Joe Casamento spent 17 years winning football games in Syracuse, N.Y., and it’s probably why No. 7 St. John’s ended up playing one of the toughest schedules in the entire country this fall.
Casamento only arrived at the Northwest Catholic school a year ago as an overqualified offensive coordinator with a 143-27 career record. He took over as head coach this past offseason and didn’t know many other coaches around here. So the Cadets wound up going to Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Florida to start the 2016 campaign.
In August, Casamento felt remorse when the preseason national rankings came out and three of the teams he scheduled were included. But St. John’s returns home Saturday afternoon for its Washington Catholic Athletic Conference opener against No. 5 Good Counsel as perhaps the area’s most intriguing team.
By winning three of its first four games against out-of-town competition, St. John’s drew raves from opposing teams awed and overpowered by its bevy of college recruits and quickly vaulted into the national polls.
“If you had told me 3-1 before [the season], I would have signed the contract for that any time,” Casamento said this week. “Especially for a team that was getting to know each other.”
These Cadets were brought together to win a WCAC title for the first time since 1989. Beating the Falcons for the second year in a row would be a good first step with a game against No. 1 DeMatha looming next week. St. John’s began with a 3-1 record in three of the past four seasons, but an influx of several high-profile transfers also raised expectations.
The addition of Auburn recruit Calvin Ashley gives the offensive line three players listed at more than 300 pounds. There are six on the roster total, and that size is allowing sophomore running backs Joachim Bangda and Keilan Robinson the chance to further emerge as a dynamic duo out of the backfield. The defense, led by Texas A&M defensive end recruit Tyree Johnson, is also stout up front.
The Cadets’ only loss came last week to IMG Academy (Fla.), ranked No. 2 in the country, and they were within one touchdown until late in the third quarter in a 35-14 setback.
“We played a great schedule, but it’s physical and it was a lot of travel and we’re a little tired and a little worn out and a little beat up,” Casamento said. “But the mental side and the preparation side, it absolutely helped us.”
Good Counsel’s lead-up to this game featured a three-week road trip through some of the top teams from the Maryland Independent Athletic Association A division. The Falcons beat Mount St. Joseph’s, Spalding and Gilman and each game was decided six or fewer points. Tailback Mohamed Ibrahim continues to be the team’s main threat running behind a veteran offensive line and the defense, led by disruptive lineman Josh Paschal, is a constant.
In some ways, St. John’s and Good Counsel will be facing mirror images Saturday. But new Cadets quarterback Kasim Hill is a playmaking wild card. Some of the Maryland recruit’s best moments at Gilman the past three years came against the Falcons.
As a freshman, Hill entered as Gilman’s back-up quarterback and threw a game-winning touchdown pass to beat the Falcons. Last year as a starter, he accounted for five total touchdowns (three running, two passing), including the game-winning score, during a 36-29 overtime win facing Good Counsel.
Hill admitted this week he can’t wait for what his WCAC debut has in store.
“All the intensity, and it being at home, and all the people from the school will be out there. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to it,” he said “I’d say we’ve gelled pretty well. The offensive line is doing a great job. The skill dudes have been playing very well, making a lot of plays. We can always get better, but I’d say we’ve done pretty well so far.”