Football season looks to be back to normal

It’s a snap: Judge center Braedon Hart is ranked No. 9 in his senior class. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

It looks like we’re back!

After a year of some teams playing in the spring, some teams playing in the fall, and some teams not playing at all, it looks like the 2021 football season is going to be a typical one. And we mean that in many ways.

In the Catholic League, Archbishop Ryan High School has the potential to make some noise in the Blue Division. Father Judge also has a solid team, but its schedule makes it so tough to win. The Crusaders are one of the few teams that could have a losing record and still be a top team in the area because of its crazy competition.

In the Public League, expect a good one. Northeast has as much talent as anyone in the area, Washington, Lincoln and Frankford are all improved and have high hopes, and Fels has been working hard and should be a much better team.

Here is a look at the local teams.

Catholic League

Blue Division

Archbishop Ryan

Last year was a forgettable one for the Raiders, but it served a purpose. The young team gained a lot of experience and came into this year ready to make a move under the tutelage of second-year coach Bill Murphy.

He’ll turn to Rob McConnell at quarterback. Last year, he suffered a knee injury early in the season and never really got started. He’ll be protected by an experienced line that includes Imani Bell, Angel Cardona, David Obasi and tight ends McDermott Murphy and Eric Stephenson. All of the linemen and ends will also see time on defense.

The skilled guys include running backs Arturo Brunelli, Matt Malley and Mike Gozzi, and receivers Joe Mastrangelo and Sean Roemhild.

Murphy is confident the team will be better this year after a winless 2020. The question is how much better. He is happy with his lines, leadership and versatility.

“I feel like we are ahead of schedule on our rebuild,” Murphy said. “We have a lot to look forward to in 2021 and beyond. We will be a completely different team with a completely different attitude.”

Catholic League Red Division

Father Judge

The Crusaders looked strong in the spring, winning four of six games, and they did so while playing a lot of young guys, including a handful of freshmen.

Those guys will be better this year, and Judge has the potential to be a very good football team. The problem is the Crusaders play in the Red Division, and every week during the regular season, they’ll see a very good football team. But they should be ready when the season starts.

The Crusaders come into the season with two capable quarterbacks in Mike VanHorn and Justin Nikolopoulos, who will also play defensive back. They’ll work in a backfield that will include running backs Billy Whiteley and Eric Smith, both who will see time at linebacker and defensive back, and Jacob Marquis, also a defensive back. And they’ll look for receivers Jordan Rhinehart, Nymeir Appling and Joe Murphy.

The Crusaders always have good lines, and this year should be no different. Braedon Hart and Jake Mulgrave will anchor the line this year, while Mike Conway will play tight end. Hart will also play defensive line with Zach Bayer also contributing. 

And the Crusaders come into the season with one of the best kickers in the area in John Westfield.

The young Crusaders should continue taking steps in the right direction.

“This group has worked hard, we played really hard in the spring and we are looking to take another step forward,” coach Frank McArdle said. “We have a good mix of seniors who have played a lot of football for us and talented young guys.”

Public League

Frankford

Former Pioneer star Damon Brockington takes over the program after working as an assistant last year and he’s happy with what he’s seen thus far.

The Pioneers graduated five seniors last year, so the bulk of the team that went 2-3 in a tough schedule return to the mix.

Anthony Torres became the starting quarterback last year and he returns as a junior. The experience he gained will certainly help the Pioneers. He’ll work with tight end Jameer Johnson, wide receiver Christino “Jay” Rivera and running back Nadir Mitchell. Quintin Hill will be the main man on the offensive and defensive line.

Other up-and-coming players Brockington has been happy with are Kelly Battis (safety), David Nguyen (center), Anglo Hernandez (safety) and Abdullah Kamagate (kicker, defensive back).

Brockington can’t wait to get started.

“We had 42 players on the roster last year minus five that graduated with everyone else returning,” Brockington said. “I think people will be surprised. We’re working really hard.”

George Washington

The Eagles have been quietly improving every year and, in the spring, won three of their four games. The goal is to build off of that, and with a strong nucleus returning, that’s a distinct possibility.

The team will be led by two-way linemen Mark “Junior” White, Isaiah “XL” Thomas and Colin Giel. Tight end Jacob Hull, also a linebacker, will be one of the leaders of the team.

At receiver, the Eagles will turn to Tyler McClain, Jon “Juice” Cobollero, Pete Vertoudis and William Benjamin, and Coleman Green will play running back with McClain getting some carries, too.

Star quarterback Kyle Schumann transferred to Northeast.

All of the offensive stars will see time on defense, but the Eagles should have good numbers by the time the season rolls around.

Coach Steven “Kyle” Benzio has been building the program for years and the team looks ready to take another step this fall.

“Our defense is the strength of our team,” Benzio said. “A unit that posted three shutouts in the spring season will be looking to add some depth to each position. Off-season workouts have been very well attended and the team has developed a great chemistry.

“Our team loses two starters to graduation, so we will be a seasoned team on both sides of the ball. Last year, we were very young. This year, we will have a mix of great upperclassmen leading the team.”

Abraham Lincoln

The Railsplitters enjoyed a stellar spring, winning five of their six games. The better news is they did it with a young team, and even this year, they’ll be on the young side. But the talent is there for Lincoln to be a player in the Public League.

Khani Knight returns at quarterback and he’s going to have a lot of help. Xavier Irizarry will likely be his favorite receiver, but Daniel Gardee will line up all over the field and present problems for opposing defenses. The line will be led by Alexander Martinex.

Defensively, the Railsplitters will rely heavily on linebacker Quadeer Smith and defensive back Syeer Smith.

Like all Public League teams, the Railsplitters could afford to be deeper, but the talent is there. Coach Hakeem Cooper is happy about his quarterback situation, his skill guys and an athletic defense.

“We want to keep building off of our 5-1 ‘COVID season,’ ” Cooper said. “(Our goal is to) win the division and have a great season.”

Samuel Fels

The Panthers didn’t get the benefit of a full season, going 1-1 during the spring, but it was a good dry run for the young team. That experience should serve Fels well this year.

Jaheim Hill will start at quarterback for the Panthers. His top targets will be receivers Treyvon Lynch and Synsere Foster, and he’ll be helped out by running backs Hamir Wright and Tymir Williams.

The line will include Michael West and Walid Daoury.

On defense, Wright, West and Daoury will play on the line, Williams will play linebacker and Lynch, Foster and Hill will play defensive back.

The Panthers are optimistic coming into the season

“We have some key skill players returning from this young and enthusiastic group,” Bill Harrington said. “With a year under their belt in the offense, we hope to have a potent passing attack. On defense we hope to have a strong defensive backfield with two of three starters returning.

“We look to compete with the teams within our division as we continue to see a young group of players progress. Finding and developing young linemen will be key to the success of the team this year.”

Northeast

The Vikings went 4-1 during the spring and their only loss was a tight one to Imhotep. It marked the first season for head coach Eric Clark and he didn’t have much time to work with his troops because of COVID, but when the season started, they were ready.

This year, with a little more time, Northeast should be a force to contend with, led by a defensive line that includes Jamar “Steve” Brison, Ken Talley, Kion Wright and Ronel Nukah.

That unit will play in front of some talented players, including linebacker Dylan Pindle and defensive back Geovanny Fabian.

Northeast also has a strong offensive line, led by Donovan Saunders, Liam Soto and Julian Carrion. Sabor Stevens comes in as the quarterback and he’ll work with running backs Terail Greene and Amir Valentine, and receivers Jayson Williams, Khyrie Isaac and Zymil Lee.

The Vikings will go as far as their offensive and defensive lines take them, and that could be a long way.

“Our strength has always been and remains to be up front on both sides of the ball,” Clark said. “Our defensive line and offensive line leads a group of very talented young skill guys on both sides of the ball. Our team speed in every position group has also stood out for this upcoming year.

“These young men have bought in to every phase of our off-season workouts, and every week we have seen major steps in the right direction.”