By Joseph Staszewski
Holy Cross saw two of its best players from last year’s team transfer, with Rutgers-bound wide receiver Ahmed Bah now at Grand Street and quarterback Joshua Edwards heading to North Catholic Philadelphia. The remaining Knights don’t want to hear about the stars who left, and want to prove their talent collectively makes the team just as good.
“That motivates us more,” said Jeremiah Nelson, a senior linebacker and receiver. “We like to have the mind-set that one person doesn’t make up a team. Even though we lost a big part, it is not going to decide how our season is going to go.”
Cross’ biggest strength will be its veteran and cohesive offensive line as it looks to compete in the CHSFL’s AAA division. It returns three starters in Stephen Barongi, Sal DiMuro and Daniel Sparrow. They will be asked to go both ways with just 35 players on the roster, but new head coach Tim Smith believes this group will be a big key to his team’s success. It’s the closest group they have had since 1999. The former long-time assistant coach took over this season for Tom Pugh, who retired after 42 years at the helm.
“These guys do everything together,” Smith said. “They are at every weight lift together.”
The Knights’ quarterback job is up for grabs with junior varsity call-up Christian Valdez battling it out with last year’s varsity backup, Joseph Fellin. Smith gives Fellin the early edge because of his experience. Whoever wins the job will have plenty of weapons to work with in a tweaked offensive system.
Smith is high on senior running back Aaron Griffin and will use Nelson in the backfield and as a slot receiver. Junior Justin Moore is an explosive running back off the junior varsity. Returning senior Re’Vonne Smalls, who will also play in the secondary on defense, will join him. Junior Michael Ciardello is a sure-handed possession receiver and reminds Smith stylistically of a former New York Jet.
“He’s something special,” Smith said. “He’s Wayne Chrebet-ish.”
Holy Cross has had one of the league’s toughest defenses in recent years with Smith as defensive coordinator. He doesn’t see that changing with this physical group. Senior Kahron Hogans and junior Dylan McCutchen will anchor the defensive line. Donte Snell and Kevin Donato are in the secondary. An experienced linebacker group returns with Nelson, Jeremiah Jones and Anthony Yodice.
“We got ballers on our defense,” Nelson said.
It is that kind of confidence that has allowed Holy Cross to quickly move past the loss of its two stars and focus on proving how much talent is still in the program. They open the season Sept. 12 against Monroe Woodbury.
“As long as we keep working hard, we can be as good as anybody,” Nelson said. “We lost two good players, two brothers, but we still have a lot more that is here that is ready to work.”