December 14, 2018
It was a simple edict St. Joseph’s Prep coach Gabe Infante likes to pose — though it’s very rare that he asks it, since the Hawks seldom end their season with a loss.
But that’s what stood there behind the Hawks in blinking bold numbers through the misty cold last December: Pine-Richland 41, St. Joseph’s Prep 21.
“When we lost in the state championship last year, I turned to this group and I said, ‘The last time I had this talk with a team was in 2015, when we had this very painful loss, and they reeled off 27-straight wins, so I’m asking, 'What are you going to do now, how are you going to respond?’” Infante recalled. “Well, this group has reeled off 13-straight.”
Those 13 wins carried the Prep through an undefeated season, capped off by its fourth PIAA state championship in six years after the Hawks demolished a very good Harrisburg team, 40-20, on Dec. 8 at Hersheypark Stadium to claim the 6A state title for the second time in three years — with the promise of more to come.
So, it’s a rather easy choice to name the St. Joseph’s Prep Hawks as PhillyVoice’s 2018 High School Football Team of the Year in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Joining the Hawks on this pantheon of year-end accomplishments is Hawks’ sophomore quarterback Kyle McCord, who is PhillyVoice’s Player of the Year and Radnor coach Tom Ryan as Coach of the Year.
There are always high expectations every year for St. Joe’s Prep, but this year was going to be a little different.
Yes, the Hawks had tons of talent back, but it was untested talent on the high school varsity level. McCord, and fellow sophomore standouts Jeremiah Trotter Jr. and Marvin Harrison Jr. certainly had the pedigree, genetics and vast athletic ability to succeed — but they also entered the season lacking experience in adverse situations.
That was certainly answered in the state title game, which could be a microcosm of the Hawks’ season. Trotter was playing with a broken thumb and an irritating stress fracture in his foot and was arguably the best player on the field, making a team-high 12 tackles. One of McCord’s first passes was a 25-yard pick-six, and he responded with three-straight touchdown drives while completing 26 of 37, with 1 interception for 284 yards and two touchdowns, and Harrison lost a fumble, and came back to catch a game-high eight passes for 76 yards.
“No one has higher expectations about our team each year than I do, but when I think of expectations, it’s not the final product, it’s about getting the best out of our guys and we’re going to do certain things over and over again that we’ve done traditionally,” Infante said. “I think if we can achieve those things, we’re going to win.
“I try not get wrapped up into stuff like expectations. If you do that, you set artificial barriers for your team, and I don’t ever want to do that, where my perception of what we are and what we’re not affects our development. That’s happened to me in the past and I try not to do that.”
So Infante placed no expectations on this team.
The scary part of the Hawks’ state title is that they didn’t play very well — and still won by 20. They are currently ranked No. 6 in the nation by USA Today and No. 15 by MaxPreps. Next year, and for possibly a few more seasons afterward, they could be No. 1 — and what happened last Saturday in Hershey was only the beginning.
By the way, Infante is one of four finalists for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl National Coach of the Year Award, which will be presented at the game held on January 4 in San Antonio. He won the award in 2017, the last time the Prep finished an undefeated season and won the state championship. The Prep is 41-1 over the past three season and won two state titles over that time (four in the last six).
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It’s a little hard to believe that he’s 16. By the way he talks and carries himself, by his emotional intelligence in tense spots, Kyle McCord, St. Joseph Prep’s 6-foot-3, 200-pound sophomore quarterback, belies his age. He already has 11 college offers — many before he even threw a pass as a high school varsity starter. He’s recently spoke with Penn State, Stanford and Ohio State. By the time he’s a senior, he’s going to be able to go anywhere he wants in the country.
McCord walked off the field last Saturday as a state champion, after completing 201 of 302 passes for 2,883 yards and 35 touchdowns for the season, according to Tedsilary.com. He was named Catholic League Red Division (large schools) MVP, will probably be an all-state choice and can add the inaugural PhillyVoice Player of the Year honor to his list of achievements.
What sets McCord apart from other players his age is how unflappable he is. He stood in the pocket of a vicious pass rush Saturday night and took some harsh shots. He was never frazzled by the heat — even when he threw that pick-six in the first quarter.
“I remember how hurt the seniors were last year and we used that as motivation to work even harder this year,” McCord said. “As this year went on, I started to get more and more comfortable. What helped me is believing in the guys around me. One, I couldn’t let them down, and I knew that they weren’t going to let me down.
“I cursed at myself [after the interception in the state championship]. I was anxious to get back on the field after I threw the pick-six. I kept telling myself, ‘Forget about it, and keep going forward.’ It’s something coach [Tim] Roken [Prep’s offensive coordinator] always talks to me about. If you make a bad play, forget about it and move on to the next one. I kept that in mind.
“We want to be the best in the country and it’s why we came here for, because everyone here sacrifices a lot. It’s a realistic goal for this team moving forward, but at the same time, we have to keep the blinders on and keep moving forward. Everyone will keep focusing on the state title, but we want more and I’m excited to build more off this great season.”
There was just one glitch this season.
“After games this year, we usually would sleep over Cooper Kim’s house, me and Liam Johnson,” McCord recalled. “We’ll go over and watch the film of the game together and then go out to eat. We were at Cooper’s house and I logged into my Hudl account after the (Archbishop) Wood game in October, and my profile picture showed up, which is a picture of me.
“Then I logged in and there was Coach Infante throwing passes in pre-game on my Hudl account (which is designed to show highlights of high school football players). I wondered who did it. I asked Coach Infante about it and he had no idea what I was talking about. It’s been up since October. I just found out Thursday that Coach Roken was the one who changed my profile highlights to Coach Infante throwing the ball.
“That was pretty funny.”
* * *
Every once in a while, the rare season comes. It’s marked with
benchmarks that haven’t been done in a while.
Try over 40 years?
It’s what Tom Ryan did at Radnor this year. The Red Raiders posted a 9-3 overall record, the best record they finished with since going 11-0 in 1976.
Ryan, who just ended his 12th season as Radnor’s head coach, directed his team to an 8-2 finish in the Central League, and into the PIAA District 1 5A playoffs.
For years, Radnor had been a doormat. Ryan has brought the program to respectability—with this season breaking the threshold. It’s why Ryan is PhillyVoice’s first Coach of the Year. The Red Raiders have been to the playoffs the last three years, though never hosted a game before this season nor ever won a district playoff game until a last-second TD propelled them over Central League rival Marple Newtown.
“This was just a special group of kids this year and it looks like eight of our 26 seniors will be going on and playing in college,” said Ryan, who is one of the better coaches in Southeastern Pennsylvania in getting his players into college football programs. “That’s something I’m very proud of.
“There is a reason for our success. We’re in our seventh year of our youth program. We’re getting more kids coming out for the team and I have a great coaching staff. I think what I’ll remember most about this group of seniors is how they really just cared about each other and pout the work in. There’s nothing like truly enjoying going to practice every day and being around each other. There’s nothing like that.”
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Schadenfreude is a great German word that didn’t start creeping into English texts until around the 1850s. It simply means to take delight in the misery of others. A few weeks ago, it was mentioned here, a bitter confrontation for the Ohio Division II state championship between the undefeated Archbishop Hoban Knights (14-0) and those Massillon Washington Tigers (14-0) would take place.
You may ask why anyone in Southeastern Pennsylvania may have had interest in that game? Easy, Washington is the team that dressed 96 players and ran up the score on local Sun Valley, 101-6, when the Vanguards visited the gracious folks of Massillon, Ohio, back on October 12.
Final: Archbishop Hoban 42, Massillon Washington 28.
What goes around comes around.
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