Record: 5-5/Lost in the A Title Game, 32-22, to Moore Catholic
Bridesmaids in each of the past two years, if there was ever a team that was due to go all the way, it might be Head Coach, William Cawley’s Pilots.
The only program to knock off last year’s titlists Moore Catholic, in a Division A league game in 2016, now that the Mavericks have been promoted to Double AA status, the path is finally clear for the team from the Bronx to finally get over that final hurdle and be the last ones standing in November.
Spellman will have to overcome the graduation of their All-Catholic tailback, Rodney N’Guessan (672 yards, eight touchdowns), as well as last year’s junior signal caller, Jordi Mota (not listed on the 2017 roster), but should otherwise be in very good shape offensively thanks to the likes of Noah Stewart, Darrell Okpo, Justin Medina, Steven Manfredi, and Luke Greco.
The trio of Stewart, Okpo, and Medina give the Pilots three incredible running options for a scheme that in year’s past has relied heavy on the ground attack….Last season, Stewart finished second on the team in total production on the ground, running for 397 yards and three touchdowns on just 65 carries (average of 6.1/touch)…Okpo gave those in attendance at last year’s “A” title game a preview of the fireworks he can bring to the table, breaking away for a 25-yard TD run on his only carry of the contest. For the season, he gained 102 yards and scored three times on only 19 handoffs….Considering the company he keeps, a scary notion is that Medina may actually be the most explosive of the threesome. Last year, he only logged three carries, but averaged over 30 yards per to finish the season with 92 yards on the ground and one TD.
On the rare occasions when it becomes necessary to deviate from the ground game and go aerial, Manfredi and Greco will unquestionably be the two brightest targets. Ranked 1st and 2nd on the team in 2016 in all major receiving categories, Manfredi’s stat line read as follows: 10 catches, 109 yards, including a long of 40 that he posted in the league final; Greco proved to be the perfect complementary piece, grabbing seven balls for 150 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Along with many of the names already cited, anchoring the defensive line specifically and the entire defense in general will be senior, Michael Booth…A 270-pound beast in the middle of the line, as a junior, Booth finished 3rd on the team with 57 tackles. He added a sack and a forced fumble to his resume….Adding strength and experience to the D-line will be fellow senior, Christopher Vitale…Excelling last season at DE, Vitale concluded his 11th grade season with 31 tackles and even turned defense into offense, returning a fumble recovery for a touchdown against Xaverian.
Stepping in to fill the shoes of All-Catholic selection, Eric Berrios, as the commander of the linebacking corps will be Stewart. A true two-way superstar, when he was not doing his part in lighting up the scoreboard, he was quite influential in helping Spellman post a solid 17.4 points against average in league games in 2016. Stewart wrapped up his junior season with 45 tackles made, two sacks, and a remarkable four fumble recoveries.
Medina, who will in all likelihood take on more of a key role in the offensive game-plan, was already a standout on “D” in 2016, making a team-leading six interceptions and posting 45 tackles from the defensive backfield…As the centerfielder and most experienced student-athlete in the secondary, there is no doubt he will be setting the example for the rest of the DBs.
Record: 4-4/Lost in the A Semifinals to Moore Catholic, 36-23
Semifinalists in each of the past two years, the Gaels continue to creep closer and closer to championship weekend with each passing year. In 2015, they lost 41-3 to eventual champion, Xaverian; last season, the margin of defeat shrunk considerably, as they dropped a very competitive 36-23 contest to titlists, Moore Catholic….At the pattern that their progression seems to following, It will not be long until we see the Somers, NY based team playing for all the marbles….Whether their moment is now or down the stretch will depend on how well they are able to cope with and reinvent themselves following the graduation of signal caller, David Keogh (the 2016 CHSFL “A” Division Offensive Player of the Year).
The field general and catalyst for much of what the Gaels were able to do last season on the offensive side of the ball (averaged nearly 30 points per game; scored no fewer than 20 in all eight appearances), when the All-Catholic QB walked across that stage at commencement, he took with him an average of 231 passing yards and 71 rushing yards per game. He not only threw for 14 touchdowns, he also ran for a team-leading nine scores…In other words, this is no ordinary loss.
Consistent to what we have said throughout our three league previews, when it comes to such an integral part of the game-plan, as Keogh was to the offense, it is unrealistic and impossible to think that you can fill those shoes in less than one year’s time. Thus, for KC to take that next step in the journey post-Keogh, it will be necessary for a multitude of the experienced players to all take their respective games to the next level….The good news though is that when we take a gander at their returning roster, we see the talent necessary to climb that proverbial mountain and have a program-defining season.
Looking to carry, both proverbially and quite literally much of the slack in 2017 will be senior tailback, Greg Brann…The #2 RB on the Gaels last season, the 5’11, 170-pounder had a great predecessor to learn from in the person of 2016 All-Catholic selection, James Weider Jr. (315 rushing yards, 4 touchdowns; 22 catches for 610 yards and five additional TDs). If Brann (25 carries, 103 yards, three touchdowns; 8 grabs for 153 yards, and two scores as a junior) has anything resembling the swan song that Weider enjoyed a year ago, it will be invaluable to Kennedy Catholic and might just be the answer to Coach Tassone’s prayers.
If what we expect comes to fruition and Brann does have a monster senior season, there is little doubt that a BIG reason for it will have been the exceptional play of fellow 12th grader, Ed Longest…A returning All-Catholic honoree, the 265-pound mammoth of a man is potentially the biggest competition to Spellman’s Booth in the race for top-lineman distinction….Running behind Longest last year, the Gael’s collected over 1,000 yards and scored 17 touchdowns….The terrifying notion with regard to Longest is that he is probably at his best when he is dominating on the other side of the ball. As a defender, Longest swept all major categories common to linemen, collecting 68 tackles (39 more than anyone else), 17 TFL, and 3.5 sacks. He also both forced and recovered a fumble.
Another student-athlete that demands you focus on him (on both sides of the ball) is senior WR/DB Shane Dalrymple….A player who Coach Tassone spoke highly of prior to the start of last season, Dalrymple did not disappoint in his junior season, finishing tied for third on the team with 18 catches, and ranking 4th in receiving yardage with 257. His pair of touchdown snatches created a four-way tie for 2nd place honors on the team (behind only Wieder)….Dalrymple will assume a much more substantial role on the defense this season, as he joins John Dirago (4 tackles) in headlining the secondary….Brann (15 tackles; 6 TFL), who is listed on the roster at LB, played defensive back in 2016 and could always return to patrol his former territory in obvious passing situations.
If Brann does remain at linebacker, he just adds to what could already be the strength of the defense….Anchored by juniors, Cole Esposito (21 stops, 1.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries) and Wyatt Rumpf (17 tackles, 1 sack), the last thing this corps needed was another potential play-maker. However, whether they needed one or not, they are getting one and his name is Ayden Sanchez. A varsity player as a freshman in 2016, Sanchez was so good in camp last offseason that he drew the praise of his head coach and earned a mention in last year’s season preview. While his stat line may have been modest, his natural ability is not. With a year of experience under his belt, Sanchez is primed for a breakout season as a 10th grader, much like Esposito and Rumpf the year prior….Brandon Gibson, who also entered last season as a highly touted two-way sophomore, seemed to focus more on “O” last year, but could just as easily become a key contributor on “D”.
While it is a name with which we are not as familiar, the word on the street is that senior, Alec Ogando, has game-changing potential as both a receiver and a special teamer/kick returner.
A week #2 showdown between the Gaels and Xaverian will provide insight as to the title winning possibilities for KC in 2017.
Record: 0-8-1/Did Not Qualify for the A playoffs
A team that you cannot measure in terms of wins and losses, Nazareth Regional may be in the midst of a winless streak, but that does not mean that progress is not being made. If there was ever a squad that has embraced and trusted the process, it is the Kingsmen.
While on paper, going 0-8-1 may seem like a lost season, the truth is that if you look at some of the losses, you see that Nazareth Regional was very much in a position to win many of those games. Never was this truer than in their 14-8 loss to eventual league champs, Moore Catholic. If you can stay within a single score of the best of the best, you must be on the right track. An additional two losses (both to St. Dom’s) were also one score games…What this tells you is that if even one thing happens a little differently, that zero in the win column could just as easily been replaced by a crooked number.
Much like season, Nazareth remains an extremely young program, with nearly 65 percent (18 of 28) of their student-athletes all returning next year and more than 1/4 coming back beyond that….2017 may not be the year where NR wins the crown. But that is not what is of ultimate importance, instead of focusing on what is current, the best course of action is to take into consideration how experienced and polished a team they will bring to the table in the coming years. It may happen this year or next year; but it will not be long before you begin to see a major surge from the cellar to the penthouse out of the Kingsmen.
Offensively, Nazareth brings back several of the names and faces that were spotlighted in the 2016 season preview….Manny Johnson, Kevin Fleetwood, and speedster extraordinaire, Justin McDuffie (Last year’s CHSAA City Freshman 55-meter sprint champion) are all viable options out of the backfield….Sanub Sinclair and Korey Armstrong will be the ones to watch out wide.
On the other side of the ball, Michael Gray and Brenton Wynter bring necessary size, skill, and experience to the defensive line….Both were featured players a season ago in their junior and sophomore years respectively.
Record: 4-6/Did Not Qualify for A playoffs
It will be a family affair in Oyster Bay this season led by a pair of Rooneys and duo of Ford’s.
Just missing the 2016 postseason by one spot (finished 5th; needed to take top-4 to qualify), the Bayhawks, in their third Catholic League season since returning from a 25-year absence in 2015, will be on a mission to not only qualify for the playoffs, but also do some damage once they are there.
Subscribers to the old school offensive philosophy that preaches a smash-mouth, run-run-run type of scheme, Dom’s is fortunate in that they have four tailbacks whom that they fully trust to get the job done….Headlining the group is the first of our two Rooney’s, senior, Thomas…The third leading rusher on the team in 2016 with 285 yards on 66 carries, the elder Rooney tied for tops on the team with three ground scores….Supplementing the running arsenal will be fellow 12th graders, Robby Rossiter and Colin Brennan, as well as junior, Dylan Hein (who could also be incorporated into the offensive arsenal as a WR)…Among this trio of assisting parties to Rooney, only Rossiter had a varsity carry last season, touching the ball 18 times for 93 yards and scoring once…Mike Poncet, who is listed on the roster as a receiver, also has experience as a ball carrier, rushing 13 times for 18 yards during his junior campaign.
Stepping under center and directing the show will be the other member of the Rooney clan, junior, Jack…A varsity player in 2016, the younger Rooney was not credited as having taken a snap at QB during his sophomore season. Hence, in many ways, he will be enduring a baptism under fire those first few weeks of the 2017 season. However, once he has that much needed field time under his belt, WATCH OUT!
In addition to Poncet, whose three catches for 51 yards and one TD ranked him among the team leaders in every category last year, at [Jack] Rooney’s disposal will be his namesake, who scored touchdowns in each of his two receptions in 2016, and both of the Fords, Senior, Brian, and sophomore, William…Neither had a catch a season ago, but both possess the soft hands and hunger for the ball that one needs to thrive as an effective pass catching target.
Looking to assert their will on both sides of the line of scrimmage will be two-way linemen, Jack Doherty and Ahmir Lyles….Lyles ended 2016 second on the team in total tackles with 39 stops and tacked on a sack to complete his junior curriculum vitae….280-pound junior OT/DT Charles Blyman, sophomore pivot/end, Frank Fackovec, and senior OT/DE, Aaron Gutierrez, all impressed during camp and should make up a very strong supporting cast.
Brian Ford (32 tackles, 2 INTs), Rossiter (17 stops, 2 fumble recoveries) and Brennan among others gives the Bayhawks a very formidable group of linebackers.
Poncet (35 tackles, team-leading two interceptions) and both Rooney boys (Tommy made 27 tackles, had 2 pass defenses, and an interception; Jack posted 22 stops, 2 fumble recoveries, and had a pick of his own) will patrol the secondary with a ball-hawk ferocity.
Record: 5-4/Lost in the A Semifinals, 28-20, to Cardinal Spellman
Having their three finals streak snapped last season when they lost in the semifinals to Cardinal Spellman (who they had swept during the regular season), the Clippers are a program that you just know will always be in the running for the top prize in the A division.
Returning bar none, the single biggest offensive weapon in the league in the person of junior Roberto Auguste, come crunch time when the cream tends to rise to the top, Xaverian is going to be a mighty tough out…Last season, the 5’11, 180-pound halfback, was just one of just three sophomores to earn All-Catholic distinction following a campaign that witnessed him run for 833 yards (2nd best overall in the “A” division) and score five times with his legs on 150 carries (5.6/carry average). Highlighted by a 193 yard performance in late September against Kennedy Catholic, on four separate weekends, Auguste reached and surpassed the 100-yard milestone on the ground…If his talents as a pure runner were not enough to make him an irreplaceable and cherished asset, it is worth noting that he led the school in all major receiving categories too, making 11 grabs for 140 yards, and one TD….Offering a second option out of the backfield could be junior, Mike Garzone. Overshadowed a bit by older teammates in 2016, when Garzone was handed the ball, he displayed a knack for producing, averaging just under six yards (94 yards on 16 carries) and scoring a pair of touchdowns…Emmanuel Olagunju, who is a wide receiver by trade, should also not be forgotten as a play-maker with his legs. As a freshman in 2016, he touched the ball 17 times and matched Garzone’s totals in yardage and TDs scored.
Even though the smart money suggests that the Clippers are going to ride their stud junior like the thoroughbred that he is, it never hurts to have a capable passing attack just in case….As cited above, Auguste was the leading receiver on last year’s squad. Just below him though in the rankings were two more student-athletes who return in 2017, junior WR Jason Perlstein and senior TE, Timothy McCabe…The former made eight catches for 70 yards last season, while the latter posted totals of eight snatches for 117 yards…Combined, Auguste, Perlstein, and McCabe represent more than 50 percent of all successful pass completions and more than 60 percent of receiving yards.
Auguste (28 tackles; 1 INT), Perlstein (28 tackles, 1 interception), and Olagunju (18 tackles, team-leading two picks) will be doing double duty as the featured acts in the defensive backfield.
Joseph Randazzo, leads all returning players in tackles, making 39 stops from his linebacker position…He, along with 2016 under the radar players such as Joseph Leone (7 tackles), Robert Baldrian (7 tackles), Isaac Womack (5 stops), and Daniel Dasaro (2 tackles as a freshman) will be a part of the cohort tasked with locking down the run game and trying to generate a pass rush.
Circle September 30th and November 3rd on your calendars; these are the dates of the two match-ups between the Clippers and their archrivals, Cardinal Spellman…History tells us that more times than not, either a berth in the title game or the brass ring itself usually comes down to the winner of this always epic clash.