Ursuline’s senior players are ready to lead team on quest for third consecutive state football championship
By JON MOFFETT
There is no logo on the side of the Ursuline High’s football helmets.
But there sure is a giant target on their backs.
The Irish have already achieved one milestone as the only Mahoning Valley team to win back-to-back state titles. Now the team has their sights focused on another Valley first: a three-peat.
Head coach Dan Reardon said a win in the title game is every team’s goal. But he said his team, especially the senior class, has taken the possibility as a challenge.
“We’ve never shied away from the fact that our goal is another state championship because that is our goal,” he said. “Our seniors have worked very, very hard, and that’s all they’ve talked about since we started lifting in the offseason.”
Count senior quarterback Paul Kempe as one of those looking to cement the 2010 Irish as one of the best teams in school history — and the Irish as one of the premiere programs in the Valley.
The six-foot-1, 185-pound signal caller said he’s well aware of the pressure facing the Irish from the outside.
“We’ve just got to know that it is one game at a time,” Kempe said. “But we’ve got a bull’s eye on our back right now, and it’s even bigger since we’ve won the past two championships.
“So you know it doesn’t matter who we play. A team could be undefeated or have zero wins, but we’re going to get their best effort every week.”
All of the team’s Ursuline will play, starting with Cleveland East Tech tonight, are stepping stones. And though the annual showdown with Cardinal Mooney (Oct. 22) is important, the team is focused on another team.
That team is to be determined, though.
Last year it was Coldwater, and in 2008 it was Liberty Benton. While the opponent is unknown in 2010, the goal is the same: gold.
Reardon knows it’s easy for players to get ahead of themselves. But he and the Irish are chomping at the bit to open up the season. And they hope it’s another championship season.
“It’s always exciting to start the season, and statewide everyone is full of optimism,” Reardon said. “Right now, I think everybody has a clean slate. And it’s fun to go against a different color jersey after a long and grueling camp.”
He added, “Now it’s for real. And I know our players and coaches are ready for it.”
But Reardon has cautioned his players. Before they can take flight, he said, the team needs to cool its jets.
“We have plenty of work to do before we even have a chance to realize that or make the playoffs,” he said. “It’s a day-to-day thing. You have to focus every day in practice, you have to work hard every day in practice, and if we do that, if we continue to compete like we always have, we’re going to have a chance.”
Giving the Irish a chance is its senior class. Three players to keep an eye on are the same who stood out in last week’s scrimmage against Canton GlenOak.
Kempe had two long touchdown passes and looks to be a key cog in the Irish machine this fall. And keeping him upright will be the job of a big offensive line featuring Zach Conlan. The 6-foot-1, 297-pound left tackle has the all important task of keeping Kempe’s uniform clean.
Also, if you don’t keep a careful watch of running back Akise Teague, you’ll lose him. There’s quick, there’s fast and then there’s Teague.
In the scrimmage, Teague was on the receiving end of one of Kempe’s long passes. The pass — covering 75 yards — was just one glimpse of the combination Reardon and the Irish faithful hope to see all year.
Teague proved how multi-faceted he is with a long touchdown run, too. Teague received the handoff from Kempe, ran behind the edge blocking of Conlan, and cruised like a lightning bolt into the end zone 43 yards away.
It was just another example of how the seniors have the ability to take over games. And Reardon said he hopes the entire team can rally behind them.
If so, only good things can happen for the Irish.
“They have a chance to do something that’s never been done at our school or in this area, and that is to win three [titles] in a row,” he said. “That is the goal, yet they know we have to get better every single day.”
Kempe said the keys to this year’s version of the Irish are its speed — as evidenced by Teague — and a big and strong offensive line — with Conlan — to lead the offense. The vaunted 3-4 Irish defense returns, and hopes to inflict as much punishment as last year. Conlan will hop over to the defensive line, and Teague mans one of the cornerback positions.
Kempe was very candid when asked how important the three-peat option was to him and his classmates. He said with a chance to make area history, the Irish will stop at nothing to bring home the trophy for the third time in as many years.
“We want nothing else,” he said. “For us seniors, we could go down as being one of the greatest senior classes ever at our school,” he said. “And we want nothing more than to be able to say that.”
Oh, and that bull’s eye? Kempe, Reardon and the Irish know that every win makes it grow even larger.
No pressure, right?