Malik Griffin doesn’t mind getting a grade of 92 on a test.
Unless a friend gets a 93.
“Then I get mad,” said Griffin, Neumann Goretti senior running back. “If one of my friends gets a better grade, I get competitive.”
Neumann Goretti senior linebacker Ronald Holmes is the same way.
“I always want to be one of the top ones in my class,” Holmes said. “I like to see what my friends got on a test and make sure I got higher.”
Neuman Goretti senior-safety Ubayd Steed can relate. He posts his grade-point average (3.6) on his Twitter page, and relishes acing an assignment in his favorite course, College Writing, nearly as much as leveling a running back who tries to break through the Saints secondary.
“It’s just like the football field,” Steed said. “You see somebody going hard on the field, you want to go harder than them. You see somebody going hard in the classroom, you want to go harder than them.”
On the field, in the classroom and in the school hallways, Griffin, Holmes and Steed have led the way for a Neumann Goretti team that has emerged as one of the strongest squads in Southeastern Pennsylvania.
After winning just two games in 2018, the Saints are 8-0 overall, with sole possession of first place in the Philadelphia Catholic League’s Blue Division with a 5-0 mark, and loom as a legitimate threat to challenge for the PIAA Class 3A state title.
Neumann Goretti features junior all-purpose standout Tysheem Johnson, one of the state’s top recruits in the class of 2021, plus several other dynamic, young playmakers.
But third-year coach Albie Crosby, who has rebuilt the program that shut down in 2016 because of a shortage of players, points to Griffin, Holmes and Steed as the keys to the Saints’ revival.
“There’s nothing more powerful than the power of your peers,” Crosby said. “If I say something, it gets heard. If they say something, it gets listened to.”
Neumann Goretti assistant coach Lincoln Townsend, the school’s dean of students, said the trio of seniors makes an impact beyond the football field.
“They set the tone for the team, and they set the tone in the building,” Townsend said.
The trio are far more than just top students. They are top players, too.
Griffin has 17 scholarship offers from programs such as Elon, Massachusetts and Temple. Ivy League schools such as Penn, Dartmouth, Columbia, Yale and Princeton also are vying for his services.
“He’s dynamic,” Crosby said of the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Griffin. “He’s shifty, great at change of direction, change of pace.”
The 6-1, 180-pound Holmes, who was a freshman defensive back when the Saints cancelled the last three games of the 2016 season, has flourished as a big-play linebacker — blocking punts, sacking quarterbacks, returning interceptions for touchdowns.
He has an offer from Delaware State, with Dartmouth and Lafayette also showing strong interest.
“He’s a very disruptive player,” Crosby said. “He’s been making lots of big plays.”
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Steed also has 17 offers. Among the schools in the mix are Temple, Villanova, Bowling Green, Kent State, as well as West Point and the Naval Academy.
“He’s extremely physical,” Crosby said. “He can really hit. But the thing that makes him special is his leadership. He sets an example.”
As do Griffin and Holmes, Steed said he takes pride in setting an example for the team’s younger players — on the practice field, in games, and in the classroom as well.
“When I was younger, the older players showed me the way,” Steed said. “Now I’m a senior, I want to do the same thing.”
All three athletes credit their success in the classroom to encouragement at home.
“Ever since I was young, my parents told me if I don’t do my schoolwork I couldn’t play,” Holmes said. “That always was the priority. Schoolwork first. Football second.”