By Matt Diano:
Mike O’Donnell (39th Season as Head Coach)
Record: 10-2/Won the “AAA” League title, 47-22, over St. Anthony’s; Won the “AAA” State title, 49-28, over Canisius
Without question the premier NYCHSFL dynasty of the 2010s decade, O’Donnell’s Crusaders have been so dominant (four straight League finals appearances; titles in 2014, 2015, and 2017; State crowns in 2015 and 2017) that in the history of the NYCHSFL website previews, we have yet write a seasonal preview where they did not enter the year as the favorites and/or co-favorites on paper…..
A program that endures severe losses to graduation every year (almost all of their players going on to compete at the collegiate level), it boggles the mind how the White Plains located school somehow manages to come back even stronger every season; it is almost as if they are defying the football gods.
To 99.9% percent of high school programs in New York State, the graduation of some 12-15 impact players (three of whom were State recognized) in a single class would be enough to cripple them and bring about an immediate rebuild…In the case of Stepinac, while they are up front in admitting that it is never easy to replace the caliber of player or human being that they had in a Trill Williams (1st Team All-State; playing at Syracuse), Mike Nicosia (2nd Team All-State; 6th in NYS last season with 2,713 passing yards; ranked 5th in TD tosses with 30; Currently playing at Catholic University), Alex Thomas (HM All-State; 6th in NYS last season with 964 receiving yards), Tyler Winston (team leading 41 grabs; etc., they also have the confidence and conviction to trust that the next man up is going to fill the cleats of his departed predecessor. It is this ability to consistently develop out-of-this-world talent year after year without fail that has kept the Red, White, and Blue on top and will continue to keep them among the NYS elite.
Boasting what was without any question or challengers the #1 offensive line in the state, Stepinac returns a fearsome foursome—-Jonathan Mucciolo (OG), Ajani Cornelius (OG), James Prince (OT), and pivot Shadi Rabadi—-that together helped their school rush for 2,218 yards (184.8/game) and 27 touchdowns on the ground, while also providing Nicosia with the required time in the pocket to light up opposing secondaries….Both Mucciolo (Sacred Heart/Howard) and Prince (3 known suitors) have college offe
Stepinac celebrates after last years AAA championship
rs on the table, and if they do not already have it, it will not be long before recruiters are banging down the doors of Rabadi or Cornelius too….Senior, Chris Fowx, who can play any of the three OL positions, will likely be in the running to earn the second starting tackle position, while junior, Michael Tartaglia, will add depth to an already loaded offensive guard rotation.
So who will be the benefactors from the grunt work that the beasts above do in the trenches? For the answer to that question, you need look no further than a trio of seniors—-Shawn Harris Jr., Malik Grant, and CJ Wise…..Harris, one of three Stepinac selections to Lohud Super-11, is the leader among returning players in both yardage (415) and TD runs (7). However, because he is such a phenomenal athlete and can take over a game from any spot on the field, the expectation is that he might slide out wide to the receiver position (he was 3rd on the team with 26 catches for 565 yards and tied for the top spot with 7 additional touchdowns with his hands)…If Harris is used primarily as a WR, all that does is create more opportunities for his two fellow 12th graders….Grant, who picked the perfect time to have a career day, rushing for 130 yards + a score on only 11 carries in the state title victory, concluded his junior season with an average of 6.5 yard per handoff (401 yards and six TDs on 61 touches). As the featured RB in 2018, there is no telling what kind of insane numbers he may be able to compile…..Wise, who darn well could have been a major player on just about any other team in the league, the state, the nation, and perhaps the planet, only handled the ball 30 times out of the backfield, but yet, he still managed to put up 180 yards of production (6.0/average). With increased reps, he too will smash his previous career highs.
After two years of brilliance from Nicosia, the Joey Carino era will begin under center for the Crusaders….A multiple-sport student-athlete who has already made a name for himself on the lacrosse field as a highly touted middie, the 6’2, 190-pounder will bring a well-rounded, but slightly different skill set to the Stepinac offense this year…..Adept as a passer, which he proved by completing 64.7% (11-of-17 for 166 yards + 1 TD) of his attempts in a reserve role as a sophomore in 2017, the feeling is that because he is a more natural runner than Nicosia (who still mustered 263 yards and 5 TDs with his legs), Carino might be best characterized as a dual-threat option, as opposed to a strict/traditional drop back gun-slinger. In limited (13) carries, he notched 70 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Having graduated three of their top-4 pass catchers from the 2017 State Championship squad, with the exception of Harris, whose star we have already polished quite a bit, the WR corps this season for Stepinac will consist of a lot of eager players looking to make their mark…But alas, if we have learned anything over the years about this program, it is that just because a player is unproven does not mean they are not still dangerous. True to any other position on the field, when you suit up for the Crusaders, you sometimes have to wait your turn to be great…..So, rival defensive backfields, do not make the mistake of sleeping on the likes of Eugene Boyd, Quentin McCauley, Dom Nicolo, or Matt Halas….Among this group, Nicolo is the most known, as he made five catches for 102 yards as a junior last season.
Now, having spent all of that time raving about how special the offense is, here’s a little secret that gives the rest of the league nightmares…..THE DEFENSE IS EVEN BETTER!!!
Led into the battle every week by the school’s other two Super-11 recipients—-Kevin Gray (LB) and Doug Simmons (DE), Stepinac might possess the most lethal front seven in NYS…. Gray, who will start for a third straight year was an Honorable Mention All-State pick as a junior, finishing the season with 122 tackles (7th best in NYS), 3 sacks, and two successful pass defenses….Simmons, the ultimate edge rusher, led the Empire State in sacks last season, racking up 18 QB bags to go along with 58 total stops, and two forced fumbles…
Joining Gray in creating a dynamic 1-2 punch at LB is the young man who will unquestionably succeed him next season as the General of the defense, junior Kevin McKenna….2nd on the team (behind only Gray) with 89 tackles as a 10th grader, on the rare occasion that his teammate [Gray] did not get you, McKenna was always present to clean it up….Perhaps under the impression that there were not already enough play-makers among his linebacking corps, the final piece to O’Donnell’s LB puzzle is OLB, Dexter Chance. Fitting the mold of a more new school rover LB, the slightly undersized Chance is explosive off the snap. As a junior, he recorded 51 tackles, added three sacks, and two interceptions to his resume. Chance is athletic enough that he could see time as a free safety too this year.
Simmons’s partners in crime among the down linemen will be the defensive tackle combo of Nermin Metjajic and Joe Garbowski, as well as DE Sunil Fong….Metajic and Garbowski were regulars on the D-line last season, combining to make 85 tackles (Garbowski with 45) and three sacks (Garbowski with 2)…Fong on the other hand is an incredibly interesting story. A member of the freshman football team back in 2015, the now senior 6’5, 220+ pounder is making his gridiron return in his scholastic swan song. A basketball player by trade, despite his time away from the sport, Fong operates so smoothly for a man his size, that there is a belief that on athleticism along, he will find success.
Identical to the predicament they face at wide receiver, if there is one spot on “D” where Stepinac is entering without known commodities, it is in the secondary….In addition to the loss of the irreplaceable [Trill] Williams, the Crusader defensive backfield also will need to adjust to the absences of Joey Cappiello (76 tackles, 4 interceptions, 9 pass break-ups), Isaiah Walker (46 stops; 15 PDs) and Tyler Decrescenzo (57 tackles, 1 INT, 7 pass defenses). The latter [Decrescenzo] was in line to take over as the leader of the secondary, but instead made the decision to return to his local public school district for his senior campaign….Nicolo (20 tackles, 12 pass defenses) and De’Andre Smith (54 tackles, 3 sacks, 4 QB hurries) will be called upon to lend wisdom and poise to the secondary, but it will also be essential that names such as Corey Richards, Stefan Romero, Jamel Fleming, and Mekhi Green grow from the ranks of the unknown status into “must know” status.
Senior place-kicker, Nate Henderson, only attempted two field goals last season, going 1-for-2. However, he would successfully convert on 80 percent of his extra point tries (44-of-52). Thus, should the Crusaders need a game-winning kick, those odds would be favorable.
One final note to keep in mind…Last year’s Stepinac Junior Varsity was league runners-up. Therefore, in addition to all of the gentlemen referenced above, anticipate several more key efforts from this rising cohort.
CJ O’Neil (Head Coach Since 2004)
Record: 8-2/Lost in the “AAA” Semifinals, 13-12, to Archbishop Stepinac
Finalists in 2015, Champions in 2016, and semifinalists last year, the Cardinal program seems to be in the midst of a collective windfall that might never have an ending…Picked by the experts at MaxPreps as the top overall team in New York State in 2018, the boys from the Bronx are dead set on returning to the top of the triple-A Catholic football scene following that one-point loss in the semifinals to the eventual league and state champions, Archbishop Stepinac.
A program that has become renowned for the speed, agility, and overall explosiveness of its playmakers, when you go to watch Cardinal Hayes play, you know before you even sit down that you are about to be treated to 48 minutes of non-stop electricity….The ringleader of this offensive juggernaut for a second consecutive season will be junior QB, Sofian Massoud….A student-athlete that we greatly misjudged in the 2017 season preview [in reference to no one being able to replace Christian Anderson], the 6’2, 175-pounder did not just make us eat our words with his sensational sophomore showing, he put some proverbial tabasco sauce on that unbelievable campaign so that it burned on the way down….Already holding scholarship offers from NCAA DI programs such as Boston College, the University of Virginia, Rutgers, the consensus four-star/#322 national prospect in the class of 2020 will only continue to see his stock grow over the course of the next year and a half….A third-Team All-State selection, Massoud led the Evil Empire in passing yards per game last season, averaging 310.6. His total throwing yardage of 3,106 was 2nd in the state, and his 32 TD passes ranked him fourth…Perceived as more of an athlete than a true QB by the recruiting pundits [we disagree], Massoud would also demonstrate the elusiveness he possesses as a scrambler in 2017, leading the Cardinals in run attempts (84) and yards gained (362). His three TD dashes tied him for runner-up honors among all Hayes’ players.
As noted above, when it comes to attacking opposing defenses on the ground, Massoud is likely to be the #1 option. However, should foes try to shadow him and force someone else to beat them, a name that could emerge as a game-changer is Jeremye Brown. Overlooked a bit because of the presence of higher profile teammates, the 5’11, 170-pound tailback still had a solid 2017 season, running for 227 yards (second among RBs on last year’s roster) on 50 carries….Joel Atuahene, a starter at fullback last year, also has the goods when it comes to chewing up yardage with this legs. The owner of a steady 4.4 yard/per carry average a season ago, the Bronx resident gained a total of 127 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns on 29 carries.
After two years of watching them be darn-near uncontainable, when we look out wide at the Hayes’ receiving corps this season, it will be incredibly strange not seeing Lucas Nunez (2x All-State; led NYS with 1,399 receiving yards; 2nd in NYS with 14 TD catches) and Elijah Jones (4th in NYS with 1,017 yards as a pass catcher; 3rd in New York with 14 TD snatches). One of the best WR combos in Empire State history, it would be completely unfair to ask their successors to equal their level of production…However, even if it does not produce the same gaudy numbers as 2017, the Cardinals have no reason to fret about their wide-receiver situation….Accounting for 31 catches, 519 yards, and three touchdowns between them, the new senior duo of Angel Tamarez (17 for 27 + 1 TD) and Micheal Escobar (14 catches, 249 yards, 2 touchdowns) are more than capable of having monster years that keep the machine operating fluidly….Yahya Kone only made one catch last season as a 10th grader, but it was for 17 yards. Hence, you can add him to the mix of gentlemen who will make it their mission to tax opposing secondaries.
Cardinal Hayes AAA Champs in 2016 pictured here look to get back on top this season
4th Team All-State recipient, Qadir White, who has moved onto the college ranks at Syracuse University, may no longer be around to manhandle the line of scrimmage, but he leaves the OL in capable hands….Back for another year and bigger/stronger than ever are three starters on the offensive line—-Edgar Roman (6’0, 260), Emario Vushaj (6’3, 325 pounds), and Ithier Irving (6’0, 250)….Vushaj was invited to participate in an elite prospects camp at the University of Notre Dame last June….Anticipating that more responsibility would fall on his shoulders, Irving hit the weights hard and added 45 pounds to his frame since the end of last year.
On defense, Hayes graduated several impactful student-athletes, including their top-5 tacklers (Claude Watford, Juan Rosario Jr., Antonio Colclough, Nasheem Cooper, and Randy Brito), and a pair of all-state defensive backs in Nunez and Jones. Also gone from the defensive backfield is Robert Javier, who had 24 tackles/2 INTs….Taken all together, this list of eight departed seniors recorded 337 tackles, 10 sacks, and 13 interceptions…So, it need not be said that last year’s reserves are going to need to perform like today’s superstars.
Thankfully for O’Neil and company, depth and experience is something that the program is rich on…So, rather than focus on what is lost, the concentration will be on all that returns.
Whether it be among the front seven or in the defensive backfield, never fail to keep a watchful eye on the following who are primed for huge 2018 seasons after accepting complementary roles last year: Chyon Pearsall (LB; 44 tackles, 1 sack), Atuahene (LB; 34 tackles), Maurice Sherrod (DL; 18 tackles, 1 sack), Micheal Tetteh (DL; 16 tackles; 2nd on the team with 3 sacks), and Christian Zapata (DL; 7 stops)….While he did not play much defense last year, a possible wildcard in the secondary could be Massoud in some big spots. After all, as a freshman safety, he led the team with five interceptions while also contributing 49 tackles.
Another ace in the holes that the NYCHSFL aficionado needs to be aware of is that the 2017 Cardinal junior varsity were league champions. So, in addition to the names above, there will be no shortage of rookies that will be relevant from the opening whistle.
Kevin Dolan (3rd Season as Head Coach)
Record: 3-6; Lost in the AAA Quarterfinals, 48-38, to Archbishop Stepinac
A program that was much better than their 3-6 mark a season ago, half of the Flyer losses, including their postseason defeat to the eventual league and state champs from Archbishop Stepinac, were by a margin of 10 points or less….For this reason, despite the sub-.500 record in the standings, we considered 2017 to be a relatively solid season in Mineola. Several juniors received significant field time and because of this real game experience, we feel that the potential is there for the Crimson & Gold to enjoy their finest season since the 2013 cohort that advanced to the AAA title contest.
Calling team speed and physicality the strong points of his roster, Head Coach, Kevin Dolan, raved about the character and skill set of his senior class, but was also equally quick in shining a spotlight on a handful of juniors that looked good during camp and seem ready to make their respective varsity debuts successful ones.
Commanding the offense from the QB position for a second straight season will be senior, Thomas Rogan….A standout in everything he does, the 6’3, 175-pounder from Merrick, might not only be the best pure athlete on the football team, he may also be the best overall athlete on Jackson Avenue (high praise considering the reputation that Chaminade has across the board in all sports)…Born into a Flyer family athletic dynasty, the future Dartmouth lacrosse attackman, is the nephew of John [Rogan], who is one of only two former Chaminade players to ever win the Thorp Award as the top player in Nassau County. Like his nephew, John starred under Center when he earned the top honor in 1977….Last season, the younger Rogan would have a hand in more than 50 percent of his school’s touchdowns, throwing for 10 scores and rushing for an additional six…One of the most dynamic dual-threat field generals on Long Island, Rogan threw for 1,364 yards (101-for-186) and rushed for 549 more (average 9.5 per carry). If Rogan is able to improve his TD:INT ratio (5:4 last season), there is no question he will have a swan song for the record books.
Having graduated both of their main tailbacks (Aidan Ryder and Isaiah Cashwell) from last year, 2018 welcomes an opportunity for individuals such as seniors Spenser Warantz or Brandon Janosko (could also see time at WR) to become breakout stars in their final varsity season…Warrantz was not credited with a single rushing attempt last season, whereas Janosko would gain 83 yards on his 33 tries…Both young gentlemen did demonstrate versatility, as the former made 3 catches for 28 yards, while the latter accumulated 112 yards on his four grabs. Hence, do not be surprised to see them being utilized as passing targets out of the backfield….Junior, Jagger Kuhner, will bring some new blood to the RB rotation after having a very solid season on the Junior Varsity a year ago.
Perhaps the biggest offensive loss to graduation suffered by Dolan and staff would be that of stud wide receiver, Chris Nicholas….Another member [along with Rogan] of Chaminade’s 2018 State Champion-winning lacrosse program, the current University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill midfielder, was more than just a minor weapon with his hands….Ranked in the top-20 in NYS for both total receptions (20th with 43 catches) and TD catches (13th with 10), Nicholas’s ability to stretch the field was invaluable in 2017….The Flyers also parted with their #3 and #4 receivers in the persons of Alex Breuer (23 catches for 198 yards) and JT Carlstrom (13 grabs for 205 yards). What this all means is that like the running back position, there will be a healthy competition among last year’s overshadowed juniors and this season’s rising juniors for reps at the receiver position.
One person who you already know is going to see plenty of action as a target will be Conor McCormick…Standing 6’3 and weighing 205 pounds, the Islip resident brings great size that will enable him to out-muscle many DBs….As a junior in 2017, McCormick ended the year second on the squad in every major receiving category, finishing with 37 catches for 529 yards and six TDs. If there was any concern about his ability to serve as the #1 option out wide, you need look no further than his nine catch, 146-yard performance against St. Peter’s last October, or his 5 catch/59-yard effort in the postseason against a Stepinac secondary featuring 1st team All-State cornerback [Trill Williams] and several other experienced defensive backs….Odinn McLoughlin (2 catches for 10 yards, 1 score) and Matthew Liotta (1 catch for 5 yards) are the only other returning players who caught passes in 2017.
Anchoring an offensive line that will be charged with the duty of opening up holes and giving their gem of a QB time to work in the pocket will be seniors, Richard Martin (6’3, 255) and Thomas Murphy (5’10, 235)…The junior from Wantagh, Liam Brown (5’10, 210), will be among the fresh faces that will help to solidify the O-line.
When you have a generational athlete the caliber of Rogan, it is easy for the offense to hog much of the headline. However, in the case of the 2018 Flyers, the truth is that the heart of the team may exist on the other side of the ball….
Returning seven players that made an impression last season and are now a year stronger and more polished, gone will be the weekends where some of the high octane AAA offenses will be looking to put 30-40 points up on the scoreboard.
Residing at the helm of the Chaminade defense will be Conor Dempsey and Michael O’Grady on the line; Philip Arnold and Matt Grimm at linebacker, as well as a secondary made-up of Sean Tariche, Dan Schaefer, and James Corcoran….Dempsey and O’Grady will be tasked with replacing the output of graduated senior DL, Liam Siegler, who finished 6th in NYS last season with 12 sacks. O’Grady made 19 tackles and had a sack as a junior….Arnold, who assumes the leadership role among the linebacking corps, finished second on the team [John Shelley; 107) in total tackles with 91 and was tied for 3rd with four sacks….Tariche (17 tackles) brings poise to the defensive backfield….Senior DL, Christian Vaughn (12 tackles) and rookie, Robert Booth, add depth to the line, while two other first-year varsity players, Brandan Coward and Dylan Lomelo, should made early contributions as DBs
It’s not very often that a specialist gets his own paragraph in a HS football preview. Therefore, when it does happen, you know it is warranted…In the case of senior PK/P, Anthony Pecorella, it was a no-brainer that he would be profiled….A returning Honorable Mention All-State recipient, the 6’3, 190-pounder, who also serves as the back-up QB, was darn near automatic as a junior in his kicking responsibilities…Ranked 1st in the state with nine (out of 10 attempts) successful field goals and connecting on 26 of 28 PAT tries, as a place-kicker alone Pecorella would command serious interest from recruiters at the next level. But alas, he is a full-service specialist, whose future in college may actually be as a punter. Last season, he averaged 43.3 yards on his 44 punts, while displaying impeccable accuracy by putting 43 percent of them inside the opposing 20-yard-line.
Christ the King
Record: 0-8; Lost in the “AAA” Quarterfinals, 31-21, to St. Anthony’s
It’s a case of deliberate déjà vu in Middle Village for the Royals…A program that willingly took its lumps for a few years with a master plan of building toward a big future, proof of that concept was achieved in 2015 and 2016, when, despite not having a crown to show for it, the Royals were without question one of the top teams, regardless of classification, in the NYCHSFL….By holding true to the old adage that “patience is a virtue”, CTK became living proof that sometimes losing the battle to have a shot at winning the war is an acceptable strategy.
Not winning last season following a promotion to the “AAA” Division, do not be fooled by what strikes us as clearly a case of history repeating itself….Much like they were in 2012 and 2013, this Royals program is a sleeping giant; the only question is whether or not this is their year to channel their inner-Paul Bunyan….But, rest assured, even if 2018 is not met with the win/loss successes that the “what have you done for me lately” crowd has come to demand, you best believe that there is a reign on the horizon and when it comes, it will be magnificent.
A program like no other, when doing research on Christ the King, the craziest factoid was revealed…Despite being the only winless team a season ago, there is not another squad in the Catholic League that seems to have piqued the interests of college scouts the way CTK has done…..Boosting some of the best young talent in the Empire State, major NCAA DI programs flocked to Queens in June to check out this collection of young guns.
Running the offense full-time after splitting snaps in his freshman year will be Noah Bodden….Standing 6’4 and weighing 210 pounds, the sophomore field general has the prototypical look and because of it, his mailbox has been a crowed space….Completing a modest 38 percent of his pass attempts last season (46-for-121) and struggling with turnovers (seven interceptions compared to just two TD throws), the Valley Stream resident possesses all of the physical talent necessary to be a star; he just needs to hone that skill set. If he succeeds in doing so, his future in the sport of football is going to extend well beyond the high school level. Already, he has scholarship offers from Baylor, Cincinnati, and Temple. That quantity should continue to increase as word has it that Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State, and Rutgers have been in contact and love his ceiling.
Bringing back pretty much every person who gained a yard on the ground last season, while Bodden is fine tuning the aerial game, there will no shortage of available running backs ready to take some of the pressure off of his arm….Led by junior, Tirek Murphy’s 393 yards (on 71 carries, with two TDs) last season, three different Royal runners accumulated 100+ yards in 2017. Also in the club were Andre McGann (30 carries for 183 yards and a team-best three touchdowns), and Thaliq Battle (102 yards on 22 carries)….Elijah Simmonds cemented himself as another potential option, gaining 65 yards and scoring a TD on 21 hand-offs last season….Murphy (a four-star prospect), who 247Sports listed as a crystal ball lock to choose the University of Michigan, has Arizona State, Baylor, Boston College, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Duke, Louisville, Maryland, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, South Carolina, Syracuse, and Tennessee all actively on his trail….Battle has been offered by Buffalo and Morgan State.
Because of the erratic nature of the passing game last season, it was hard for any one person to put up fancy statistics. But, even in a famine, you can always find the occasional feast…And for CTK, that feast is named, Jared Harrison-Hunte….While we will wait until we turn our attention to defense to go into depth on how uniquely special this young man, let us at least point out that last season, he was the team-leader in receptions, making 23 grabs for 227 yards….Right behind him on the leaderboard was fellow rising senior, Rudy Silvera, who concluded his junior year with 19 snatches for 233 yards and one touchdown. Silvera currently has an offer from Sacred Heart, the same school that signed for Hayes star Lucas Nunez….Battle (16 catches for 138 yards and two TDs) and Murphy (12-180-1) displayed the well-roundness of their talents….Dante Goodwyn, who could have easily been mentioned in the previous paragraph among the running back rotation, showcased more of his receiving skills as a sophomore, making double digit (10) catches for 66 yards. Goodwyn heads into 2018 with a Morgan State offer in his back pocket….Jarald Coleman (4 catches for 66 yards) and Jahlani Sundar (3 catches for 36 yards) add depth to the WR corps.
Anchoring the offensive line will be a pair of seniors—-Adam El Gammal and Darryl Fuller…The former, a 6’5, 270-pound three-star prospect, has garnered college interest from several FBS and FCS schools and holds offers from Cincinnati, Monmouth, Morgan State, and Temple….The latter, tipping the scales at 260 pounds on a 6’4 frame, has been wooed by Cornell, Howard, and Morgan State among schools who have put scholarships on the table. A plethora of additional major DI programs are scouting Fuller, but nothing formal has been extended.
On the defensive side of the ball, aside from Stepinac, there may not be a more naturally gifted group of linemen in the NYCHSFL….Highlighted by Harrison-Hunte (DE) and junior DT, Zephron Lester, the DL is every bit the rival of the offense when it comes to hot commodities….Harrison-Hunte, who made 11 tackles last season, is to the “D” what Murphy is to the “O”. Measured at 6’4, 285-pounds, the Queens resident is regarded as the #2 overall senior prospect in NYS and has attracted the attention of the industry leaders such as Penn State (88% Crystal ball prediction in their favor), Ohio State, Georgia, Arizona State, Baylor, LSU, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Central Florida, and Virginia among the many suitors….Lester, who is just a junior this season, enters the year with The United States Military Academy, Temple, Morgan State, and UPenn as early entries into the sweepstakes for his services. As a sophomore, he was credited with 27 tackles and a sack, while recovering two fumbles…. Fuller (23 stops, 1 sack), Daunte Gordon, Nate Curry will join Harrison-Hunte in all bringing senior leadership to the DL.
Taking over for 2017 5th team All-State selection, Nicholas Hunter (113 tackles, 1 sack) as the general of the LB corps will be senior, Jahlil Watson, who finished second on the team (behind only Hunter) with 70 stops. Watson can also be utilized as a rover safety….Kyle Ormsby, who is still awaiting his first scholarship offer, but is said to be on the radar of several mid-majors, saw significant time as a sophomore in 2017, making 25 tackles and earning a QB bag….Murphy, who is a two-way superman, made 23 tackles, and had one sack and one pick in 2017.
Several of the speedsters at the skill positions on offense, performed double duty in the secondary last year and likely will do so again….Simmonds made 38 tackles last season as a safety/OLB hybrid….McGann had 29 tackles and an interception….Goodwyn contributed 18 stops and one INT….SIlvera had 12 tackles and a pick….Ajay Morrison (16 tackles), Brandon Mitchell (12 tackles, and Sean Idemudia (4 tackles) also factor into the conversation at DB.
With this talent you have to believe they are ready to contend.
Joe Spagnolo (3rd Season as Head Coach)
Record: 6-4/Lost in the “AAA” Semifinals, 35-7, to St. Anthony’s
Double-A Champions in 2016 followed up with a AAA semifinal berth a season ago, despite losing five State recognized players to graduation last June, the Gaels are a team that we feel will continue to be among the crème de la crème of the NYCHSFL elite….
So, while we acknowledge that it is never easy to replace the likes of two-time All-State receiver, Michael DeGasperis (finished 6th in NYS with 63 reception), 1st Team All-State OL Derek Ferraro (Rice University), 4th Team Defensive back, Malkelm Morrison (West Point), the menacing man in the middle of the D-Line, Jack Doty (Brown University), or a jack-of-all-trades like Ki’Shyne Shipmon (Pace), we choose instead to focus on all of the talent that Head Coach, Joe Spagnolo, will welcome back this season.
In what seems to be a yearly ritual, Iona Prep would again have a field general that commanded the attention of the state sports writers, as Derek Robertson, in his first year running the Gael offense, would earn Honorable Mention All-State accolades following a junior campaign that saw him establish a new Westchester County record for passing yards in a single season with 2,774 (4th in NYS)…Robertson, who completed 64.6% of his passing attempts (226-for-350) would also rank in the top-10 in the Empire State in TDs tossed with 27. Regarding it as an inevitability that he was destined for another mind-blowing season, LoHud named him one of their Super-11 for the 2018 season.
Joining his quarterback on that aforementioned Super-11 squad will be the person who is sure to find himself on the receiving end of many of Robertson’s throws this season, Tight End, Sean Fleming…..Second on the team to DeGasperis in all major pass catching categories, the 6’4, 230-pound Monmouth University commit had a banner junior season, making 42 grabs for 463 yards and six touchdowns.
AA Champions in 2016 the Gaels are looking to finish on top of the AAA Division in 2018
Fleming will not be the only weapon that Robertson will have at his disposal, as IP has developed such amazing depth at the WR position that even the losses of DeGasperis, Shipmon, and Johnryan Freeman (26 catches, 424 yards, 6 TDs) will not phase this program. Rather, it is a next man up philosophy and for the boys from New Rochelle that next regime involves Matt Panker (3rd on the team with 38 receptions for 390 yards and two TDs), Ryan Soules (10 catches for 116 yards), Jayden Lambert (10 grabs for 167 yards and one score), and converted tailback, Camari Glasgow (21 carries for 157 yards, 1 TD out of the backfield during an abbreviated junior season)….Newcomer, Alex Williams, will also get some significant playing time.
Handling the bulk of running duties will be last season’s fab freshman, Frankie McFadden, who earned a promotion from the Junior Varsity for the 2017 postseason and gave the NYCHSFL faithful a hint of what they can expect to see during the course of the next three seasons….Carrying the ball 21 total times between the two playoff games, the 5’7, 195-pound underclassman gained 96 yards (4.6/carry average). This big game experience combined with nine additional months of maturity should turn McFadden into an absolute beast in his 10th grade campaign….Joe Rodda, who will be one of the featured stars on the defensive side of the ball, also has running back experience (91 yards on 15 carries, with one touchdown among three appearances) and could add depth to the backfield if necessary.
While depth may be a slight concern along the O-line, the first string will consist of three players—-Anthony Bonavita (OG), Charlie Ryan (C) and Tim Bergamini (OT) who have already proven that they have the skills to do the job….At 255 and 260 pounds respectively, expect to see reps out of sophomore, Kevin Rohde, and junior, Dionis Polanco, as well as 240-pound 12th grader, Will Griffin.
Hailing the defensive line as a strength of the program, Spagnolo had nothing but praise for Rodda (DE), as well as line mate, Jimaar Edwards (DT)….Nick Gadson and Will D’Ambrosio factor in prominently on the DL as well.
Having just sent six Linebackers/DBacks to the college ranks, the Gaels will be counting on a combination of emerging role players and first-year varsity team members to fill these cleats…..At LB, two names that have already showed themselves prepared to accept the challenge are junior OLB Keshawn McDowdell and senior outside backer, Charlie Stanton….Juniors, Danny Riccio and AJ Zaccagnino, will occupy the Mike LB role.
Lambert will be joined in the secondary by Jordan Dunbar, Marquis Dukes, Ethan Robinson, and Jalen Rotella-White.
Tony Garofalo (4th Season as Head Coach)
Record: 5-4/Lost in the “AAA” Quarterfinals, 52-20, to Iona Prep
5-4 a season ago, when you look at the individuals who contributed mightily to last year’s Lions squad, you cannot help but come away with a feeling that the program was no more than a year away from being legitimate title contenders in the “AAA” Division….Now that 2018 is here, the abundance of field experience they possess on both sides will be an invaluable asset as they search for their first titles since going back-to-back in 1999 and 2000.
Returning just about every skill position player from an offense that scored an average of 19.5 points per game last season, look for that number on the scoreboard to increase into the high 20s, if not the 30s given the ammo that will be stepping foot on the field for the Maroon & Gold platoon.
Led by their captains in the backfield, senior QB, Mike Regan, and senior tailback, Vin Wagner, this group of 11 young men have the potential to be the more prolific of their kind during the Garofalo era of Lions’ football….Last season, the 6’5, 190-pound signal caller showed himself to be a well-balanced, dual-threat weapon that has the maturity and gridiron IQ to take what the defense is giving him. As a thrower, Regan completed 51.6 percent of his 153 attempts to finish the year with 892 yards and nine TD tosses….With his legs, he’d be the second leading rusher on the team [behind only Wagner], accumulating 310 yards and scoring five touchdowns on 36 carries (8.6 average).
The “Lions Den”
Wagner, who was an Honorable Mention All-State pick as a junior last season and will be a surefire All-State selection yet again in his final scholastic season, lived up to the essence of the school mascot in 2017. His lionhearted tenacity enabled him to handle a huge workload, as he gained just short of 1,400 yards (1,309) and found the end zone on nine different occasions on his 175 carries. His yardage a season ago placed him in the top-20 (#18) among his Empire State peers….And while it may not be his forte, his nine catches for 89 yards + 1 TD is evidence that when the situation calls for it, he can be used as a full-service presence out of the backfield.
Truth be told, we don’t think Wagner will have to do much pass catching in 2018 because, much like Iona Prep, the receiving corps on Amboy Road is second to none….The Lions will return their top-3 targets from last year—Lucas Turco, Christian Tait, and Anthony Lasako—and have already gone on record in stating that the belief that JonMichael Monaco, Nicholas Petrino, and Mike Travers are all on the cusp of having breakout senior seasons…..Turco, who has been plagued by the injury bug a bit during summer workouts, led all receiving categories last season for MF with 28 grabs for 289 yards and 4 TDs….Tait, who tied Turco for the team lead in touchdown receptions, was second with 15 catches for 225 yards….Not to be outdone by anyone, Lasako emerged with 13 catches of his own for 138 yards…..Vincent Renna, one of the top performers on the Junior Varsity a year ago, looked great in camp and will further strengthen the aerial attack.
Providing the nucleus to the OL will be a pair of returning starters—Jaleel Rhett (6’3, 275) and Nicholas Lubrano (6’0, 260)–who will line up at tackle and center this season….Carmine Comitini, who earned a captainship in his senior year, will join fellow 12th graders, Anthony Mangini (OT) and Domenico Lamorte (OG) in filling out the big boys in the trenches.
Defensively, the Lions will have to adjust to life without their three-year starter, two-time All-State standout linebacker, John Kelly the III (84 tackles, 4 sacks), who graduated last June and now plays for the United States Naval Academy….Sean Kopenheffer (21 stops, 2 sacks) is another member of last year’s front-7 that left an indelible impression on the program and will be missed.
In fact, statistically, Monsignor Farrell will take the field in 2018 having lost their top eight tacklers from 2017. To some coaches, this notion may be frightening to face. But, in the case of Garofalo and his staff, there is such a sincere confidence in the effort displayed by the returning faces and the rising varsity rookies during the summer, that the vibe about the campus is quite positive and encouraging.
Referencing speed, toughness, and overall athleticism in describing the traits of the “D”, the Farrell staff is not anticipating even the slightest drop-off in collective performance from a year ago.
Juniors, RJ Bonhometre, Stephen Stella, and Domenick Battaglia will join forces with senior, Dylan Sierp in forming the defensive line….Sierp and his 12 tackles/1 sack from 2017 is the most known of the group, but Bonhometre, who was credited with three stops as a sophomore, also brings experience to the legion.
Junior Mike LB, Chris Ortalano, will have the biggest cleats of all to fill, as he steps in to take the place of Kelly. Last season, as a 10th grader, the 5’10, 195-pounder made 16 tackles….Senior, Sean Shivers, will also be in the middle of the LB corps….Anthony Pollio, who also made an appearance on varsity as a sophomore, recording three tackles, will be teamed up with another young up-and-comer, fellow 11th grader, Anthony Picarello, on the outside.
The secondary will be the area where the Farrell defense will be most polished as all four expected starters are varsity veterans….Brandt Mandia will headline the group after a junior season that witnessed him make 10 stops and successfully defend four pass attempts at the corner….Monaco, who we mentioned as factoring into the WR conversation, will be a full-time player at the other CB. Last year, he recorded eight tackles and had 1 PD….Lasako (22 tackles, 3 PDs, 1 Interception) will be the center “fielder”, and Arturo Galeano (5 tackles), who is one of the team’s most improved student-athletes will be at the other safety position.
Rich Reichert (32nd Season as Head Coach)
Record: 9-2 Lost in the “AAA” Title Game, 42-22, to Archbishop Stepinac
Now in its 32nd and final season, the legendary Rich Reichert era is one that has been marked by nothing but brilliance through his three-plus decades on the Friar sidelines….Winners of 14 NYCHSFL crowns during this span, St. Anthony’s came one game short of adding #15 to the trophy case when they saw an early 14-0 lead slip away in last November’s title contest.
Unable to hoist the hardware since 2013, with each passing week, as we draw closer to closing the book on a Hall-of-Fame legacy, the pressure to send Reichert out on top could be either a blessing (pressure turns coal into diamonds) or a curse depending.
Complicating matters is the fact that after advancing to championship weekend behind a heavy dose of senior leadership, this year’s starting line-up on both sides of the ball is filled with new names and unproven faces….Admittedly, much like the other perennial powerhouses in the AAA, new personnel does not always translate into bad things. After all, STA is certainly no stranger to annual reloads. However, because this group is comprised of so many newcomers, it is truly a case of we are anticipating them being incredibly solid, but until they go out and show it, there will be a certain degree of skepticism.
On the positive side, if there is a single position where the Friars are immensely experienced and blessed, it is at the most important spot of all, the quarterback….Now entering his third season as the field general for the South Huntington based school, Greg Campisi, is nothing if not a consummate winner. Since being an emergency call-up from the junior varsity as a sophomore in 2016, the 6’1, 175-pounder has only lost one regular season game under center (12-1; 14-2 overall including postseason)…Following the pattern of AAA quarterbacks featured in this preview, Campisi, too, is a blue chip lacrosse player who will take his talents to Cambridge, MA next fall as a midfielder for Harvard (note: has intentions of trying to also play for the Crimson football team)….An honorable mention All-State recognized athlete as an 11th grader, Campisi can do it all on the gridiron….Ranked in the top-20 in NYS as a passer and a runner (among his QB counterparts), last season he would complete 71% of his pass attempts (160-for-226), accumulating 1,840 yards in the air (13th in NYS) and throwing 10 touchdowns. On the ground, he averaged 5.9 yards per carry, to finish the year with a total of 592 (19th among NYS quarterbacks) and 10 more TDs.
Joining Campisi in the backfield will be fellow seniors, Kyle Angus and Daniel Parker.…Both regarded as full-service tailbacks who will be just as deadly lined up out wide as a part of the spread offense, Angus ran for 257 yards and three touchdowns on just 43 carries (6.0 average), while Parker (6 yards on seven hand-offs +1 TD) was utilized more as a traditional WR in 2017….Junior, Mario Escobar, who had a very impressive training camp, will see plenty of action this season, as he too possesses the kind of lightning speed that has always been a staple of past Friar offensive weapons.
In addition to Parker (17 catches, 130 yards) and Angus (6 grabs for 42 yards), who as we stated above, will be unquestionably involved in all facets of the game plan, junior wide receivers, Greg Randall and Jaden Jernigan will do their best to replace the team’s top-2 pass catchers from a season ago, Julian Chung (59 grabs for 736 yards, 3 TDs) and Heron Maurisseau (31 catches for 493 yards and a team-leading 5 TD receptions)…Passing the torch from one senior to another, Richard Silva III will be the successor to Conor Ryan (26 grabs for 282 yards, 1 touchdown catch)….With Jernigan standing 6’3 and weighing 210 and Silva at 6’4, 215, you can anticipate that this group will come out on top of a lot of physical mismatches against shorter and/or lighter defensive backs.
Coach Reichert looks to add one more title
With regard to the offensive line, if there is one signature asset common to all of the past STA title teams, it is a dominant and experienced OL. Reminded of the legends of yesteryear such as Chris Auletta (played collegiately at Penn State) and Alex Fletcher (the #3 ranked Center in the nation his senior year; played at Stanford and a lock play in the NFL if not for medical issues), the 2018 cohort will have a lot to live up to….Returning only one starter (Senior, Chris Wright) off of a 2017 line that enabled STA to gain 1,936 yards and score 32 times on the ground, it will be up to individuals such as juniors—Sean Boyle (6’1, 225), James Ramacca (5’10, 260), Justin Williford (6’1, 310), and Gavin Miller (6’5, 280)–as well as 12th graders, Edward Arens (6’0, 250) and Konall Keane (5’10, 200) to extend the tradition through another season.
Defensively, St. Anthony’s has a lot of speed and athleticism, but early on, may still have to deal with the minor headaches associated with what is essentially a complete (8 of 11 starters were seniors last season) overhaul of the line-up.
Returning just two of their front seven, it will be up to DE Xavier Green and DT Anthony DePaul to set the tone for a D-line that lost multiple year standouts in the persons of 3rd Team All-State pick, Grayson Cherubino; now playing at Bucknell) and Nicholas Greer (playing at Stony Brook)…William Fitzgerald, Matthew Stetz, and Ajay Ottimo, all of whom are seniors, will all play major roles in fortifying the unit.
Eager to make a name for themselves at LB in 2018 will be a pair of juniors—Christian Taylor and Samir Gragui—as a senior duo consisting of Joseph Costanzo and Jamel Joyner.
Propelled by a mostly-senior contingent, Makhai Murphy (top-15 in NYS last season with 4 INTs), Nicolas Espada (1 INT), and James Errante (1 interception) will be joined by junior, Nicholas Alvarado, in making up a defensive backfield that could very well be the foundation of the Friar “D”.