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Coming into the 2015 football season, nobody–and I mean nobody–scares me as much as Sonny Abramson. It’s not the fact that he’s started every game since Week 1 of his freshman year. It’s not the state-leading 6,349 yards he’s thrown, or the 73 touchdowns he’s accumulated after three seasons. It’s not the fact that he’s the top quarterback prospect in New Jersey. It’s the fact that he’s got nothing else to prove.
I’ve gotten to know Sonny a little bit through the years. The first year, you could sense he had a big shoes to fill. Then, as a sophomore, he had the pressure of spreading the ball evenly to D1 blue chippers Ryan Izzo and Noah Brown. Last season he had to decide where he would go to college (he chose University of Virginia).
With all that behind him, he seems like a totally different guy. His smile is bigger. He’s in excellent shape. And, he just looks like he’s incredibly loose and ready to go. Everyone who will face Sonny needs to worry because this cat is cool and there is nothing he can’t do. He can be down three touchdowns and he’ll still have the Lions very much in it (a la last year’s Sparta game).
But Sonny won’t be doing everything by himself. The Johnnies’ roster is full of talent-rich players. Take for example 6-5, 280-pound Sam Howson who is D1-ready today. I am 6-1, 220 myself (okay, 230) and I look like a child standing next to Howson. I don’t think there are many defensive linemen on Pope John’s schedule that has an answer for him.
The other feature of this team is Dalyn Wade-Perry. I say feature because he’s like an attraction at a museum that you have to see. Wade-Perry is Pope John’s 6-4, 310-pound junior defensive tackle who currently has offers from EVERYONE (I mean Alabama, Stanford, Michigan, and everywhere else). Teams will literally need to triple-team him if they have any hope of containing him.
You have to love this backfield too. It features senior stud Sekayi Rudolph who is a shifty back that can make all the moves and sophomore sensation Berrell Neal who is a recent transfer from Don Bosco. Neal is a dynamic back who can run over a linebacker for a tough first down, or juke out a DB for a long gain.
Pope John also has forty-three sophomores on their roster as well. That’s more than a lot of the entire varsity rosters in Morris-Sussex. Along with Neal, fellow sophs Nick Denucci, Ryan Greenhagen and Ty Hranicka will be key guys that are chomping at the bit help contribute to the varsity squad. “We’re ready to step up in any way we can help our team,” Denucci told me during camp.
There is another guy who deserves mentioning and that is middle linebacker Andrew Nieves. Nobody brings more passion to the field. Just key on him when you watch their games and you’ll see he plays like he has no regard for his body. When the Johnnies get to the postseason, his energy is going to be contagious.
Lastly, PJ has a weapon that will give them an edge even close games. Senior kicker Mateo Zepata has a leg and a half. Zepata expands the redzone to the forty-yard line with his ability to be money from deep. He’s going to be another valuable asset come playoff time.
As for the outlook for this season, it actually does get a little complicated. Since coach Brian Carlson took over the reigns as head coach five years ago, he’s worked in some out-of-division games on their schedule. So the Johnnies will play opponents like DePaul, Paramus Catholic and St. John Vianney – teams that are always at the top of their state section. The public teams they have to face are also some of the best in the area. In fact, Par Hills and Sparta are both coming off state championship seasons.
With that kind of competition, being perfect isn’t going to realistic – even with their superstars. But that’s not the complicated part. Where things get dicey is when the postseason begins. Because once the Lions are there everything gets cranked up about 8 decibels. Sitting there waiting will be St. Joes, Camden Catholic, Red Bank Catholic, Delbarton and St. John Vianney (again), all of whom are loaded with talent as well.
Historically, the Non-Public, Group 3 section hasn’t been so nice to the Johnnies. In fact, its been pretty mean. But this year there is a different vibe going on at Pope John. The fact that its Sonny’s last season makes it feel special in itself. But throw in all the supporting cast, and you just can’t think of a team the Lions can’t hang with.
I asked Sonny if he’s looking ahead at the big boys of their playoff section. He initially gave me a typical canned response, “We focused on our first game against DePaul.” Not being satisfied by that response, I couldn’t help to push a little further. “With all of the pieces seeming to be aligning on this current Pope John team, you’re not looking ahead just a little bit?” His responded with the same ‘focused on Week 1’ answer. But then he paused and looked me right in the eye with a sharp gaze that said, “You’re damn right we are and everyone better get ready because we’re bringing a hurricane with us.”
Pope John Lions
2014 Record: (5-5-0)
Head Coach: Brian Carlson
League: Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference
Section: Non-Public, Group 3
High Point: Decisively beating Par Hills 49-28 who went on to win the state title.
Low Point: Losing to Vernon 17-24 in Week 8.
Season Breakdown & Prediction
Games to Watch: The out-of-conference games against DePaul, Paramus Catholic and St. John Vianney will be fun to watch. But circle the Sparta game. The schools are a mile apart but their hatred (on the field) is paper thin.
Position to Watch: Up the middle on defense. Between Dalyn Wade-Perry at DT and Andrew Nieves at MLB, teams are going to be forced to run around the ends.
Young Guns to Watch: There are a host of sophomores that will step in to fill in a lot of roles. I already mentioned Neal, Denucci, Hranicka and Greenhagen. Other sophomores that could make some noise are Evan Stewart, Nick Denucci, Vincent Antoniello, Jake Brown, Jhadir Charles, Jason Miller and Troy Babcock. Some juniors that will make some noise include Nick O’Leary, Kevin Paul and John Cotis.
In a Nutshell: There are a lot of stars in alignment for the Johnnies. It’s up to them if they make it a special season or not.
Dream Season: Winning a state title.
Nightmare Season: Going one and done in the playoffs.
Tidbit: Pope John is installing a brand new turf field.
Playoff Appearances: 38
Finals Appearances: 27
State Titles: 18
Playoff Record: 46-20 (.642)
|9/12||at Paramus Catholic||1pm|
|9/18||at High Point||7pm|
|9/24||at Par Hills||7pm|
|10/17||at Morris Hills||1pm|
|88||O' Connor, Ethan||10||6'1"||175|