By Matt Diano:
Record: 7-5/Won the 2017 “A” Division Crown, 20-18, over Xaverian
NYCHSFL titlists for the first since 2008 behind a dramatic 20-18 triumph over rival Xaverian last November. If a repeat is in the cards for the Pilots, it will need to come on the backs of a new troop of student-athletes.
Hit as hard any team last season by graduation, Head Coach, William Cawley, and his staff will be without 17 key members (mostly at the skill positions on both sides of the ball) of a faction that advanced to championship weekend for three consecutive seasons (2015-2017)…Does this mean that 2018 will bear witness to a rebuild? The truth is that we don’t think so…Like any great sports tradition, what has been created on the Bronx based campus is bigger than one, two, 10, or in this case, even nearly 20 individuals. And while admittedly there will be adjustments to be made, there is absolutely no reason as to why the Pilots cannot be celebrating in November yet again.
Supplanting an entire senior backfield (Justin Medina, Darrell Okpo, Michael Booth, Noah Stewart, etc.) that accounted for 1,420 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground and threw (Isaac Yearwood) for an additional 323 yards and seven more scores will not be an easy task. Making the job even more difficult is the fact that when he was not channeling his inner-Billy Bob from “Varsity Blues”, Booth was also a premier OL who opened up many of the holes from which his teammates sprung free…..But, all of this having been acknowledged, there remains a faith in the high ceiling possessed by the new blood.
They say that competition is a good thing because it forces the best out of a player. So, in some regard, perhaps it is a blessing in disguise that we have a bit of a QB battle brewing between junior, Dylan Williams-Molitor and frosh, Aidan Hanley-Piri. Both taking their first career varsity snaps this season, it may take a few weeks for the eventual victor to get into a groove, but once that comfort zone has been established, look out.
In year’s past, there has always been a running back by committee philosophy at Spellman and that system need not be altered. As Bon Jovi sang, “It’s all the same; only the names will change” and for the Pilots, one name that you best make yourself familiar with is that of senior, Kyle Maysonet…Standing 5’6 and weighing 170 pounds, the hometown [Bronx] kid did not get as many carries as we are sure he would have preferred, but when he did he held his own, gaining 78 yards on 31 chances….Meki Howell-Browne, also in his final season at Spellman, will be a featured part of the defensive backfield, but does bring with him tailback experience, carrying the pigskin 12 times for 28 yards in 2017….Junior, Myles Bideau, has demanded that people pay attention to him during summer workouts and will certainly be getting a healthy dose of hand-offs during the next 10-12 weeks.
Lance Powell will be the commander of the WR corps in 2018 and should be considered a lock to completely blow the roof off of his production (credited with three grabs for 56 yards and a pair of TDs) from a season ago. Like him, his associates this season are all 12th graders—-Joseph Baez (WR), Frank Mennona (TE), and Joseph Delgrosso (TE) who will be determined to make their last chapter a rejoicing one.
Seniors, Thomas Nguyen (in the pivot) and Zoilo Carmona (OG; 230) will be the foundation of an offensive line that will also lock to get pet bulldozing performances out of junior OTs, Anthony Badagliacca (6’1, 280) and Ethan Butler (5’10, 215), as well as senior OG, Denzell Howden (5’8, 230).
On the defensive side of the ball, despite losing five of the team’s top-6 tacklers, Spellman looks quite solid on paper….In fact, hailed as the strength of the team as a whole, many of the 11 faces you will see on “D” played significant roles last season….
Michael Zheng and Carmona, who posted 46 and 39 tackles respectively as juniors in 2017 will be the glue of the defensive line…. Joining them will be Mennona (at the other DE), as well as a trio of junior mammoths—Anthony Sanchez (6’1, 290), Carlos DeJeus (6’0, 290), and Anthony Badagliacca (6’1, 280)—all of whom will complement Carmona at DT.
Matthew Forti, the leader in tackles among returnees, will captain the linebackers. As a junior, the Manhattan resident collected 62 stops and had an interception….Nathaniel Colon, who will set the same senior example for the OLBs that Forti will do for the Mikes, is another playmaker on the defense, making 23 tackles and blocking a punt a year ago….Juniors, Ethan Ortiz, Williams-Molitor, and Bideau enhance the LB position.
Powell will be asked to be the shutdown corner in the secondary following a junior campaign that saw him make 42 tackles, log an interception, and two successful pass break-ups….Nicholas Payne (8 tackles, 1 pass defense), Justin Veith and Salvatore Maida, all of whom were singled out for deserved recognition by Cawley, are said to have looked very formidable at CB during training camp….Howell-Browne (7 stops, 1 PD) and William Crean, will be the team’s starting safeties.
Dominick Tassone (3rd Season as Head Coach)
Record: 4-6/Lost in the “A” Division Semifinals, 16-14, to Cardinal Spellman
The season has barely started and yet it is already a special one for Coach Tassone. Welcoming a child into his clan just days before the opening kick-off, no matter what happens from this point forward, 2018 will always hold a special place in the heart of the Gael Head Coach….That having been said, next to marrying the love of your life and having children, there is no greater joy in this world than winning a NYCHSFL crown; And for Kennedy Catholic, that is a VERY attainable objective this season.
A program that has had the misfortune of running into the eventual champions in the semifinals in each of Tassone’s seasons at the helm, our gut is screaming that this will finally be the year that the Somers, NY located school will earn the privilege of suiting up for Championship weekend!!!! Heck, they almost accomplished the feat a season ago, as they led Spellman 14-0 in the 4th quarter before a late rally squashed their title hopes.
Still unsure of who will emerge as the field general, at the onset of the season, the Gaels have said that they will implore a quarterback by committee system…Likely to be given the first crack at winning the spot will incumbent starter, Ryan Johnson…A young man who as a junior was thrown into the deep end, taking over for the 2016 “A” Offensive Player of the Year [David Keogh], at times the 6’1, 195-pound resident of Carmel endured some frustrating moments as he finished the year completing only 40.7% of his throws (33-for-81). But alas, a new season welcomes a fresh slate and now that he has that always important year of experience under his belt, the hope is that increased confidence will yield a more accurate representation of his tools….Sophomore, Kieran Meyers, a transfer from Iona Prep, and senior, Zach Sellinger, will also vie for the honor of being QB1.
Adding further leadership to the backfield will be a trident of senior talent—Myles Proctor, Seth Surrett, and Brendan Gibson…As a junior, Proctor finished second on the team in all major rushing categories [behind Greg Brann), racking up 336 yards and scoring three times on 53 carries….Surrett, who is the most explosive of the trio, averaged 8.8 yards per touch last season, gaining 150 yards and finding the end zone once on his 17 attempts…Gibson would also surpass the 100-yard plateau, running for 117 yards + 1 TD on 37 hand-offs…With normal progression/development from one season to the next, each of these gentlemen are sure to increase their production….One additional name that has already starting to circulate as a future diamond for this Gael program is freshman Bobby Piesco. While he may be asked to accept a secondary role behind his three elders this season, the Mohegan Lake resident has the goods and when he is unleashed, he will turn more than a few heads with his breakaway ability.
Expected to act as the primary target in the passing game will be senior TE, Eric Volpi…Standing 6’6 and weighing 240 pounds, Volpi is impossible to miss on the field. As a junior, he caught seven passes for 85 yards. His massive frame also enables him to be an effective blocking tight end, which in a run-heavy scheme, is a must-have…Should [Myles] Proctor display the durability and consistency to be an every down RB, there is a strong likelihood that Surrett and Gibson could make the conversion out wide to ensure that all possible play-makers are on the field at once…Sophomore, Clayton Proctor, will battle for snaps and could be a pleasant surprise in his first year on the KC varsity roster.
On the topic of opening holes and protecting the blind side, for the first time in quite a while, there will not be a member of the Longest family inflicting pain along the line of scrimmage. Graduated and now playing collegiately at Ithaca, 2017 “A” Lineman of the Year, Ed Longest, is a hard man to replace. Drawing the assignment of having to be the one to fill the void will be two-way lineman, Aidan Bernal, who will occupy the pivot in 2018… Freshman, Nate Kraemer, who is easily the biggest member of the team at 290 pounds, proved impossible to keep off the field and will join Wyatt Rumpf at the two OT spots…Stimulating the run game at OGs will be senior, Cole Esposito, and junior, Thomas Duffy.
Defensively, you cannot find a better base from which to build a starting 11 than the senior ILB tandem of Esposito and Rumpf….Esposito, the reigning “A” Defensive Player of the Year following a junior campaign that saw him finish second on the team [behind Longest’s 101] in both tackles (92) and sacks (3) was a finalist to the Lohud Super-11 team, officially distinguishing him as one of the best players in his Westchester/Yonkers/White Plains area…Rumpf, who was the sack king a season ago with four, ranked third on the team in total stops with 83 as an 11th grader.
Ayden Sanchez (LB), who the coaching staff predicted would have a solid sophomore season in the 2017 preview, did not fail to meet those expectations, he concluded last season with 28 tackles and 1 sack.
The Gael defense will also benefit immensely from a second wave of experienced personnel in the persons of outside linebacker [Myles] Proctor (20 tackles; 1 sack; 1 pass defense), DE Bernal (17 tackles, 1 forced fumble), and a defensive backfield consisting of Gibson (11 stops, 2 QB bags) and Surrett (7 tackles, 1 sack, and an INT)…Senior DT, Joseph Eckardt (7 stops), will be the final piece to the 3-4 package.
Gary Kellogg (OLB), along with his fellow rookies, Piesco (SS) and Kraemer (DT), will be contributors out of the gate and will only see their impact grow with each passing game they log.
Senior, Brendan Lebitsch, will handle kicking duties again the Gaels. As a junior, he was an efficient point scorer, connecting on 14-of-17 PAT tries, and making 3-of-5 field goal attempts (long of 35 yards).
Desmond DeFreitas (2nd Season as Head Coach)
Record: 1-6/Did not Qualify for the “A” Playoffs
Picking up their first win in over three years last season, what a triumph and confidence booster it must have been for the Kingsmen, as they knocked off the eventual league champions from Spellman.
Referring to the 2017 season as a “building year” where many of his student-athletes were first-year players who were still mastering the basic fundamentals of the sport, Head Coach Desmond DeFreitas admittedly did not put too much stock into how the win/loss column read.
A throwback to an era (late 1980s-early 1990s) of prosperity, the 1991 Nazareth graduate/former star tailback [DeFreitas) is not rushing the process. Instead, the goal remains to make progress with each passing weekend and as that occurs, you should expect to see one win become two, two become three, and so forth until the memories of yesterday turn into the realities of tomorrow.
As noted above, this is a team that was so young a year ago that when you look across the board from position to position, you find that in almost every case, there is a key returning starter on the brink of a breakout season.
Piloting the offense for a second consecutive season will be senior QB, Kenial Densiar…Finding himself the victim of the learning curve at times, the 6’0, 156-pounder who calls Brooklyn home put up modest numbers as an 11th grader, completing only 52 of his 186 (36.5%) throw attempts for 187 yards….Should be able to add a little polish to his technique and clean up some of the errors, it will go a long way towards establishing momentum in 2018.
Working in the favor of Nazareth is that while their signal caller is ironing out the wrinkles aerially, they will have the luxury of welcoming back their top-4 rushers from last season…Junior, Matthew Moore, would have a dynamite sophomore campaign in 2017, leading the team in yards accumulated with 166 on 44 carries…Justin McDuffie, who we highlighted in last year’s preview as someone who possesses lighting speed, led all Kingsmen in rushing touchdowns last season, scoring twice to go along with his 134 yards on 55 chances…Kevin Fleetwood, who was used in the FB/big back capacity in his junior year, scored the only other rushing TD of the season for NR, ending the season with 51 yards on 13 carries…Malcolm McNeil, who is listed on the roster as the back-up QB, should not be ignored as a potential option out of the backfield. Using a small sample size of four carries, the 6’3, 170-pounder from Far Rockaway, averaged nine yards per touch to finish the year with 36 yards in total.
Similar to Moore Catholic, because the quantity of passes from a season ago was not immense, it is difficult to properly diagnose the skill level of the wide receiver troop…Two individuals who do look the part of trusted pass catchers are senior, Teshawn Howard, and junior, Jalen White….Howard only made two grabs last season, but averaged 19 yards on those catches, making him a major threat to stretch the defense…White also made a pair of catches in 2017 that equaled seven yards…Fleetwood (3 catches for 26 yards) and McDuffie (2 grabs for 5 yards) are the only other remaining players from last season that were credited with multiple receptions.
Flipping the page to the other side of the ball, the Kingsmen return seven of their top-10 tacklers from last year.
DE/OLB Elijah Jordan, will be the pulse of the defense following a junior year where he compiled a team-best 31 tackles and was second among Naz players with three sacks…Just behind him on the stat sheet was fellow senior, Hordley Pusey, who tallied 29 stops and led the Kingsmen with five QB bags…Fleetwood (21 tackles, 2 sacks) and Brenton Winter (19 tackles, 3 QB hurries) adds more punch to the front seven at the linebacker position…Junior, Christian Mazier, is also hear his #21 jersey called a lot this season….9th grader, Khalil Abdurrahman, is regarded as a future standout on the DL.
Justin McDuffie and senior, Jamel Nicholson, will headline the last line of defense…As a 10th grader, McDuffie made 20 tackles, an interception and five successful pass break-ups…Nicholson, posted near-mirrored statistics, finishing with 17 tackles, 1 pick, and a team-high six PDs.
Robert Ploth (3rd Season as Head Coach)
Record: 2-8/Lost in the “A” Semifinals to Xaverian, 29-14
A very young squad that suffered some keys losses to graduation and/or transfer, where this group may fall short on in experience/reps, they will account for by leaning heavily on their core group of returning players who possess the natural ability to make magic happen.
Semifinalists in two of the past three seasons, if St. Dominic’s is going to make that serious push towards a championship berth, they will need to get a Herculean season out of their star quarterback, Jack Rooney…..A dual-threat sensation during his junior campaign, the 5’11, 165-pounder would have a hand in producing 1,051 yards of total offense, as he tossed for 709 yards (50-for-90) and ran for an additional 342 yards (on 75 carries). Of the team’s 11 touchdowns recorded last season, Rooney played a role in seven of them, throwing for four and taking the remaining three to the house with his legs…..With older brother, Thomas, who led the team in rushing yards a season ago, now off to play college lacrosse at Siena, the rumor out of Oyster Bay is that the offensive scheme may shift to a more “pass-friendly” system.
If the Bayhawks do choose to air the ball out more on offense, one person who you know will be having his number called a lot in 2018 will be junior, Will Ford…..The team-leader in receptions last season with 15 (for 165 yards and 2 TDs) as a 10th-grader, now that he has that extra year of varsity experience under his belt, there is telling just how much better Ford will be this season…Listed as a running back on the official roster, Ford likely figures prominently into the running game too, as he probably assumes the role left vacant by the elder Rooney….Sophomore, Dom Camera (1 catch for 8 yards a season ago), who drew the spotlight of his head coach, could emerge as a secondary target out of the TE position….Sophomores, Christian Gutierrez and Charlie Mediavilla, are both fresh faces within this offense and could make their presence known a lot sooner than later.
In addition to QB and RB, another area where Coach Ploth is not going to lose any sleep over a lack of experience will be along his offensive line which brings back three starters, including a pair of monsters in the persons of Charles Blyman (6’4, 280) and Jack Doherty (6’1, 245).
Defensively, the Bayhawks will have the daunting task of trying to replace seven starters, including the team’s leading tackler from a year ago, Ahmir Lyles (90 tackles, 5.5 sacks), who opted to do his senior season at the Hill School in Pennsylvania.
Addressing this issue, Ploth spoke confidently about a couple of his student-athletes who had reserve roles in 2017, but were prepared to step up and fill the void….Timothy Riordan (MLB) made 18 tackles and had a sack as a junior; Dom Bova, who made 11 stops last year will be charged with the responsibility of plugging the middle of the DL….Mykael Morring should also be viewed as an essential cog along the defensive line…Blyman (15 tackles) and Camera (10 stops) add further stability.
Ford (21 tackles, 3 INTs), Rooney (16 tackles, 1 INT), and Alfonso Iacono (15 tackles) are all ball hawks that will roam the defensive secondary.