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Football previews: Tough teams, tough schedules

Dymere Durham will lead Northeast’s offense. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

There’s a lot of talent, but it won’t be easy.

The high schools located in Northeast Philly come into the year with high hopes because they all boast plenty of blue chip-caliber players. They also have schedules some NFL teams wouldn’t want to play.

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The league schedules are what they are, but our schools also loaded up with tough nonleague schedules this year, so if things start slow, don’t panic.

Here is a look at the teams from Northeast Philly who play in the Catholic and Public leagues.

CATHOLIC LEAGUE

Archbishop Ryan

The Raiders have a new coach. Bill Murphy moved on to be an assistant coach at Widener, and former quarterback Mark Ostaszewski returns to take over the program. 

Ryan enjoyed a good season a year ago, finishing 6-5, but many of the players who led the way last year have graduated.

Still, Ostaszewski loves what he’s seen thus far.

He has a pair of talented grunts in defensive end Nick Rogers, who will also see time at tight end, and John Pettit, who will help anchor the offensive and defensive lines.

Ryan has some weapons, the best thus far has been Chris Dalton, who will play running back and also linebacker.

The Blue Division is tough, but despite the new players, Ryan has a chance to be competitive.

I’m happy about the camaraderie and the brotherhood that has been formed this off-season,” Ostaszewski said. “The kids play hard for each other and push each other everyday. We have a lot of new faces playing different spots and that is a testament to the kids’ versatility and we have that up and down the roster. We have great leaders in each class. 

“Our goals are to improve 1% everyday. We are working hard to achieve that goal and will continue throughout the season. If we stay healthy and continue to improve our team will compete with the best teams in the PCL. The future is bright here at Ryan.”

Father Judge

The Crusaders suffered eight losses a year ago, which isn’t typical, but neither is their schedule. Judge plays the toughest teams in the area every year, and then often sees one of the top teams in the state during the playoffs.

Still, the hope is for improvement, and looking at what coach Frank McArdle has, the team should be better.

Quarterback Tyler Yerkov returns to lead the offense and he isn’t coming alone. Last year’s Northeast Times Catholic League player of the year returns with Eric Smith, one of the top tailbacks in the area. Other offensive weapons include receiver Nymeir Appling and tight end Denzel Dunbar. Kysheion Dawkins (running back) and Gavin Hutz (receiver) will also contribute.

The offensive line will feature Sean Broderick, Chris Coulter, Tom Gonglik and Shane Kilbride. Christain Eroh and Rashon Davis will also see time on the offensive line, and all of those guys will work in on defense. 

Rocco Westfield (free safety) and Dominic Berghaier (linebacker) will make plays on defense, while Dane Pizzaro will give Judge one of the best kickers in the area. 

It’s a tough league, but Judge has high expectations.

“We have an older group with a lot of experience,” McArdle said. “We have four guys who have played since they were freshmen, Smith, Appling, Broderick and Coulter. We think we should be good up front. We have a bunch of good young players to mix in. Tyler is a competitor and Westfield will help in a number of roles. Dane Pizzaro’s leg is as strong as any high school kicker on the East Coast.

“Nobody in our program is happy about last season. We had a great offseason and return a bunch of good football players. We are much bigger and stronger than we were last year. Mix them in with a talented young group and we think we have a chance. We need to be better on defense and I think we are much improved there. If we can shore up a few spots we think we have a shot to be a really good football team.”

PUBLIC LEAGUE

Abraham Lincoln

The Railsplitters might be the best team in the Public League 6A this year. Lincoln has been improving every year, and last year fell just short of knocking off Northeast in the championship game. Couple that with some great athletes joining the mix, and the Railsplitters could have some fun this year.

Leading the way will be middle linebacker Andre Gordon. He grew into the leader of the defense last year as a sophomore and should once again make the calls on defense. Quron Anderson will also play linebacker as well as tight end.

Ziyyon Bredell will start at receiver and play defensive back and Yeremi Duran and Reggie Faison will anchor the lines.

Lincoln has the size, speed and experience to make a long run in the Public League playoffs, and potentially more.

“(We’re) bringing back a good young core of players,” coach Hakeem Cooper said. “We have great leadership and talent on both sides of the ball.

“We want to keep building the program to the best of our ability and finish the mission.”

Frankford

The Pioneers struggled last year, but a lot of that was due to a tough schedule. The hope is the team can be more like the 2021 version, who went to the Public League 5A championship game before falling to Imhotep Charter.

For that to happen, they’ll need a big year out of star quarterback J J Reynolds, who will also be one of the team’s top defensive backs. He’s called the heartbeat of the team, and his success will only help Frankford. He’ll work with Joseph Gonzalez, an explosive receiver. Jaron Whitehead, a transfer from Northeast, will also start at receiver. Nasir Jackson will be the leader of the lines for Frankford.

Frankford is known for having strong defenses, and coach Damon Brockington, who anchored a Pioneer defense during his playing days, can’t wait to get started.

“Our strength will be our defense, we return six players,” Brockington said. “And we have a new offensive coordinator, former Pioneer quarterback Lamont Brown who will call the plays. It should be a fun and cool season.

“We are always looking to improve our team with only two wins last year with a tough schedule. This year is not as tough. I think we got a lot of winnable games ahead of us. Everything looks good on paper, but we still got to play the game.”

George Washington

The Eagles continued to improve last year, finishing with seven victories, and look to be in good shape this year. It won’t be easy, but Washington could return to its glory days.

Washington has a good group of linemen in Qadir Carr, Jasir Huff, Jordan Burston, Cesar Colon and Martin Gorstkiy.

The Eagles also have some talented skilled guys in running backs Terrell Farris and Pat Wright. Both will also play defensive back, as will receivers Javaughn Bradford and Jamar Coleman. 

Washington could take another step toward the Public League playoffs. 

“We’ve had a very dedicated senior class,” coach Austin Brasche said. “They have led the program through the offseason with great intent and focus. They are all great representatives of the G Dub football program.

“I think we’ll have a strong season. I’m looking for our guys to play hard and play disciplined. If we can maintain those two goals we will have a great season.”

Northeast 

The Vikings have won seven straight Public League 6A titles. An eighth will be difficult. Northeast has talent, but graduated a lot, so it might take some time to get the program back to where it was.

It might not take that long, though. Ryan Nase, the new coach, turned Cheltenham from a struggling program to a state runner-up in three seasons. And he does have talent to work with.

Senior George Truitt, a linebacker and tight end, will be the leader of the team. 

He’ll work with a talented group of athletes that includes Dymere Durham (receiver, cornerback), David Akpuru (athlete), Mahir Jordan (quarterback, free safety), DeShawn Woodhouse (linebacker, running back), Naseem Wertz (tight end, defensive end), Justin Wilson (center, defensive tackle) and Xavier Brown (two-way tackle).

Once the players adjust to Nase’s program, the Vikings will be tough to beat.

“Offensively we believe we will be very well rounded and difficult to prepare for,” Nase said. “We can run the ball with four different backs and our quarterback is also a threat to run at any time. We also have the speed and athleticism on the outside where we feel confident in taking shots down the field. 

“Without question the strength of the team is our linebacking and strong safety core. We have seven to eight guys who have the potential to be all league-type players. They can blitz in the middle and off the edges as well as play both man and zone coverage. We’re really excited to see them fly around.

“Northeast has won the Public League 6A championship six of the last seven years and we hope we can compete to do so again. Our conference is getting stronger and stronger so it will be challenging. Within our division Imhotep is one of the best teams in the area, and our Northeast Philly rival, Abraham Lincoln, is extremely talented and nearly won the Public League championship game last year. We also play two very talented Catholic League schools in Archbishop Wood who has won multiple state championships within the last few years as well as West Catholic in a premier showcase event in Delaware.”

Samuel Fels

The Panthers have struggled in recent seasons, winning just once last year, but there’s reason for optimism. The players are working hard and coach Bill Harrigan is happy with what he’s seen thus far. 

The Panthers will be led by an offensive line that includes Rhemel Sommerville. He’ll guide a unit that also includes Walid Daoury, Bryan Nazario and Wilton Castillo. Those guys will also help out on defense.

Marquis McKinney will play quarterback for Fels, and he’ll work with receivers Isaiah Bashir and George Amaro as well as athletes Kevin Azard, Darnell Mills and Jamir Robinson. Those guys will also see time on both sides of the ball.

Numbers are always tough, but the Panthers are headed in the right direction.

“We are pleased with the development of our linemen’s play on both sides of the ball and are counting on our running game being a focal point of our offense,” Harrigan said. “We’re happy to have a large number of returning players from last year’s team. The hope is that the continuity we started to build last year will carry over to this season as we continue to progress as a team.”

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