In December, Erasmus Hall defeated Tottenville, 15-14, in a memorable championship game, capping an undefeated season and giving the team their first PSAL Championship Division title in school history.
Both teams, which square off at Sid Luckman Field in Saturday’s season opener at noon, are considered to be in a three-team race to get back to The Bronx along with Abraham Lincoln, which won the 2011 title.
Erasmus Hall returns this season with the city’s most electrifying player — Ohio State-bound receiver Curtis Samuel. The 6-foot senior All-American is a threat as a rusher and receiver. He is joined by explosive senior running back Kahlil Lewin, who is being recruited by UConn, Stony Brook and James Madison.
While Samuel and Lewin will provide the flash, the strength of the Dutchmen should be their strong and athletic defense. Senior ends Jose Duncan and Maynor Oregon, as well as senior defensive tackle Oumar Coulibaly are returning starters on the line, joined by junior Tysene Foster.
“I think they want to defend the throne,” Erasmus Hall coach Danny Landberg said. “They want to go out and prove themselves.”
Tottenville returns 13 three-year starters from a team that lost by one point in the championship game, its only loss on the field a year ago. The Pirates also forfeited a regular season game against rival Curtis that was unable to be rescheduled following Hurricane Sandy.
Among the key returning seniors are free safety James Munson, Rocco Fama and Joe Ojo on the defensive line, while junior quarterback Joshua Rainey and senior running back Anthony Russo, a transfer from St. Joseph by-the-Sea, should guide the offense.
“We’re counting on those guys to be the nucleus of our defense,” said Jim Munson, who enters his 22nd year as head coach. “We’ve got to play great defense to give us a shot. That’s what I’m counting on with the leadership I have from these upperclassmen.”
Lincoln returns almost everyone from a squad filled with juniors that lost to Tottenville in the semifinals last fall. Of the 15 seniors on the Railsplitters' deep roster, 14 have a lot of experience.
That includes senior quarterback Javon Moore, who threw for 1,158 yards and 11 touchdowns, while also rushing for seven scores, and running back Antoine Holloman, who gained 1,281 yards and scored 10 touchdowns last year as a junior.
Leading Lincoln defensively is Thomas Holley, a five-star recruit listed as the top-ranked recruit in New York State and the third-ranked defensive tackle in the country in the Class of 2014.
“Expectations are enormously high,” Moore said. “We’ve got to be close to perfection. It can’t be anything less because that’s what coach is expecting and that’s what we’re expecting from ourselves.”
In the Catholic High School Football League, while suburban squads St. Anthony’s, defending champions Chaminade, Iona Prep and Archbishop Stepinac, are considered frontrunners, Holy Cross might have one of the league’s top defenses.
Leading the way are senior middle linebackers Jordan Francklin and Brandon Pelzer, who will also share the running back duties again this fall.
“We should be pretty good on defense,” said Holy Cross coach Tom Pugh, in his 41st season. “Coach [Tim] Smith has a nice group of kids and they’re all experienced so that should help us going forward.”
Fordham Prep, on the other hand, has an explosive offense, featuring senior All-American running back Malik Crossdale, who verbally committed to West Point last month, and senior quarterback James McHale, who threw for 1,341 yards and nine touchdowns in six games last year.
“We have assets on this team where if we can keep them healthy, we could exploit those assets,” Fordham Prep coach Pete Gorynski said. “If we can pull this all together, I think we have the potential to be very, very good.”