A state title-game appearance wasn't always the obvious destination for the La Salle football team.
When the Explorers' go-to receiver Sam Feleccia went down with an ankle injury in a preseason scrimmage in August, it was a blow for the defending Catholic League Class AAAA champions.
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound senior said in November that having to watch practices and games was the worst part about being injured.
Luckily for head coach Drew Gordon, who loves to throw the ball, La Salle had no shortage of good receivers.
Senior Connor Hoffman (6-2, 200), junior Kevin Forster (6-1, 175) and senior Steve Jones (6-3, 215) filled in nicely in Feleccia's absence, making formidable targets for quarterback Drew Loughery.
When Feleccia returned in the fourth game, Hoffman, Forster and Jones weren't about to take a back seat. The four have combined to form a feared receiving corps.
"They all have their own ability to execute the play," Gordon said. "You can't ignore one of them. That certainly helps with the run game. You can spread them out, and then defenses spread out."
It's no wonder Loughery has thrown for more than 2,000 yards on the season and was ranked by The Inquirer as the No. 1 quarterback in Southeastern Pennsylvania this season. His top two targets - Feleccia and Hoffman - were ranked as the No. 1 and No. 6 receivers, respectively, in the area, and Jones has been a clutch performer at tight end.
Hoffman leads the Explorers with 35 catches for 582 yards and 7 touchdowns in 14 games. Feleccia has 27 catches for 412 yards and 5 TDs in 10 games, and Jones has 21 catches for 330 yards and 5 TDs.
Hoffman said the success didn't come easy. The receivers worked with Loughery all summer to develop chemistry and work on their hands. Sessions usually occurred three times a week, for 90 minutes each time.
Gordon said their success is a result of hard work and disciplined route-running.
"They don't have great speed," he said. "The whole key to their success is running routes."
The four players have helped reset the bar for what was already known as a pass-happy offense. But they are not alone. Running back Jamal Abdur-Rahman regularly catches passes out of the backfield. And freshman Sean Coleman got into the mix in Saturday's semifinal win over Ridley, catching a 14-yarder during an integral drive in the third quarter.
As for Feleccia, the versatile receiver is being recruited by schools such as Syracuse and Delaware - and not just as a receiver. Feleccia's big frame makes him a candidate to play tight end, running back, or linebacker.
"He's a bruising type of kid," said Ridley coach Dennis Decker. "On most teams, if you have a kid that size, he's playing line. They've got him flanked out and carrying the ball. Coach Gordon does a good job getting him in situations to get him the ball."
And since all four receivers are big and tough, they are difficult to tackle.
After dodging tacklers en route to a touchdown against Cardinal O'Hara on Nov. 14, Hoffman said that running after the catch was his favorite part of playing receiver.
So, State College defensive backs better be working on both their coverage and tackling drills this week if they hope to stop the Explorers' receiving trio.
"They have great size. They have good speed, and they all have good hands," Decker said. "If you try to shut one down, the other two will hurt you."