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FOOTBALL: Back to Normal for Bonner & Prendergast, but Ireland Will Never Be Forgotten

By John Knebels, 09/07/23, 3:45PM EDT


Experience of a Lifetime for Bonner & Prendie Football Team

By John Knebels

(Special thanks to PSD photographer Mike Nance for traveling to Ireland and capturing the excitement thru his lens).

DUBLIN – For most of the past two weeks, Bonner & Prendergast’s football team has been preparing for Friday night’s tilt against visiting traditional Delaware powerhouse Salesianum School. The following week, the Friars kick off their Philadelphia Catholic League Blue Division season at Archbishop Carroll.

In all due respect to the present and future, just one more glance at what the entire Bonner & Prendergast sports community experienced at the end of August seems in order.

Over the course of a career, athletes forget more than what they recall. Wins . . . losses . . . minor injuries . . . spotty weather.

What the Friars’ players, coaches, and several families will undoubtedly never forget was opening their season with a game in Dublin, Ireland, on August 25, attending a college football game between the University of Notre Dame and the Naval Academy on August 26, and boarding a huge plane to fly home about 24 hours later.

Bonner & Prendergast families won’t forget it, either.

Archbishop Bonner & Prendergast taking the field at Energia Park in Dublin. (video by Mike Nance for PSD)

In addition to the pockets of relatives who shared the experience in person, it’s not every day that a person wakes up between 6:00 and 7:00 on a late August Saturday morning to watch a live stream emanating from more than 3,000 miles away.

Though the mere experience of such a journey would be more than enough to satisfy a high school athlete, going out and actually winning the game elevated the joy meter to an almost heavenly ascent.

“The amount of work we as a team put in, combined with the effort of our coaches and support from alumni and families, put us in a position to win that game,” said senior Austin Cannon, who caught a touchdown in the Friars’ 34-24 victory over NFL United Kingdom Academy. “If we didn’t take full advantage of that position we were put in, it would have been disappointing for not only the team, but the community we had supporting us throughout the trip. Regardless of the outcome of the game, one thing we all knew going into the trip was that we were in a unique situation, and this was a once in a lifetime trip for us. Getting the win in Ireland completed the trip for us.”

Plentiful recorded highlights await future generations. Among the unforgettable moments on the field that will be forever etched in memory . . . 

Junior Rob Ford caught a seven-yard pass, escaped from an attempted gang tackle, moved to his right, and sped the rest of the distance for a 35-yard touchdown to give the Friars a 13-2 lead.

“I'm never going to forget it,” Ford said. “As soon as I broke the tackle, something in my head told me I was going to score.”

Senior safety Isaiah Session appreciated the team’s growing camaraderie.

Bonner & Prendergast senior captain Austin Cannon lead the team onto the field in Dublin. (Photo/ Mike Nance for PSD)

Junior Rob Ford scored his first high school touchdown in Ireland. Pictured with Ford is head Coach Jack Muldoon (L) and Assist coach Mike Melvin Jr. (Photo/ Mike Nance for PSD)

“I feel like the best part of the whole trip was us being able to get closer as a team before we start the season,” Session said. “Throughout the whole trip, we were doing things together like learning overseas sports and things like going to the Notre Dame versus Navy game, so I feel like that helped our chemistry a lot.”

And then . . . back in familiar territory.

“I feel everyone was a bit excited to be home after a long trip and come back to America,” said senior center Kieran Farren. “I know a lot of kids weren’t fans of the food over in Ireland so I think they were happy to come home and eat what they are used to. The Notre Dame game was a really exciting experience because we got to be with the whole team and just hang out to watch the game. It was a lot of Notre Dame fans. It seemed like a home game for them.”

Philadelphia Sports Digest photographer Dr. Mike Nance thoroughly enjoyed taking his camera-clicking skills to an international level.

“It was fun,” said Nance. “For a couple of small, 60-plus minute windows, the Dubliners allowed themselves to be football – not fùtbol – fans. The city was decked out for the main event (Notre Dame vs. Navy) but leaned decidedly to Notre Dame. They seemed genuinely happy to host the Americans and their game. But soccer was back on the ‘tele’ by Sunday.”

Junior strong safety Mick Johnson intercepted passes in both the first and third quarters.

“I was just happy to be playing on a stage,” said Johnson, “and that my mom and family were watching at 7 A.M. “We did experience jet lag when we landed the first day and hopped into practice. Everyone was a little sluggish, and Coach Jack gave us a talk to help us realize where we were and what we were doing there.”

Junior wide receiver/defensive end Jalil Hall, who last year tallied 14 touchdowns, picked up where he left off by snaring three scoring receptions from a combination of five thrown by freshman quarterbacks Kenjai Gatling (7-for-15, 151 yards, three TDs) and Noel Campbell (5-for-9, 46 yards, two scores).

Junior Jalil Hall scored 3 TD receptions in Dublin game vs. NFL Academy UK. (Photo by Mike Nance for PSD)

Freshman QB Kenjai Gatling in game vs. NFL Academy UK (Photo by Mike Nance for PSD)

Freshman Noel Campbell part of the Freshman QB duo in Game vs. NFL Academy UK. (photo/ Mike Nance for PSD)

Hall was asked to rank them in order of most memorable.

“The first one was definitely one of my favorites,” Hall said. “I caught the pass off balance and looked up and I wasn’t gonna make it to the end zone, so I dove for the pylon. Every touchdown is great to me. I’m very appreciative. After a while, it became normal to me because I know I could do it again the very next play.

“To the people that watch me play, that’s probably the biggest reason why you would never see me celebrate a touchdown no matter if it was my record-breaking touchdown last year or a touchdown while we’re up 20 in the second quarter.”


(Contact John Knebels at or on Twitter @johnknebels.)

(Photo Gallery by Mike Nance for PSD)