A Philadelphia Catholic League power for decades, St. Joseph's Prep captured its first PIAA state title in 2013 and did so in decisive fashion: a 35-10 victory over a Pittsburgh Central Catholic squad that the MaxPreps Computer Projections pegged as a 10-point favorite in the contest.
Head coach Gabe Infante's 2014 Hawks squad will feature most of the key players that helped the team go the distance last fall.
Fifteen returning starters (seven on offense, eight on defense) give St. Joseph's Prep a good bit of seasoning, which it will need going up against a schedule that includes Mount Carmel (Chicago), Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.), St. Ignatius (Cleveland) and St. Joseph Regional (Montvale, N.J.)
Lining up behind center will be Jack Clements
. He performed admirably filling in when starter Chris Martin missed time last year due to injury. The Hawks should have little dropoff in production from the position.John Reid
will see time on both sides of the ball. A playmaker on both offense and defense, he already has three years of varsity experience under his belt. He's a gifted cornerback and a sure-handed receiver (41 catches, 698 yards), who may also be the state's best overall player.Olamide Zaccheaus
, the team's top running back, is another key to the Hawks offense. When he's not getting touches, look for the team to put the ball in the hands of sophomore De'Andre Swift
Last season, Swift earned MaxPreps Freshman All-American honors, living up to the hype that accompanied him as he entered high school.
Michigan-bound tackle Jon Runyan Jr.
will help provide Zaccheaus and Swift with running room. He's just one of four returning starters in the unit that also stars Mark Ehrlich
, Ed Mooney
and 6-4, 305-pound Shane Davis
. Outside of Davis and Runyan, the unit will lack size but possesses something even more valuable: Cohesion.
Like the offensive line, its defensive counterpart is also a not a green group. Jake Strain
, Joe Dumond
and Erich Hartman
were all key contributors a year ago. Sophomore Taron Hampton
will push for playing time if he doesn't crack into the offensive line. He played at 6-3, 260 as a ninth-grader.
The linebackers and secondary need to find a way to make up for the production lost due to the graduation of Ryan McNulty and Vince Moffett, respectively.
If St. Joseph's Prep picks up where it left off -- and it should -- the Hawks will have a chance to start the season 3-0, something that would be a major statement nationally. This team should be competing for another AAAA title in December. How it fares in its early-season, out-of-state tests could determine if it's competing for a national one as well.
"It's a team that has a great core group back, including possibly the best player in the state, John Reid, tons of speed (Olamide Zaccheaus and D'Andre Swift) and man-child Jon Daniel Runyan, who's grown another inch and added another 20 pounds. A lot will depend on the development of QB Jack Clements. He's 6-4, 210 and has all the physical attributes. Can he replace Chris Martin, who played in last year's state title game with a torn ACL risking serious injury, and possessed the heart the size of the Grand Canyon?"- Joseph Santoliquito, CBS Philly (@JSantoliquito)
"The Hawks, with a strong returning cast, are a threat to repeat as Catholic League and PIAA Class AAAA state champions. The headliners for coach Gabe Infante are multipurpose standout John Reid, 6-foot-4, 250-pound offensive tackle Jon Runyan (Michigan), and running back Olamide Zaccheaus. Another Division I prospect is lightning-quick sophomore running back D'Andre Swift. Back on the defensive line are end Jake Strain, tackle Erich Hartman and end Joe DuMond." - Rick O'Brien, Philadelphia Inquirer (@ozoneinq)