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St. John the Baptist football aims high in CHSFL

St. John the Baptist offensive coordinator Ralph Carusillo

St. John the Baptist offensive coordinator Ralph Carusillo goes over the play during practice. (Aug. 22, 2013) (Credit: Richard T. Slattery)

Don’t bother telling St. John the Baptist football players that their aspirations are too high. No one will even pretend to hear you.

Reaching the CHSFL AA title game last season was a significant accomplishment for the Cougars, given the team had been competing at the A level since before Keith Schweers took over as head coach seven seasons ago, and while progressing, still hadn’t been to a AA championship game in that stretch.

But talk to players at St. John and they’ll tell you they’re nowhere near satisfied.

Throw out the fact that the Cougars lost to Xavier, 35-14, in that AA title game. Thanks to the 9-2 record they posted last season and their impressive playoff run where they beat two AAA teams in Kellenberg and Holy Trinity, the Cougars are eligible, for the first time under Schweers, to compete for a AAA playoff berth with the likes of St. Anthony's and Chaminade.

And their goal? To win it all, of course.

“If you talk to the kids, everybody’s goal, albeit might be far-fetched and something that some people might say is unrealistic, but they’re shooting for the AAA championship,” Schweers said. “Obviously if we don’t get in there and all we do is qualify for a AA playoff spot, then our goal will be to win that AA championship. But will we be satisfied with that? Not 100 percent.”

“We all have that feeling,” said senior center and captain Mike Medwig. “We come in here and won’t sell ourselves short. We want that AAA championship and have a lot of guys who are returning who are all hungry for it.”

The Cougars have the pieces in place to at least take another step forward this season. First-year starting quarterback Matt Brady, a senior, will provide more opportunities to open up the offense and can spread the field, allowing seniors Lawson Prendergast, Jake Wiswall and Ryan McCann more space to run out of the backfield.  Junior Oscar Frisby also took reps at running back in practice Thursday and drew a few "wows" from coaches looking on as he slashed and cut through the defense during a drill.

“We work together, we have a bunch of athletes, a new quarterback who can spread the field and four solid running backs who can all run the ball,” Prendergast said. “Last year we took a big step but the goal is to win a AAA championship. We know we haven’t been there in a while but it’s been our goal since we’ve been freshmen.”

But where St. John is truly impressive is on defense, particularly at linebacker, where Prendergast, Wiswall and Jamal Butler are three returning starters in a 4-3 defensive set.

Schweers said Butler, a junior, is “a beast”, who played nearly every snap last season as a sophomore and is expected to be even better this year. Schweers had even higher praise for Wiswall, a team captain, and Prendergast, who won the CHSFL AA/A defensive player of the year award last season with 87 tackles, five sacks and three interceptions.

“They work hand in hand with one another,” Schweers said of his linebackers. “It’s hard to account for two great linebackers as an offense, and our defensive line does a great job in freeing them up to make plays. And even when they’re not freed up, chances are they’re going to make plays.”

Said Wiswall: “We’re all together, we all play together, and no one needs a title on this team. We all know that we’re all good players together, and I don’t think there’s any linebacker core out there like us.”

But Prendergast did earn the title of CHSFL AA/A defensive player of the year, and this season he’s out to prove he can win the same award on the AAA level. If he does, there’s a good chance St. John will still be playing in late November.

“I got it for the AA but I want to prove that I can do it with the big boys .I definitely want to win that award,” Prendergast said. “But the three of us are put in the same way. We’re physical, downhill players, we get into our pass drops and all get interceptions, get after the quarterback and stop the run… It’s a great linebacker core.”