The Inter-Academic Football League is unique unto its own. Six high schools make up the entire league.
The league is intense with every game being considered a playoff game to determine the Inter-Ac Champion.
Philadelphia Sports Digest gives you an inside look of the hard work and grit that goes into each practice and players to watch…before the coin toss this Friday.
(Videos/Photos by: Nick Schreder, James Williamson, Gracie Cleveland & Mark Zimmaro. Video Edits by: Mark Zimmaro & James Williamson)
By: Rich Flanagan
PHILADELPHIA – Dave Gueriera remembers the anxiety his team felt on a weekly basis. The apprehension of not knowing if Malvern Prep would be playing a game or even holding a practice from one day to the next brought a dark cloud over the entire roster. The Friars may hold a practice at the beginning of the week but what if Saturday’s game was canceled? Was it all for nothing?
The fifth-year head coach believes the 2020 season created a newfound perspective for his team that makes a return to normalcy that much more gratifying.
“Those guys that are coming back are not taking anything for granted and most lived through a limited spring season,” Gueriera said. “What I love about them is that they know it has been and can be taken away. The urgency doesn’t have to be artificially created; it’s organic. They can savor the opportunity to play.”
The Friars went 4-0 last season playing as an independent. With the possibility that the Inter-Ac would not hold a fall sports season, Malvern Prep decided to take matters into its own hands and carved out as many games as they could fit into their schedule in a shortened season in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gueriera will be without one of the most dynamic players in program history this season. Lonnie White was originally committed to play at Penn State but his fortunes changed when he was selected 64th overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2021 MLB Draft. During his senior season, he had 459 all-purpose yards and seven total touchdowns (three rushing, four receiving) and recorded three interceptions on the other side of the ball. His versatility was almost unmatched, as evidenced by his success at quarterback as a junior where he rushed for 1,065 yards and 15 scores while also passing for 796 yards and nine touchdowns through the air.
No one can replicate the hole left by White’s departure but Gueriera is excited to see how this year’s group can learn from what he accomplished and build on that.
“Lonnie is a once-in-a-generational talent,” Gueriera said. “He did some things that I’ve never seen done on a football field. There’s no replacing him. That’s too tall of a task for one person to do but I do think his production has to be replaced by a collection of guys. He converted a lot of his touches into touchdowns.”
Players who also moved on to the next stage of their career were offensive lineman Christian Curatolo (Lehigh), linebacker Kellen Mathias (Lehigh), defensive back Steven Rose Jr. (Delaware) and linebacker Aidan Catania (Bucknell).
Under center, senior Jack Capaldi enters his second season as a starter. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior signal caller holds an offer from Penn and threw for 644 yards and three touchdowns as a junior. He has thrown for 634 yards and two touchdowns, both of which came against Archbishop Wood. At running back, Isaiah Wright, who has received interest from Bryant and Lafayette, will receive most of the workload. The 5-8 running back is “super versatile” and plays similar to former Eagles RB Darren Sproles, according to Gueriera. He has rushed for 300 yards and seven scores, including 123 yards and three touchdowns against Berks Catholic.
With White gone, 6-1 junior and two-year starter Ryan Falkenstein moves to the outside. After playing in the slot a year ago, he has moved to the outside and had success (50 yards against La Salle). Andrew Connolly, the 6-2 senior who Gueriera notes is “good at getting jump balls,” will play opposite Falkenstein and 5-10 senior D’Angelo Stocker will be in the slot. He was clocked at a 4.3 40-yard dash at a camp at Wake Forest over the summer. Stocker is “one of the fastest kids in the state” and “one big play waiting to happen,” as Gueriera notes. For example, he had 55 yards on the ground and a score while also taking back a punt return for a touchdown against West Catholic followed by 88 receiving yards and a score against the Vikings. Stocker leads all Friars receivers with 227 yards.
The strength of the Friars, as has been the case in years past, is upfront.
Senior Coltin Deery, the 6-3, 285-pound Maryland commit, is the pillar of that unit. He “could probably play tight end,” according to Gueriera. Max Bowman, the 6-6, 300-pound Harvard commit, is “very skilled and has gotten better in the run game.”
One of the tackles, sophomore Peter Jones already holds offers from Boston College, Kentucky, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia at only 15 years-old. The 6-5, 290-pound lineman has “raised the level of our offensive line simply with his work ethic,” Gueriera says. Will Shallow, at 6-1, 240-pound, moves from tackle to guard this season.
On the defensive side of the ball, Deery is an imposing threat on the front of the Friars 4-4 defense. Colin McHugh, the 6-foot, 200-pound junior, leads the way with 4.0 sacks and eight tackles for loss. At the next level, Malvern Prep is anchored by a pair of two-year starters in 6-1 senior Ryan Davis and 6-1 senior Dale Law, who played defensive end as a junior. Law leads the team with 40 total tackles. In the secondary, Wright starts on one side with 5-9 senior Stephen Hollander, who has two interceptions and five pass breakups, on the other.
Another team looking to replace one of its premiere players in program history is Germantown Academy, which finished 3-1 (2-1 Inter-Ac) last season. Matt Dence, who enters his 10th season at the helm, played at King’s College and has coached at Bates College, Amherst College, Yale and Georgetown. He has seen his fair share of success at the quarterback position when considering the succession line of Hayes Nolte, Kyle McCloskey and Jordan Longino. Nolte played tight end at Cornell, McCloskey is a member of Penn State’s men’s basketball team and Longino is beginning his freshman season at Villanova under Jay Wright.
While Longino left Germantown Academy as the basketball program’s all-time leading scorer, his presence on the gridiron may be more greatly missed. He was a three-year starter who finished his career with 222 completions, 3,415 passing yards and 32 touchdowns. As a junior, he threw for a school record 1,946 yards and his 325 yards against Springside Chestnut Hill that season are the second-most in a game in school history. He may have left as the program’s statistical leader in almost every major category if not missing his entire freshman season and half of the sophomore year due to knee injuries.
Dence has been thrilled to have three consecutive quarterbacks who have taken command of the offense and put together memorable careers in the process.
“Jordan is as talented a kid as I have ever coached,” Dence said. “We’ve had three of the best to ever do it in Jordan, Kyle McCloskey and Hayes Nolte. Jordan’s completion percentage was in the high 60s for a high school quarterback. He brought people together and was a terrific leader. He had that ability to do whatever he set his mind to.”
He may have another one in 5-11 junior Tristian Machado. “He’s done an outstanding job so far,” according to Dence and done it with both his arm and his legs. He has thrown for 619 yards and five touchdowns. He also had a six-yard touchdown run against Simon Gratz.
Other players lost from last year are Jerry Griffin-Batchler (Bloomsburg), Jeff Decker (Franklin & Marshall), Brian Kelley (Ursinus) and Nick Niemynski, who is a kicker at Bucknell who converted 98-for-11 extra points and 10-for-14 field goals over four seasons with the Patriots.
Machado and this year’s Patriots team enter the year after the pandemic limited them to four games and Dence is excited that this group is getting the full experience of playing the season out.
“Half of our team doesn’t know what a normal season looks like at the high school level and the other half hasn’t had a normal season in two years,” Dence said. “There’s a mindset difference from what last year was and this year is.”
Brian Allen has “taken the reins as the starter” at running back, according to Dence. The 5-11 senior and Long Island University lacrosse commit has rushed for 626 yards and six scores in four games, all four of which he has surpassed the 100-yard mark in. Sophomore Taj Dyches, the 5-9 back, has had success in the backfield as shown by his 57-yard, two-touchdown performance against Gratz.
Machado will be throwing to an array of options on the outside including Jake Hsu, the 6-1 senior captain and four-year starter, and Evan Spivey, the 6-1 junior who Dence notes “has really grown into a pass catcher. Hsu had 87 yards and a score versus Gratz. Spivey leads the team in receiving yards (217).
Another option will be 5-11 junior Aidan Donahue, who has 14 catches on the year and who Dence says has “done a marvelous job of stepping and becoming a threat at receiver.” Mike McGhee, a 6-foot senior captain, starts at tight end.
Upfront, 6-foot, 230-pound senior and four-year starter Donny Lattanze as well as 6-1, 250-pound senior and fellow four-year starter Sean Spinosa are back. Coulten Grasela, the 6-foot, 230-pound lineman returns for year three on the line. Drexel lacrosse commit and the starting goalie for the Patriots lacrosse team, Brendan Donnelly anchors the line at center. Finally, 6-2, 240-pound senior captain and left guard Jack Brookman enters his second season as a starter.
Grasela also plays nose tackle on defense, where he is “one of the most dominant defensive lineman in the league,” as Dence notes. He will be joined by 6-foot junior Logan Woodward on the defensive front.
McGhee is a three-year starter at linebacker and “can play multiple positions,” according to Dence. Aeneas Vance, the 5-11 junior, will play on one side while two players will also see action in junior CJ Bauer and sophomore Seamus Knox. Bauer returns after missing all of last season with a torn ACL and Knox played in every game as a freshman. Knox, at 6-2, 191 lbs, had 11 tackles against Gratz and nine vs. Hill School.
Spivey and Hsu start at safety while Dyches and Aidan Zakarewicz, a 5-11 Xavier baseball commit who had two interceptions against Hill School, are the starting corners.
Rick Knox begins year 17 at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy after going 1-3 (1-2) last season. He has brought in a new offensive coordinator in John Reagan, who is a former offensive line coach at Maryland and was offensive coordinator at Rice, Kansas and Penn, where he won two Ivy League titles. Reagan brings “a new system and terminology” and the Blue Devils have “the most overqualified OC in high school football,” according to Knox.
After a year that was very much in doubt throughout, the focus for Knox is simplifying new concepts and working on the little things.
“With everything the kids have been through and the fact that we didn’t play much last year, it’s very much back to the basics for us as a program,” Knox said. “I think a lot of coaches felt that way with the summer workouts and having kids understand the emotion and dedication it takes for football. We were teaching those things again and getting our program moving in the right direction.”
The Blue Devils graduated the most college recruits under Knox in 2020 with eight players moving on to play at the next level. Some of those players included offensive lineman Tristan Holmbeck (Dartmouth), quarterback AJ Graham (Ithaca College), wide receiver Bobby Markey (Dickinson College), wide receiver Nick Weston (Moravian College), linebacker Carnell Kemp (King’s College) and offensive lineman Matt Elliott (Trinity College).
Aidan Dooley moves into the starting quarterback role this season. After beginning his career at Father Judge and missing all of last year with an injury, the 6-1, 180-pound field general “has embraced learning our new system,” according to Knox. Dooley has passed for 1,117 yards and 14 touchdowns in four games. He had 340 yards and four touchdowns against Cheltenham followed by 267 yards and five scores vs. Pope John Paul II. He also had 58 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground against Capital Preparatory Harlem Charter School (N.Y.).
Senior Luke Sonnet will be the starting running back when he returns from a dislocated elbow he suffered in a scrimmage prior to the season. In the meantime, Elio Colavita has “filled in nicely” and is a “hard, downhill runner,” as Knox says. The 6-1, 190-pound back has 350 yards on the ground and two touchdowns this season.
Dooley has plenty of explosive receivers to toss the ball around to, including Ivan Thorpe, who is “one of the most explosive players in southeastern Pa,” according to Knox. The 5-10 wideout has the game-winning 30-yard touchdown catch against Pope John Paul II and is receiving interest from UConn, Kent State and Stonybrook. He has 19 catches for 337 yards and four scores so far. Tommy Shelinsky, a 5-10 senior, has been impressive with 288 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Danny Reagan, the 6-1 sophomore and son of the new offensive coordinator, will line up at tight end and 5-10 freshman Julian McFadden, son of the varsity basketball coach, has seen action at wide receiver already. McFadden had 65 yards vs. Cheltenham.
Joe Cassidy, the 6-1, 215-pound senior is “quick and athletic,” as Knox states, and will lead the offensive line. Grayson Scott, the 6-2, 275-pound lineman, will start as a freshman, despite never having been coached on the line before this season but Knox and his staff are very high on the young prospect. The remainder of the line is made up of Grant Guzik (6-foot, 240 lbs.), Aidan McCann (6-1, 250 lbs.) and Darrion Rascoe (5-10, 240 lbs.).
The Blue Devils have depth at linebacker with Danny Reagan and Colavita manning two spots. RJ Moore, who was named All-American at the Prep National Wrestling Tournament last year, plays the “Devil” or strong outside linebacker spot. Sonnett will also see time after returning.
Thorpe “has Division I potential at corner” and 5-10 sophomore starting safety Tyler Roberts “has a really good nose for coming up and filling gaps,” according to Knox. Shelinski will be the other starting safety.
Todd Fairlie and The Episcopal Academy won the Inter-Ac in 2019. As Fairlie enters his 11th season at the helm of the Churchmen, his group was not given the opportunity to defend its crown in 2020 and finished with a 1-2 (1-2) record. Maurcus McDaniel, now a defensive back at Penn, was the catalyst of that team as he won 2019 Inter-Ac MVP and finished his career with 3,041 career passing yards, 2,340 rushing yards and 55 total touchdowns (26 passing).
Despite only playing a handful of games, the 2020 senior class graduated several key players in Malcolm Folk, now a corner at Syracuse who racked up 108 career tackles and three interceptions, Joe Graham, a tight end at Furman, Dylan DiBeneditto, a linebacker at Catholic University, Brandon Cox, a defensive back at Holy Cross, and Billy Adams, who is playing lacrosse at Army.
Two years removed from an Inter-Ac title, Fairlie is focused on getting his team back into a routine and finding out where they stand among the rest of the league.
“Last year, we did play a couple of games but there was so much uncertainty,” Fairlie said. “We were always waiting for instruction. It’s been so refreshing to just spend time with our players this year and go back to the normal process of team building.”
Quarterback Jake Fant “has a lot of potential to put us where we need to be, especially late in games,” according to Fairlie, as he begins year two as the starter. The 6-1 signal caller threw for 406 yards and three touchdowns in the shortened season but he has come out firing to begin his senior year. He has 825 yards and seven scores with 182 yards on the ground early on. Princeton lacrosse commit Andrew McMeekin is the starting running back. The 6-1, 195-pound back has 245 rushing yards and six touchdowns this season.
Bryce Cooper, the 5-9 receiver who was a “major part of the 2019 championship team”, will be Fant’s top option. He has 161 yards and three touchdowns thus far.
Neo Vossschulte, a 6-4, 192-pound Army commit, gives the Churchmen another viable option on the outside. Jake Jaszcz, the 6-2 senior captain, TJ Lamb, a 6-2 Cornell lacrosse commit, and Ryan Appaneal, a 6-4 starting tight end, will also be a receiving option.
Episcopal Academy is manned by a pair of two-year starters at tackle in 6-2 Victor Coleman on the left and 6-2 Vern Holley on the right. Michael Martilloti, whose brother, Jake is a former Churchmen co-captain, is a 5-11 guard.
The defense will be a project as Fairlie notes that side of the ball “brought back the least amount of experience on the defensive side.”
McMeekin will see time at linebacker as will 5-10 junior Will Hohn, who “brings a lot of energy to the defense” and “flies around and makes plays,” according to Fairlie. McMeekin has 34 total tackles and 10 tackles for loss, including three sacks, while Hohn is second with 32 tackles and five for loss.
Reese Bufala, a 5-10 junior, and Jack Gallagher, another 5-11 junior, will also see action in the middle of the defense.
On the backend, brothers Michael and TJ Cadden (33 tackles) are the starting safeties. Michael is a 5-10 sophomore and TJ is a 6-foot junior who is “one of the most well rounded players in the league,” as Fairlie says. TJ is also a standout kickoff returner as he has 274 return yards and two touchdowns. A pair of seniors in CJ Jones and Mekhi Rodgers are the starters at corner but both have been out with injuries. Na’rome Rayborn, a 6-foot sophomore who has an interception this season, has been starting in place as has Taliq Montgomery.
The Haverford School last won the Inter-Ac in 2015 and Brian Martin, in his second season as head coach, is hoping to lead the Fords back into contention. The Fords finished 2-1 (2-1) last year and the appreciation for the little things this football season has brought has made Martin and this 2021 Fords team humbled to be back to normal.
“We take every day as an opportunity to get better,” Martin said. “It’s precious to us and our guys are thankful to have a full season. We like having our team meetings in-person and watching film. We’re not taking anything for granted and just appreciative of having the regular season.”
Martin has utilized a dual quarterback system through the early part of the year with 6-foot senior Mike Galasso and 6-2 senior Mike Benincasa. Galasso, who Martin notes “can extend plays with his feet and he has good vision downfield,” had 207 yards through the air against Downingtown West. Benincasa, who Martin stressed is “like having a coach on the field,” had 181 yards and three touchdowns against Lansdale Catholic then 126 yards and a score vs. Landon School (Md.).
The Fords offensive philosophy for years has been giving their quarterbacks the freedom to make decisions at the line of scrimmage and Martin has been pleased with what each passer has done with their opportunity.
“We’re an RPO style so we have our quarterback doing a lot of pre-snap reads,” Martin said. “It gives us the opportunity to tell if it’s man or zone then from there we have the option to hit it quickly or hand the ball off.”
Running back Jahmon Silver (144 yards, one touchdown) leads the way on the ground. Junior Michael Dean and sophomore Matthew Brosko will also be part of the rotation. Brosko leads the Fords with a pair of rushing touchdowns through four games.
The wide receiving corps is headed by 5-10 senior Sam Gerber and 5-10 junior Chace Knox. Gerber has 23 receptions for 212 yards and both of his touchdown grabs came against Lansdale Catholic. Knox opened the season with 113 yards against the Whippets and leads the Fords with 218 receiving yards. Ryan Getz, a 5-11 junior, is another option outside.
Isaiah Boyd is the “anchor of our offensive line,” according to Martin. The 6-foot-4, 270-pound lineman excels on the defensive end but has shown promise on offense. He is flanked by 6-4, 282-pound starting junior guard Sean Dugery and 6-5, 285-pound junior center Matt Pante, both of whom saw action as sophomores.
Boyd, who is committed to play on the defensive line at Tulane, has 23 total tackles, including six tackles for loss and a sack. Billy Brosko, the 5-11 junior, starts at nose tackle and “he’s got a motor and is hard to block,” as Martin says.
The three linebacker spots are manned by 6-2 junior Louie Atkinson, 5-10 senior Ian Rush and 6-foot junior Sean Dougherty. Atkinson has 24 tackles and had four tackles for loss against Landon School. Dougherty has 18 tackles on the season.
Gerber and 6-1 senior Will Costin are the starting safeties while Getz and 6-foot junior Will Burt are the starting cornerbacks.
Tom Coyle begins his ninth season at William Penn Charter after only playing two games a year ago. The Quakers split those contests but return a strong group.
Junior quarterback Colin Schumm along with running backs Chandler Turner and Zach Curtin lead a vaunted rushing attack. Schumm, the 6-3 signal caller, has 140 rushing yards, including 79 against Roman Catholic. Turner also has 140 yards and three scores on the ground and is averaging 5.0 yards per carry. Curtin had 72 yards vs. Father Judge, Coyle’s former team. Isaiah Grimes, the 6-2 senior wideout, had a 51-yard catch against Father Judge.
“Our quarterback, Colin Schumm, is an amazing player. Chandler Turner is a guy who has had a great football season in 2019, he missed part of 2020 because of an injury that he sustained. We have great backs in Ohifame Ijeboi and Zach Curtin is a guy who is coming along and becoming a great player,” said Coyle.
On the other side of the ball, Jerry Rullo, who pushed for the start of fall sports last October, and David Comitale lead Penn Charter with 17 total tackles each. Curran Rahn has five tackles for loss in three games.
The anxiety of last season has not been felt by Inter-Ac teams this year. The focus has been on the appreciation for little things like player meetings, regular practices and, most importantly, a full schedule. A league champion will be crowned for the first time in two years when Inter-Ac action begins on October 15. That is all any of the six historic programs can hope for after a shortened, uneasy year.