HERSHEY, PA – During the course of a football season highlighted by 13 straight wins and a state final berth, St. Joseph Prep’s starters and key reserves encompassed most of the glory.
That’s more than fair.
It’s also fair to opine that the Hawks’ 41-21 loss to Pine Richland in Saturday’s PIAA Class 6A final did not detract from an amazing campaign that fell one victory shy of duplicating the 2016 squad that went 14-0 and captured the school’s third state crown in four years.
“I’m proud of every one of our players, every single one of them,” said coach Gabe Infante. “The sacrifice they made was tremendous. Their effort was tremendous start to finish.”
While the exploits of the regulars supplied a consistent stream of verbal and visual highlight reels, there were numerous contributors who rarely received an opportunity to experience actual playing time.
(Left to Right) SJP Seniors: Ray Cobb, Keenan Paley, Jake Becker, Vaughn Hines, Sean Duffy and Dan Maguire - Photo courtesy of SJP Athletics
Here is a look at six Prep seniors – described by Infante as “incredibly selfless” and “part of a network of players who are essential to our overall success” – who garnered the undying respect and admiration of teammates and coaches. These players’ primary purpose, simply put, was to help make their peers better prepared to represent the school inside the 100 yards of gridiron.
To say they did their job well is an understatement.
Jake Becker, also a short-distance track runner, is a wide receiver who received solid playing time on junior varsity the past two years as well as a little bit at the end of some blowouts this year.
“It was especially a little difficult for me to work as hard and long as we have since January, and not really get any playing time as a senior,” said Becker. “Coach Infante always tells us how each player on this team has his own special role and way of helping all of us succeed. With the help from my coaches and teammates, I started to accept my role on this team.”
Becker said he has zero regrets about the way things worked out.
“I have made some of my closest friends here and learned a lot of very important life lessons,” said Becker. “If I was to go back all the way to freshman year I wouldn’t change a thing. The brotherhood and memories that I have made here are truly special and incomparable to anything else.
#83 SJP senior wide receiver, Jake Becker - PSD Photo by John Knebels
“From the service trips, the team dinners, and getting to travel all around the country, I could not imagine experiencing all of these great things with anyone else.”
Becker, who remains undecided regarding his college destination, said a simple weekly jaunt to a local food establishment would be forever etched inside his memory bank.
“Wendy’s Wednesdays have been a big tradition in my past carpools and it was passed down to me,” said Becker. “During the season after every Wednesday practice, a couple of my teammates and I go to Wendy’s and get food together. It’s just a funny and special tradition that we have been doing for years and it has been a memorable part of my football experience.”
Keenan Paley is an offensive lineman who plans on majoring in civil engineering at an undecided venue. Paley is involved with the prestigious Travis Manion Foundation.
“The football program has helped me develop not just as an athlete, but more as teammate and young man in general,” said Paley. “I have gotten a lot of time on junior varsity, and at first I was frustrated, but Coach Infante one day said to me, ‘Keenan, do you know how much you mean to us? Without you, we would not have a center for JV, and the younger guys would not be able to play and get better.’”
“After coach said this, I realized there truly are no small roles on this team.”
#76 SJP senior offensive lineman, Keenan Paley - PSD photo by John Knebels
Paley enjoyed spot time against Archbishop Carroll, Roman Catholic, Father Judge, Archbishop Ryan, and Parkland.
“It used to be difficult and frustrating to work so hard and not play, but with the help of coaches, I have accepted my role on the team, and actually have a fun time on scout team,” said Paley. “It’s fun to go up against my teammates like Paul Hess and Ryan Bryce and prepare them for the game that week.”
Paley has endured two knee surgeries because of injuries that occurred during football.
“If I had the choice to go back, I would do the exact same thing and play football here,” said Paley. “The lessons that I have learned because of football and lifelong bonds I have made are irreplaceable.”
Ray Cobb is primarily a defensive end but flexible to play at any line position, including once as an offensive tackle.
“On varsity I have played, cumulatively, about a full game to a game and a half,” said Cobb. “I wouldn’t say it’s difficult to work hard and not play a lot because I feel that the guys who play over me deserve it more than I do and have really earned it. I also know that is in the team’s best interest that they play because they give us the best chance to win.
“The only regret I have is that I did not join the team sooner. I wish that I had gotten to spend more time with my teammates who I consider to be my brothers. Also, I believe that the extra time in the weight room and practicing and learning from great players before me could have helped transform me into a better player and allow me to help my team more.”
#59 SJP senior defensive lineman, Ray Cobb - PSD photo by John Knebels
Cobb was one of the key cheerleaders during the loss to Pine Richland.
“The worst part about not starting or playing a lot is watching the team struggle at points and knowing that I am not being able to help or do anything other than cheer them on from the sidelines,” said Cobb. “It’s not at all frustrating that I could have played more and possibly even started for any other team because there is no other team like the Prep in the world. It’s not a team so much as a family, and I’d rather stay on the sideline and cheer for my brothers than start for another team.”
Cobb has been accepted at the University of Pittsburgh and is applying to the University of Chicago, to which Infante is helping Cobb send a highlight film to see if he can possibly continue his football career there.
“When playing, my most exciting highlight was pancaking a kid from Roman while playing offensive tackle in a game,” said Cobb. “The overall most exciting highlight was watching us come back (from a third-quarter 28-10 deficit in the third quarter of the state semifinal) and beat Coatesville to go to the state championship.”
Dan Maguire, also an All-Catholic lacrosse luminary, has played football since kindergarten and has earned time at linebacker, defensive back, and wide receiver. He has contributed on special teams.
#28 SJP senior wide receiver, Dan Maguire - PSD photo by John Knebels
“It is not as difficult as you might think,” said Maguire. “Everybody on the team has a role and each role is just as important as the other. People who play on scout team understand just how important it is for them to give the starters a good look. Playing on the special teams unit has been great for me. Our special teams is just as important as offense or defense so we take great pride in that.”
Maguire said there exists no caste system on Prep football.
“No one is treated unequally if they are not starters,” said Maguire. “The starters know just how hard we work and share a mutual respect.”
Sean Duffy moved from linebacker to defensive line six weeks ago to provide a specific need on the scout team.
“When it comes to working hard and not getting in, to me I like working hard and getting those who do play better and giving them possibly a better chance to do well in the game, so that we are able to hopefully win,” said Duffy. “The payoff is being with my brothers pretty much every day of the year and helping them get better and push each other as hard as possible so that when there is such an opportunity, all that hard work will hopefully pay off.”
#51 SJP senior linebacker, Sean Duffy - PSD photo by John Knebels
As do most if not all reserves, Duffy occasionally wonders if his football career would have been different had be played elsewhere.
“But then I would've never had such great opportunities and would have never met such great coaches and teammates,” said Duffy. “I never would've had an experience like this probably anywhere else, and this experience has truly helped me in becoming a man and has also given me basically a second family of people I consider my brothers.”
Vaughn Hines was a successful running back on junior varsity and could have most likely constructed impressive statistics on varsity if the need had arisen.
“Honestly, it isn’t too bad working and not having the chance to play,” said Hines. “We have gone undefeated as a JV team for at least three years, so it does pay off, and we claim the varsity wins as ours as well.
#21 SJP senior running back, Vaughn Hines - PSD photo by John Knebels
“Iron sharpens iron. We try to give those guys good work in practice so that in the game they can really dominate. I don’t have any regrets. The program helped shape me into a man and have some fun in the process. I’m in shape, I learned accountability and discipline, and I got to enjoy almost every day with the guys I get to call my brothers. These guys are my family. I wouldn’t give them up for the world.”
Among Hines’ most prominent bittersweet memories was celebrating last year’s state championship.
“We try to pride ourselves on not being outworked, so finally seeing it pay off was something I’ll never forget,” said Hines. “Coach Infante always talks about the confidence in the locker room that night. He’s right. There was no worry. There was no doubt. We had put in a great week of practice and everyone knew what had to be done.
“Then after the game, the excitement that we all had was more than I had ever felt. Some of us were stuck in awe, others couldn’t stop running and jumping. It was something really special. We had lost a brother, Ryan Gillyard, the year before, and it was for him. We all bought in. Everyone did his part, and we dedicated it to him, and it showed.”
Several Prep standouts were asked to summarize their feelings for players such as Becker, Paley, Cobb, Maguire, Duffy, and Hines, who represent the unselfishness of a roster so large that it undoubtedly led the state in most times scolded by sideline officials to move back.
“They’re just as important as the starters,” said All-Catholic senior linebacker Phil O’Connor, who intercepted a pass against Pine Richland. “They give everything they have during the week in practice to give us the look we need. We wouldn’t be as successful as we’ve been without them helping us on scout team in practice and challenging us. I have a lot of respect for them. It takes a lot to do what they do.”
First-team All-Catholic senior Dawson Deiuliis appreciates his peers’ unselfishness.
“They mean a lot to the team and we would not be able to succeed without them,” said Deiuliis. “They challenge us to be better each day.”
Senior wide receiver Brandon Sanders, who led the Hawks in receiving yards, receptions and touchdowns, yet inexplicably was not named an All-Catholic, labeled them the “backbone of the team.”
“I don’t think that they realize it sometimes, but the reason that we are able to go out and perform to the best of our ability every week is because we are prepared so well,” said Sanders “These guys give us a look that we can translate right into the game, so it makes it much easier.
“I respect these guys more than anyone else, because they contribute every week to the success of the guys out there. They deserve so much credit.”
Two-time All-Catholic senior quarterback Marquez McCray concurs.
“Some of the most selfless people I know,” said McCray. “They’re hard workers, and they love the game of football. They put the team first and are always upbeat.”
“Really,” he said, “they are the core of our senior class.”
There is literally no bigger compliment than that.
(John Knebels can be reached at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)