In the Red, seven teams could be considered contenders.
"From top to bottom," Cardinal O'Hara coach Dan Algeo said, "it's the best it's been since we've gone to Red-Blue."
Of course, the Hawks - carrying a 48-game league regular-season winning streak - have to be considered the favorites. And there's the added incentive of having lost to La Salle in last November's final, 14-7.
Following its previous two championship-game losses (2000 and 2004), the Prep has come back with a vengeance, winning crowns both times.
"Once you get past the Prep, however, it starts to get even," North Catholic coach Chalie Szydlik said.
Except for struggling Monsignor Bonner, you could toss the remaining six teams in a hat and come up with an acceptable order of finish.
In the Blue, defending champion West Catholic once again is teeming with talent, giving off a faint air of invincibility.
"They have a lot of athletes," Archbishop Wood coach Steve Devlin said. "Good thing for us we don't play them until the last game of the regular season."
In the last four championship games, it's been West versus Wood (Wood leads, three games to one). But with the Vikings apparently rebuilding, there are plenty of takers willing to claim an open spot.
"We have enough talent to be in the thick of things," Neumann-Goretti coach Bill Sytsma said. "And we'll be there."
Contact staff writer Jeff McLane at 215-854-4745 or email@example.com.
In predicted order of finish.
Red Division St. Joseph's Prep
Whom to watch: Jamir Livingston is the featured running back and has more than 2,500 career rushing yards. Army is in pursuit. Senior wideouts Greg Castillo, Brett Tiagwad and Tim Edger form a potent trio. Castillo (offers from BYU, Ohio and Bowling Green) and Tiagwad also play in the defensive backfield. Edger kicks and punts. Ryan McGinn (6-foot-3, 235 pounds) anchors the lines.
What to watch: With Chris Whitney off to Villanova, the quarterback position was up for grabs. Senior Aaron Haas (6-4, 190) won out over junior Mark Giubilato. "Aaron's been waiting his turn and is ready," coach Gil Brooks said. The Hawks had to replace their entire offensive line, four of whom graduated to Division I programs.
Outlook: Again the team to beat.
Whom to watch: Mark Wedderburn (6-7, 238) is a two-way end and a national recruit. Some are considering quarterback Tom Savage (6-5, 218) the No. 1 overall junior prospect in the state. Mike Grunde will man middle linebacker. Bill McMonigle is the Lions' lead two-way lineman. Defensive back Steve Werner is a burner.
What to watch: O'Hara is hoping last year's 3-8 record was an anomaly. But if the Lions are to rebound, their line play needs to improve. "We're going to go as far as both our lines take us," coach Dan Algeo said. Still young, O'Hara has three running backs (Corey Brown, Evan Higgins, Billy Morgan) capable of having breakout seasons.
Outlook: Back to basics.
Whom to watch: Chris Johnson (6-2, 205) is back at quarterback and has a scholarship offer from Buffalo. Effective in the open field, Bilial Lewis will get the bulk of carries at running back. At strong safety, Florida State-bound Nick Moody (6-2, 215) is athletic as they come. Sean Clift and Andrew Regan head Roman's linebacking corps.
What to watch: With a number of prospects, the Cahillites are the hot pick. Still, coach Jim Murphy cautions: "We haven't won anything yet." As of matter of fact, Roman hasn't won a playoff game since 2003. Lineman Jewhan Edwards (6-2, 310) needs to play up to his potential if that's to happen.
Outlook: If a few holes are filled, look out.
Whom to watch: Quarterback John Harrison and lead wide receiver Joe Migliarese (6-5, 225) could set records as a combo. Seniors Matt Day (cornerback) and Andrew Wood (linebacker) are the only returning starters on defense. Guard Matt Lees (6-4, 270) can move mountains.
What to watch: Based on last season's success, coach Drew Gordon is hopeful, despite the Explorers' relative youth. Harrison and Migliarese obviously give La Salle an advantage. But look out for sophomore running back Sam Felleccia.
Outlook: Could be a sleeping giant.
Whom to watch: At quarterback, Paul Volpe is as underrated as they come. Chris Dowling will grind out tough yards at running back. Andrew McHale, a slasher, will compliment Dowling and play all over. Anthony Marascio (center) is one of two returning offensive lineman. Jim DeLisio is a defensive leader at linebacker.
What to watch: With 15 returning starters, the Crusaders are brimming with optimism. According to coach Tom Coyle, they're still green on the offensive line. Volpe, though, is efficient and a hidden gem. "I think he would work well in a system that would let him stand back in the shotgun," Coyle said of Volpe's collegiate prospects.
Outlook: Ready to assert itself.
Whom to watch: Terrell Oglesby will be expected to fill the departed Daryl Robinson's very large cleats at running back. Blake Graham, a 6-5, 275-pound two-way tackle, and Bob Mullen, a 6-1, 275-pound center and defensive tackle, give the Falcons heft up front. Pete Sellecchia is a wide receiver to watch. With two years under his belt, junior Dennis Logue is a seasoned quarterback.
What to watch: North is back and looking to build upon last year's Cinderella season. "Hopefully that success didn't spoil us," coach Chalie Szydlik said. With 70 players out for tryouts and encouraging off-season developments, Szydlik isn't expecting a relapse. Replacing Robinson, now at Temple, is the chief concern. "There's no one person who can replace him," Szydlik said. "We'll have to spread it around."
Outlook: Middle of the pack.
Whom to watch: Chris Wilk (6-2, 220) moves from tight end to fullback, but it's at linebacker where he thrives. Nick Ferdinand is a throwback wide receiver/defensive back. Anthony Corso and Bob Kelly are the Raiders' top linemen. Linebacker Eric Selinok doesn't play his size (5-9, 185).
What to watch: Thrust under center as a sophomore, Russ Slawter returns a year wiser. Luckily, he has Ferdinand (50 catches, 775 yards) to toss to. "He's so smooth," said coach Glen Galeone, now in his 18th season. Unluckily for Ryan, only 50 players came out this season, one of the smaller groups Galeone has had.
Outlook: Could fall short of the playoffs again.
Whom to watch: The lefthanded Iggy Schmitt (6-5, 210) assumes the quarterback reins. Christian Johnson and Marty Spellman could form a tight-end twosome. Johnson also plays linebacker. After earning some late-season carries last season, Matt McGillian slides in at running back. Mike O'Rourke gives the Friars a presence at defensive end.
What to watch: Two days into practice, head coach Jim Burner was axed, making way for Tom Oropeza as the interim coach. It's not an ideal situation, especially for a squad coming off an 0-11 season, but Oropeza is positive. "My game plan isn't three years or five years, it's now," Oropeza said. He will have his hands full. "With the lack of success that we've had, there's a question if we're tough enough," Oropeza said. "I think we'll find out."
Outlook: Only one place to go.
Blue Division West Catholic
Whom to watch: Marquese Sanders will fill a few roles on offense, but is a linebacker on defense. Curtis Drake, a junior quarterback, is a game-breaker. Raymond Maples, also a junior, is a budding star at running back. Preandre Watson, a transfer from Neumann-Goretti, is slotted to play tight end and linebacker. Running back/cornerback Rob Holloman is also a basketball stud.
What to watch: If there's a bull's-eye in the Blue Division, it's painted on the back of West. Even as he warns against complacency, nine-year coach Brian Fluck concedes: "This will probably be my fastest team [from] top to bottom." One of the keys for the Burrs will be developing a passing game to counterbalance their running attack.
Outlook: Two in a row?
Whom to watch: A leader on and off the field, Bob Delucas will line up as a fullback/linebacker. If senior Joe Makoid is the Vikings' most experienced player along the lines, junior Adam Citko (6-5, 295) is their most talented. Sean Cunningham becomes the running back. Mike Maxwell replaces the departed wide receiving duo of Chris Lorditch and Pat Devlin.
What to watch: New coach Steve Devlin walks into a less-than-desirable situation, with Wood having lost 19 seniors, most of whom started. The Vikings have youth, though, and return quarterbacks Sean McCartney and Mike Cattolico. McCartney, a junior, is mobile and Cattolico, a senior, has the arm, but as of this writing, the position was still open. "It's a good problem to have as a coach," Devlin said.
Outlook: Still a force to be reckoned with.
Whom to watch: With the West Virginia-bound Chris Palmer (6-5, 285) and junior Kadeem Custis (6-5, 280) lining up guard-tackle on the left side of the offensive line, it's easy to predict where running back Hakeem Johnson will run. Kadeem Singleton is a two-way end and Adam Malatino will patrol at middle linebacker.
What to watch: The Saints took a bite at the skill positions, having lost their quarterback, top two running backs and top two receivers. They also lost coach Steve Smith in early July. But new coach Bill Sytsma was an assistant under Smith. "With the staff as-is, it's been a surprisingly smooth transition," Sytsma said. He hopes junior quarterback Tom McGarrigle adjusts as well.
Outlook: Bigger is better . . . than most.
Whom to watch: Jason Golderer is the Lancers' best athlete at running back and defensive back. Stephen Yuan (6-3, 310) is probably their best prospect at tackle. Pat Doyle does it all as a wide receiver, defensive back and kicker/punter. Joe Smart (6-2, 225) at linebacker and Ryan Johnston (6-2, 285) on the lines add ample size.
What to watch: With a senior-laden, speedy group, McDevitt has high aspirations. Unless, of course, the injury bug bites them. "Our problem has been, and will be, depth," coach Pat Manzi said.
Outlook: .500 looks about right.
Whom to watch: At wide receiver and cornerback, Ellis Rogers is a four-year starter. Jack Lowney gives the offensive line one veteran. Junior quarterback Luke Wischnowski (6-2, 185) has "ice water in his veins," according to coach Dan Bielli. The Temple-bound Geoff Prather (6-3, 230) is a strapping linebacker. Kevin Eckel is slated to play fullback and safety.
What to watch: With 15 starters graduated, the Patriots have some new faces. But . . . "I'm not going to say we're rebuilding," Bielli said. "The JV team was undefeated, we're not suffering." After a disappointing 2006 season, a new cast may be the remedy.
Outlook: Still in the mix, still a few ingredients short.
Whom to watch: At center, Rick Horn is one of just two returning starters. Junior Ryan Golin (wideout/defensive back) is the other. Kevin South (guard/defensive end), Anthony McCormack (fullback/linebacker) and Rob Henry (wide receiver/defensive back) are looking to step in.
What to watch: The Eagles will carry five seniors on its squad. Coach Kevin Kelly concedes it stunted early practices. "As long as the six years I've been here this is probably as unsure as I've been going into the season," Kelly said. Two bright spots: Golin (33 catches for 580 yards last season) and a promising sophomore class.
Outlook: Give them a year.
Whom to watch: All seniors, Sean Kidd (tight end/linebacker), Braheem Carroll (running back/linebacker), Phil Baxter (quarterback/safety), Keith Dockery (wide receiver/linebacker) and Quinten White (fullback/linebacker) give the Cardinals a strong core. "They've been here for all the losses, all the coaches," coach Chris Riley said. "This is their time to shine."
What to watch: The good news for Riley is he has most of his skill-position players back. The bad news: The team's numbers are low, somewhere around 30 to 35.
Outlook: A break here or there, and they are in the playoffs.
Whom to watch: Running back Greg Santangelo gives the Wolverines experience in the backfield. Chris Santoro (6-1, 285) gives them a presence at center and defensive end. Nick Tinneny and Ronel Fairel give them two capable receivers. And Matt Ganley gives them some gristle at linebacker and fullback.
What to watch: There's not much of a silver lining coming off a 0-10 season in which you were outscored, 353-46. But with a full year under his belt, coach Mike Santillo is hopeful. "We're definitely not going to be a doormat," he said.
Outlook: Not a defeated season.
- Jeff McLane