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Prep primed for return to CHSFL title game

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All three Queens teams playing in the Catholic High School Football League face uphill battles this season, with perennial powerhouses St. Anthony’s and Monsignor Farrell expected to rule the roost. But none of the three is waving the white flag just yet.

Leading the charge will be the St. Francis Prep Terriers, guided by the venerable Vince O’Connor. The Terriers made it to the elite ‘AAA’ title game a year ago, falling to the Friars of St. Anthony’s, an experience O’Connor said will only help his team this year.

“That was a really exciting and rewarding experience for us,” said the veteran head coach. “We played quite well against them, but they were too strong for us.”

Prep lost several key contributors from last year’s league runner-ups, including TimesLedger CHSFL Player of the Year Chris Zambrano, a two-way player who excelled on both sides of the ball, scoring 13 touchdowns and dominating opposing offenses from his defensive end position.

“He was a huge player for us on both offense and defense, consistent,” O’Connor said. “To lose a boy of that caliber, it just takes time to fill in.”

Also gone is the versatile Brian Forman, who saw time at a variety of offensive positions and in the defensive backfield. Both he and Zambrano were arguably the two most important members of the Terriers a year ago, but O’Connor is bringing back a few key players with playoff experience.

First and foremost is quarterback Peter Mazzurco, who was solid as the team’s signal caller, if not spectacular. In addition to his football strengths, Mazzurco sports a 96 average in the classroom.

“He’s a very good leader, passer and ball handler,” O’Connor said. “He sees things and he can take advantage of them. It’s a big plus for the team to have a very bright kid as their leader. He makes the team confident.”

Halfback Nat Modica and fullback Mike Conigliaro will share the ball-carrying duties, along with Max Badette and Jerell Smith, while wide receiver Bill Sangster and tight end Mark Burick will offer Mazzurco ample targets from the receiver positions.

Dave Bermudez, Tim Dunne, John McArdle, Joe Macinovich, Frank Luginsland and Frank DeMattia will see time on the offensive line, while Mel Martelly, Luis Herrera, Pasquale Serrone, Dave Joseph and Dave Butz will be their defensive counterparts.

Co-captain Dan Michitsch will lead a talented group of linebackers, including Tom DiMartino, Walter Wrublewski and Vincent Mazzurco, Peter’s younger brother. Returning standout Al Foy is back in the defensive secondary with Anthony Santamaria, Michael Ergas and Victor Veroukis.

“I think the biggest problem we’re going to face is inexperience,” said O’Connor of the team seeded fifth by the CHSFL’s power rating system. “We have good character. I think we have to try and overcome our inexperience. We have a good group of players. It’s going to take some time. The question is how quickly can we make up for the lack of experience.”

The Holy Cross Knights lost four top players in Woody Aime, Doug Anderwkravich, Mike Cominos and Chris Moran to graduation, and a fifth, Kavell Gordon, who ran for more than 700 yards last year while playing just half the season behind Aime in the tailback position. Gordon, said head coach Tom Pugh, has left the school, leaving a gaping hole in the backfield.

Cross, which lost to St. Peter’s in the ‘AA’ semifinals last year, could surprise opponents, however, thanks to a revamped offense courtesy of offensive coordinator and former NFL great and Bayside High School alum Ronnie Harmon, and “vastly improved” starting quarterback Dan Meara.

“[Meara] worked with Harmon for 12 months, everyday,” Pugh said. “He understands the offense. It’s very exciting. It takes some time and they’re getting it. We got a lot of kids who can catch the ball.”

Devereaux Leget, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound halfback with 4.4 speed, is expected to get the bulk of the carries for the Knights, who will also rely on the two-way line play of Ricky Alteche, a 6-foot-6, 300-pound lineman.

“They’ll move the ball,” Pugh said “I don’t know if we can stop anybody. That’s the question. We have to try and stop some people. We have plenty of skill kids. We have good runners and the offensive line is looking good. But on defense we’re not big and you need that to stop some teams. We’ll be competitive. I don’t know how far we can go.”

The defensive unit will revolve around linebackers Shawn CasaDiego, who will move to middle linebacker from last year’s outside position, and Chris Murphy, the second of three brothers to play for Cross. Murphy’s older brother Joe graduated two years ago and his younger brother Mike, a sophomore, is a guard on the team this year. Their father also played for Pugh in the early 1980s.

“We’re very young,” Pugh said of his 10th seeded Knights. “We’re a lunchpail team. No big stars.”

Like the Knights, the Christ the King Royals also unexpectedly lost a key skilled player they were depending on in starting quarterback Jose Duverge, who, according to head coach Mike Cassidy, has decided to concentrate on baseball.

The Royals also lost standout linebacker Rolando Garcia, one of the top players in the city last year, safety Robert McGuire, running back Craig Nelson, safety Steven Shell and offensive tackle James Baldi. So many key losses and the team’s No. 6 seeding may spell for a tough year for the Royals.

“There are a lot of question marks at this point,” Cassidy said. “I wish I knew [the answers].”

He hopes one of the answers is junior signal-caller Jamar McClaney, a 5-foot-9, 200-pound quarterback with an excellent arm, excellent touch and excellent head for the game, according to his coach. McClaney led the Junior Varsity team to the city finals a year ago, losing to Xaverian.

Fullback Anthony Lazarus gives CK some experience in the backfield and will get the bulk of the carries. On defense, Justin Capace has been moved inside to nose guard and Cassidy said, “may have one of the best defensive linemen in the league.”

“If you look at him you’d think he was too small for that position,” Cassidy said of Capace, who will also serve as the team’s place kicker and punter. “But when you see him play, no one can stop him.”

But Cassidy is expecting a tough road to hoe for CK in 2002.

“The inexperience is big,” said the coach, who will be starting five juniors on both offense and defense and a sophomore on defense. “We got a lot of speed and no size, as usual. My goal is to kind of stay afloat during the year and hope as they gain experience we’ll get better.”

Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.

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