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It’s all about the players

Gil Brooks used a lot of different kinds of bricks to build St. Joseph's Prep into a national-caliber football program.

Gil Brooks used a lot of different kinds of bricks to build St. Joseph's Prep into a national-caliber football program.

The thickest, widest ones wore helmets and shoulder pads.

Great teams have great players. And while every top program has to develop top talent - through coaching, offseason training, and old-fashioned maturation - the best programs tend to have the best talent to develop.

Some people call it recruiting. But it's not like the college game, with scholarship offers and oral commitments and national signing days.

Officials at private high schools like to think of it as "attracting" players. Top kids tend to find their way to top programs, whether it's because of the coach or the team's success, the schedule, or the presence of other top players.

Let's be real: It's part of the scholastic sports scene. And that's not to say that many eighth graders and their parents who chose private high schools don't value the discipline, structure, religious atmosphere, school spirit, service element, and academic standards of those institutions.

But good football players are attracted to good football programs with good football coaches. Same goes in basketball and baseball, in just about every sport.

Brooks, a South Jersey attorney, was a master at attracting top players to St. Joseph's Prep. That's not to imply that the man and his assistants aren't good coaches. They can scheme and strategize. They can teach technique, and they can motivate.

But you don't win five Catholic League titles, put together a regular-season Catholic League winning streak of 55 games, finish in the top 15 in consecutive national rankings, and fashion an overall record of 162-57-2 while facing a big-time schedule without players.

That doesn't happen.

Brooks was named the football coach at Camden Catholic on Tuesday. If the energetic, highly respected coach and his assistants have similar aspirations for the Irish - and these guys didn't sign up to go 6-4 - they are going to need players.

That's where things get interesting.

Camden Catholic needs players. Paul VI needs players. Bishop Eustace and Holy Cross and Gloucester Catholic and St. Augustine Prep need players.

In a larger sense, those schools needs students. These are tough times in public education, but these are tough times in private education, too.

It's fiercely competitive out there. Many private schools are fighting for their survival.

Like it or not, deny it or not, winning is a big deal. And winning big is an even bigger deal.

More than ever, private-school officials seem to sense the importance of high-profile, successful sports programs - especially in so-called "major" sports such as football - to build school spirit and unity, engage the alumni, and help with enrollment.

Camden Catholic's "different direction" for the football program involved hiring a man who spent 18 years, from 1992-2009, turning a Philadelphia prep school into a national power. That's a statement.

The Irish seem to want a big-time football program. They've got that new field, and they've got concerns about enrollment. These are difficult economic times. The Diocese of Camden has been merging parishes and closing grammar schools with startling regularity.

Brooks can turn Camden Catholic into a big-time team only with big-time players. And that can happen only if fewer of them go to other South Jersey private schools.

It's only May, and football season is heating up.