While getting back to the AAA finals might be a little bit of challenge after losing 11 starters from last year’s 12-3 team, the Golden Lions are nevertheless gearing up to make another try.
St. Pius coach Paul Standard has fond memories of the ’12 St. Pius team, which made it to the school’s first state football final since 1968.
“It was obviously a special season,” Standard said. “Last year was an outstanding group of seniors who led our team and a group of seniors who were outstanding young men. But, they weren’t the five-star recruits a lot of schools have. They were five-star young men and with their leadership, along with the underclassmen role players, they gave us the opportunity to have that type of year.”
There are a number of holes to fill for the Golden Lions, especially at quarterback after the loss of Jack Spear and on the offensive line as well as replacing last year’s leading rusher, fullback Ryan Braswell.
“This team is working to find its identity as did last year’s team,” Standard said. “We’ve got some returning starters that are outstanding players, but we also got some big holes to full and we’re in the process of doing that.”
However, they are bolstered by the return of senior free safety/running back Nick Ruffin, who has committed to Auburn.
“Nick, No. 1, has great size for a defensive back and running back,” Standard said. “He’s 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds. We normally don’t have those size skill players here at St. Pius. He was bigger than [ex-St. Pius standout and current Alabama player] Geno Smith at this time. He’s got both size and speed. The thing I said about him all along in his competitive spirit. He competes at everything and that permeates our team and that’s important. His knowledge of the game and his ability to play both ways is going to be a huge key for us. He’s a huge factor towards our potential success this year.”
Standard is also expecting big things from senior linebacker Daniel Crochet, who is another major NCAA Division I prospect.
“Daniel is our leader on defense,” he said. “He’s a competitor and a smart player. He’s got an offer from Syracuse, but he also has offers from Yale, Cornell and Dartmouth. He’s just that kind of talented young man. He has size and speed — he’s 6-3 and 200 pounds and runs well. He’s an outstanding young man and a great competitor with great athletic ability.”
Ruffin and Crochet lead a strong senior class that includes tackle Michael Carragher, tight end Chandler Cooper, running back Branden Mitchell, kicker/punter Thomas O’Leary, center Matt Doelling, defensive end Ian Flinn and defensive tackle Gilbert Orr.
Junior Dalton Wilson, the team’s leading tackler at linebacker last year, will play a bigger role on offense as he steps into the fullback slot left open by the graduation of Braswell.
Aug. 30 Westminster
Sept. 6 at North Oconee
Sept. 13 Thomson
Sept. 20 at Lovett
Sept. 27 at Towers*
Oct. 4 McNair*
Oct. 18 at Cedar Grove* (Panthersville Stadium)
Oct. 25 Woodward*
Nov. 1 at Blessed Trinity*
Nov. 8 Decatur*
*denotes region game