BRYN ATHYN, PA--It's been a good football season for the Academy of the New Church (ANC); based in Bryn Athyn, Bucks County. The Lions stand at 7-1 with one game remaining, and they've shown plenty of resilience despite commonly facing opponents with larger rosters, both physically and numbers-wise.
"We have some tough kids," said ANC head coach Ty Klippenstein after ANC's 43-20 Senior Day victory over the Belmont Charter Tigers on October 28.
"Most of the time there's a whole bunch of dudes on the other side of the line and we've only got a few guys over here; and we need these guys to just go in and have a lot of grit."
"Most weeks, we're up against teams that have bigger numbers and bigger guys, but it doesn't really matter for us," said senior lineman Colin Pallanta. "We still pull through every week."
"You've always got to have a 'next man up' mentality. Always be ready," said senior Hunter Aquino, whose performance in all three phases of the game proved to be the difference in the Lions' win over Belmont.
Aquino himself embodied the mentality he advised incoming ANC players to have; filling in at quarterback for his injured brother Conner, who suffered a season-ending ACL injury the previous week. Not only did Aquino deliver on offense, with two touchdown passes, a touchdown and a two-point conversion on the ground, and 206 total scrimmage yards in his first ever foray at QB, but he also had two takeaways on defense, including a 40-yard pick-six. Aquino also handled kicking duties, nailing an extra point and booting a 56-yard punt late in the 4th quarter that pinned Belmont at their 10-yard line.
Aquino finished the game rushing for a team-high 73 yards on eight carries and completing six of seven passes for 133 yards and two scores, finishing with six straight completions after throwing an interception on his first pass.
Senior QB Hunter Aquino in game vs Belmont Charter.(Photo/ Kathy Leister for PSD)
But of course, the ANC experience isn't just about what happens on the field. And for Klippenstein, head coach at his alma mater, progress on the football field builds towards progress in life.
"Fundamentally... we're trying to make kids better kids," Klippenstein said "Football's a tough sport. It requires discipline, you've got to be able to control your emotions. They get good at those things, they become better football players, and hopefully they become better people.
"I want [my seniors] to finish off their football careers with a good experience. I want these guys to walk away from their last time on the football field saying 'Oh my gosh, I'm so happy I got to play football at ANC.' That's my goal, I want them to walk away with a long-term good experience that will nourish them as they get older, which it did for me."
Based on the testimonials of his players, Klippenstein is succeeding.
"I think our coaching staff does a really good job of making sure we know that football's about more than just the game on the field," senior wide receiver/defensive back Cole Brown said. "We've got to work on being respectful, honest and hard-working. In the end I probably won't play college football, but those lessons will help me in college; they'll help me the rest of my life."
Aquino mentioned how the dormitory experience at ANC will be similar to the one he will have at Penn State; where he will be a highly-touted freshman for the 2024-25 Nittany Lions' men's lacrosse squad.
"I think one of the big [lessons] for this place specifically is humility, because we have such small numbers," Pallanta added. "Since you're working with such a close group, you can't put yourself above anyone; you have to come together."
Together. The very word the team rallied around at the start of the game. And those who observed the ANC sideline saw the unity this team had. Whether it was hyping each other up after big plays on offense, showing the seniors love when they came out during the Senior Day ceremony, or checking on each other when teammates were injured, you could tell this team wants to win not just for themselves but for each other.
"I just want to win for my team and for my brother," Aquino said. "That's it."