IT WAS March 2013 and the KIPP DuBois football team consisted of only two players.
Along with head coach Keary Dias, quarterback Domair Harris and running back Andre Kelly would head over for "practice" in the basement of the old FitzSimons school building on Cumberland Street.
"We like to say, 'We started from the bottom, now we're here,' " Dias said with a laugh yesterday.
The line is actually from Drake's popular hip-hop song, "Started From the Bottom." For KIPP Dubois, "here" is in the winner's column for the first time in school history as a varsity football program.
Last weekend, the Lions (1-2) knocked off their brethren from KIPP D.C. College Preparatory, 14-0, in Washington.
"The kids were overly excited, and the coaches and I were happy for them to get a little taste of victory and to see what it feels like to work hard and see the payoff," Dias said.
The journey to win No. 1 for KIPP, whose enrollment is around 515 to 520 students, wasn't easy.
Dias said that after "begging" the PIAA for a chance at football, KIPP was allowed to start by playing a junior-varsity only schedule last season.
Without a field to practice on, Dias, Harris and Kelly spent hours in the basement working on footwork, conditioning and timing. Eventually, wide receiver/defensive end Kyree Ruffin and fullback/middle linebacker Eric Boatwright joined the fun, and, by summertime, others followed.
However, Dias said attrition wasn't far behind when his players realized the commitment football required. Consistent practice attendance became a problem. And when the season started, the Lions might have won several games, but they also forfeited several others because of academic ineligibility.
"The kids wanted to win, but they really didn't want to do what it took to have that outcome," said Dias, who coached previously at Osborne High and Henry W. Grady High in Georgia. "I don't think we have any of those problems now. All of our young men are committed and coming every day now.
"But those days were very rough for me," he continued. "If there was any time I felt like quitting and going back to Georgia, it was during that time."
On Saturday, Harris threw for 119 yards and added a 60-yard touchdown pass to Ruffin, who also scored the program's first touchdown (a 77-yard kick return) in a 32-6 loss to Olney in Week 1. Last week, junior multipurpose threat Nazier Felder contributed a rushing touchdown.
The Lions, who now practice at 50th Street and Parkside Avenue, are captained by seniors Harris, Ruffin, Boatwright, Haley Wilson and Paul Bresil. They will play their first Public League AA game at Murrell Dobbins Tech at 1 p.m. Saturday against Strawberry Mansion, a fledgling program experiencing its own growing pains as it tries to build on low roster numbers.
The journey for Dias and Co. isn't complete, but victory No. 1 sure was sweet.
"I talk to God every day," Dias said. "And, after we won that game, I said a small prayer on the field, because a lot of times I questioned if I should be here or not. And just to see the smiles on kids' faces, and to see that inner joy from our work paying off, and some of the hugs, that just really validated that I needed to be here."
Passing along some high school football notes . . .
District 12 and Public League executive director Robert Coleman has been rolling up his sleeves this week (and last) to help Strawberry Mansion head coach Steve Quigley with coaching duties as Mansion looks to stabilize its new football program after starting the season with a fluctuating roster size in the teens . . . On the lighter side, Ahmad Harrod a ninth-grader and water boy for the Ben Franklin High football squad made onlookers laugh when the Electrons faced crosstown rival Northeast Saturday evening. At halftime, Harrod sprinted across the field at the Gratz supersite when a football bounced about 30 yards in front of his path. "I got it, I got it!" Harrod yelled. That is until he realized the ball belonged to injured Vikings quarterback Asa Manley, who was having a toss with a teammate. "Sike, nah, I don't got it," Harrod said as he hopped over the ball and continued to the locker room. Rivalries, ain't nothin' like 'em!
Weekly top players
Our Player of the Week was Ben Franklin senior quarterback Kevin Caldwell, who threw for 382 yards with five touchdowns (fifth most yards in City history and second-best in Pub history).
Here are the others who were considered: La Salle senior Kyle Shurmur went 23-for-30 with 233 yards and for the third consecutive game threw for four touchdowns in the Explorers' 41-34 victory against Dematha (Md.) . . . Father Judge junior running back/defensive back Yeedee Thaenrat had 173 rushing yards, three touchdowns, 10 tackles and three forced fumbles in Judge's 41-32 win against St. Anythony's (N.Y.) . . . Judge junior Prince Smith Jr. caught three balls for 151 yards and three TDs . . . Archbishop Wood senior running back Jarrett McClenton rushed for 212 yards on 18 carries with two scores in Wood's 42-7 beatdown of North Penn . . . Haverford School junior QB Kevin Carter went 12-for-17 for 269 and three TDs in the Fords' 54-26 dissection of Downingtown East . . . Junior RB/DB Quadir Strothers rushed for 168 yards and three TDs on 20 carries in Prep Charter's 39-20 triumph against Interboro.
Daily News top 10 city football teams
1. St. Joseph's Prep 1-2
2. Archbishop Wood 3-0
3. Imhotep 2-1
4. La Salle 2-1
5. Haverford School 2-1
6. Father Judge 2-1
7. Roman Catholic 1-2
8. Malvern 2-1
9. Ben Franklin 3-0
10. West Catholic 1-2
Also considered: Archbishop Ryan, Bonner-Prendergast, Del-Val, George Washington, Simon Gratz, Springside Chestnut Hill.