PHILADELPHIA, PA (CBS) — It seems the secret is out nationally. Southeastern Pennsylvania is able to produce high-quality football talent.
More proof came last year when Archbishop Wood and St. Joe’s Prep won the PIAA 5A and 6A state championships, respectively, and Imhotep Charter reached the 4A state. Prep’s D’Andre Swift, CBS Philly’s 2016 Player of the Year, got a full ride to Southeastern Conference power Georgia, where Wood’s Mark Webb has joined him.
This year is no different. Wood returns much of the team that won the state title last year and is the No. 1 team in the area this season, followed by Prep, Malvern Prep, Coatesville and La Salle, to round out the top five. Major players also return, like Wood’s tight end /defensive end Kyle Pitts, who is headed to Florida, and Coatesville defensive back Avery Young, who has committed to Rutgers, and Imhotep Charter defensive back Isheem Young, who’s headed to Penn State.
On the New Jersey side of the river, long noted for its football prowess, Timber Creek appears the team to beat, followed by Vineland and Millville.
Rancocas Valley has arguably the area’s fastest player in senior RB/DB Iverson Clement, a Florida recruit, and Timber Creek the best quarterback in North Carolina State-bound Devin Leary.
Here’s a thumbnail look at the top 10 teams in the Delaware Valley this coming season. Last season’s record is in parentheses:
2017 High School Football season
1. Archbishop Wood
2. St. Joe’s Prep
3. Malvern Prep
5. La Salle
6. Imhotep Charter
7. North Penn
8. Timber Creek
Southeastern PA Preseason Top 10
1. Archbishop Wood
2. St. Joe’s Prep
3. Malvern Prep
5. La Salle
6. Imhotep Charter
7. North Penn
9. Downingtown East
10. Garnet Valley
South Jersey Preseason Top 10
1. Timber Creek
3. St. Augustine
4. Camden Catholic
7. St. Joseph
9. Holy Spirit
10. West Deptford
1. Archbishop Wood (11-2-1). The Vikings just beat up Harrisburg, pounded them in the PIAA 5A state finals, 37-10, to win their fourth state title in the last six years. Seniors Tom Walsh and Albert Glasgow, and junior Connor Bishop are back for what is the best offensive line in the area. Junior quarterback Jack Colyar, a Duke commit for baseball, returns as does 6-foot-5, 230-pound Florida-bound tight end/defensive end Kyle Pitts. Senior Nasir Peoples, a 6-foot, 185-pound defensive back/running back, is a Virginia Tech commit and will be the hub of the offense and defense.
2. St. Joe’s Prep (14-0). The Hawks last year went 14-0 for the first time in school history, won the PIAA 6A state title, their third state crown in four years, and said goodbye to an era, leaving a huge hole to fill in the departure ofall-everything tailback D’Andre Swift. Now at Georgia, Swift rushed 149 times for 1,564 yards, and 25 TD’s his senior year and finished his career as Prep’s all-time leading rusher with 5,676 yards. In his last three high school games, he rushed for 724 yards and nine touchdowns, which averaged out to 241 yards rushing and three TDs per game.
That’s a lot to make up.
The Hawks will rely on senior quarterback Marquez McCray, who completed 149 of 260 passes for 2,168 yards and 21 touchdowns last season and a defense led by 6-4, 285-pound defensive end Ryan Bryce (bound for Army), defensive back Dawson DeIuliis (Princeton) and linebacker Phil O’Connor (Richmond). The real talent hub, however, lies with the youth: Casey Stephenson (6-3, 305), Matt Lombardi (6-6, 260), Matt McGeary (6-2, 310) and R.J. McKee (5-10, 245) and are all sophomore linemen. The freshmen class has linebacker Jeremiah Trotter (5-10, 165), and if the name sounds familiar, it should. He’s the son of former Eagle Jeremiah “Ax Man” Trotter, and quarterback Kyle McCord (6-3, 190), who’s already receiving Division I attention.
3. Malvern Prep (8-3). By the end of the season, the Friars could be the best team in the area. We’ll never know how good they are against the best teams in the state, because the Inter-Academic League is the last of a few leagues statewide that does not compete in the PIAA. Still, new coach Dave Gueriera has a competitive schedule ahead, and some talent returning in tailback O’Shaan Allison, 6-4, 290-pound senior guard Joe Basiura and 6-4, 260-pound junior two-way lineman Jake Hornibrook, who by the time he graduates will merit serious Division I attention. Count on the Friars repeating as Inter-Ac champs, after sharing the title with Germantown Academy last year. Also count on rival Haverford School to provide a push against Malvern Prep from repeating.
4. Coatesville (11-2). The Red Raiders are the best PIAA 6A team in District 1, after reaching the district semifinals last year before losing to a very good North Penn team—the eventual district champ. And Coatesville did it with an incredibly young cast. Quarterback Ricky Ortega, head coach Matt Ortega’s son, is a sophomore who completed 155 of 229 passes for 2,240 yards and 25 touchdowns as a freshman starter last year. Tailback Aaron Young is a junior, and will be joined by his older brother Avery, a 6-1, 195-pound defensive back heading to Rutgers. Explosive 5-9, 170-pound sophomore kick returner Dapree Bryant has game-changing abilities.
5. La Salle (6-5). The Explorers will have the same problem they have every year—getting by St. Joe’s Prep. This year is gets a little easier. One, gone is Prep’s D’Andre Swift, a living nightmare to La Salle; two, returning is senior Isaiah Jones, a 6-1, 220-pound quarterback/defensive back who missed 2016 with a knee injury. Jones will have some size around him in 6-3, 275-pound Garrett Zobel, 6-3, 225-pound Chris Maloney and 6-5, 220-pound Colin Hirschmann. Maloney, a defensive end, and 6-0, 215-pound senior middle linebacker Austin Lemkie lead the defense.
6. Imhotep Charter (13-1). The Panthers reached the PIAA 4A finals, where they lost their only game of the season, to Erie Cathedral Prep. A lot has changed in the last few years. Coaching legend Mark Schmidt stepped down as head coach, though still remains with the program as an assistant coach, making way for new head coach Nick Lincoln, who formerly coached at Penn Wood in Delaware County. Massive 6-6, 335-pound tackle Justin Johnson is also gone, transferring in with his previous coach, Alby Crosby, who’s the new head coach at Neumann-Goretti. Returning is talented 5-10, 200-pound running back/defensive back Isheem Young, who is committed to Penn State, and 5-11, 187-pound Tykee Smith, a running back/defensive back who’s receiving major Division I interest. Who blocks for them? That could come from 6-3, 300-pound Marlon Wescott, 6-4, 280-pound Michael Stratham and 6-2, 240-pound tight end Omar Speights.
7. North Penn (14-1). The Knights were the second-best 6A team in the state last year.Unfortunately, the best 6A team in the state happened to be on the same side of the state, St. Joe’s Prep. Quarterback Steve DePaul will be counted on to replace Reece Udinski, who threw for 4,090 yards and 40 touchdowns last year, while 5-10, 205-pound Khan Jamal and 5-9, 180-pound Dars Bowsky will need to fill the void left by departed tailback Ricky Johns, now at West Virginia. They’ll get some help up front from 6-4, 225-pound tight end Owen Thomas, 5-11, 235-pound Matt Bevan and 6-foot, 240-pound Ryan Cody. Senior Justis Henley and junior Jon Haynes are capable receivers.
8. Timber Creek (12-0). The Chargers have the best quarterback in the area in 6-2, 190-pound Devin Leary, a North Carolina State commit who last year set state records for touchdown passes (48) and passing yards (3,688). He also led Timber Creek to consecutive South Jersey NJSIAA Group 4 sectional titles (New Jersey does not play a statewide playoff format as Pennsylvania, stopping at the regional level) and the Chargers current 16-game winning streak. Senior running back Kyle Dobbins is a transfer from St. Augustine committed to Temple, will be a vital role in Timber Creek’s offense, while seniors Derryk Sellers, a 6-3, 270-pound guard, and Jake Kidwell, 6-2, 2245-pound guard will protect Leary.
9. Vineland (8-2). The Clan finished out of the NJSIAA South Jersey Group 5 playoffs, but did own a 45-28 victory over eventual South Jersey Group 5 champion Millville. Vineland plays in arguably the toughest division in South Jersey, the West Jersey Football League’s Continental Division, with Millville and St. Augustine Prep, which won the division with a 5-0 record last year. St. Augustine has a new coach, Pete Lancetta, and Vineland has back Rutgers’ commit Isaih Pacheco, who projected to be a running back after rushing for 1,107 yards and 15 touchdowns on 120 carries. Senior Nihym Anderson, a 6-2, 227-pound linebacker who is committed to Maryland and made 48 tackles including 13 sacks last year, will lead the defense.
10. Millville (10-2). The Thunderbolts experienced an historic season last year winning their first South Jersey sectional title in 41 years (New Jersey does not play a statewide playoff format). The ‘Bolts could arguably be the best team in South Jersey this year, returning senior tailback Clayton Scott, who rushed for 1,722 yards and scored 19 TDs last season. Senior quarterback Tristan Harris threw for 1,654 yards and 22 TDs. Harris has a pair of veteran targets in senior receivers Carlton Lawrence and Marcial Ramos. If Millville has any problems, it could be up front, where 6-3, 245-pound two-way lineman Dylan Washington is one of the few returning starters.