Conway makes right call at Judge

Mike Conway has been the starting middle linebacker at Judge since midway through his sophomore year. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Mike Conway has always been around good football players.

The Father Judge High School senior’s dad, also Mike, starred at Cardinal Dougherty before graduating in 1991. His cousins Frank and Nick both played at Judge and graduated shortly before Conway got to the school. And he learned a lot from his coaches during his years playing at Rhawnhurst, where he was coached by his dad, and St. John’s, where he played CYO when he was in seventh and eighth grade.

So it should be little surprise that the starting middle linebacker for the Crusaders is a student of the game on top of being a dynamic playmaker.

“I love watching film, I watch it every week when (Judge coach Frank McArdle) releases it on Hudl,” said Conway, who also starts at tight end for the Crusaders. “I learned a lot from my dad, he knows football, and I learn a lot from Coach McArdle. I love breaking down film of our team and love doing it on the other team.

“Anything you can learn helps you. We have great coaches who always put us in great position to do well, but I like to do work, too. I make the defensive calls, I have since I was a sophomore, so I like to be involved. I work with coach every week, he explains things to me and I try to use it in games.”

Those meetings must be very productive because the Crusaders pulled off a huge win on Saturday when they knocked off Roman Catholic 21-20 in a pouring rain in a Catholic League Red Division game at Northeast.

The Cahillites, who were coming off a win over La Salle, which was the consensus top team in Southeastern Pennsylvania after defeating St. Joe’s Prep, scored a touchdown with no time remaining to make it 21-20 . Roman went for a two-point conversion, but Judge stood tall and walked off with the win.

“They ran to my side, but the defensive lineman got there first,” said Conway, who played strong defense and was used primarily as a blocker on offense. “I then filled the gap and so did the safety. I looked up and I knew he didn’t get in. It was a great feeling.

“It was great, we just all got up and hugged our coaches. There weren’t a lot of fans there because of the rain, but the ones who were there came on the field. My mom, dad, grandpop, brother and girlfriend were there and a couple of my dad’s friends were there.”

The win Saturday night capped off a great weekend for Northeast Philadelphia football teams. In Catholic League action, Ryan beat West Catholic 21-6. In Public League games, Northeast downed Olney Charter 8-0, Frankford beat Boys Latin 29-14, Lincoln beat up on Central 43-6 and Washington improved to 4-1 with a 12-6 win against Overbrook.

The win over the Cahilites might have shocked some who haven’t been around the Crusaders this year, but the team knew they were ready for a game against the very talented Roman team.

“We knew how good they were and we weren’t happy with last week when we were playing Wood tough in the first half and it got away from us in the second half,” Conway said. “We made some changes on defense, did a few different things. Nothing was different for me, but we put a linebacker at safety, we brought up a very young linebacker, freshman Jason Lebold, who played really well. We were really confident.

“We went into halftime down seven, just like we did against Wood, but we were confident it was going to be different. I kept saying, we kept saying, the defense was going to hold up. The coaches reminded us, too. And we did. The defense played really well this week. We needed to do that after last week.”

Conway, who lives in Fox Chase, believes this win could lead to big things.

Judge has matchups with La Salle and Prep left on the schedule, and they’ll be great tuneups for the playoffs. Judge, the only Class 5A team in the Catholic League, has already qualified for a spot in the District 12 title game. A win there would send the Crusaders into the state playoffs.

“The Catholic League is good this year,” Conway said. “Anyone can really beat anyone and you see it every week. Our coaches have told us that if we keep working, we can beat anyone.”

Conway hopes he has a great end to his high school career before he continues playing in college. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound bruiser isn’t sure what he’ll study, but he does have some broad interests.

“Not sure where I’m going to go, but I definitely plan on playing football,” Conway said. “Maybe sports management or business. I had a sports management class last year with a great teacher and I loved it. I also have psychology this year and I really like that. I’m not really sure, but those are some possibilities.”

For now, he’s just happy representing the school he grew up loving.

“It is cool to be playing here, I grew up going to games, before when Northeast was the home field,” Conway said. “I was always around. You’d go to games because you’re in the neighborhood, then I came when my cousins were playing here. I was always around. So I’m happy I can play for them, especially in big games.”