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PREP FOCUS: Jesuit football kept Crusaders tradition alive

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Senior running back Joey Alfieri (right) was nearly unstoppable when healthy for Jesuit.

Despite being one of the top contenders to reach the 2013 state championship game, there were plenty of questions surrounding the Jesuit football team prior to the season.

Would running backs Joey Alfieri and Chase Morrison find room to roam behind a strapping, but unverified offensive line that needed to replace four Division-I trenchmen from last year’s squad?

Could the defense deputize a mass of exited senior stars and fill in pivotal positions around superstars such as Christian Martinek, Henry Mondeaux and Trent Werner?

Who was going to take over at quarterback, and could that signal-caller bring more to the Crusaders’ offense than just solid handoffs to the Jesuit backs?

Fault-finders came up with uncertainties, but the unified, unflinching Crusaders answered the bell and quieted the naysayers week in and week out. It wasn’t always easy, nor pretty or appealing. Yet, Jesuit always seemed to find a way to get the job done, be it a damaging injury, a talented playoff opponent or a forbidding Metro League foe.

“We went through so much this year, and we battled,” offensive tackle Mike Miller says. “This is the most team chemistry we’ve ever had. We all love each other so much, and we kept battling all year long. That’s what made this team great. We fought every game, every play. It’s what defined us a team. We went on a run together and played hard all year. They’re my brothers.”

There’s a lot to be said about what Jesuit — the preseason No. 1 team in the 6A coaches’ poll — accomplished in the face of adversity this season.

Jesuit had to replace four of its five starting offensive linemen, as well as break in a number of sophomores such as Donovan Baldocchi, Nathanael Heaukulani, Mike Petroff, Zach Houlemard and Josh Happle on defense.

Sophomore quarterback Eric Restic didn’t win the starting quarterback gig until the first week of the season, and at times he struggled to push the ball downfield via the pass.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Jesuit sophomore quarterback Eric Restic (left)  emerged as a poised playmaker from the pocket at the Crusaders' season progressed.

The Crusaders started the year in dubious fashion, losing to Camas 47-14 on the road and to Central Catholic in the schools’ first match-up of the year at home. And, when Alfieri went down against Aloha with a season-ending leg injury, there were whispers that Jesuit’s chances at a state title were done as well. Jesuit regrouped, however, with older players such as Werner, Martinek, Miller, Mondeaux and Alifieri taking the Crusaders’ younger colts under their wings for guidance and instruction.

“We had a lot of younger kids step up through the season, especially after Joey went down,” Martinek says. “We knew he was a really big part of our offense and defense, but we had kids step up and made it a fun senior year. We got to hand the reins over to them as a team next year. Along with those juniors who will be seniors next year, they’ll step up and be leaders. We taught them to be the first to everything. The first to tackle, the first to a big hit. We taught them how to play hard and make big plays.”

Morrison was a mainstay at running back in Alfieri’s place, especially in the playoffs when the slight ballcarrier took on the brunt of Jesuit’s carries in the Crusaders’ power-I formation.

The defense held opponents to 22.5 points per game in the postseason and held up against some of the team’s best offenses.

“There were so many obstacles this year,” Restic says. “We started off the year 2-2. We battle through that. We had Joey’s injury, we battled through that, too. Everybody stepped up this year. Chase (Morrison) stepped up. Our (offensive) line stepped up. It was a great showing of character of how we stepped up after Joey’s injury. We battled through stuff, and we weren’t going to take no for an answer. Joey went down? Alright, it’s on to the next guy. We couldn’t live in the past.”

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Jesuit senior linebacker Nick Ensroth recovered a fumble in the Class 6A semifinals and helped aid the Crusader' special teams.

The Jesuit offensive line — considered the team’s only real question mark before the season — gelled from the first snap of the season and became the team’s genuine strength as the year wore on. Charlie Landgraf, David Brugato, Nick Miller, Mike Miller and Ben Jones arguably were the best offensive line in the state, a unit that helped Jesuit lead the 6A in rushing.

It was the team’s affinity for each other and the rapport that was formed during the spring and summer that ultimately helped the Crusaders win 12 games and the Metro League championship and secure a berth in the title game.

“People were questioning us a lot at the beginning of the year,” Miller says. “We lost a lot of guys from last year, but we battled so hard. We kept working, and I think that’s why we had such a great year.”

“We started to play as a unit,” Restic says. “We have great chemistry, and everybody loves each other. We went out there every day in practice, worked our butts off, and it showed in the games. We got after it every play, and we didn’t take any plays off. We were a classy team that worked hard.”