By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The No. 10 jersey hangs on the walls of St. Joseph Prep coach Gabe Infante’s office. It signifies a special meaning to wear it at The Prep. The previous four were all-Philadelphia Catholic League linebackers. Normally, you have to ask for the number. It’s not bestowed to just anyone.
No one asked for No.10 this year until equipment day—when Jake Strain Jake Strain, from Springfield, Delaware County, came into Infante’s office and made his plea.
“Jake came into my office and asked for the number, and I asked him if he knew what it meant to wear that number, and he told me he did and that he felt he earned it,” Infante recalled. “He got a little emotional in talking about it. I got a little emotional about it, and I let him know the responsibility that comes with wearing No. 10. Every year since I’ve been here our No. 10 has been first-team all-Catholic—at linebacker. Jake has upheld the tradition well.”
Even in a sense creating a new one—as the first Hawk defensive lineman to wear No. 10 and get first-team all-Catholic honors.
In Prep’s 46-13 thrashing of La Salle in last Friday’s Catholic League Class AAAA championship, Strain was a one-man wrecking crew, tormenting Explorers’ quarterback Kyle Shurmur all game. Strain finished with six tackles, including two sacks for minus-15 yards.
Every time Shurmur stepped back, it seemed he had Strain in his face. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Strain is learning a new position at defensive end. He played the position sporadically as a sophomore, but was challenged to play defensive end fulltime in his senior year.
What’s more is Strain had to learn the position against some monsters. Strain dominated St. Ignatius’ highly touted 6-foot-5, 284-pound offensive junior tackle Liam Eichenberg, who’s received offers from Ohio State, Notre Dame and Michigan. He held his own against Don Bosco’s 6-9, 305-pound Kevin Feder, who is going to Ohio State.
That can stunt a learning arc.
“Jake went up against all of these huge kids week in and week out, lined up against some of the best kids in the country and showed up every time,” Infante said. “It all culminated last week with an incredible performance against La Salle. He was a terror for them. A very, very big problem deflecting passes, putting on pressure. We move Jake everywhere.”
Infante said that they’ll give Strain carte blanche calling plays with the interior lineman. And he’s difficult to defend against, because Strain, though he plays primarily defensive end, can be moved all over the place. He’s Prep’s J.J. Watt.
“There was a little transition playing defensive end from playing inside,” said Strain, who is getting attention from Cornell, Army, Lehigh and high-academic schools. “I think I learned about playing technically sound in the first month of the season, because those four-star recruits are huge and more athletic. Playing against those guys has definitely helped us.
“I wasn’t too happy though with the way I was playing. I was used to making plays. I didn’t feel like I was invisible, but it was different, because we played power teams. I was dealing with some big boys trying to keep outside contain. I’ve learned from little mistakes I was making. There was a lot of stuff when I wasn’t making so much the wrong plays, I was doing the minimum and I wasn’t used to that. I had to challenge myself to make more plays and keep getting better.”
Strain said he never lost his confidence. He said he had to be patient before it all came together. That came against St. Ignatius. Strain has his way with Eichenberg.
What helps Strain is receiving a daily dose learning against Jon Daniel Runyan, Prep’s Michigan-bound, all-state offensive tackle.
“Going against him every day has helped make me better,” Strain said. “Jon doesn’t give up the edge that easily, believe me. He’s tough to go against. So going against someone like him every day makes it easier going against other guys. That’s who I see in front of me when I play La Salle and these other teams, I see Runyan. I figure if I could beat him once or twice, and it doesn’t happen a lot, I can beat anybody.”
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