Since his freshman year, St. Thomas Aquinas senior linebacker Lance Virgile has hoped for the chance to face Don Bosco Prep (N.J.) in a battle of high school football powerhouses.
The Raiders (’08, ’10) and Ironmen (’09, ’11) account for the past four national titles as well as 17 combined state championships.
Virgile’s wish will become a reality at 8 p.m. Friday as the Raiders (2-0) host the Ironmen (1-1) in a nationally televised game on ESPN2.
“They have all the qualities — they’re big, they’re strong, they’re fast, they’re physical and they’re well-coached,” Aquinas coach Rocco Casullo said. “That’s how most of these teams are. It’s good. It’s the landscape of high school football now, and it’s good for these kids because most of them will never be a part of something like this again in their careers.”
This season’s motto for the Raiders — “stay together” — developed during offseason workouts. Strength and conditioning coach Rob Biasotti stressed that the players do just that, thereby creating good chemistry.
“That’s how you win games,” Virgile said. “A team that sticks together actually wins games. It’s not individual athleticism, not single players on one team that happen to play offense and defense. It’s the whole team itself that wins the game, not just one player or individuals.”
But it also helps when a team has a playmaker like senior quarterback John O’Korn. Through the first two regular-season games, O’Korn has thrown for 302 yards and rushed for another 198. The University of Houston commit has three touchdowns through the air and five on the ground.
O’Korn moved from State College, Pa., to live with family in South Florida before the start of last season, becoming part of the Aquinas quarterback fraternity.
The 6-4, 210-pounder learned from Wesley Carroll, the former FIU quarterback, as well as Dan Shula, grandson of NFL Hall of Fame coach Don and current wide receivers coach at Illinois State.
“He’s come back and talked to me about playing quarterback at St. Thomas and what it’s all about,” O’Korn said. “It’s definitely something when all the old quarterbacks come back willing to help.”
Sitting behind Max Lescano, who is now at Princeton, on the depth chart last year made O’Korn determined to prove himself to his coaches.
“I think he slowed the game down,” Casullo said. “He worked really hard in the offseason watching film, and he’s definitely gotten stronger in the weight room. He’s put on 20 pounds, so he’s comfortable with his body. I think he understands coverages and schemes and what we’re trying to do offensively. It’s really helped him.”
During the offseason, O’Korn worked on his running game, which has provided an additional weapon to complement senior running back Fred Coppet’s 290 yards and two touchdowns.
Virgile said knowing the offense can tack on points — the Raiders have scored 111 in three games, which includes a preseason victory over Dillard — makes it easier for the defense to remain confident.
The entire team will need to be in top form. Don Bosco enters Friday night’s game looking to bounce back from last week’s upset to Gilman (Baltimore) 13-6 to snap its 46-game win streak.
St. Thomas Aquinas holds a 9-0 record in nationally televised games since 2008 and is 7-0 against out-of-state opponents.