Pat Troy believes when he is an old man, he’ll still be talking to Tim Barrett about this sad and special year for the La Salle College High School football team.
Paul Jennings figures when he is a senior citizen, he’ll still be talking to Ryan Wills about their senior season for the Explorers.
The same goes for Shane Hagan, Harrison Himes, and Shaun Anderson, for all the guys who have been together since grade school and CYO football and who leaned so heavily on each other through a season marked by tragedy but also triumph.
“The first thing that comes to mind when I think of this group of seniors is how well we handled adversity,” said Jennings, a star defensive end and Penn recruit. “Just everything that was thrown at us, the way we relied on each other and trusted each other, I’m just so proud of this group.”
Jennings, Troy, Barrett, and Wills are sturdy linemen who formed the foundation for this team, which improved its final record to 5-1 and rose to No. 2 in The Inquirer’s Southeastern Pennsylvania Top 10 following last Saturday’s 27-0 victory over Archbishop Wood.
Those were the leaders who escorted the Explorers through a summer of uncertainty as the season seemed in jeopardy because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Those were the mature veterans who guided the team through the aftermath of the Sept. 4 loss of senior Isaiah Turner, who collapsed after practice and died of a sickle cell crisis, according to a report from the Philadelphia Medical Examiner.
And those were the guys who stood tallest in Saturday’s Catholic League finale, dominating play in a performance that underscored Wills’ preseason message that the team would rally in Turner’s honor.
“It was so special that we were able to finish this way,” Barrett said after the game at Wissahickon High School. “This is such a special brotherhood and we’ve been through so much and we relied so much on each other.”
Jennings, Barrett, Troy, and Wills are from the same parish (St. Alphonsus) and graduated from the same grade school (Our Lady of Mercy) in Maple Glen. Along with Hagan, Himes, and Anderson, they all played CYO football for the St. Genevieve Wildcats in Flourtown under former coach Donald “Doc” Dougherty.
“The lessons we learned from CYO, we just carried them over,” Barrett said. “We’ve always had the best coaching, all the way through.”
Said Jennings: “That brotherhood we built starting back in sixth grade carries over through high school. It’s really special.”
Troy said the four linemen have been “best friends” since their grade-school days.
“It’s awesome,” Troy said. “Playing with each other since CYO, we have a bond unlike anything else.”
Barrett said the athletes’ friendship and familiarity made an impact on the field.
“We all know each other so well when we’re playing, which is so great,” Barrett said. “We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and you can see on the D-line, we all know how to attack the quarterback and make plays.”
Troy said those bonds were especially important through this emotional season, as the Explorers dealt with the death of Turner, the ever-present uncertainty created by the coronavirus, the loss to nemesis St. Joseph’s Prep, the determination to carry on and finish strong.
La Salle probably played its best game in the finale against Archbishop Wood. The defensive line led the way as the Explorers held the Vikings to minus-8 yards in the second half until the meaningless final drive in beating their PCL rivals for the first time in five seasons.
“I think the fact that we can rely on each other on the field but especially off the field, talking to each other, makes a huge difference,” Troy said. “We’re like brothers. I’m happy to have those guys behind me and I’m proud to be behind those guys.”
Said Barrett: “These guys have been my best friends for a long time, and they are going to be my lifelong friends. I know that for sure.”
On Saturday, the old St. Genevieve Wildcats and current La Salle Explorers walked off the field together for the final time.
But they are convinced they still will be talking about this season and the friendships that formed in grade school when they are old enough to watch grandsons put on those blue-and-gold uniforms.
“We’ll be there for each other for life,” Troy said. “All the stuff we went through this season, that bond will not break.”