Football: Hard work pays off for O’Connell and Santoni Graham

September 11, 2013

As Santoni Graham sweated through another grueling team workout during this past offseason, the O’Connell senior linebacker had an epiphany.

“I realized that I’d been with my teammates just about every day and we’d never had an offseason this hard and shown this much dedication in my three years,” Graham said. “There was no way we wouldn’t see improvement. You just know it’s going to be good.”

Of course, every team is a championship contender in August. But through their first three games, the Knights (2-1) have turned some heads with their high-octane offense and stout defensive effort. After recording a 41-0 shutout of Paul VI for their first win against the Panthers in their last five meetings, the Knights again looked impressive last week in a 41-6 rout of Bishop Ireton on the road.

The strong start continues a turnaround that’s seen the Knights improve from 1-9 to 5-5 since Coach Del Smith took over last season. Smith credits much of their early success to the establishment of the run game. Senior Kamrin Moore, a two-way starter and Boston College commit, has amassed 219 yards and three touchdowns on just 20 carries, leading a three-tiered backfield attack that also features the strong rushing ability of dual-threat quarterback Michael Galvan and junior running back Anton Woody.

“We struggled to establish the run last year but our offensive line play and even distribution has helped us do better this year,” Smith said. “We have four or five guys we can hand the ball off to so that Kam doesn’t have to take all the snaps and when he does get back there, he’s fresh.”

Bishop McNamara's lineman dominates the trenches in memory of his grandfather. (Nathan Bickell for Synthesis/Koubaroulis LLC./The Washington Post)

Another key in opening up holes in the trenches is the play of Galvan, who is in his first year as O’Connell’s starting quarterback. The Heritage junior transfer has thrown for 608 yards and eight touchdowns and rushed for 170 yards and three more scores while orchestrating the Knights’ spread attack. Wideouts Marquis Rowe (13 catches for 343 yards), George Hawkins (15 catches for 137 yards) and Lawrence King (seven catches for 149 yards) have benefitted from quick screen passes and big strikes downfield, thanks to Galvan’s strong arm.

The chemistry was built this offseason as Galvan took extra reps with his team and personal trainer to learn the offense and be prepared for schemes that grant him freedom as the offensive leader.

“After [four] turnovers hurt us in the first game, I’ve learned the mantra is to start strong and that I don’t have to make all the plays,” Galvan said. “I’m a distributor and not the only playmaker. It’s early but with 41-0 and 41-6, I’d say it’s working so far.”

A major test awaits the Knights this Friday in St. Christopher before beginning play in the always-tough Washington Catholic Athletic Conference. Graham sees it as a chance to extend the Knights’ momentum and further justify his offseason confidence.

“The first game we started slow and realized that we weren’t as good as we thought we were,” Graham said. “Now that we’ve found some success, we as a defense have to have the will to not let any team take that from us.”

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