St. Joe's Prep Celebrates with a Team Picture after Winning 6A State Title. (Photo by Zack Beavers for PSD)
BY JOHN KNEBELS
(Photos by Zack Beavers)
MECHANICSVILLE – It’s been about a month since Rameir Hardy’s world felt like a tumultuous roller coaster ride.
Excitement . . . Joy . . . Pain . . . Confusion . . . Fear . . . Patience . . . Success . . . Gratitude.
After the final seconds ticked away and St. Joseph’s Prep had captured its eighth PIAA state football championship in 11 seasons – a dominant 45-23 Class 6A win over North Allegheny December 9 at Cumberland Valley High School – the junior wide receiver emerged a tad overwhelmed by a flood of emotions. As he spoke after the game, Hardy tried to find the right words that would adequately describe his own personal journey.
Four weeks of discernment helped Hardy better articulate his whirlwind experience.
“The life lesson that I learned,” said Hardy, “is to never take anything for granted.”
In the second quarter of a 59-21 state quarterfinal win over Lehigh Valley’s Nazareth Area High School on November 25 at Northeast High School, Hardy caught a short pass and started up field. Before he could get loose, Hardy was grabbed under his jersey, spun around, and tackled to the turf. Although a seemingly innocent play on video, the result was anything but harmless.
Momentarily knocked unconscious before receiving immediate attention from the Prep’s medical staff, Hardy was carted off the field on a stretcher and taken to Temple University Hospital’s Jeanes Campus. Though able to move his lower extremities, the next few hours weighed heavily on Hardy, his family in attendance, teammates, and coaches.
“At this point, I recall everything from the play,” said Hardy. “It is not a blur. As it was explained to me, I exerted so much energy trying to get away from the kid who had my shirt, and the rotational force of him spinning me and the blow to the back of my head caused me to get knocked out.
“I thought my season was over, but I kept faith and I prayed to God and I worked every day to get back healthy. I was out of the hospital within four hours. Doctor Ryan Schreiter (Temple Hospital orthopedic) is one of the best in the business, and he made sure I was taken care of. I knew I was going to play soon as I left the hospital.”
Prep coach Tim Roken considers the Hawks his own sons. After the injury, it was difficult to concentrate solely on football.
“To see him get hurt like that and thankfully be okay, it makes an impact on the whole program,” said Roken, whose five-year resume flashes four state titles and a loss in one final. “He’s an unbelievable young man of character. Treats everybody the same, whether it’s the president or the maintenance people or the people who work in the food department. It doesn’t matter. He’s the last one to leave . . . always cleaning up the trash.
“Made some great plays for us on special teams. Blocked a couple of punts. Scored our first touchdown. Shows up every day to work.”
St. Joe's Prep's Rameir Hardy. (Photo by Zack Beavers for PSD)
Moving from motivational incentive to actually returning to the football field would require a series of physical tests and clearances. Borrowing some of the philosophy from his favorite motivational speaker, former college football player Inky Johnson, Hardy embraced the challenge with courage and fortitude.
“Arod (Anthony Rodriguez), who is our trainer, told me I would not play unless I was able to get through concussion protocol with flying colors,” said Hardy. “I had to go through full practices without any symptoms after I was cleared from protocol.”
Thankfully, Hardy made a steady recovery and was cleared to practice leading up to the state final.
A starter on special teams who scored the Hawks’ first touchdown of the season on a return of a blocked punt by senior Erik Sanchez, Hardy returned to his typical aggressive self on the opening kickoff. Several encouraging teammates could be heard yelling his name from the sideline.
“The most sacrosanct thing to me from my experience is that my teammates are my brothers – literally,” said Hardy. “I was in the hospital and I had an overabundance of love and prayer from my guys. They cried and prayed for me.
“I did everything I needed to in order to play because I wanted to play with the seniors one more time. I wanted to line up with the ‘trio’ (senior wide receivers Brandon Rehmann, Elijah Jones, and David Washington) one more time. I wanted to go up against Omillio (Agard) and Davon (Willie) in practice one more time. I wanted to block for Kahseim (Phillips) one time on the perimeter. I wanted to catch another pass from Samaj (Jones) one more time. Most importantly, I wanted to play in the St. Joseph’s Prep uniform one more time with my brothers.”
The presence of Number 88 in the week of practice leading to the championship and then watching him suit up for the final helped galvanize his relieved and appreciative teammates.
“I love that kid,” said the aforementioned Kahseim “Caddy” Phillips. “It was hard on all of us when he got injured, but he’s a hard worker and fought to come back. It was very important that he was out there with us because of how tight we all are as brothers, and the culture here.”
Hardy and his Prep comrades left nothing on the field.
In front of a spirited crowd on a near-freezing evening, the players that Hardy specified could not be stopped. Quarterback Samaj Jones rushed for 124 yards and three touchdowns and threw one each to Brandon Rehmann and Elijah Jones – the former a 13-yard strike, and the latter a highlight-reel, 80-yard toss and bolt down the left sideline.
Buoyed by senior end Sean McNulty, junior tackle Maxwell Roy, junior linebacker Anthony Sacca (athletic interception), senior linebacker Nick McGlynn, junior linebacker Cameron Smith, junior safety Ryan McDonald, and senior Omillio Agard, the Prep’s defense overwhelmed North Allegheny’s talented offense, surrendering a misleading 23 points, the last 13 of which occurred after the Hawks had built an insurmountable 45-10 lead in the third quarter.
For Hardy, it would be impossible to separate his own voyage from the Prep’s team accomplishment.
“I have had a lot of time to reflect on my injury and I learned a lot from my injury,” said Hardy. “The main thing being never to take a day of practice or a game for granted, because any day could be your last day doing what you love.
“Life is a long peregrination. However, you do not let a doleful moment ruin your experiences. Let them make you stronger.”
(Contact John Knebels at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @johnknebels.)