Want to know whether Bok’s football team will win its division this year? You might just find out by the league-opener.
The Wildcats will play Bartram Oct. 10. In recent years, the Division D teams faced each other in early November, with the winner of that contest ending up as the division champ.
Bok won the title in 1999 and 2000, while Bartram claimed it last year after defeating the Wildcats 20-14 in a double-overtime thriller.
At Southern, coach Bill Edger is regaining optimism after last year’s abbreviated season. With 33 players coming out for practice last week, and even more showing interest in the team, the Rams just might make it through November.
The healthy numbers will help prepare Southern for today’s non-league game at Olney. If the players stick with it, the squad should have no problem improving on last year’s winless season, which included three forfeits.
Here is a closer look at what high-school football fans can expect to see from the Southern and Bok teams:
Coach Tom DeFelice gathered his 35 players last week and started talking to them about baking a cake. He asked the players to name some of the ingredients they would put on their cake. Icing and jimmies were among the suggestions.
Just when the players were starting to wonder whether this was home-ec or football, DeFelice made the connection.
Bok will finally complete its recipe in November, when the team will be able to judge the results by the number of wins, he said, With the start of the regular season still a couple weeks away, DeFelice is working with raw ingredients.
"We’re still making the cake," the coach said. "We haven’t even gotten to the icing yet."
The Wildcats have had a busy preseason with new players taking over key positions. Bok had to replace quarterback Kareem Jeffreys, running backs Will McCall and Kevin Cheely, and lineman Shawn Jeter. McCall and Cheely combined for 60 points and 914 rushing yards last season. DeFelice always has players waiting in the wings, which explains the squad’s recent Division D and playoff success.
"The younger kids have a lot of playing experience," the coach said. "They all get involved as quickly as possible because we are going to need them.
"The second team pushes the first team. We work together toward one common goal."
After proving their worth last season, senior defensive back-halfback Akeem Green, along with defensive back-receiver Marcelluas Barnes and linebacker Cedric Green, both juniors, are ready to contribute even more.
Akeem Green is a returning First Team All-Public selection who led the Wildcats in receiving yards (171) and points (36). The senior expects a similar performance this year.
"We should go to the playoffs and finish at the top of the division," he said.
Bartram probably will be Bok’s main rival for the division title, but DeFelice isn’t overlooking West Philadelphia and University City, as he expects both teams to be much improved. First, the Wildcats must prepare for Bartram.
"If we win that game, it’ll definitely be a plus for us," DeFelice said. "If we win that game, we still have to win the other four games."
The returning players view the Bartram game as a chance to avenge last fall’s heartbreaking double-overtime loss.
"I’ve got revenge on my mind because I want the division title back," Barnes said. "We are ready for them."
Bok will need a strong performance from junior quarterback Allen Major, who, in turn will get help from his twin Kenny, a flanker and halfback. Seniors Alex Montero, lineman; Ethan Simmons, linebacker; and Vinnie Trama, nose guard-linebacker, will use their varsity experience to help the new starters adjust.
Montero was sidelined this week after suffering a concussion in last week’s scrimmage with Frankford. Once Montero returns to practice, he said he would take his leadership role very seriously.
"I have to make sure everybody does their job and set an example," he said.
With dedication like that, the Bok Wildcats could be back on the road to the playoffs.
"I am just hoping that through daily practice, the kids develop self-confidence and stay focused on what they have to do," DeFelice said. "They work hard and are a real pleasure to be around."
This fall, the Rams are in desperate need of a change. The team recorded fewer points all season — 28 — than some squads score in a game. Most of the problems stemmed from an anemic roster. Southern was so low on players, in fact, it had to bow out of its last three games.
As part of this season’s overhaul, Edger is demanding full participation from his athletes. Players who show up for one day of practice or just on game days could quickly find themselves watching from the stands.
"It’s not going to be like last year," the coach said. "If you miss practice, you are not on the team. I would rather lose with kids that are coming to practice."
The Rams must develop as a team for better results on the field, Edger said. Last year’s lack of numbers and chemistry led to the South Philly squad being shut out in its first four games. Edger said .500 is a realistic goal, but noted it’s important for his squad to get off to a quick start.
"I want to make them feel good about themselves," the coach said. "We just don’t want to get blown out or embarrassed. We don’t want to have kids thrown out of games."
Some of this year’s players are showing a renewed interest in football. Senior Sirage Shifa (6-foot-7, 265 pounds) is returning to action this season after taking the last two years off to focus on academics. He has earned all A’s and B’s, and now hopes to extend his performance to the football field.
"They need me," Shifa said of the team. "A lot of people asked, and I figured it can’t hurt me."
Edger has Shifa penciled in as a starting lineman, but there are still plenty of holes to fill. Since Edger works as the athletic director at Audenried High during the school day, basketball coach George Anderson and Southern AD Eddie Williams are scouring the halls for players.
If football regains enough popularity, there’s a chance Southern could resume its junior-varsity program. The Rams are the only Public League football program without a JV team.
The system forces freshmen to spend their rookie season getting a crash course in Public League football. The newcomers are all trying to win the running back and wide receiver positions, but at last Thursday’s practice, Edger stressed the need for players in other spots. Junior Monir Nock is locked in at quarterback after serving as Leon Pettyjohn’s backup. Pettyjohn was a four-year varsity athlete and key member of Southern’s program.
"He wasn’t real vocal, but played just about every snap," Edger said of Pettyjohn.
This year, the coach will count on seniors Mark Lee, running back-linebacker; Akkeem Moore, safety-tight end; and Darrell Horton, wide receiver; along with juniors Gerald Terry, a fullback-linebacker; and Kenneth Palmer, backup quarterback; and sophomore Ralph Digneo, offensive guard-defensive end. Freshman Nick Moody should also see playing time.
Between now and the Oct. 10 league-opener against Edison, these players will have to become a solid team. They already have a shared goal.
"We want to get a couple wins this year," Digneo said. "We don’t want to lose every game again. We need to win the first game, and then we should do good."
Sept. 26 King Home 3 p.m.
Oct. 3 Franklin Away 3 p.m.
Oct. 10 Bartram Away 3 p.m.
Oct. 17 University City Home 3 p.m.
Oct. 25 West Philadelphia Home 3 p.m.
Nov. 1 Mastbaum Home 2:30 p.m.
Nov. 9 Southern Away 10:30 a.m.
Nov, 14 Overbrook (at Roxborough) 2:30 p.m.
Nov. 21 Edison Home 2:30 p.m.
Today Olney Away 3 p.m.
Sept. 27 Overbrook Home 3 p.m.
Oct. 4 Mastbaum (at Lincoln) 3 p.m.
Oct. 10 Edison Home 3 p.m.
Oct. 17 Bartram Away 3 p.m.
Oct. 24 University City Home 3 p.m.
Nov. 1 West Philadelphia Away 2:30 p.m.
Nov. 9 Bok Home 10:30 a.m.
Nov. 14 Franklin Away 2:30 p.m.
Nov. 21 King Home 2:30 p.m.
Nov. 28 St. John Neumann Home 10:30 a.m.
Public League Division D