St. Paul's football team has not been in this situation since 2002 and 2003 when the Crusaders defended consecutive conference championships.
Nine months after edging Archbishop Curley in the MIAA B Conference final, the difficult part begins for the Crusaders.
“The guys know how to win and what the expectations are,” said St. Paul's football coach Paul Bernstorf, whose team went 9-1 last year. “It’s just a matter of whether they make the commitment and work hard enough to get there.”
Senior quarterback Anthony Pino (6 feet, 185 pounds), a three-year starter, will run the spread offense. Pino threw for 19 touchdowns and 1,875 yards last year and completed 64.8 percent of his passes.
“He’s had two really good years in a row,” Bernstorf said. “He sets the standard for what I am looking for in a quarterback. I think he makes really good decisions and doesn’t panic in key situations. He has one scholarship offer (Assumption College in Massachusetts). We are trying to see what else comes down the way.”
The receiving corps boasts junior returning starter Tyler Rockhill (6-0, 160) and seniors Allan Koikoi (6-1, 180) and Darius Johnson (5-11, 165).
Running backs Keifer Rawlings and Kaylon Johnson rushed for 1,198 yards last year, but the Crusaders must find replacements.
Look for juniors Joe Pollard (6-0, 195) and Reese Norton (5-11, 180) and Adyn Johnson (5-8, 155) to get the bulk of the carries.
Since Pollard is a returnee, he should get first shot at the starting job.
“Joe is a strong, physical runner,” Bernstorf said. “He is committed to (Johns) Hopkins for lacrosse. He is more athletic than people give him credit for.”
Seniors Zach Kobokovich (5-11, 215), Nicko Hajimihalis (5-10, 175) and Garrett Mullin (6-2, 245) are the top offensive linemen.
St. Paul’s could have one of the best defenses in the conference again.
Senior free safety Darius Johnson (5-11, 165), Rockhill, a strong safety, and Koikoi, a cornerback, are the leaders of the secondary in the 4-4 defense.
“Koikoi has five different offers,” said Bernstorf, noting James Madison, William & Mary and Delaware among the top schools..
Junior end Jake Sebestian (6-2, 195) and senior tackle Ryan Zoll (6-2, 225) will start along the defensive line while Pollard and Norton highlight the linebacking corps.
The Crusaders open the season at home against Loyola Blakefield (4 p.m.) on Friday.