2023 NYCHSFL AA-1 GOTW #1 Preview

Article by Matt Diano

St. John the Baptist vs. St. Peter’s

When: Saturday September 9, 2023 @1:30pm

Where: St. Peter’s HS (200 Clinton Ave, Staten Island, NY 10301)


Players to Watch (St. John the Baptist)

*Michael Wheat (Sr; QB/DB)—-One of two potential options at the QB1 position for the Cougars, Wheat is such a versatile athlete that there has been talk of him shifting to RB in order to find a way to put the most deserving 11 individuals on the field on offense…Responsible for 1,285 yards and 14 touchdowns during his junior campaign, he connected on 59-of-102 pass attempts for 863 yards (11 touchdowns) and was equally adept at moving the sticks with his legs, finishing 2nd on the team with 422 yards (3 scores) on 58 carries…No matter how he is utilized, he is going to be an integral part of anything that Coach Alba has planned in 2023!!!….An Ironman, expect for Wheat to also start in the defensive backfield, where a season ago, he logged 53 stops and picked off one pass!

*Kevin Pilewski (Sr.; QB)—-The more polished/accurate thrower of the two battling field generals, the 6’3, 190-pounder could not have been any more of a sniper in the action he saw in 2022, as he hit on 26-of-37 tries for 496 yards, with 5 TD tosses….On two separate occasions as a junior, he surpassed the 200+ yards in the air…If afforded the opportunity to run the show full-time in his final year in Red, White, and Black, we foresee amazing achievements….Reports from various outlets said he was slinging the rock all over the field and there was throw that seemed out of his comfort zone!  

*DJ Lisbon (Sr.; WR)—-Calling himself “Megatron” as an homage to former NFL great, Calvin Johnson, Lisbon is blessed with that same impossible to miss frame, as the 6’5 senior’s height alone is a match-up nightmare for defensive backs…An advocate of the “just throw it up and I’ll got it” mentality, as a junior, Lisbon averaged a team-best 20.8 per catch, hauling in 18 grabs for 374 yards (3 touchdowns) while serving as a complement to All-Leaguer, Jayson Zeva!!…Now that he is the primary target, don’t be surprised if you see a 45-50 snatch, 1,000 yard, double-digit 10 resume by the time November rolls around!

*Michael Conza (Sr.; WR)—-Another weapon in the aerial strike, Conza is an incumbent starter whose production should shoot WAY UP in his final season as a Cougar…As an 11th grader, he was credited with 5 receptions for 78 yards.  Those numbers may be a single-day’s effort in 2023!!

*Nicholas Almirez (Sr.; Two-Way Lineman)—-At 6’4, 335 pounds, you are never going to be in danger of overlooking this mountain of a gentleman….The starting LT as a junior for the Cougars, we are assuming it will again be his task to keep upright whichever quarterback happens to be taken the snaps at a given time….Not appearing on the defensive stat sheet in 2022, the bulk he brings to the trenches seems to make him a perfect fit to plug the gut as a DT; so we are hoping/anticipating seeing him inflict pain for every second of the 48-minute duration! 

*Lee Wehbeh (Sr.; Center)—-A brainiac off the field (103 GPA) and a beast on it, the Cougars’ returning starting pivot was identified by the coaching staff as the foundational piece of an OL that a year ago did the dirty work for a balanced attack that chewed up 3,154 yards of production (1,784 passing, 1,408 rushing) while scoring 37 touchdowns (20 on the ground)!

*Luka Skoda (Jr.; LB)—Skoda turned in one of the most impressive performances of any sophomore anywhere on Long Island in 2022, as he fell one tackle short (84) of tying for the team-lead, while simultaneously racking up 6 TFLs, 3 sack, a pair of iNTs, and even a blocked field goal…

*Branden Raines (Sr.; DE)—The “Smoke” on the DL, if you see opposing quarterback on their back, there is a good chance that the senior edge rusher had a hand in making it happen….Credited with half a sack and 4 hurries last fall, he is meaner and more determined than ever in his swan song….Capable of doing more than just harassing the passer, Raines banked 57 stops in 2022 and will be even more unblockable as his role/leadership responsibilities increase!

*Chris King (Sr.; DB)—Arguably the “Face” of the SJB defense, King is the only returning All-Catholic selection that returns to the school in 2023….Earning his respect and admiration behind a 34-tackle/3 interception display as a junior, the shutdown CB will be the one that always draws the top assignment…And considering they have undertaken quite the ambitious schedule against multiple “AAA” programs, he is going to have every chance in the world to confirm the high opinions of the aficionados!

*Joseph Rivera (Jr.; DB)—Adding more speed and skill to the last line of defense will be the young man who earned starting honors a season ago as a sophomore [Rivera]….Amassing 29 stops and intercepting one pass in 2022, if Chris is the King, then Rivera is the prince of the secondary!! 

*Lance Maiberg (Sr.; PK/Punter)—-Receiving a full scholarship offer to play college ball at Long Island University in July, Maiberg was rated by the renowned Kohl’s kicking camp 4.5 star place-kicker and a 4-star punter as an indicator of his prowess as an elite specialist….Gifted with a cannon for a leg, during various camps and/or practice sessions, Maiberg has displayed the strength to hit high-50s, low-60s in terms of FG yardage….He went 25-for-26 on PATs in 2022, while producing 11 touchbacks on his kickoffs!!…

Players to Watch (St. Peter’s Boys)

*Marco Aruta (Jr.; QB/RB)—Named as the recipient of the team’s Offensive MVP as a sophomore, in an article published by SILive, Aruta was described as a “Do Everything”/Swiss Army Knife type performer who could/would rotate between field general duties and tailback obligation depending on the specific package being run…In the Eagles’ convincing win during week #0 over St. Joe’s the Sea, the 11th grader got to chance to give us a glimpse of his entire repertoire, as he’d strike for two touchdowns on the ground as part of a 6-carry/91-yard afternoon, while also completing 5-of-7 throw attempts, highlighted by one more TD-producing play!!

*Jeremiah Williams (Jr.; RB)—Receiving the first NYCHSFL POW honors his scholastic career during the aforementioned victory over the host Vikings last weekend, you never would have guessed that the 6’1, 155-pounder was a conversion project, as he made the switch from defensive back to tailback with such flawless ease that he exploded for 164 yards and two touchdowns on just 17 handoffs (9.6/per)….If century mark+ appearances are going to become the normal for the #6 jersey, than St. Peter’s is going to shatter their preseason expectations!

*Matt Sweeney (Sr.; TE/OLB)—A jack of trades that will not be coming off the gridiron often, if ever at all, Sweeney could emerge as the preferred target among the WR corps.  His 18-yard TD reception to commence the season was the longest pitch-and-catch exchange of the afternoon and there is no doubt that he and Aruta have a great working relationship….Defensively, the 6’1, 190-pound senior returns for yet another year as hybrid linebacker!

*Frank Langello (Sr.; Two-Way Lineman)—Entering his third season as a starting OL, Langello was lauded by the coaching staff for his ability to control both sides of the line of scrimmage…On offense, he is a road grader from his spot at RG….Flipping the script to “D”, the 250-pounder will not only plug the middle and halt the run; he is nimble enough to also put severe pressure on opposing QBs as a pass rusher!

*Joseph Laureano (Sr.; TE/DE)—Another “48-minute man”, Laureano’s 240-pound frame is ideal to serve as a traditional blocking tight end who occasionally can leak out and make you pay if you forget about him as a pass catcher…He is also slated to start once against along the DL, as the 3.5 student spent much of his summer attending top notch “big man” camps and will be a force on the edge!

*Gabriel Hoffler (Sr.; Two-Way Lineman)—-Capable of being plugged into any one of the five OL spots, Hoffler is beginning the season at LT….Like a magnet to the ball on defense, when viewing the 280-pounder’s tape, we could not help but applaud how quickly he recognizes the play and jumps into action.  If you are the opponent, you best be mindful of the pressure this kid is going to bring regularly up the gut….The owner of a 3.7 GPA in the classroom, he has attracted some interest from the Ivy League (namely Columbia)!

*Logan Kielty (Jr.; OL)—-Despite being the youngest member of the OL, the coaching staff gave the 240-pound 11th grader the ultimate compliment when they hailed him as the “unquestioned leader” of the unit….If Kielty is the alpha, he has a darn good reason to be walking on air at this moment, as the OL that he anchors did more than their fair share in facilitating a 357-yard offensive detonation during week #0….

*Eddie Rethorn (Jr.; DB)—Admittedly not an individual that we expected to see play a game-altering role, the junior DB sure has us paying attention now, as he had a hand in creating and/or culminating two different turnovers, as he had an interception in one regard and the awareness to dive onto a loose ball (fumble recovery) in another!!

*Joe Jakubauskas (Sr.; LB)—Cited in the 2022 NYCHSFL preview as an “up-and-comer” whose family name makes him a watched man among the Eagle faithful, potential/promise has been replaced with resume and achievement as he has gone from prospect to known commodity! 

*Brody Turnbull (Jr.; OL)—-Last, but by no means least is the returning Defensive MVP [Turnbull] who has the power to hit/tackle like a truck and the overall athleticism to roam like a cheetah….The centerfielder and kingpin of the defensive backfield, what he may lack in prototypical size (5’10, 160), he replaces with tenacity, heart, and will to thrive!! 



A great early season collision that will distinguish the contenders from the pretenders, every word uttered during the offseason about the SJB cougars suggested that this roster has the top to bottom talent to make a serious run at the AA-1 ship next month….Picked to finish 3rd in the polls, because they did not have a week #0 game, this weekend will be the first opportunity in which the fans/critics will get to see if the hype train is more than just lip service!!!  

Privileged to have not just one, but two capable quarterbacks—Michael Wheat & Kevin Pilewski (combined 1,355 yards and 16 TDs passing) that will give Coach Alba flexibility in his play-calling and line-up adjustments, the way we see it, if the latter [Wheat] switches to full-time RB duties, it just means that a perceived hole/question mark becomes an instant strength!!

6’5 WR, DJ Lisbon, as well as fellow returning starter, Michael Conza, both present excellent targets for whomever is throwing the passes as the degree to which Lisbon uses his size to torment opposing DBs is immense….

A fortified and experienced OL that boasts the likes of Lee Wehbeh (C) and Nicholas Almirez, among its plethora of battle-tested big daddies will be the unsung heroes….

The scary part is that John the Baptist is probably even better on the defensive side of the line of the scrimmage thanks to star-power at all three levels!!!

Branden Raines is the focal point of the DL; Luka Skoda is a wrecking ball among the LBs; and the secondary is where the team especially excels thanks to the leadership/talents of Wheat, 2022 All-Catholic pick, Chris King, and Joseph Rivera, who as a three-headed monster, collected 116 stops and intercepted 5 passes!!

On the opposing sideline will be an [Mark] DeCristoforo mentored set of brothers that have already caused the Metro Catholic football world to open their eyes and put respect on the name of St. Peter’s!!

A team of “Davids” (picked to finish last) that made a statement when they slayed a Goliath [preseason #4 seed, St. Joe’s by the Sea], we are curious to see what is being cooked up and smells so sweet on Clinton Avenue!!

Powered by a mighty offensive line that brought back 4/5s of its muscle from a season ago— Frank Langello, Logan Kielty, Gabriel Hoffler, & James Howard, anything/everything is on the table if they are going to routinely open up holes that enable the likes of dual-threat QB, Marco Aruta (91 yards last week), and junior TB, Jeremiah Williams (164 yards) to each go off for multiple TD efforts week after week!!!

And much like their week #1 oppositions [SJB], we tend to think that despite racking up 357 yards and scoring on command to open up the season, the veritas of the program’s true strength will be on defense where many of the men already acknowledged will unite with Brody Turnbull, Matt Sweeney, Joe Jakubauskas, Eddie Rethorn, etc., to suffocate the majority of teams they play this season…

Simply put, this is a “machismo” contest….One team has been told they are potential royalty and need to confirm it; the other has a chip on their shoulder and wants to continue to dish out crow to those that gave them up for dead!!….In either case, motivation is not going to be an issue!!!