St. Joseph’s quarterback Brendan Robinson knows his team won’t win a state championship this season. He understands the Wolves aren’t built to compete for a league title, and he realizes his team may struggle against other local opponents.
But the talented senior doesn’t care. He didn’t join SJCA purely for the on-field victories.
“We’ll be happy no matter what — as long as we can make it through and that everybody has fun,” Robinson said. “I mean, sure, we’d love to go to the playoffs. We’d love to win a championship. We’d love to go undefeated or go .500. But, sometimes, that just doesn’t happen.
“We’re all just happy we can go out and play because every year it’s, ‘Are we going to have a team?’ because we don’t have a lot of numbers. So we’re just happy to finish this season; we’ll be happy no matter what.”
The Wolves’ football program remains in its infancy, and the biggest hurdle at this juncture remains numbers. Eighteen players are on the roster this season but, for students at St. Joseph’s, fielding a team is their top priority. Wins, they hope, will come — but football and a tough season are better than no football at all.
“Now, we feel more like a family,” said running back Jared Stormer, who was also on last year’s 3-5 squad. “Not just a team.”
On a recent afternoon, players huddled around the same picnic-table water cooler while an assistant coach scratched his back on a nearby pine tree. Afterward, first-year head coach Murray Fetzer strolled the field and his voice echoed off the nearby buildings. Let’s go, let’s go! Good job, job! Find your lane and engage it!
“Run, man, run — no walking on the field!” one player yelled to a freshman.
Fetzer has preached accountability this preseason, and he’s implemented a buddy system to promote that family atmosphere. When he’s not looking, he wants the players to police themselves — like when someone happens to be walking instead of jogging. Veterans on the team often instructed the younger players during practice, too, pulling them aside during the occasional lull in a drill.
Fetzer needs to get creative sometimes with practices, leaning heavily on film and board work and then trying to conceptualize the lessons on the turf. Sometimes, St. Joseph’s will field half of an offense and half of a defense; other times, assistant coaches will take handoffs while defenders shout out assignments.
“If we don’t have enough bodies, we can’t let that be a crutch,” Fetzer added.
Fetzer is taking a three-pronged approach this season in generating interest in the Wolves. He wants to compete, progress and enjoy the experience. If St. Joseph’s does those three things, he said, winning will follow.
But the former St. Joseph’s assistant knows it won’t be easy in 2017. About 10 players left from last year’s squad and, although St. Joseph’s was able to fill those vacancies with another 10 to 12 players, experience is at a premium. Several players haven’t played the sport at all before.
“I played like one year in the past, in seventh grade,” senior Nick Mancuso said. “I heard they needed players and I always wanted to try out this sport, so I decided to try out — and I’m enjoying it. I’m enjoying just everything, really.”
The Wolves hope to play a more balanced offense this season, one that plays up to the strengths of the more-athletic Robinson. The coaching staff has tried to keep the system as similar to 2016 as possible, while adding to certain packages and taking away from those that proved least effective.
It hasn’t been an easy process, but it’s one that Fetzer says they’ve all done together. St. Joseph’s has plenty of work left to do, but Fetzer said it’s been rewarding to see the team bond — like when they watched movies “Remember the Titans” and “Rocky” inside the gym.
For the players at St. Joseph’s, winning is still important. But, right now, football is more important.
“I’ve been playing football most of my life,” Robinson said. “And it gives me something else, something bigger than myself. I get to help other kids, be around others, get to know people. That’s why football’s so important here. A lot of the kids here love the sport and would just do anything to play here.”
St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy
Head coach: Murray Fetzer (first season)
Last season: 3-5
Assistant coaches: Dontey Brown, Fran Gray, Christian Klepeiss
Returning letterwinners: Josh Fenner, Blake Murray, Reili Redman, Brendan Robinson, Zac Sechler, Theo Spychalski, Jared Stormer
Key newcomers: Dylan Broderick, Nick Fisher, Isaac Maas, Nick Mancuso, Max Pase, Sean Scanlon