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Digital touch helps West Catholic communicate like champs

In this, the digital revolution, perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that the new players-only meeting takes place in group text-message sessions.

In this, the digital revolution, perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that the new players-only meeting takes place in group text-message sessions.

West Catholic, the Catholic League Class AA champion, has employed such team-building measures this season in hopes of reclaiming their throne atop the league.

"We wanted the Catholic League championship back and we had to practice hard and build team chemistry," said Tymir Oliver, a Rutgers commit as a two-way lineman.

The Burrs (8-4, 4-0) did just that, defeating Lansdale Catholic, 7-6, in the Catholic League final.

After beating Del-Val in the District 12 Class AA title game last week, the Burrs will face District 1 champion New Hope-Solebury (11-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Plymouth-Whitemarsh.

"This is the farthest I've been in the playoffs," said Oliver, a 6-foot-4, 265-pound senior. "We could prove a lot of people wrong because nobody believed we could go this far."

Part of that success, some Burrs believe, stems from the free exchange of criticism and praise within those group texts, which include almost every team member with an iPhone, Oliver said.

"I guess it's the all-around honesty," he said. "If you messed up, did good, or made a bad play, we'd tell you. We don't really hold anything back. We try to be as honest as can be because we want our team to be good all around."

Josh Holsopple, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound senior wide receiver, started the group message with his iPhone, adding 15 to 20 teammates at first and then others later.

"I think it's helped tremendously," Holsopple said. "If anybody has a problem or if they think something should be changed, they can express their opinion to the entire team. Then we can communicate even if we're not together."

Bouncing back after last season's playoff loss to Neumann-Goretti, which snapped the Burrs' 52-game strangle hold on the Catholic League AA division, wasn't easy. Senior leadership was lost and new faces emerged, including transfer quarterback Joshua Evans.

"At first, I was anxious because I was the new kid," said Evans, who transferred from Holy Cross in Queens, N.Y. "But we talk about our problems [in those texts], and if anybody has to say anything, they just say it and we solve it from there."

After last week, Evans' 2,257 passing yards were second-most in the city leagues, and just 31 yards less than Archbishop Wood senior Anthony Russo, a Rutgers commit. Evans' 24 passing touchdowns were also third-best behind Russo (34) and Del-Val's Shayne Smith (25).

In addition to helping new faces, the group messages also helped familiar ones that were perhaps less talkative by nature.

"I'm quieter," Oliver said.

He added later, "It's helped because before I didn't really talk too much, but now I interact more and I'm more open to others."

He has even received his share of criticism. After a game against Conwell-Egan, Oliver said teammates reminded him he was beaten twice by an opposing defensive lineman.

At this stage of his high school career, however, Oliver doesn't seem threatened by criticism.

Instead, he appears to welcome any feedback that will help him earn what he covets most.

"I didn't get a [senior] class ring this year," Oliver said, "because I only want a state championship ring."