have solid seasons in order to make the transition as smooth as possible for their junior signal caller.
Anchoring the defense alongside Douglas will be the massive Peter Sluder, who tipping the scales north of 300 pounds is sure to clog any potential holes in the middle….Senior duo, Mike Aprile and Rob Sesny provide stability and reliability to the linebackers, while it is another Sesny, Justin, who will be the one to keep an eye on in the Eagles secondary. The latter Sesny looked so good during off-season workouts that is inspired his coach to draw a comparison between him and 2016 All-Catholic honoree, A.J. Mistler.
On paper, the chips may be stacked against them, but if we have learned anything the past three years about the St. Peter’s program, It is that they are a team of fighters who win or lose always give 110% percent and hold nothing back….That kind of grit and determination is sure to translate into some big wins this season.