By Matt Diano:
Michael O’Donnell (32nd Year as HC; 40th at the School)
Record: 8-4 Defeated Cardinal Hayes, 29-18 in NYCHSFL “AAA” Finals
Top Returning Players:
*Joey Carino (Sr; QB): Completed 59.3% of pass attempts for 2,351 yards and 26 TDs; also gained 340 yards and scored five times on the ground.
*Kevin McKenna (Sr; RB/LB): Returning All-Catholic selection/4th team All-State on Defense; Averaged 8.5 yards per carry (136 yards and two touchdowns on 16 attempts) and made three grabs for 25 yards; Recorded 117 tackles (5 TFL), 10 sacks, 1 INT).
*Mekhi Green (Sr; RB/SS): Rushed for 379 yards and 3 TDs on 54 carries; Made 5 catches for 44 yards; Credited with 61 stops and 7 successful PDs from the defensive backfield.
*Ajani Cornelius (Sr; OT): Holdover from one of the best starting OLs in NYS last season; was responsible for helping the Crusaders explode for 5,417 yards of total offense and 49 touchdowns.
*Mike Tartaglia (Sr; OT): Another very experienced offensive lineman, the 260-pound senior would already be a star he had played at any other school in the state…Could be utilized as a two-way force on both lines; Recorded 34 tackles and 2 sacks as a junior on “D”.
*Matt Halas (Sr; WR): Like Tartaglia, the only thing last season that prevented him being a star was opportunity; now that he is penciled in as a starting receiver, look for Halas to breakout in his senior year.
*Zach Barnes (Sr; OLB): Recorded 56 tackles, 1 sack, and broke up 4 passes last season as a junior.
*Jamel Fleming (Sr; FS): Made 34 stops and posted a 10 PDs from the secondary in 2018.
* Corey Richards (Sr; CB): An absolute shutdown type player; accumulated 34 tackles and finished 2nd on the team with 12 pass break-ups.
*Matt Dilullo (Jr.)—Will step in and serve as the starting pivot for the Crusaders
*Jordan Alvarez (Jr.)—Expected to win the starting DT spot
*Enda Kirby (Jr.)—Very reliable place-kicker
*Rafael Fasolino (Jr.)—Transfer from Hendrick Hudson; Will be a day #1 starter at CB.
*Will Spector (Jr)—Transfer from Dalton; is an all-purpose OLB who thrives equally in pass and run coverage…Credited with 15 tackles and 2 interceptions last season.
Probably the only team in New York that could endure the loss of seven All-State student-athletes from a season ago, if there is one common theme for the two-time defending league and Catholic State champs out of White Plains, it is the faith they have in the “next man up” philosophy…The absolute epitome of “reload, not rebuild”, Stepinac will be looking to make it six straight years (4 titles from 2014-2018) that they secured a berth in the triple-A title contest.
Offensively, the program will need to overcome the graduation of one of the purest playmakers [Shawn Harris Jr] I have ever seen in my 20+ year years as a fan and writer for the NYCHSFL, as well as replace their top-2 running backs, Malik Grant and CJ Wise [combined 2,019 yards + 12 touchdowns), and four members of the starting offensive line…But alas, as proclaimed above, Stepinac is not some ordinary program and because of their track record for turning role player into diamonds, we remain firmly in their corner…One undeniable reason for our endless optimism is the presence of returning field general, Joey Carino. Originally committed to Syracuse as a lacrosse standout, the 6’2, 200-pounder played so well (2nd in AAA/9th in NYS with 2,351 yards throwing) that he attracted and accepted an offer to play college football at the University of Albany…Joining the future Great Dane in making the machine operate smoothly will be a running back committee consisting, but not limited to Mekhi Green, Kevin McKenna, Kyle Benjamin, and Jayden Jenkins…Due to the depth last season in the backfield for the Crusaders, Green did not get the quantity of touches he deserved, but did display game-changing talent when those chances were afforded him. Looking no further than a 200-yard game early in the 2018 season against Iona Prep, it is not difficult to see why many in Westchester consider Green to be one of the most lethal RBs in the area…Ditto for McKenna who after carrying the pigskin just 12 times prior, really made a statement for rushing for 56 yards in the State title victory over St. Francis (Buffalo)…Despite being a sophomore on a loaded team, Jenkins earned some playing time and performed well, gaining 69 yards on 16 carries…The graduation of their top-4 receivers from 2018 will mean that the wide-out corps will have a new look to it. However, despite what might be perceived as inexperience, Coach O’Donnell really liked what he witnessed from this group during camp… Senior, Quentin Mccauley, gave Crusader enthusiasts a preview of what to expect this season when he posted a three-catch, two TD game in the state finals…Fellow 12th graders, Matt Halas and Myles Walker were among the players that the staff regarded as most improved, and Corey Richards, who will focus mainly on defense, is yet another dynamic athlete that can step in and make things happen at the WR position…Junior, Michael Ruales, and senior, Justin Hotetz will both see action at TE…Anchored by captains, Ajani Cornelius (OT; committed to Howard) and Michael Tartaglia (OG), there will be plenty of beef and grit up front for Stepinac. Averaging 275 pounds per individual, Amari Broady (275) will be the other starting tackle, while Chris Peller (265) will spend the season inside at guard…After being on the Junior varsity last season, Matt Dilullo (265), will enter the starting line-up as the center.
On “D” several of the names/faces introduced above will be embracing the magic of “ironman football…At the head of the snake will be the returning All-Stater (4th team), McKenna. A freak athlete whose talent is limitless, the 5’11, 190-pounder is so gifted that should he chose, he will have the option of playing two sports at the collegiate level (has been offered by Utah to play both football and lax). Ranked 2nd in tackles (117) and 3rd in sacks (10) among all AAA competitors in 2018, McKenna can do a little of everything to shut down opposing arsenals…Serving as McKenna’s partners in pain this season at LB will be Da’vaine Cushnie (Sr; 26 tackles, 2 forced fumbles) and Jaylin Montgomery (Sr; 5 stops in 2018) on the inside, and Zach Barnes (56 tackles, 1 sack, 4 PDs), Jenkins (25 tackles), Malyke Davis, and transfer Will Spector (15 tackles, 2 picks as a sophomore) at OLB….12th graders, Darius Underwood (6 tackles, 1 rumble recovery) and Nick Tulipano (4 stops) will break into the starting-11 as the defensive ends…Sophomore sensation, Jordan Alvarez, will bring the heat up the middle…Jamal Fleming (34 tackles, 10 pass defenses), Richards (36 stops, 12 break-ups), and Green (61 tackles, 7 PDs) will bring senior leadership to the secondary, while Rafael Fasolino (transfer from Hendrick Hudson) will be determined to carve out a new legacy at his new school.
Filling the cleats of graduated 4th team All-State kicker, Nate Henderson, will be Enda Kirby, who caught the eye and made a very strong impression on the AS staff during early-season workouts.
Joe Spagnolo (4th Season as HC)
Record: 7-2; Lost 37-26 in the “AAA” Semifinals to Stepinac
Top Returning Players:
*Kevin Rohde (Jr; OT): 6’4, 255-pound road-grader that was a part of a line that laid the tracks for the Gaels to accumulate 4,000+ of total offense and score 40 touchdowns.
*Dionis Polanco (Sr; OG): Another returning player who brings experience to the OL
*Frankie McFadden (Jr; RB): 2018 All-Catholic Selection; Entering his third year on the varsity; rushed for a team-leading 887 yards and 10 touchdowns on 150 carries as a sophomore; caught five passes for 31 yards and one additional score.
*Alex Williams (Jr; WR): Overshadowed as a sophomore by three receivers who garnered All-State recognition, now that he is “the man”, Williams should have a career-year in New Rochelle; Caught 7 passes for 64 yards and one TD in 2018.
*Keshawn McDowdell (Sr; OLB): The heartbeat of the linebacking corps, McDowdell enters his third season on the Gael varsity and will be flying all over the field making plays; Recorded 51 stops and added four sacks to his resume last year.
*Jordan Dunbar (Sr; CB): One of the top defensive backs in NYS, this 247 Sports 3-star prospect has already committed to play collegiately at Rice; Has the potential to completely erase the #1 WR option on any opponent IP faces this season.
*Luke Barranger (Jr; ILB): What McDowdell brings to the outside, Barranger does for the Mike position; another very experienced key to the Gael defense.
*Nick Gadson (Sr; DE): Fierce pass-rusher who will bring non-stop pressure from the edge; Was the 2019 NYC Hype Series Camp Most Valuable Player; Made 36 tackles and earned 5 sacks as a junior.
*Will D’Ambrosio (Sr; DE): The other star Defensive End for Iona Prep, It will be a contest between him and Gadson to see who can cause more chaos for 2019 foes.
*Darius Wilson (Jr.)—The next in the line of the Iona Prep QB dynasty; Has all the intangibles and may bring more of a dual-threat aspect to the position; Possesses the mental toughness to handle the stress of being the successor to the 2018 AAA Co-Offensive Player of the Year [Derek Robertson].
*Jarel Washington (Jr.)—A versatile offensive weapon that should excel in the Gael scheme; can be used as a #2 option to McFadden out of the backfield, or be lined up at WR and torment rival secondaries.
*Joe Ciafone (Jr.)—Will move right into the starting line-up as a first-year varsity player at the center position.
*Marshall Futrell (Jr.)—Mountain of a young man who at 6’5, 310 pounds is impossible to overlook; another individual making his varsity debut in 2019 that will be an immediate contributor along the OL.
*Khordae Sydnor (Jr.)—A very capable talent at DE, despite being behind two seniors on the depth chart, he should more than see his fair share of snaps as an 11th grader; further adds to the firepower of an extremely deep defensive squad.
If the old adage that defense wins championships is accurate, then Coach Spagnolo will expect nothing less from his troops come Mid-November…A program that returns EIGHT starters off of a “D-unit” that reached the triple-A semifinals and split with eventual league/state champ Stepinac in 2018, the Gaels will be hunting for goose-eggs every time they step foot on the gridiron…Blessed with a Lohud Super-11 finalist at each level, there is no weak link in this chain of pain…Headlining the DL will be Nick Gadson (36 tackles, 5 sacks), who was so committed to closing out his scholastic career on a high-note that he packed on nearly 30 pounds of muscle as a means of transforming himself into one of the most respected and feared DEs in the entire Empire State…Shining at linebacker yet again this season will be Keshawn McDowdell (51 stops, 4 sacks)…The head of the air traffic control squad will be future Rice Owl, Jordan Dunbar. Rated by national recruiting experts as a 3-star prospect, 247 Sports listed the 6’1, 180-pound defensive back as the #17 overall in-state prospect in the class of 2020…Reinforcing the stout and potentially impenetrable wall of power up front will be senior, Will D’Ambrosio, at DE and 10th grader, Chris Foster, at DT (made varsity as a freshman in 2018). Rookie, Khordae Sydnor, adds depth…Luke Barranger and AJ Zaccagnino will occupy the ILB position, while 11th grader, Zachary Perlett, will be the second half [along with McDowdell] of the Outside linebacker combo…Referencing it as the area where he has witnessed the most growth, Spagnolo had nothing but glaring remarks about Louis Ethan Robinson, Marquis Dukes (3 interceptions in 2018), and Jaear Michael, who unite with Dunbar to complete the defensive backfield for Iona Prep.
With the graduations of All-State signal caller, Derek Robertson, AAA Lineman of the Year, Anthony Bonavita, and the top-4 receiving targets (Matt Panker, Sean Fleming, Camari Glascow, and Jayden Lambert), much of the starting-11 on offense will feature fresh, but nonetheless mighty capable faces…Following in the tradition of eventual state-honored field generals will be 6’3, 190-pounder junior, Darius Wilson. Perhaps the most physically gifted young man to take the snaps during this streak of quarterback domination, in the highlights we have seen, Wilson appears every bit as lethal with his legs as he is with his arm…When the ball goes go aerial, anticipate either Alex Williams or Avery Turton to be on the back end of the connection. Leading all returning Gaels in receptions with 7 grabs for 64 yards and one touchdown, as noted above, the 6’3, 195-pound WR [Williams] is a heck of a lot better than his numbers might suggest. And now that he has ascended to WR1 status, there is no telling just how high his stock will rise…Turton (2 catches for 28 yards in 2018), despite seeing limited field time last year, has emerged as something of a sensation. Glancing at his recruiting profile, the likes of Alabama, Arizona State, Cal, Iowa, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, etc. Have all yet to offer, but did think enough of him to display interest…Justin Joly, a rate varsity call-up as a freshman, will be at Tight End…Averaging 273 pounds per man, the Gaels OL may be introducing three new starters, but on size alone, you need to take this herd very seriously… Incumbent, Kevin Rohde, will join massive newbie, Marshall Futrell at the two tackle positions…280-pound sophomore, Scott Becker, and senior, Dionis Polanco, will be the guards; impact rookie, Joe Ciafone, will be in the pivot…One position where the Gaels will be plenty experienced will be at tailback, where 2018 All-Catholic honoree, Frankie McFadden, returns for a third season carrying the rock. A year removed from gaining nearly six yards every time he took a hand-off (887 yards, 10 touchdowns on 150 carries), the Super-11 finalist surpassed 100-yards on four separate occasions in 2018 and be counted on to be even more remarkable now as an upperclassman.
Anthony Garofalo (5th Season at the Helm)
Record: 5-4; Lost 33-9 in the “AAA” Quarterfinals to Cardinal Hayes
Top Returning Players:
*Christian Tait (Sr; WR): 2018 All-League Selection/2nd Team All-State; Led the Lions in all major receiving categories as a junior with 57 grabs for 774 yards and 4 TDs
*Jaleel Rhett (Sr; OG/NG): 2018 5th Team All-State at OL; Dominant two-way lineman who at 6’3 and 280-pounds is going to manhandle a lot of opponents this season; the backbone of an offensive line that allowed MF to accumulate 3,202 yards of total production and score 24 touchdowns; as a DL, he recorded 14 tackles as an 11th grader.
*Stephen Stella (Sr; OT/DL): Another returning starter off of the OL, if you thought Rhett was large, you have not seen anything yet; Standing 6’5 and tipping the scales at 325 pounds, Stella is easily one of the most physically imposing student-athletes in the entire Catholic League; Not listed as an expected starter on “D”, he definitely has the capability to contribute in this area, making 22 stops in 2018.
*Vincent Renna (Sr; TE/DE): Establishing himself more on the defensive side of the ball last season, Renna will be a prominent figure on both sides of the ball, as he will start at both tight end and defensive; Caught 1 pass for a 5yd touchdown in 2018; logged 20 sacks and added one sack and one PD on “D”.
*Robert Serra (Sr; WR): A head-turner that really made a very strong impression during camp, the senior wide-out should have a breakout season after making one grab for 20 yards as a junior.
*Anthony Pollio (Sr; RB/OLB): The favorite to be the successor to 1st team All-Stater, Vin Wagner, at tailback, Pollio averaged 9.2 yards per touch (157 in total) and scored one touchdown on 17 carries last season; Was an absolute hammer on defense, finishing 2nd in tackles with 46, and posting a program-best 5 sacks as a junior; Also had one INT in 2018.
*Chris Ortalano (Sr; ILB): The top-tackler on the Lions as a junior, he was credited with 48 stops, while also adding 3 QB hurries, 1 interception, and two fumble recoveries (one of which he returned to the house).
*Dominick Battaglia (Sr; ILB): Adding senior experience to the LB corps, Battaglia recorded 22 stops, earned 1 sack, and had a fumble recovery in 2018.
*Justin Denmark (Sr; OLB): The fourth returning starter at linebacker for the Lions, Denmark was credited with 18 tackles and a forced fumble as an 11th grader.
*Chip Travers (Sr; DB): Utilized primarily as a kick/punt returner in 2018, the senior will step into the starting line-up by manning one of the corners.
*Dylan Hach (Jr; PK): Honorable Mention All-State recognized as a sophomore; Connected on 6 of 10 field goal attempts (long of 42), while also converting on 12 of his 16 PAT tries.
*Matthew Wessels (Jr.)—Will be an immediate play-maker as a starting wide receiver.
*Chris Field (Jr.)–Stellar athlete who should start this season in “centerfield/FS” for the Lion secondary; At 6’3, his height is an undeniable asset and as such, he should see plenty of time on offense at WR.
*Matt Casey (Jr.)—Day #1 starter at Center.
*Michael Marten (So.)/Chris Anarumo (Jr.)—Two young pups who remain locked in a battle to be the QB1 in their respective first seasons on varsity.
Featuring three state recognized players from a season ago, the Lions will be a program that has immense balance of youth and experience on both sides of the line of scrimmage…And while they have the daunting task of replacing one of the school’s greatest players of all-time [1st Team RB, Vin Wagner; 1,128 yards rushing in 2018], Coach Garofalo and company are very much set up to challenge this season.
Blessed to be bringing back almost the entire front-7 on defense, if all goes accordingly, opposing points should be at a premium this year on Amboy Road…At the heart of this ‘86 Bears phenomenon will be the four-man wrecking crew at linebacker—Chris Ortalano (team-leading 48 tackles, 3 QB hurries, 1 INT) Dominick Battaglia (22 stops, 1 sack), Anthony Pollio (46 tackles, team-high 5 sacks, 1 INT) and Justin Denmark (18 stops)…four fellow 12th graders—Jaleel Rhett (14 stops), Vincent Renna (20 tackles, 1 sack, 2 forced fumbles), Yianni Chrysostomou, and Anthony Desantis (2 tackles) will look to control the action in the trenches…The last line of defense will consist of four new starters; but despite the inexperience among this group, the coaching staff feels very strongly about the effort they will receive from the foursome…Seniors, Chip Travers and Joseph Smerina, will man the corners, while 11th graders, Vin Macaluso and top rookie, Chris Field, occupy the two safety spots.
As noted above, the graduations of Wagner, as well as starting signal caller, Mike Regan, and All-League OLs Nicholas Lubrano and Carmine Comitini, means that there will be plenty of new personnel who will be getting their opportunity to carve out legacies of their own when the Lions are on offense…One individual who already has a mighty fine curricula vitae and will serve as the stabilizer on “O” will be 2018 2nd team All-State selection, Christian Tait. Someone who in most years might have won the Catholic football triple-crown in all major receiving categories, the 6’3, 180-pounder ranked in the top-10 (7th) in New York state in catches (57) and the top-25 (21st) in yardage (774). However, the insane depth enjoyed by the NYCHSFL last season at WR resulted in him finishing 3rd in both among AAA participants…While Tait is the known commodity, the wide-out cohort is expected to get a giant boost from the likes of Robert Serra (1 catch for 20 yards in 2018), and star newcomers, Matt Wessels and Field…Renna, who caught a TD pass last season, should be more involved on offense as he returns as the starting TE…Pollio (157 yards and one TD on 17 carries) is the favorite to be te successor to Wagner in the backfield…280-pound Rhett (5th team All-State last season) and 325-pound Stephen Stella (OT) will be the co-foremen on an offensive line that should also include first-year varsity member, Matt Casey, in the pivot, and Bobby Capolongo, Anthony Esposito, Chris Long all seeing plenty of time at either OG or tackle…At the time of publication, there was an ongoing battle for QB1 status between sophomore Michael Marten, and 11th grader Chris Anarumo. No matter who prevails, Garofalo expressed utter confidence in the young gentleman who will be taking the snaps in 2019.
Speaking of reasons to be confident, the coaching staff will have the luxury of knowing that in a down to the wire contest, Honorable Mention All-State kicker, Dylan Hach, is Mr. Reliable…As a sophomore, Hach went 12-for-16 on PATs and was successful on six of his 10 field goal tries, highlighted by a 42-yarder.
Joe Minucci (1st Season As HC)
Record: 7-2; Lost 26-25 in the “AAA” Semifinals to Cardinal Hayes
Top Returning Players:
*Jaden Jernigan (Sr; WR/TE): At 6’2 and 200-pounds, the Harvard Lacrosse commit (flipped from Navy earlier in the week) has both the stature and the skills to be one of the top targets In the NYCHSFL; Last season, he made 13 catches for 158 yards and two touchdowns; If need be, could be spotlighted on defense (1 INT as a junior).
*Mario Escobar (Sr; RB)—An absolute lightning rod when he has the ball in his hands; gained 237 yards as a kick returner last year; now that he is the primary tailback, look for him to emerge as an showstopper in his senior year; Rushed for 115 yards on 24 carries last year; caught 2 passes for 16 yards.
*Greg Randall (Sr; WR): Had an outstanding junior season that witnessed him finish 3rd on the team in catches (32) and yards (487), and 4th in TD receptions (4)..Joins Jernigan as one of the best 1-2 receiving combos in New York State.
*Robert McGee (Sr; QB): A natural/born athlete; Excels at whatever he sets his mind to; committed to play lacrosse at Penn State; former NSCHSAA All-League wrestler; Takes over for 2018 1st Team All-State field general, Greg Campisi; Completed his only pass attempt last year for a 14-yard gain; is a dual-threat option, having gained 46 yards on 12 carries as a junior.
*Gavin Miller (Sr; OT): Regarded as one of the top OL prospects in NYS, the 6’5, 290-pound tackle was an essential piece to an offensive line that helped generate 3,662 total yards and 47 touchdowns.
*Christian Taylor (Sr; LB): Another multiple-sport athlete, Taylor has twice placed 5th at the CHSAA State Wrestling tournament; on the gridiron, he has a knack for getting into the opposing backfield, registering 12 tackles for a loss (72 total stops), 3 sacks, 3 fumble recoveries, and an interception last year.
*Nick Alvarado (Sr; CB): If not for the presence of 2018 Catholic Defensive Player of the Year/All-League Selection/3rd Team AS, Makhai Murphy, Alvarado may very well have earned the distinction of being the best defensive back on Long Island last season; Successfully breaking up 11 passes and recording 67 tackles, opposing quarterbacks threw for less than 100 yards when looking in his direction.
*Mike Talbert (Sr; LB): Gritty senior linebacker that will look to close out his scholastic career with a breakout season.
*Grant Gifford (Sr; DT): Gained considerable experience as a junior, using his acceleration to fly to the ball carrier; listed at 205, which makes him slightly undersized, but his performance is always larger than his frame; saw time in 2018 as a blocking fullback and could be used in that role again.
*Anthony Hudson (Sr; LB): Referenced on the roster as a running back, Hudson is another lacrosse standout who overall athleticism and agility make him valuable anywhere you put him on the field; At 6’0, 210 pounds, he has good measurables and will be a definite sleeper as a 12th grader.
*Dante Antoine (Jr)—Will play opposite Alvarado at the other starting CB position.
*Christian Doroski (Jr.)—Legitimate candid to make a big contribution this season as a WR.
*Giovanni Silva (Jr.)—Starter right out of the gate at defensive end.
*Matt Dahill (Jr.)—Versatile 11th grader who might be more involved on defense this season (DT), but does possess the experience on the OL to add depth.
A reminder that even the grandest traditions/dynasties cannot live on forever, when you peek over at the Friar sidelines this season, the absence of Rich Reichert is sure to hit you like a ton of bricks…After more than three decades of profound excellence that yielded 14 NYCHSFL team titles, the time came for the Black & Gold fraternity to pass the torch…And so, 2019 will commence the era of [Joe] Minucci…A 2004 graduate of St. Anthony’s, Minucci was a star protégé of Reichert, meaning that even if the name/face differs, the emphasis on fundamentals and adhering to a championship caliber standard remains in South Huntington.
Hit hard by graduation on both sides of the ball, among others, the three-time (2016-2018) regular season champs are going to have to adjust to life after 2018 Triple-A Co-Offensive Player of the Year, Greg Campisi (1st Team All-State; 2,109 yards throwing, 942 yards rushing; 37 total touchdowns), 2018 Defensive Player of the Year, Makhai Murphy, as well as respective 3rd and 4th team All-State picks, Kyle Angus (RB; 410 yards rushing, 507 yards receiving, 16 touchdowns) and Danny Parker (WR; 39 catches for 677 yards, and eight TDs)…So, on the surface, this season may have the appearance of a rebuilding year. But, Catholic football enthusiasts know better than to ever underestimate STA…As they have always done in the past, the Friars will again find a way to reload, as previous role players/reserves will develop into stars and gifted newcomers will make instant contributions to the cause.
After patiently waiting his turn, Robert McGee (1-for-1 for 14 yards passing; 46 yards rushing on 12 keepers) will finally get his chance to run the offense from under center. A young man who just seems to “have it” in anything he undertakes, McGee has already won state team titles in both wrestling and lacrosse, and now will be unwavering in his pursuit of gridiron glory as a senior…Facilitating what should be a breakout swan song for their new quarterback will be a pair of receivers that came, saw, and conquered in many ways as 11th graders in 2018. Named as Newsday “Players to Watch”, WR Greg Randall (32 grabs for 487 yards, 4 TD receptions) and tight end, Jaden Jernigan (13 snatches for 158 yards, with a pair of TD grabs) will be the alphas for a corps that should also get instant production out of junior, Christian Doroski….Another source of comfort for McGee should be the guaranteed protection he will appreciate thanks to 6’5, 290-pound standout OT, Gavin Miller. A monster who has attracted attention from schools like Boston College, Miller is without any debate among the cream of the crop when it comes to the pound-for-pound best linemen in the Empire State…Also in the “war zone” this season should be seniors, Jack Weidtman (OG) and Sean Boyle (Center), as well as junior, Luke Ciancuielli, and 10th grader, Mike Voltaggio…Mario Escobar, who demonstrated his explosiveness as a KO return specialist as a junior, will be just as electrifying as the #1 option out of the backfield; Using a small sample size, Escobar gained 115 yards on 24 hand-offs last year; he also made two catches for 16 yards.
Just like the offense has Jernigan and Randall to create that “buzz”, the defense will be propelled by the senior wisdom of Christian Taylor at LB and Nick Alvarado at CB…Both hyped as preseason All-Long Island selections, the former is coming off a junior campaign that witnessed him record 72 total tackles (12 for a loss), earn 3 sacks and recover three fumbles; the latter is the epitome of what we mean when label a player as “shutdown”. Surrendering just 93 yards last season and successfully breaking-up 11 pass attempts, Alvarado, could very well make it two consecutive years that a Friar DB was honored at the awards breakfast in November…Hailed as having worked their way from role-player to potential stardom were three other seniors—Grant Gifford (DT; 2 fumble recoveries), Mike Talbert (ILB) and Anthony Hudson (OLB)…Gio Silva (DE) and Matt Dahill (DT), and Dante Antoine (CB) represent the youth movement, as all three have already secured starting spots in their rookie seasons…12th graders, Nick Delva (DE), Chris Bardak (SS) and Jack Flanigan (FS) should not be overlooked and will be indispensable parts of the D-unit.
CJ O’Neil (Head Coach Since 2004)
Record: 5-5; Lost to Archbishop Stepinac, 29-18, in NYCHSFL “AAA” Finals
Top Returning Players:
*Jalen Smith (Sr; RB): 2018 3rd Team All -State selection; Perhaps the preseason favorite to win Offensive Player of the Year, Smith is lethal in every possible way on offense; As a junior, he led the Cardinals in every receiving major receiving category (51 grabs for 726 yards and nine TD catches); In addition, late in the season, he emerged as a serious threat as a ball-carrier, rushing for 100+ yards in both the AAA semifinal and title contests; he ended the year with 394 yards and two scores on 50 carries.
*Tafari Blackstock (Sr; RB/DB): 2018 Honorable Mention All-State performer on defense; Will be a key player on both sides of the ball in his swan song in 2019, as he will serve as a #2 option out of the backfield at RB; Made 44 tackles last season (4 for a loss) and led the Cardinals in interceptions with 5 picks.
*Jerald Munoz (Sr; WR/LB): After being used as a reserve as a junior, Munoz will see his role grow tremendously as a senior; will be a top target on offense (2 catches for 14 yards in 2018) at wide receiver; should start at LB (5 tackles, 2 TFL).
*Sidiki Kone (Sr; RB/DB): Already an established defender in the defensive backfield; will come a much larger presence in the offensive backfield this season; Finished 3rd on the team as a junior with 60 tackles (10 for a loss); added two sacks to his resume.
*Kazunari Mendez (Sr; OL): 5’10, 315-pound monster guard that will build tunnels for his tailbacks this season.
*Ernario Vushaj (Jr; OL): Another 300-pounder on the starting OL.
*Chris Bethea (Sr; OL): 260-pound tackle that you might as well call “IHOP” for the quantity of pancakes he will be asked to post as a 12th grader.
*Damon Barnes (Sr; FS/WR): 4th on the junior as a junior with 54 tackles; Has the God-given tools to be an asset on offense too at wide receiver.
*Michael Tetteh (Sr; DL): Recently committed to the University of Buffalo; is an elite DL who was rated as a 3-star prospect per 247sports; Credited with 37 stops last season (4 for a loss); also recorded one sack as a junior.
*Na’sir Douglas (Sr; CB): Brings added maturity to the secondary following a 2018 season where he made 25 tackles.
*Nicholas Burgess (Sr; ILB): Recorded 5 tackles as an 11th grader, but is said to be ready to turn in a break-out season as the Cardinals’ starting MIKE LB.
*Deorion Moore (Sr; DB): Senior defensive back who will step into the line-up as a senior and is more than capable of shutting down top-level receivers.
*Henry Belin (So.)—Despite being an underclassman, he already possesses ideal size for the QB position (6’3, ,208)…Will have the pressure of being the successor to 2x All-State signal caller, Sofian Massoud, who transferred to Texas for his senior season.
*Kuno Mendez (Jr.)–Has electric speed and should be a real dynamic contributor this season as a pass catcher.
Record: 1-7; Lost in the “AAA” Quarterfinals to Stepinac, 51-13
Top Returning Players:
*Tirek Murphy (Sr; RB): 2018 All-Catholic selection; Regarded as the #1 overall 2020 recruiting prospect in NYS per 247sports; committed to play his college football in the Big-10 at Purdue; rushed for 627 yards and 7 touchdowns on 118 carries; also a threat as a receiver out of the backfield (13 catches for 131 yards, an two additional TDs).
*Noah Bodden (Jr; QB): All-League signal caller as a sophomore; Ranked as a 3-star prospect/#3 overall in-state prospect for the class of 2021 by 247sports; holding scholarship offers from the likes of Tennessee, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Rutgers, Purdue, Oregon, Kentucky, Baylor, etc….Completed 44.9% of his pass attempts as a junior (92-for-205) for 1,281 yards and eight touchdowns)
*Tahliq Battle (Sr; WR): Clear-cut #1 target in the passing game; finished 3rd on the team in total receptions (15) and 2nd in yardage (328) while catching one TD; Can also be used as a ball-carrier, as evident by the 63 yards he gained on just 16 chances.
*Jahrell Billips (Sr; WR): Tied for the team-lead last season with 19 grabs for 186 yards; is small in stature (5’5, 135) but shows up in a BIG way on the field.
*Dante Goodwyn (Sr; RB/WR): Yet another Royal senior who will exhilarate you with his versatility as both a potential runner and a proven pass catcher…As a junior in 2018, he tied Billups with 19 catches (2 TDs) and was the overall leader in receiving yards with 330; gained 22 yards on six carries, but should see his workload in this department increase whenever they look to give Murphy a short rest.
*Stanley Oxford (Jr; WR): At 6’2, he gives CTK some height at the wide-out position; contributed in a reserve role as a sophomore last year, snatching 7 balls for 86 yards.
*Zephron Lester (Sr; DL): The third returning All-Catholic pick from the 2018 season; Considered the #15 overall 2020 recruiting prospect (3-star) in the Empire State; currently holding offers from West Point, UMass, Temple, Rice, etc; Recorded 26 tackles and 2 sacks as an 11th grader.
*Christopher Eaton Jr. (Sr; DE/OLB): Made 20 stops and tacked on a sack last season.
*Elijah Muhammad (Jr; DE/LB): Gave the Royal faithful a preview of the future in 2018, making 19 tackles, earning a sack, and intercepting one pass as a 10th grader; Ranked 5th among 2021 recruiting prospects in NYS (3-star evaluation); has been offered by Boston College, Central Michigan, and Temple among his interested suitors.
*Chris King (Jr; DE): Led CTK in sacks as a sophomore with four; finished his 2018 season with 18 total stops; #4 2021 recruit in New York State (3-star), he has already received offers from Boston College, Kentucky, Temple, and Baylor.
*Ajay Morrison (Sr; CB): A senior leader in the “no fly zone”, he notched 19 tackles in his junior season for the Royals.
*Narain Yearwood (Sr; DB): 17 tackles as a junior DB last season; complements Morrison in forming a potentially lockdown secondary in Middle Village.
*Broadus Brown (Jr; DT): A real terror in the middle of the DL, the 285-pound 11th grader recorded 14 tackles and one sack a year ago.
*Bak Harris (Jr; LB): An individual who we see playing a much larger role now that he is an upperclassman; recorded 7 tackles as a sophmore in 2018.
* Mike Palmaccio (Sr)—After starting his career in Brooklyn at Poly Prep, he will conclude in Queens at CTK; Has the potential to be the quarterback of a stacked defense from the ILB position.
*Samarki Williams (So.)—Future #1 back who will fight for snaps this season as a sophomore; is said to have “take it to pay dirt” potential any time the pigskin is in his hands.
*Justin Smith (Fr.)—Not built like your typical high school freshman; at 250 pounds, he should instantly see time on the DL.
*Jani Strong (Fr.)—Another frosh standout that is budding star in the backfield; may be overshadowed this season by his older teammates, but will make an impression when afforded the opportunity.
*Tayvon Nelson (Fr.)—Freshman defensive back who at 6’2, 175 pounds will not be intimidated when he is on the field.