Holy Spirit head football coach Chalie Roman has been around a lot of talented football players. He was a college assistant for Delaware, Lafayette, and Princeton, and an assistant for Spirit before taking the head job in 2008.
Roman, 27-6 in three seasons as head coach, has seen his share of great players, so when he talks about Joe Sarnese, a senior wide receiver/safety for this season's 12-0 team that won the state Non-Public Group 3 championship, his words carry plenty of weight.
"Joe Sarnese is the best player I ever coached," Roman said without hesitation. "He is the total package."
On a team that went almost exclusively two-platoon, it was Sarnese, The Inquirer South Jersey defensive player of the year, who did double duty, and that isn't counting his work on special teams.
"He has it all," Roman said. "He made the big plays in the big games."
From his free safety position, Sarnese led the Spartans in tackles with 93. He intercepted one pass, had four pass breakups, and even added a sack.
There are few players in South Jersey who performed such a wide variety of duties at the highest level.
Sarnese also caught 21 passes for 316 yards and six touchdowns. He averaged 20.4 yards on 13 punt returns and 38.4 yards on five kickoff returns.
Sarnese displayed his big-play ability by returning a kickoff 81 yards for a touchdown in Spirit's 14-13 victory over St. Joseph Montvale in the state Non-Public Group 3 championship.
As an aside, Sarnese also was the Spartans' punter, averaging 33.3 yards per punt.
Roman said that Sarnese combines outstanding athletic ability with all the essential intangibles.
According to Roman, the 6-foot-1, 197-pound Sarnese runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash, has a 361/2-inch vertical leap and is one of the team leaders in the weight room.
"He's a good student, has a great football IQ, and I don't know if he ever missed a workout," Roman said.
When a big play needed to be made, Sarnese imposed his will.
During the summer Sarnese made an oral commitment to attend Villanova. He said that enabled him to concentrate only on football and academics his senior year. And make no mistake about it, anything less than an unbeaten season and state championship wouldn't have been satisfactory.
"It's all we thought about, winning the state title," Sarnese said. "It meant everything to play here and to win a state championship."
Holy Spirit plays at a fast pace on offense and defense. Players need to be in top physical condition to play one way, let along never leave the field.
"A lot of people don't realize how hard it is to be a two-way player, but I wanted to play both ways and be on the field as much as possible," Sarnese said.
And that is why he put himself through arduous workouts and it was why he didn't miss weight-room sessions.
Sarnese said it's likely he will be a safety in college. Don't be surprised if his return skills are also utilized.
Now that his high school career is over, Sarnese said he has been able to take time the last few weeks and enjoy looking back on what the Spartans accomplished.
In fact, one of the hardest things he had to do on the football field was pull that uniform off for the last time.
"As soon as that final game ended there was so much emotion and happiness," he said. "I realized it would be the last game I'll play with my teammates and it was sad because I had the best time of my life playing football here."
For Sarnese, being part of the Holy Spirit program was more than just the wins, the championships, the accolades. It was setting a goal with a bunch of his friends and achieving it together.
"We're not just a team, but we're like a family," he said. "We will be friends the rest of our lives, and when we are grandparents we'll still be talking about what we accomplished."
And, no doubt, the conversation will turn to the exploits of Sarnese, whose love of the game was surpassed only by his performance on the field.