By Rich Fisher | Correspondent
Sometimes kids pay the price for things that are out of their control. But quality kids have a way of not letting that price get too high.
Case in point was the 2017 Mater Dei Prep football team.
For the final five games of the season, the Seraphs were without head coach Dino Mangiero and offensive coordinator Lance Bennett on game days due to suspension for rules violations. The two could coach the team during practices but could not coach actual games.
Related Photo Gallery: NJSIAA Non-Public Group II final
Mangiero, who guided the Middletown school to its first state title in his first year at the helm last season, used ineligible players against Canada Prep earlier in the year. Also, neither Mangiero, nor Bennett completed a National Federation-mandated coaching course.
That’s the kind of stuff that can mess with a young player’s head, but the Seraphs rose above it.
“We’re just a team that overcomes adversity,” junior receiver Isaiah Alston said after the Seraphs 30-14 loss to St. Joe’s of Hammonton in the Non-Public Group II final. “Today we couldn’t do it. But it’s a great team. I love them, they’re family, we worked hard all year.”
Senior quarterback George Pearson, who is headed for Central Michigan next year, agreed with his teammate.
“We had to face a lot of adversity and go through a lot of ups and downs with the eligibility, and our coaches,” said Pearson, who went 20-2 as Mater Dei’s quarterback. “We’ve been through a lot. To make it here, even though we didn’t win, we’ve been here twice. It’s a good experience for the young guys too.
“At the end of the day, I love my team and just being here is a good feeling. Everyone doesn’t make it here to the finals.”
Shannon Hoadley, a former head coach at Mater Dei, took over the game-day coaching duties and had nothing but praise for the players.
“We wanted to thank some of the press the way we were labeled in the paper with what we were doing,” Hoadley said. “That was just fuel for the fire the way we’re built here. We do not let outside distractions go into it and ultimately that’s why Mater Dei Prep students will always rise above adversity.
“That’s all they’ve known. … They’re gonna be stronger young men down the road and contribute greatly in life because they know how to battle through adversity.”
FIRM FOOTING: With a state championship and state final berth achieved in the past two years, Mater Dei appears to have a program that is on solid ground.
“It’s as solid as solid could be, between Coach Mangiero, Coach Bennett, myself and the other coaching staff,” Hoadley said. “Our numbers are increasingly higher every year. The way the kids have bought into the program in the weight room. It’s an absolute expectation for us to be in the state final every single year.
“That’s why with our scrimmage schedule, we played St. Peter’s Prep, St. John Vianney. We thought that would prepare us for a game against a team like St. Joe’s Hammonton later in the year. We pride ourselves that this is a business-as-usual atmosphere, and we plan on playing in the state championship game every year. That’s what the program is, that’s what we prepare for.”
Sounds like a lot of pressure.
“Pressure makes you sharp,” Hoadley said. “Pressure sharpens the knife.”
The Seraphs departing quarterback also expects big things.
“Mater Dei is gonna be a great program,” Pearson said. “They’ll be back next year.”
DEVANEY PUTS ON SHOW: For a fleeting few moments in the third quarter, it appeared that senior receiver Kyle Devaney might will the Seraphs to a potential game-tying touchdown.
Trailing 14-6, Mater Dei took over on offense at the 1-yard line after a 51-yard punt. On second-and-7, Pearson fumbled the snap and then looked about ready to be sacked for a safety in the end zone, when he suddenly floated a ball out to a wide open Devaney at the 17. He turned it into a 33-yard completion and Mater Dei had life at its 37.
Three plays later it was fourth-and-1 at the 46 and the handoff went to Devaney. He appeared stopped at the line but his legs kept churning as he dragged tacklers past the first-down mark.
The drive ended four plays later on an interception and Devaney’s heroics were to get lost in the shuffle, but not in Hoadley’s mind.
When Kyle’s name was brought up, the coach got momentarily choked up.
“Not to get emotional,” he said, “But Kyle is the kid who we want the ball in his hands. He’s a kid who has no meaning of what ‘not succeeding’ is. Failure is not an option with him. When I went for it on fourth down there wasn’t a doubt in my mind who I wanted to have the ball. He’s just super human sometimes.”
Devaney finished with a team-high three catches for 63 yards.