One month ago, Cathedral Prep and football teams across the nation faced the reality they might not have a season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It was a long journey filled with question marks and uncertainties, but fans can now breath a sigh of relief after Prep football returned last Friday against Butler. With the season now officially on, the Ramblers look to make a push for their fourth state championship in five years.
Last season, the Ramblers finished 11-3 overall and 2-0 in divisional play. They fell to 3-2 after wins against Clarkson North, West Toronto Prep, and McKeesport before losing two straight to Ohio powerhouses St. Edward’s and Benedictine. The Ramblers then won their next five regular season games, including a nail biter against arch rival McDowell. In the playoffs, Prep defeated Fort LeBoeuf, USO, and Bellefonte before falling to the eventual state champions Thomas Jefferson 28-13. The Ramblers return four starters with the rest gone to graduation.
Offensively, Prep looks to replace running backs Luke Sittinger and Jaheim Howard and wide receivers Jaelan Carson, Ben Tirpak, Jack Oedekoven, and Jordan Adams. On the offensive line, Prep looks to replace four starters following the departures of James Janicki, Mitchell Sweeney, Ray Ferritto, and Trayshawn L’Amoureux. On the defensive side, Prep has a daring task in replacing many key seniors such as Dorian Crosby, Kareem Carson, Mike Lupo, Mike Oblich, and Gianni Viglione. The Prep secondary will look to find replacements for Adams and Howard, as well as Makiah Jenkins and Jaylen House.
Although replacing the amount of starters gone is a daunting task, Prep’s veteran head coach Michael Mischler has been doing that for years now. One key returning starter is quarterback Tamar Sample, who started all four playoff games for Prep last year. Sample completed 41 of his 67 pass attempts, throwing for 713 yards and 13 touchdowns with only 2 interceptions. Sample also carried the ball 66 times for 340 yards with 4 touchdowns on the ground.
At running back, Michael Parks III, Kelyn Blossey, and Jaheim Williams look to continue the success of Prep’s ground game. At receiver, Maurice Troop, X’Zonder Goodwin, Jaheem Rash, Patrick Fortin, Shannon Lofton, Andrew Roach, and Carmelo McLaurin look to make a name for themselves in this young core. Sophomores DaMario Crawford and Wakeem Page look to make impacts as well. Jaheim Bassham returns at left tackle for Cathedral Prep, accompanied by William McAdory, Mark Hudson, Gavin Irons, Amarion Tarver, Caden Pustalek, Armani Moore, Elijah Andrae, and Ben Brzezinski, who look to compete for the remaining offensive line positions.
Defensively, Jaydon Smith, Mekhi Twillie, John Campbell, Tarver, Jacob Pollock, Bassham, and Jerijah Pruzenski form the defensive line. Star linebacker Jaheim Williams returns at middle linebacker alongside Colin Taraski, Philip Ferrare, Blossey, Parks, and Jyree Roberts. The defensive backs feature Rash, Goodwin, Lofton, McLaurin, Levonne Rowan III, Stephen Lebron, Kyle Cox, and Owen Hull, who look to retool the secondary.
Not only has the team changed, the coaching staff has made some big changes as well. Wayne Bradford, former head coach at Edinboro University, was hired as defensive coordinator for the Ramblers and will look to provide a spark in the defense this season. Cory Heflin moves from defensive backs coach to offensive coordinator. John Campbell returns to the Ramblers as defensive backs coach along with Tom Shade as receivers coach. Jeff Brzezinski assists Campbell with defensive backs, Jovan Crosby joins the staff as running backs coach, and Prep graduate and former offensive lineman Andrew Angert assists longtime o-line coach Pat Czytuck.
Cathedral Prep’s fan base, especially their student section, has always been one of the best traditions in the history of Rambler football. However, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the amount of fans in attendance has been cut down to a small crowd. Senior offensive tackle Jaheim Bassham said, “I think it’s going to be real hard because that’s always been a tradition. We’ve always had fans that mess with what the other team is doing because of the hype in the stands. But we still have to be mentally focused on what we’re going to do on game night.” Defensive end Mekhi Twillie added, “It’s going to be kind of difficult because we always get a drive of energy from the fans.”
As mentioned before, Cathedral Prep made many big changes on the Ramblers coaching staff this year. Many players were very vocal about how much they have enjoyed their the new coaches. One was senior quarterback Tamar Sample, who said, “Honestly, I think they’ve been great. They’ve been working so hard for this team to successfully do the things we need to do. I honestly love every single one and everything they’ve done for us. They’ve brought a lot to this team.” Senior wide receiver/defensive back X’Zonder Goodwin said, “It took us a minute to get used to all the new coaches, our new style of play and all that. But after we started creating a team bond, we starting improving.”
About a month ago, Cathedral Prep’s season was hanging in the balance. Although many thought the team would not play a season, the PIAA allowed the season to go forth, but with a few changes. Players across Pennsylvania were ecstatic, including the Ramblers. Senior linebacker/running back Jaheim Williams said, “It felt good, because I never thought I’d play high school football again. [I] never thought I would play my senior year at least. You know, knowing that we get to play this Friday and the next Friday, it feels good.” Senior linebacker Philip Ferrare only had one thing to say about playing this Friday, “It feels GREAT.”
Prior to the publication of this story, the Ramblers kicked off their season with a 55-21 win over the Butler Golden Tornado at Dollinger Field. Jaheim Williams scored the first Rambler touchdown of the season on a 39-yard run and added another on an eight yard carry. Williams carried the ball only three times for 81 yards, also making his presence felt on the defensive side of the ball. Unfortunately, he would exit the game in the second quarter and would not return after coming down with what coach Mike Mischler described as a lower leg injury.
The Ramblers made big plays on offense, defense, and special teams as well. Sophomore wide receiver DaMario Crawford took a kick return 98 yards to the house to extend Prep’s lead in the second quarter. Michael Parks III filled in for Williams by carrying the ball 15 times for 108 yards and a touchdown. Tamar Sample added a pair of rushing touchdowns as well. This week, Prep looks to move to 2-0 as they travel to Veteran’s Stadium to take on the Erie High Royals.