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Stepinac Football Players Ink College Letters

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – Austin Taps, Jesse Gwin and Przemyslaw Popek joined family, friends, schoolmates, teachers, administrators and coaches Wednesday in the Archbishop Stepinac High School gymnasium to sign National Letters of Intent committing to their respective colleges.

“We proud to have three of our students sign letters today and we expect to have more in the coming days,” Stepinac Athletic Director and head football coach Mike O’Donnell said before introducing each signee. “Signing a letter of intent is a contract between the player and a college that shows a commitment to become a student/athlete. The next step is that they each complete their school year successfully.”

All three players were members of last year’s unbeaten Catholic High Schools Football League Class AA championship team and this year’s 9-3 Crusaders team that was the Class AAA runner-up to St. Anthony. Taps will be attending the University of Pennsylvania, Popek is headed for Stony Brook University and Gwin will be attending Long Island University/C.W. Post.

Taps, a 6-foot-5, 235-pounder from Mahopac, excelled both as a tight end and defensive end during his career at Stepinac. He recorded 52 tackles and 31 assisted tackles on defense last fall and was chosen as the CHSFL’s Vincent O’Connor Award winner as the league’s Defensive Player of the Year this past season, and named The Journal News Westchester/Putnam Player of the Year, MSG Hudson Valley Player of the Year, Westchester National Football Foundation Golden Dozen and First-Team All -State.

Popek, a former soccer star turned placekicker, walked on to the team last year as a junior, asking O’Donnell if he could try out as a kicker. Twenty-five of Popek’s kickoffs went for touchbacks and he average 34 yards per punt with a long of 50 yards. He made 34 point-after kicks and kicked four field goals.

“I’ve been a soccer player since I was seven,” said Popek, who lives in Yonkers. “I never dreamed I’d be playing college football as a kicker. I’ve had great coaching here at Stepinac and I’m looking forward to playing at college where my family can watch me.”

“(Popek) just came in (last year as a junior) and said he wanted to be a kicker,” O’Donnell said. “We had a kicker who made 29 of 29 point after kicks, so we were set, but I said okay and let him kick for the coaches. He kept kicking the ball over the end zone. He has a great leg and now he’s going on to a Division I college.”

Gwin, the offensive line center and key to the Stepinac offense that made it to the Catholic School Football League AAA title game before losing to St. Anthony (Long Island), was being recruited by Southern Connecticut University and the University of New Haven as well.

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