At no time did Matt Lombardi have any doubts.
The junior tackle on the St. Joe’s Prep High School football team knew from when last year ended in disappointing fashion that his team was the best in the state and he was very confident his team would get back to the top of the mountain.
That confidence wasn’t shaken a bit when the Hawks’ state championship game didn’t start the way it wanted to.
In Hershey, the Hawks’ potent offense turned the ball over on two of its first three plays. On one of those turnovers, Harrisburg took an interception back for a touchdown, putting Prep in an early deficit.
Never a doubt.
“The defense picked us up and we knew that we were going to be OK,” Lombardi said. “We just wanted to get back out.”
The offense did get back out, and the defense continued to do its part.
The end result was a 40-20 victory for the Hawks over Harrisburg in the 6A state championship game in Hershey. It was the fourth time in the past six years the Hawks ended the season as the top big school in the state.
“I don’t think there was a better feeling in the world,” said Lombardi, who lives in Bustleton and attended St. Albert the Great grade school. “There really is no feeling like it. I don’t feel like it’s really hit me yet. We never had a doubt, we knew what we were working for when we started, even last January when we started working for this. But to do it, it just is such an amazing feeling.”
Lombardi knew there are high expectations when playing for one of the top football teams in the nation. Prior to making a run in the state playoffs and running roughshod through the Catholic League Red Division schedule, the Hawks played a schedule that included some of the best teams in the nation.
After having its opener against St. Frances (Maryland) called in the third quarter because of lightning, Prep went on to knock off St. Peter’s Prep, of North Jersey, and Our Lady of Good Counsel, of Maryland, before turning its attention to Catholic League foes.
Overall, Prep finished 13-0 and outscored foes 568 to 192.
Lombardi realized he was going to be starting on the offensive line shortly after last season ended, and it was made official during the summer. Making the varsity team is a huge accomplishment for a high school football player, but it means even more when you’re a starter on one of the best teams in the nation.
“I was really happy, I worked for it, but I knew it’s a big responsibility,” Lombardi said. “It’s an honor to play here, and there isn’t a better team I’d want to play for..
“I felt like it was my time to become a starter, and I worked really hard to get it. I knew it was my time to step up and be part of the team. It meant I had to work hard during the offseason. I knew I had a chance all year, and I found out in June or July that I was going to be a starter. That made me work even harder.”
Lombardi has the perfect size to be a dominant offensive lineman. He checks in at 6 foot 7 and weighs about 275 pounds. His size is ideal for helping the Hawks’ passing game, but on Saturday, when the team decided to grind out the last quarter and impose its will on Harrisburg, Lombardi enjoyed paving the way.
“As an offensive lineman, there’s nothing better than running the ball,” Lombardi said. “We did pass a lot and I love pass blocking, especially for a great quarterback like (Kyle McCord, a sophomore), but when we started running the ball, and we knew that if we did that, we could win, we wanted to do it.”
The Hawks were the only Philly-league team to bring home a state championship this year. Imhotep Charter made the title game, but came up empty. And no other Catholic League team advanced to Hershey this year. But according to Lombardi, other Red Division teams had a hand in bringing the trophy to Philly.
“The Catholic League really gets you ready, especially playing teams like Wood and La Salle,” Lombardi said. “All the teams are good. Those games are tough, just like our other games. The league isn’t easy.”
Lombardi won’t be taking it easy now that he has felt the joy of bringing home a state crown.
The biggest thing he wants is a repeat. Another thing he wants is to play college football, and so far, he’s been on the radar of a lot of teams. Princeton and West Virginia are among schools that have reached out, and Syracuse has shown the most interest, and he liked what he’s seen from the school.
“I took an unofficial visit there, and it was great,” Lombardi said. “I just want to keep getting better and see what happens. I’m focused on Prep, I love it here. I love everything about it. I wish I could play two or three more years here. I love playing with this team, they are my brothers.”
Football looks to be a huge part of Lombardi’s future, but if that doesn’t work out, he could turn to politics. At Prep, he’s a member of the Young Republicans and next year he hopes to be the group’s president.
He doesn’t have a campaign just yet, but he says he’s not running on the platform of Making Prep Football Great Again.
“I can’t do that, we’re great,” Lombardi said with a laugh. “It’s never not been great.”
After this season, you can’t call that fake news.