By Joseph Staszewski
Holy Cross stars Jordan Francklin, Brandon Pelzer and Brandon Jackson have moved on to the college ranks.
What’s left, however, is one of the deepest and most balanced Knights football teams in recent years.
“We don’t have those kind of guys, but we have a lot more depth in all our positions,” legendary Holy Cross Coach Tom Pugh said.
It is on offense where the Knights will benefit the most from that, allowing them to be more dynamic. They ran the ball nearly every down last season and were still able to reach the CHSFL Class AAA semifinals for the first time since 2009 before losing to Chaminade.
The Holy Cross attack will again be based around the run with the return of the entire offensive line that includes Will LeClaire, Jeremy Medina Prince, Richard McCarthy and Justin Acevedo.
All of them are 250 pounds or more. The Knights saw running back Prince Klutsey transfer to Lincoln. They will still be pounding the run game with Chris Manfre on the goal line and Aaron Griffin and Deaon Pierce. They also hope fullbacks Mike Beccararelli and Edwin Villegas will help open up an improved passing game.
“It’s going to be based on run, but we are definitely going to have a 50/50 receiver/running back type duo,” senior receiver Paul Yodice said.
He and 6-foot-5 junior Amed Bahr, who transferred from Xaverian as a sophomore, are both sure-handed, deep threats. Junior varsity call-up Jason Vargas will also contribute to the aerial attack.
The beneficiary of all these weapons is junior quarterback Joshua Evans. He was called up late last season, but struggled. Pugh held him out of the playoff win over rival St. Francis Prep because he didn’t see a confidence in his eyes.
That has changed after a summer of playing in 7-on-7 games with the team and the knowledge that the starting job is his. Evans has also put on some muscle in the weight room.
“He’s blossomed into a solid kid this year,” Pugh said. “I see a kid getting confidence.”
The Knights still have plenty of that in their defense despite the loss of Pelzer and Francklin at linebacker and Jackson, a ball-hawk cornerback. Cross still has plenty of playmakers, starting with cornerback Calvert Springer, who had seven interceptions last season. Bahr and the 6-foot-4 Michael Charles join him in the secondary at safety.
“I feel like I have a safety valve at line backer with him back there,” Manfre said of Springer. “I know if I mess up he will be right behind me.”
McCarthy and Joe Webb return on the defensive line, but Pugh is still looking for someone to play linebacker alongside Manfre. The senior has enjoyed stepping into a bigger leadership role and his teammates appreciate what he means to the club.
“Best replacement linebacker,” Springer said jokingly about Manfre. ”We need him. He’s very important.”
Pugh made sure to also stress the impact made by punts returner Sal DiCamillo. He fielded all 43 chances he had last season, didn’t fumble one and never called for a fair catch. He can also play receiver and running back if need be.
It’s that kind of versatility that has Cross feeling confident in its chances this season despite one of the hardest schedules the program has ever had, according to Pugh.
The Knights have an early day with defending champion St. Anthony’s and regular season matching up with rival St. Francis Prep. It will be tough, but Holy Cross wants to get a step further than last season and compete for a title with a deep and talented group.
“There is no big names, but as a team we can come together,” Manfre said. “I’d rather have a team than two or three superstars.”