St. John the Baptist wasn't the flashiest of football programs, but one guy had enough razzle-dazzle for all of them.
Raw star power surrounded Derelle Hunter, the Cougar running back who amassed 2,294 rushing yards, the fifth highest total in Suffolk County history. And while Baptist, which posted a 3-4 regular season record, sometimes struggled in CHSFL Class AA, that sort of wattage doesn't go unheeded.
It was Hunter, along with a defensive unit anchored by Chris McCarthy and senior captain Derek McMichael, who led the Cougars to their third Class A football championship title in school history (the CHSFL playoffs are divvied up into AAA, AA and A classifications).
St. John the Baptist defeated St. Peter's, 29-6 in the final behind Hunter, who racked up 214 yards on 25 carries, with four TDs. The win put them at 5-4, nabbing the Cougars that deeply coveted winning record. Baptist defeated Cardinal Spellman, 42-2 in the semifinals, where Hunter led the way with 241 yards on 26 carries, with two TDs.
"It's very rare that you have a kid that can take charge of a game," coach Keith Schweers said. "Every opportunity he had to touch the ball was an opportunity to score."
Schweers isn't exaggerating. Along with his record-breaking rushing yards, Hunter finished with 25 touchdowns. He added another 935 yards and four touchdowns on kickoff returns. Last week, he committed verbally to Rutgers.
Indeed, for a school that's had its up and downs in Long Island's fiercely competitive high school football league, St. John the Baptist is churning out some real talent.
McMichael, a three year starter on the defensive line who also played on the o-line this year, is a two-time all-league player courting heavy interest from D-II schools, particularly C.W. Post. Conor Lewis, the kicker who broke his jaw in eight places early in the season and came back to play at the tail end of the year, was being recruited by West Point before his injury. He will likely have the opporunity to play there next year, Schweers said.
"We've got great kids who work hard," he said. "When I took over here four years ago - going into my fifth year now - we were just looking for guys who wanted to play. We work hard and we're enjoying some success."
The group has been coming together, Schweers said, although yes, McMichael's leadership and Hunter's glowing offensive output will be missed.
"He rose to the occassion," Schweers said of Hunter. "I can't even put into words the impact that he's had. Because of him, the kids worked harder. The true success was with the group."
In short, he shined and they shined with him.