By the time the season ended, everyone knew this was a special one.
But Kyron Long knew it from the start.
Long is a senior do-everything on the Archbishop Ryan High School football team, meaning he plays defense, plays offense and is on the field for just about every special teams unit. And when he and his teammates were walking off the field a year ago, he knew that something special was brewing. But he also knew it would take a lot of offseason preparation to get things to where they needed to be.
They did that and then some.
“We had a great team coming back, but you can only do so much with talent,” Long said. “We went right in knowing that we had to work to be good. And we grew. We weren’t just like a team, I don’t look at these guys like we’re a team, we’re a family. We are there for each other. We all played for each other and wanted to win for each other.”
All season, they did just that and it ended with a 35-6 victory over George Washington on Thanksgiving morning in a game played on a frozen field that limited both teams’ ability to get things going on offense, at least for the first half that ended with the Raiders clinging to a 7-0 advantage.
“Coach talked to us, that got us ready to play in the second half,” Long said. “This year was such a great one, and we came back and played the way we’re capable of.”
Quarterback Jahlil Sanders led the way for Ryan, throwing for three touchdowns and rushing for 107 yards. Two of Sanders’ scoring strikes went to wideout Justin Collier. Colin Boyd, who typically leads the defense, started at running back and went for 109 yards and a touchdown.
Long caught two passes for 51 yards, but throwing was tough because of the conditions. He also did his thing on defense, keeping the Eagles from hitting any big plays.
That’s the same thing he’s been doing all season, just going out, making plays and having fun.
“I think I like defense better, but this team has been great on offense all year, “said Long, who helped Ryan set a record for points in a season with 355. “I like defense. Moving the ball is fun and we have a lot of guys who can do that, but I find it more fun playing defense. But I like them both.”
Long also likes his other role.
When he first made the varsity team as a sophomore, the Somerton resident learned a lot from the seniors on that team. He already knew how to run, tackle and catch, but he didn’t know exactly how to be the spark plug that teams need if they plan on winning. He watched, learned and for the past two years, he was just that.
“We had good teams, but we also had a lot of guys who helped us, get us ready, get us prepared for the big games,” Long said. “I wanted to be that guy as I got older so I watched and I do what they did.”
This year, Long was the perfect leader for a team that had big plans coming in and according to their coach, they achieved those goals.
“This was a very good year for us, and we have a really good group of seniors who helped us every way,” Ryan coach Frank McArdle said. “And we have a lot of good football players who are coming back, and this senior class helped start that.
“Kyron is one of those guys, he does everything for us. Offense, defense, returns kicks, and he’s a great leader. He’s been that kind of kid since he got here. It’s really a special group, and they had a great year.”
The Raiders finished 8-4 on the year, and their four losses came against the top teams in the area. They lost once to St. Joe’s Prep, once to La Salle and twice to Archbishop Wood, including a heartbreaker in the Catholic League 5A championship.
The loss hurt, but it didn’t take the shine off what was a great season, capped off by a win on the final game of the year.
“We wanted this one because we knew it was a chance for us to play together one more time,” said Long, who is looking at West Chester, among other schools. “It’s our last time together.
“This year was special. The whole year. I don’t think a lot of people thought we were going to be as good as we ended up being, but we all knew. I knew. We had everything we needed and we knew that if we worked, we could do it.
“This team is going to be good next year, too. They have some great players. I think they’re going to be good for a long time.”