HERMITAGE – While it remains to be determined how many games Kennedy Catholic High’s football team will win in 2020, this much already has been determined: Coach Joe Harvey is confident, and not the least intimidated.
“Small schools, big schools, that means nothing to me,” related Harvey, who played scholastically at New Castle High.
Back then, the Hurricanes completed in the WPIAL’s Class AAA Parkway Conference, “one of the best conferences in the country,” Harvey proudly pointed out. He played against former Hopewell High, Penn State University, and NFL linebacker Paul Posluszny and others who matriculated to NCAA Division I programs. Subsequently, Harvey served as a defensive back at Robert Morris University, and later played semi-pro ball with the New Castle Thunder.
Kennedy Catholic is reviving a once proud program (including a quartet of District 10 championships) that dwindled in numbers during the latter stages of its earlier installment. And while Harvey estimates this season he will have between 22 and 25 players, he emphasized, “I have some athletes. There’s gonna be people who’re are really surprised. We have some really good athletes.”
Playing an 8-game junior varsity schedule last season, Harvey said his team competed well against perennial powerhouse programs such as Sharon, Sharpsville and Grove City. That afforded his inexperienced players a sense of what they will face this season at the varsity level.
“We had a decent number of kids (15, 16), but we didn’t want to start off as a varsity team right off the bat,” Harvey explained. “I wanted to see the commitment level of a ‘non-football’ school. So we scheduled four home games, but ended up playing eight games.”
Once given the green light by Gov. Tom Wolf relating to COVID-19 quarantine and social-distancing restrictions, KC commenced summer workouts 5 evenings per week; however, Harvey has 9 of his prospective players competing in baseball this summer, some playing 5-to-7 days per week.
“So I’ve had to work them out differently ... I can’t work them out anywhere near those other guys who’re not playing a sport right now,” Harvey related. “I know when you have everybody playin’ every sport (at a small school) they sometimes can’t be around (for workouts).”
Previously, Harvey has coached for the New Castle Thunder, as an assistant at Union Area High, and worked with kids ranging from grades 2-12 from New Castle to Akron in both football and basketball.
He likened Union High as being similar in size to KC; conversely, he said his JV’s played against enormous Erie High last year. So he is eager to commence his KC career as a varsity head coach.
“I’m one-hundred percent okay with this, having went through it last year,” he explained. “Last year I was very nervous. If we’d had this conversation last year at this time ... I didn’t even know if we’d end up with enough (players) for a team.
“But,” he continued, “I am very confident we’ll end up with twenty-two to twenty-five guys. ... We’ll have between eight and ten juniors and seniors.”
According to Herald archives, Kennedy Catholic’s last season competing as a varsity program occurred in 2013. A 27-player roster including 5 sophomores and 3 freshmen ended 0-10. The program’s last winning season (2006) produced a 7-5 record and District 10 tournament semifinal berth under former Coach Mike Donato.
Harvey will employ the RPO (run-pass option) offensively, utilizing athletes Sky’ler Thomas and Da’Juan Young as quarterbacks, complemented by running back Matt Jordan.
Defensively, he observed, “What I’ve noticed in Mercer County is they like ‘old-school’ – to run the ball down your throat – so we’ll just stack the box and try to keep the run game down. Obviously,” he added, “every team will have to be game-planned.”
Harvey, having been exposed to a variety of competition at various age and skill levels, acknowledged his players have “very, very little football experience – on the field. But we put everything in (schematically) last year, including special teams.
“And,” he continued regarding his Golden Eagles, “they get it. ... I’ve been around teams that don’t get it. They were really good football players, which would make up for it. But this team gets it. Last year there was not a lot of running the wrong play or not knowing what to do.”
However injuries at the small school level can be devastating. Harvey admitted last season’s JV team “was very successful at the beginning, but my two main players ended up getting hurt, and it ‘snow-balled’ from there. But that’s part of the game – people get hurt.”
Owing to a group of unselfish parental volunteers, Butala Stadium has been refurbished. And Harvey cannot wait for Kennedy Catholic to kick off the campaign. His Golden Eagles’ goals will not be measured in wins as much as his players’ approach and commitment.
“I’m okay if they can look at themselves in the mirror and say ‘I gave a hundred percent.’ If they give it their all, I’m okay with that,” Harvey explained. “I’ve won and lost as a coach. I probably have higher expectations for the team. But you just don’t know how the season’s gonna go until you get out there.”
Interestingly, Harvey said the challenge of starting a program essentially from scratch “is not as hard as it seems. ... I’m very excited, to be honest. I think we’re gonna make some noise. I keep tellin’ our guys this is the easiest job in the world because nobody expects us to do anything. So we can go out there and play loose.
“Now the basketball team ... everyone expected a state championship, for Kennedy to win by fifty (points), and if they didn’t it would be a ‘down’ year. They were number one in the state and sometimes that was not good enough,” Harvey mused, concluding,
“I think we’re gonna shock a lot of people, to be honest. We have some talented, talented athletes. I’ll put my athletes up against anybody in Mercer County.”