Washington seniors helped get team back on track

The Eagles are back among the top teams in the Public League.

Washington coach Steve “Kyle” Benzio gives his team a pep talk after a loss to Boys Latin. JOE MASON / TIMES PHOTO

Even when times were rough, Quameer Knight and Arnold White were right where they wanted to be.

Now seniors on the George Washington High School football team, the pair started their journey on the varsity football team when they were sophomores. And while they were having fun because they were playing the game they loved, it wasn’t easy.

The reason things were so rough was that the once-proud program had fallen on hard times. That year was probably the low point for the program. It finished 0–12 and most of their losses were lopsided. They weren’t a play or two away from being .500, they were a program that others look past because quite frankly, they weren’t that good.

But it wasn’t lack of talent and it certainly wasn’t lack of effort. The biggest problem the Eagles faced were most of the players were young and inexperienced. That’s not a recipe for success.

They didn’t like losing, but never once did they think about quitting.

“We just wanted to get better,” said White, a two-way lineman from East Oak Lane. “We wanted to grow. We were working hard, we were just so much smaller than a lot of teams. We couldn’t beat them.”

That was then.

Now, it’s a whole new ballgame.

The Eagles are back among the top teams in the Public League. They started the season off 6–0 and on Thursday night, suffered their first loss of the season, a 14–6 loss to Boys Latin. The first half was played during a downpour and in the second half, Boys Latin scored the only touchdown and was successful on the two-point conversion.

It was a disappointing loss, but one that coach Steve “Kyle” Benzio could be proud of.

“This year has been a product of all the hard work these guys have done, and I’d like to think I had something to do with it,” said Benzio, who was an assistant two years ago before becoming interim head coach last year and being officially named the head coach before this year. “Tonight was a great game. They made a great play, but we played well. It was hard hitting, it was just a great game.”

Benzio likes everything he’s seen from the team since camp opened. In fact, he was proud of them two years ago when they were losing.

“I think last year we were a few plays away from being a good team,” Benzio said. “But this year, we’re making those plays. We’ve come such a long way.

“And it’s more than just football. We’re such a close family. We have a lost and found in the locker room, we don’t have to worry about kids stealing anything. They are a family and they love playing together.”

They love to see each other succeed, too.

“We all want the same thing and we don’t care how we do it, we just want to win,” said tight end and linebacker Knight, who lives in West Oak Lane. “We just want to win. We’re playing together as a team because we lost a lot of games together. Now it’s fun to win those games together.”

Washington hasn’t been just winning games this year. En route to their 6–0 start, they outscored opponents 176–42. They were handling good teams and beating the teams they should beat based on talent.

Things have changed a lot at Washington.

“I think on opening day when we went to West Philadelphia and beat a very good football team at their turf, we showed what we could do,” Benzio said. “We knew coming in that we put in a lot of work, so we thought it would be a good year, but then when you start playing, you see it. This is a good football team and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

The Eagles have more tough tests coming up.

This week they meet Abraham Lincoln and after that it’s a matchup with Mastbaum. Then it’s off to the playoffs where the Eagles will look to earn their first postseason win since 2014 when they advanced to the Public League semifinals.

“We aren’t happy with where we are,” White said. “We are doing good, but we can do better. We want this to be a memorable year.”

“We always want to be better,” Knight said. “We want to be better every week. We want to win games like this. Tough games will help us get better.”

And tough players will help the Eagles continue to soar.

Benzio is happy about the success this team has enjoyed because of the work they put in. He also believes that the work this team put in will pay off going forward.

“We’re back,” Benzio said. “This team set the tone, but I think it’s going to carry on. You want to have a good team, and everyone is learning to play and learning to win. This season will only help us.”