With the 2008 season Malvern Prep had, one can't help but wonder how the talent-filled and savvy Friars would have fared if the school was part of the PIAA and eligible to compete in district and state playoffs.

The squad went a perfect 10-0, outscored foes by a combined score of 424-115, and went 5-0 en route to its second straight Inter-Academic League championship and third in the last four years.

Gaspare "Gamp" Pellegrini, the head man at the Chester County school since 1978, said this was his best-ever team. That says a lot, since he has a 219-86-8 record and three other unbeaten groups. For being the cream of his 31-year crop, Malvern Prep is The Inquirer's football team of the year.

In their finale, on Thanksgiving Day against St. Joseph's Prep, the Friars rallied from a three-touchdown deficit to beat the Hawks, 34-27, in a thriller at Villanova Stadium.

Coach of the year

Pellegrini was certainly in the running, but this award goes to Bayard Rustin's Mike St. Clair. He guided the third-year varsity program to a 12-2 overall record, a Ches-Mont League American Division title, and a District 1 Class AAA crown.

The Golden Knights, who went 5-0 in division action, advanced to the quarterfinal round of the state playoffs before losing to Archbishop Wood. In three seasons, St. Clair is 24-14. He went 8-4 last year, and 4-8, without a senior class, in 2006.

Freshman of the year

George Washington's Nate Smith, a 6-foot, 175-pound cornerback, intercepted four passes for the Eagles. In the Public League final against Northeast, a triple-overtime win, he had a fourth-quarter interception and four tackles.

Sophomore of the year

Pottsgrove's Terrell Chestnut, a first-year starter at quarterback, rushed for 1,226 yards and 21 TDs. The 6-foot, 170-pound speedster, also a free safety and kick returner, threw for 945 yards and nine scores.

Rookie of the year

Father Judge sophomore QB Tony Smith hit on 105 of 205 passes for 1,583 yards and 13 TDs as the Crusaders went 9-4 and reached the Catholic League AAAA final.

Upset of the year

La Salle went into the District 12 Class AAAA final against George Washington off wins over Catholic League toughies St. Joe's Prep and Judge. But the Eagles ruled on this day, notching a surprise 23-14 victory at frigid Northeast High.

Well-armed

Yet again, picking only two quarterbacks for the all-Southeastern Pennsylvania team was extremely difficult. Here are some who could just as easily have been picked:

Zach Zulli of Perkiomen Valley (2,541 yards passing, 27 TDs); Sam Kind of Abington (2,400, 28); Greg Cordivari of Bishop Shanahan (2,255, 24); Bret Gillespie of Downingtown West (2,041, 19); Tom Savage of Cardinal O'Hara (1,355, 10); Matt Della Croce of Conwell-Egan (1,479, 14); Trevor Sasek of Spring-Ford (1,692, 10); and Derek Giannetti of Upper Dublin (1,187, 10).

Contact staff writer Rick O'Brien at 610-313-8019

or robrien@phillynews.com.