By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS) — There is a standard now in area high school football that goes beyond the area, goes beyond the state and has now reached a national level—and that standard is St. Joseph’s Prep.
The Hawks will begin this season No. 1 in every area poll, and are already ranked nationally by MaxPreps at No. 18 in the country.
What’s more, the Hawks will be featured nationally next Tuesday on the NFL Network, when Melissa Starks and the NFL production trucks visit The Prep at Temple’s practice facility on Diamond Street.
There are a lot of expectations for the Hawks—and orchestrator, head coach Gabe Infante, is well aware.
“But the message is the same, believing in the process—it’s like putting a jigsaw puzzle together, you have new pieces, you have old pieces, but you have to make sure all of the pieces fit,” said Infante, whose team finished 12-3 overall last year and are the reigning PIAA Class AAAA state champions. “Every game we play is to be the best team we can possibly become. Not last year’s team—this year’s team.”
Then Infante paused for a moment … “People ask me about defending last year’s state championship, but you can’t defend something that you don’t possess. We don’t possess the 2014 state title—we possess the 2013 trophy. If someone comes into the school and tries to take the 2013 trophy, they’re going to have a problem on their hands. That one I plan on defending. The 2014 we don’t possess. But we have some advantages.”
The Hawks actually have a lot of advantages and it begins with Infante and the core group he’s built over the last three years, beginning with the Southeastern Pennsylvania’s best player, defensive back John Reid, and monster-in-waiting Jon Daniel Runyan, who’s now 6-foot-5, 285 pounds and played his best ever in Prep’s 35-10 thumping of Pittsburgh Central Catholic in the state title game.
Add in special tailbacks D’Andre Swift and Olamide Zaccheaus, who combined to rush for over 1,500 yards last year, returning defenders Shawn Harris. Jake Strain, Nick Vandevere, and transfer Benny Walls, and it’s a team that will be awfully tough to beat.
But the Hawks are thinking a little beyond Catholic League or city titles. They’re thinking big picture, playing a national schedule.
“We have to follow the process week-by-week, day-by-day,” said Reid, who had four interceptions last year and is being recruited by Alabama, Penn State, Miami and a host of other national-caliber programs. “I have high expectations of myself—and this team. We all have bigger goals than just rankings. We want to become the best players and best team we can become. Just like any other team, we want to be the best team in the country.
“But we need to keep everything within our bubble and keep the focus on ourselves. We know everyone hates us. Since I’ve been here, no one has really liked us—and I kind of embrace that part. That doesn’t matter. We have a huge target on our backs and there is a lot to prove. We don’t really worry about it. We control what we can control.”
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