WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- With 10 starters returning from last year’s team, hopes are high for the Archbishop Stepinac football team.
The Crusaders from White Plains went 12-1 last year, including a 16-14 win over Iona Prep in the Catholic High School Football League Class AAA championship game. The title was the first for the Crusaders in 49 years, and their undefeated run ended with a setback in the state title game to Canisius of Buffalo, 23-10.
Stepinac figures to be a contender again for CHSFL honors thanks to its strong returning class.
TJ Morrison, a Yonkers resident who has received offers from 10 colleges, leads the returning cast. The Yonkers student plays wide receiver and cornerback. He had 11 receptions and four touchdowns last year, while intercepting four passes.
Quarterback Tyquell Fields has also drawn a lot of college interest. The 6-foot, 4-inch, 185-pound Yonkers resident is greatly improved from last year, according to coach Mike O’Donnell, when he rushed for 369 yards and three touchdowns and also threw 10 touchdown passes.
Other players to watch are three-year starter Dan Negron of Hartsdale, a linebacker and fullback who was the team’s leading tackler last year and has over 200 for his career; Jaychar Howell, a two-year starter who O’Donnell believes will be a college scholarship player; David Harris, a 6-foot-, 4-inch, 315-pound lineman; Malcolm Koonce of Peekskill, a 6-4 defensive end; and Khaleb Celaj, a four-sport athlete and three-year starter and also from Peekskill. Robinson DeLa Cruz, a defensive end from Yonkers, will also be a defensive stalwart.
Top newcomers include Jesse Brown, Jordan Gunther and Antonio Giannico, a junior who played for a United States national team against Canada earlier this year.
“I would think our depth is probably the weakness,’’ O’Donnell said. “Speed will again be one of our greatest strengths. Defensively our team speed will be our biggest asset and we are returning our leading tacklers. We should be in good shape defensively.”
Stepinac graduated 23 players from last year’s team, 10 of whom are playing in college. But with a veteran coaching staff and more than 150 players in the program, O’Donnell believes the Crusaders will have another strong season.
“We do have young players moving up from a very talented junior varsity that we will be looking to fill in spots,’’ O’Donnell said. “Our main coaches have all been with program for a long period of time which really is a great thing to have in place.”
Stepinac tackles Newburgh Free Academy in its season opener on Friday, Sept. 11, at Newburgh. The Crusaders play rival Iona Prep on Saturday, Sept. 19, at 1:30 p.m. in their home opener.
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