A detailed look at local teams before football season kicks off.
Last year, we had a champion, a runner-up and a bunch of playoff teams.
This year, high school football in our area could be even better.
Northeast, which won its class in the Public League in each of the past two seasons, comes into the season as the clear-cut favorite to win the Public League 6A championship, but the Vikings are not the only team with championship aspirations. Frankford looks to be improved, as do George Washington and Fels. Lincoln has some big shoes to fill, but the Railsplitters, too, should contend in the Public League.
The Catholic League squads have high hopes, too. Archbishop Ryan eyes a return to the Catholic League 5A championship and perhaps even more, while Father Judge is looking to make some noise in the competitive 6A field.
Here is a detailed look at the local teams:
PHILADELPHIA CATHOLIC LEAGUE
The Raiders are always one of the top teams in their class, but the problem is always Archbishop Wood. Ryan has fallen victim to the Vikings in the Catholic League championship game for four straight years. And in each of those seasons, the Vikings were among the top teams in the state.
Once again, the Raiders should supply the Vikings with their toughest test and the hope is a talented senior class can help Ryan get over the hump.
Quarterback Jahlil Sanders should provide a huge spark. Last year, despite not beginning the season as the starter, he led the Raiders in passing and rushing. With a year of seasoning under his belt, he should be ready for a big year.
He’ll have help in receivers Kyron Long and Justin Collier, who are both also defensive backs, athlete Tyreek Chappel and running back Julian Jones.
On defense, Ryan will be led by linebacker Colin Boyd and defensive end John O’Brien, who will also anchor the offensive line.
While Ryan does have some questions to answer up front, the talent is there for a special season.
“We return a bunch of good players,” said coach Frank McArdle. “We need to stay healthy and have a few linemen step up. If that happens, we should have a very good year.”
The Crusaders lost eight games a season ago, but that record is deceptive. Two of their setbacks were in overtime and four others were to top teams, including two setbacks to St. Joe’s Prep, as well as losses to La Salle and Archbishop Wood.
For the second straight season, Shane Dooley will lead the offense. Last year, he threw for 18 touchdowns, and Katob Joseph, who caught four of those scoring strikes, also returns. Joseph was a solid player last year, earning All-Catholic honors on both sides of the ball.
Other weapons returning are receiver Dan Foy, athletes Kevin Kelly, Shane McGovern and Daryl Tripline. Also providing a spark will be Dameir Johnson, who will play running back.
Judge will also have a solid offensive line, led by Mike Waring, Justin Martinez, Liam Mulgrave and Mike Trask. Joe Varhula, who plays basketball, will also see time on the line.
Defensively, Judge will lean on linebacker Dennis Cranston, as well as the guys starting on offense.
Depth could be a problem, but that’s an issue most teams face. Other than that, the Crusaders seem poised for a big step. Having an experienced offensive line to help Dooley and company will make a huge difference.
“I’m optimistic, we have good leadership and the kids are going out to compete,” coach Mike McKay said. “We need to go out, compete, keep getting better and stay healthy. It’s a tough league, you just have to get better to compete.”
PHILADELPHIA PUBLIC LEAGUE
The Railsplitters rode all-everything running back Sammy Karr to a playoff appearance and five victories last year, but on top of losing him to graduation, 21 other Lincoln seniors also graduated. Replacing that many players will be a tall task, but the Railsplitters have shown improvement every year, so there’s still some room for optimism.
It helps to have playmakers like Dieumaitre Devine, a receiver, and Travell Hall, a running back, on the roster. They’ll help quarterback Sharif Johnson. Lincoln should also be fine up front with a line that includes DuPont Holman, Leonard Brooks and Christian Rivera. Those three will also anchor the defensive line. Another big guy will be tight end Raheem Green.
All of the above players will also play defense, so depth is a bit of a concern, but coach Ed McGettigan always seems to have players step up as the season goes on.
If the Railsplitters hope to contend, that will have to happen once again.
“After losing 22 seniors to graduation, we will be very young on both sides of the ball,” McGettigan said. “We will need to rely heavily on our players with varsity experience as we rebuild. We are happy with the talent level and determination so far in workouts.”
The Pioneers come into the season with a new coach in Bill Sytsma and a new outlook thanks to a huge turnout at tryouts. Frankford has more than 40 players on its roster, which has made practice much easier.
It also helps that the Pioneers have talent, and their best player might be Jordan Price, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season. Frankford also has a pair of talented quarterbacks in Ryan Milburne and returning starter Roberto Falu, who probably won’t return from an injury until the third game of the season. Whoever is throwing the ball, they’ll certainly look for explosive athlete Nahjir Fletcher.
Frankford always has strong lines, and this year the Pioneers will be led by massive tackle Danny Williams, freshman guard Jake Jordan and tight end Jiair Ballard-West.
The Pioneers return a strong defense that will be led by defensive backs Bryan Wiliams, Raheem White and Omar Darb.
Corlis Cruz and Damir Swain will anchor the linebacking corps, and All-Public defensive tackle Marcus Henderson returns to the line.
The Pioneers were upset in the second round of the Public League playoffs a season ago, and they don’t want a repeat of that.
“We have good numbers and a great attitude,” Sytsma said. “They do whatever we ask. We play a tough schedule, so we’ll have to start strong and get better every game. The work ethic is there.”
Ever since Ron Cohen retired following the 2014 season, the Eagles have struggled to get back to their winning ways. Last year was a huge improvement, though, as Washington won three games. That’s not enough for coach Stephen “Kyle” Benzio, so he has his troops working hard.
The Eagles will have to replace talented quarterback Cameron Gontek, and they have two players ready to step in with Tyree Sheard and George Lewis competing of the job. Whoever doesn’t get the job will play wideout, adding to a talented group of pass catchers. Also seeing time at wideout will be Donald Cole and Shamar Kelly, both of whom will play big roles on defense. Elijah Thomas and Kaseem Brown will play running back and also defensive back.
Quammer Knight will anchor both lines. On offense, he’ll play tight end, and on defense, he’ll man defensive end. Other big guys include Arnold White and Joe Press.
Starting linebackers figure to be Cedric Taylor and Chris Graham.
The way Benzio sees it, last year’s improvement should continue.
“(Washington) should be back to its winning ways this year after a couple of rebuilding years,” Benzio said. “The challenge will be to replace Cameron Gontek, who threw for over 2,000 yards last year, but I feel confident that Tyree Sheard and George Lewis will be up to the task. With this veteran group, Washington should post its first winning season since 2012.”
For the past few years, Northeast has been one of the best Public League football programs, and each year, the Vikings make progress. Two years ago, when they met St. Joe’s Prep in the city championship game, the Hawks frolicked to victory. Last year, the Vikings gave Prep a tough game before falling.
This year, Northeast hopes it has enough to take another step, and because of that, the Vikings loaded up with a tougher non-league schedule. Couple that with a challenging Public League slate, and Phil Gormley believes his troops will be seasoned veterans when the postseason rolls around.
As always, Northeast will depend upon a strong running game and a great defense to make things happen. The defense will be led by linebacker Marlon White and safeties Ubayd Steed and Tyreece Mills. The Vikings also will look to defensive end Omar Speights, who is one of the most highly touted players in this year’s senior class in Southeastern Pennsylvania and headed to Oregon State, to keep the Vikings defense among the stingiest in the city.
Offensively, Northeast will rely on dual-threat quarterback Charles Britt and fullback Ivan Green to move the ball. And they’ll have help in the form of linemen Vince Beverly, Dore’ Gilyard and Jameel Coles.
Northeast has proven to be a Public League powerhouse, but this year it might have enough to take it to the next level.
“Our schedule is very competitive but if we can stay healthy we again expect to compete for a city title,” Gormley said.
Despite playing hard all year, the Panthers failed to win a game last year. It will be tough to improve a lot over that this year, with very few returning players.
Two guys who hope to contribute right from the start are Blessing Harris, who could line up anywhere on offense and play defensive back on defense, and two-way lineman Ramon Bing, who will be the team’s most productive blocker while causing havoc on defense.
Bill Harrigan has had some successful seasons at Fels, but this year he’ll need improvement early to have a chance at competing in the Public League.
“(We have) a small group of returning players for the 2018 season,” Harrigan said. ”We have an inexperienced but hard-working group for this upcoming season. I hope to see continued progress throughout the season.” ••