Prior to each NFL season, the HBO series “Hard Knocks” takes diehard football fans behind the scenes of the rigors of training camp.
This year, the Oakland Raiders were entertaining, given the quirky mannerisms of head coach Jon Gruden and the shenanigans surrounding superstar wide receiver Antonio Brown.
Here in Brooklyn and Queens, the cameras aren’t rolling nonstop at the local high school varsity football training camps. So instead, we have a preview of how each of the diocesan teams stacks up heading into another competitive season of CHSFL football.
Christ the King
Under fifth-year head coach Jay Brown, the Christ the King H.S., Middle Village, Royals are hoping to rebound after a tough season last fall in the CHSFL’s ‘AAA’ Division.
The team will have a number of talented returning players, but trying to replace the 15 players who graduated will be a tall order. So far, the Royals are clicking on all cylinders, thanks to the efforts of this year’s class of rising seniors.
“We look solid in every area of the field on offense and defense,” Brown said. “This is probably my deepest class of seniors since I’ve been at Christ the King.”
The team will rely on senior running back Tirek Murphy, who has already committed to Purdue, to carry the load offensively. Sophomore Samarki Williams will also see a lot of carries.
Playing his third year on varsity, junior quarterback Noah Bodden is ready to take the next step in his game. One of his main targets will be junior wide receiver Khalil Harris, whose elusive speed will surely be a weapon for the Royals’ offense.
The team’s defensive line will be a strength, led by junior defensive end Chris King, junior defensive tackle Broadus Brown and senior defensive end Chris Eaton.
If Christ the King manages to run block well, the sky’s the limit for the team, especially because the defensive line is poised to consistently pressure opposing quarterbacks.
“We had the talent last year but couldn’t put it together,” Brown said. “This year’s team is tight and knows what it needs to do.”
In their first season since making the jump from ‘A’ to ‘AA,’ the Xaverian H.S., Bay Ridge, Clippers managed to win the West Division. However, a first-round exit from the playoffs has the team hungry for a deeper postseason run.
“Last year, we all went above and beyond, and the results were what they were,” said seventh-year head coach Mike Jioia. “Every game was competitive, even our losses were competitive. We were in every game, and that’s what we want to do this year.”
In total, 18 Clippers with varsity experience will be returning. With only 37 players on the roster, the majority of players train for both an offensive and defensive position.
Xaverian lost two huge contributors from both sides of the ball from last season: running back/defensive back Roberto Auguste and tight end/defensive back Jason Perlstein. Leading up to the start of the season, Jioia and company have been searching for players who will step up to fill those shoes.
Seniors Thomas Resker and Shane Greene will carry the ball behind a strong offensive line anchored by senior Derrin Hansen and junior Francis Ezeagbr. Defensively, the Clippers will have a strong secondary to guard against big plays.
“If we’re able to be in the game with a chance to win at the end, more times than not they’ll be able to come out on top in those pressure situations in the end,” Jioia said.
Competing in the ‘A’ Division, the Nazareth H.S., East Flatbush, Kingsmen have a goal to outrun all their opponents this season. A number of track runners have joined the squad, which the team hopes will help improve the 1-5 record from 2018.
Third-year head coach Desmond Defreitas, who played at Nazareth, knows that he will need contributions from all of his players — especially because the roster has fewer than 20 players.
Each of the past two seasons, the Kingsmen have fielded the CHSFL’s Defensive Player of the Year: Tahriq Gordon in 2017 and Brenton Winter in 2018. However, the philosophy has changed for this season.
“We’ve always hung our hat on defense,” Defreitas said. “But this year, after losing all those defensive players, we have to start all over again. We’re trying to hang our hat on offense this year. We want an offense that’s quick and allows us to score a couple more points.”
Senior team captain Justin McDuffie will lead the offensive charge at running back. He will be joined by senior wide receiver Jalen White and senior running back Matthew Moore. White’s cousin, sophomore Nicholas White, is set to bring his track-running skills to the quarterback position.
Defreitas hopes these speedsters will run up and down the field to create big plays and more scoring opportunities.
“What we need to do is get the ball in the hands of our athletes quicker and put them in space,” he said. “These athletes all run track, so we’re going to try to use that. I’d put our speed up against any team in this league.”
For the Holy Cross H.S., Flushing, Knights, a few timely kicks could have totally transformed what was a one-win season in 2018. The team played every game tough and lost multiple contests within the final four minutes on missed extra points or field goals.
Fifth-year head coach Tim Smith is well aware of how important special teams can be at any level of football, especially in high school when games are often decided by which team can make its kicks.
“We’re trying to be very strong on special teams this year,” Smith said. “We spent a lot of the early part of this season working on the special teams and making sure that we have a legitimately competitive kicker, punter and return people in place.”
Holy Cross will play in the ‘AA’ Division this fall, and almost the entire defense will be made up of returning players. Senior defensive tackle Chase Duncan, senior cornerback Octavious Bailey, senior cornerback Jaeden Smith, senior linebacker Ladon Hicks, senior linebacker Christopher McElhinney and senior defensive end Isaia Ortiz will form the core group of Knights’ defensemen.
If the ball bounces their way a few more times, the Knights are primed to make some noise in the division.
“One of things that I always preach to my guys is that we have to be disciplined and we have to finish,” Smith said. “If we remain disciplined and we’re able to finish games, we should have a very consistent and competitive season. We’re going to do well.”
St. Francis Prep
It was a tough season last fall for the St. Francis Prep, Fresh Meadows, L’il Terriers varsity football team. However, the school’s junior varsity team captured the city championship, while the freshmen team turned in an undefeated campaign.
Members of both these winning squads will be joining the Prep’s varsity squad, much to the delight of fifth-year head coach Rich Carroll.
“We were very successful on our lower levels last year, and we’re looking to have that overflow to our varsity level this year without a doubt,” he said of his young team competing in the ‘AA’ Division.
The L’il Terriers will have senior quarterback Omarion Jones return for his third season on varsity. Behind a strong offensive line, junior Nick Destefano and sophomore Eloh-King Beasley will carry the rock most often.
The defense is made up of a number of grinders, as Carroll described them. Junior middle linebacker Daniel Chung will serve as the defensive leader, while playmakers Kaleb Artis — a sophomore defensive end — and Dylan Denicker — a junior safety — round out a talented defensive corps.
“Since we have such a young team, we’re really going to have to outwork the rest of the league,” Carroll said. “We want to be the hardest-working team. That’s what we’re focusing on.
“We like to say we’re going back to the way St. Francis used to be where we just outwork people. We’re putting the time in, and our boys are completely committed.”
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.