Camp Confidential: Paramus Catholic
MSG Varsity will visit the top teams in the Garden State during preseason camps and provide all the latest news leading up to opening kick-off. In today’s edition of Camp Confidential, we take a look at Paramus Catholic.
LAST SEASON: 6-5; lost to Don Bosco Prep in Non-Public Group 4 playoffs
HEAD COACH: Chris Partridge (3rd season)
TOP RETURNING PLAYERS: SS/RB Jabrill Peppers, WR Najee Clayton, WR/CB Tyrone Washington, UTIL Dejon Harrison, RB Keyon Washington, DL Nick Flores, DL Khilyni Kennedy, WR/S James Colacci, QB Steve Shanley, LB/Captain Marquise Watson
BOTTOM LINE: It’s remarkable how much positive change third-year coach Chris Partridge has instilled within the Paramus Catholic football program. Once a punch line; now a threat.
The Paladins opened a lot of eyes last fall, finishing 6-5 overall and recording impressive victories over North 1 Group 3 finalist Old Tappan and out-of-state foes Poly Prep (N.Y.) and Salesianum (Del.). The level of play certainly was higher compared to the team’s 4-6 output in 2010, but many figured the nice run would end abruptly come playoff time. That wasn’t the case.
Paramus Catholic notched a 48-7 win over Seton Hall Prep in the first round of the Non-Public Group 4 playoffs, marking the program’s first postseason victory since edging Notre Dame, 29-27, in 2006.
Now, Partridge and his team believe they can take the next step, thanks to the arrival of All-American running back/defensive back Jabrill Peppers and several key returning starters.
The Paladins were once looked upon as just a young, athletic bunch. Now, they should be viewed as a legitimate championship contender.
CHANGE OF SCENERY
Jabrill Peppers couldn’t be happier. That doesn’t mean he isn't finished recovering from the initial shock of how hard his new team works.
“I was very surprised. When I was at Don Bosco I thought we worked the hardest, but when I came here I got a rude awakening,” he said. “I’m very happy. They all accepted me and that’s what they preach here: brotherhood and loyalty. I’m going to do whatever this team needs me to do.”
Peppers' willingness to sacrifice inflated statistic totals says a lot about the bond he’s created with his new teammates. However, it’s Partridge who has made the biggest impression on him.
“I’ve never been so close with a coach outside of Pop Warner,” Peppers said. “He’s just a good dude. If I had to think of only one coach who really cares about his kids, it’s him. He treats everybody the same; there’s a real sense of family and equality here.”
That’s an incredible feat to practice, considering Peppers was featured as a "Future Game Changer" in a recent issue of Sports Illustrated. The segment featuring the 16-year-old Peppers is displayed on the cover with the description, "Eight stars of tomorrow, and where to find them today."
But Peppers has been no stranger to making headlines this past year. Shortly after he spent the fall season anchoring a national championship-winning team, MSG Varsity first broke the news that he had transferred out of Don Bosco Prep and enrolled at Paramus Catholic in February.
The All-American cornerback/running back will not have to sit out the mandatory transfer rule of five games, and he will suit up in a black and gold uniform in Week 1 against Delbarton.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound MSG Varsity All-Metro first team selection helped the Ironmen capture their sixth straight Non-Public Group 4 title and second national crown in three years this past fall.
Peppers recorded 917 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns on offense, while he shut down many of the talented receivers in the state on defense in 2011. Arguably the top recruit in America for the Class of 2014, Peppers was named the National Sophomore Football Player of the Year by the U.S. Air Force.
Impressive accolades are nice, but Peppers’ biggest contributions won’t be gaudy numbers.
“Leadership, competitiveness,” Partridge said of Peppers’ biggest attributes. “He’s a tremendous kid who pushes his teammates. And he’s added to the chip on our shoulder, which we love.”
It’s safe to assume Peppers, who switched his jersey number from 18 to 5 to fully embrace a new chapter in his life, wants to continue ending each fall season atop the Garden State.
“It’s going to get a little crazy this year,” he said with a wide grin. “We’re going to surprise people. I’ve been on that championship-caliber team and I know what it takes. We have it.”
While Steve Shanley and incoming sophomore Corey Gaarn – a transfer from Bergen Catholic – will share the quarterback duties in some capacity, both will be able to rely upon a bevy of potent wide receivers.
Junior Tyrone Washington and sophomore Najee Clayton, who is considered one of the top players nationally in his class, anchor the position. Keep an eye on Dejon Harrison, James Colacci and speedy Abdul Neblet to complement the dynamic duo, too.
“We’re flying around the field and looking like a very competitive team,” Clayton said. “Last year I went into the season a little nervous and anxious, but as the season went on I got used to it. Now that I have a year under my belt, I’ll be ready for more.”
That group will be asked to produce consistently, especially since Peppers – who will also see time at receiver – will face double-coverage most plays.
“We have to step up a lot because teams are going to try and take him out of the game,” Washington said. “It’s not just me, it’s my teammates, too. But we’re going to pick up the intensity, and we love the competition.”
‘LIVIN’ ON THE ‘DARKSIDE’
Paramus Catholic’s football team is not only talented; the group is ultra-creative. The Paladins have collaboratively developed multiple motivational slogans, the biggest being ‘Livin’ and ‘Darkside’.
Where did ‘Livin’ come from? Partridge, a Paramus Catholic alumnus who played linebacker at Lafayette College, stumbled upon it when talking with his best friend and former college roommate, Blake Costanzo, a former Ramapo High School star who currently plays on the special teams unit for the Chicago Bears after starring for the San Francisco 49ers last season.
Last summer, Costanzo, a Franklin Lakes native, helped Partridge during offseason camps and workouts by coaching the Paramus Catholic linebackers.
“We talk about life, football and hardships a lot,” Partridge said last year. “When you’re running, you’re working, and you’re fighting, you’re ‘Livin’. You’re making the most out of life. If you get a 90 on a test, you’re ‘Livin’. It’s a state of mind, and it programs you to not think negatively.”
The motto has seemed to generate a ton of buzz around the campus. A big, gold ‘Livin' banner hangs on top of the press box in the center of the bleacher section, black t-shirts with the slogan printed on them are being sold at games, and its message is written on various landmarks inside and outside the school.
“The team’s taken to it,” Partridge said. “They’re loving it. You see the banner in the stands and how it’s all over school. They love it. They know that if you’re negative, it will lift you out of that.”
Meanwhile, ‘Darkside’ is the newest creed. The players fully believe a positive mindset is combining with true talent to equal success. In turn, calling themselves members of the ‘Darkside’ signifies they want their competition to beware the state’s biggest sleeper.
“It’s no comparison,” Partridge said when asked about the differences between 2010 and now. “We’ve grown into a team with a chip on our shoulders. We’ve got kids flying around and we’ve got a team full of playmakers. It’ll be the first time we’ll be two-platoon, so guys have been able to get plenty of reps on one side. That’s made the improvement just tremendous.”
Added senior defensive lineman Khilyni Kennedy: “Everyone’s flying all over the field, doing everything the right way. When I was a sophomore, we were dead. If we lost, it was like we didn’t care. It’s so different now.”
Yes, ‘Livin’ on the ‘Darkside’ has been quite fun.
“There’s no pressure; we just want to get after it,” Partridge said. “We like the pressure and we want to be in big games. It’s about the kids and what they’ve created here. They deserve this.”
Sept. 8 vs. Delbarton
Sept. 14 at DePaul
Sept. 21 at Demarest
Sept. 28 at Ridgewood
Oct. 12 at Don Bosco Prep
Oct. 20 vs. St. Joseph Regional
Oct. 26 vs. Eastern Christian (Md.) at Rutgers
Nov. 2 vs. Northern Highlands
Nov. 22 vs. Bergen Catholic
Contact Brian Fitzsimmons at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @FitzWriter