Lots of change for local football teams

Archbishop Ryan senior Justin Collier breaks up a pass during his team’s win over Washington on Thanksgiving. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

For some, it will be completely different.

For others, it will be more of the same.

Football season kicks off this weekend, and the local teams in the Catholic League will look very different this year, as both teams come into the season with new coaches.

In the Public League, expect more of the same. Only one of our five schools has a new coach, and all four of the other teams come in with higher expectations.

Northeast High School is no longer satisfied with winning Public League championships, its goal is to be the best in the state. Frankford didn’t have a great year last year, but it’s primed for a rebound, and Lincoln, Washington and Fels all have high hopes as the season is set to kick off.

Here is a look at the local teams’ prospects.

Catholic League

Archbishop Ryan

The Raiders have a new coach in Chris Lampart, and he takes over a program that had eight wins a season ago and advanced to the 5A Catholic League championship. Ryan gave Wood a scare before falling in the title game, but many players gained valuable experience in that one and they’ll return looking for more improvement.

It helps to have a strong group of seniors, including a tough line. Ryan should be strong up front with Tom Lugham and Chris Brown starring on both lines. They’ll protect quarterback Cole Lowe. He’ll have options in the passing game with Dillon Shaminow and Justin Collier playing receiver, while running backs include Nathan Kennish and Julian Jones.

Many of the players will have to play on both sides of the ball, but the effort and intensity is there thus far.

“The strength of this team is its senior leadership,” Lampart said. “They are a great group of student-athletes. They conduct themselves in the right way, from the weight room to the halls to the practice field. These guys are very important to the foundation we are trying to build here.

“We are looking to get better every week so that by the end of the year we are playing at our optimum level.”

Lampart is also happy to see many of his players involved in many sports.

“We have basketball players, baseball players, wrestlers,” Lampart said. “At Ryan, if you want to play more than one sport, we encourage that. It’s great for kids to be able to play other sports, it’s something we love to see here.”

Father Judge

The Crusaders have a new look this year, as former Ryan coach Frank McArdle takes over his former rival. And he believes there are good things ahead for his team.

Last year, Judge finished 3-8 and was once again eliminated in the first round of the brutally tough Catholic League 6A playoffs. For that to change this year, the team will have to lean on its veterans.

Dan Foy, a wideout and defensive back, is one of those leaders. As are Shane McGovern and Kevin Kelly, also wideouts and defensive backs. Damier Johnson will see time at running back and d-back.

Other skilled players are Matt Comas, a wide receiver and tight end; Calvin Zumee, a wideout and defensive back; and Aidan Dooley and Mike Van Horne, who will both play quarterback and defensive back. Nasir Baskerville will also see some work at running back.

The Crusaders have a pair of veteran linemen in Liam Mulgrave and Mike Waring, who will anchor the lines, with help from Zack Bayer and Jake Mulgrave. Other defensive stalwarts include linebacker Dennis Cranston; linebacker/safety Jared Noel, who could also see time at receiver; and defensive end Pat McShea, who will chip in at tight end.

A new program may take some time to adjust, but the coach believes he has a good group to work with.

“We have awesome kids in this program,” McArdle said. “We have a bunch of guys who have played a lot of football here. We should be pretty good up front. We have gotten a lot stronger from when we started to where we are now.

“The kids have done a great job with the change. They have bought in and worked really hard. I think we will improve every week. We have to continue to mature and learn how to win.”

Public League

Abraham Lincoln

For just the second time since 1989, the Railsplitters won a playoff game. They advanced to the semifinals, where they fell to powerhouse Northeast, ending their season. Still, seven wins against tough competition was a good year, and this year they are now being led by Hakeem Cooper, who starred for Lincoln before graduating 10 years ago.

He’ll have some good hitters with Travell Hall lining up at middle linebacker. Other tough guys will be defensive linemen Leonard Brooks and Jaheim Hudgens.

Offensively, Lincoln will be led by athletes Asad Rahman, Daniel Gardee and Ishmeal Holliday. And starring at running back will be Nyseem Fergurson and Rashem Woody.

Cooper is ready to go, and so is his team. It will be a tough schedule, but he’s hoping for yet another good year.

“(We have an) experienced defensive line and MLB, and also playmaking abilities from some of the returning receivers,” Cooper said. “We are looking to be more explosive when we have the ball. On defense, we are aiming to be more aggressive, while creating turnovers, while also improving with our tackling.”

Frankford

Last year was a rare losing season for the Pioneers, but they entered the season with very little experience and they got better every game. They finished with just two wins under Bill Sytsma, but the team has been hard at work since last year ended and big things are expected this year.

The Pioneers return a talented defense that includes linebackers Nasir Murphy, Alex Rodriguez and Jahaam Mungen. Damir Swain will start on the defensive line.

On offense, the Pioneers will be led by wide receiver Kaseem Perry, running back Nahjir Fletcher and offensive linemen James Carroll and Jake Jordan.

Sytsma has been hard at work, helping his players on and off the field, and he expects a lot of improvement from his squad.

“We return some key starters, including four three-year-starters on defense,” Sytsma said. “The experience on defense this year should help us in league play.

“We have had a good offseason with commitment from our returning players, couple that with a talented JV group last year that only lost one game. We should compete for the Public League 5A championship.”

George Washington

The Eagles were once the top team in the Public League and among the city’s elite. It went wrong a few years ago, and three years ago the team finished without a win. After that, coach Stephen “Kyle” Benzio took over and every year they’ve gotten better, including last year, when the Eagles won eight games.

The hope is they can continue to take steps in the right direction and return the Eagles to the elite level they once were.

The Eagles have a strong line coming back with Jarrett Bush, Randy Josear, Erie Beh, Paul McCurdy and Khalil Maaf.

They’ll block for running backs Husayn Bonaparte, Travis Crosby, Jahmir Sillman and Daeshaunn Young, and freshman quarterback Kyle Schumann.

The Eagles will have some playmakers at receiver with Hassan Bonaparte, Eric Riveria and John Goanue. And kicker Oldkeaner Petit-Bois will also punt and play defensive back.

Last year was better, and Benzio hopes this year is another step in the right direction.

“In my first year as head coach, I drilled into my players what it takes to be a great teammate,” Benzio said. “The foundation of this program is built on the quality of each player’s character.

“I am so proud of how far this program has come in the past two years. We will reload and be right back at it, looking to improve on last year’s success.”

Northeast

The Vikings have won three straight Public League 6A championships. But they’ve yet to get past the city championship because in each of the seasons, they ran into St. Joe’s Prep.

The Vikings have hung tough against the Hawks, but haven’t been able to figure them out. This year, they’ll likely get another chance, and while the Hawks are improved, so is Northeast. In fact, this year’s team has been offered in excess of $44 million in scholarships, and as it stands, it has 13 players with Division I offers. Their size, speed and athleticism should give every team a challenge, including the best teams in the city.

Their top player is Elijah Jeudy, a defensive end who also played well at tight end last year. He’ll play across from Kenny Talley, another talented defensive end, and Amara Yobouet will line up at tackle. The Vikings also return some talented defensive backs, led by Tyreek Chappell, who last year was a star at Archbishop Ryan.

While the defense has stars, the offense should be better this year, too.

Will Donovan will start at running back, with Jon Luke Peaker seeing some carries, Shuayb Brinkley chipping in at all skill positions and Markell Gray playing wide receiver. The top blockers will be linemen Shamir Roache and Jacob Dunfee and tight end Marcus Fequiere.

Northeast has plenty of talent, and should once again dominate the Public League 6A bracket. But the goal is to knock off the Hawks.

“Our defensive line is our strength,” coach Phil Gormley said. “We have a very fast and athletic defensive line who know how to hunt and get after people.

”We plan on taking one game at a time and concentrate on the little things. By doing this, we expect to play late after the season.”

Samuel Fels

The Panthers posted their second straight season without a win last year (0-8, 0-8). The team was dealt several lopsided losses, but also had a couple of close games, including  a 12-6 loss to Edison and an 18-6 loss to Dobbins.

The past two years haven’t been easy on head coach Bill Harrigan, who had to deal with lots of turnover on his team. And, of course, it’s no fun for the kids who are giving all they have in hopes of being competitive.

But this is a new season, a fresh start, and there’s more than a hint of excitement building around the season. This season, the Panthers have more returning players than in recent memory, which means players who have experienced a full season of high school football, and who understand the commitment and hard work needed to succeed.

Senior John Bing is a returning player whom Harrigan sees as a team leader. Bing will start at quarterback and also play linebacker. Harrigan also sees a big season ahead for senior Dekontee Kofa. Kofa is a gifted athlete who has excelled in track. He brings quickness and bursts of speed to the running back and linebacker positions.

For the first time in several years, the Panthers aren’t rebuilding, but rather building on what they accomplished last season.

“I believe the strength of this team will be its large number of returning players with game experience,” said Harrigan. “This year, we could bounce back if we have a team of guys prepared to work hard each day from the first day of practice onward.”