Despite losing a litany of impact players who graduated last season, the Career Academy Phoenix are looking like a regular season juggernaut again. At the same time, the Vashon Wolverines, who were also hit hard by graduation, are also looking impressive in the early going. Both Public High League football teams bring perfect 3-0 records (although one Vashon victory was a 1-0 forfeit over ROTC in a game not played) into key conference games this weekend.. Career Academy takes the Gateway Tech Jaguars (1-2) at Soldan, while Vashon battles the Soldan Tigers (2-1) at Gateway in 1:30 p.m. kickoffs. Victories for both Career Academy and Vashon will put the teams on course for an undefeated showdown on Oct. 5 at Sumner.
The fact that both teams are doing so well despite numerous graduation losses, is a testament to the programs being able to bring some semblance of reloading to the task at hand.
Career Academy, which lost the league's best defensive player the last two seasons in linebacker Gabriel "Ox" Loyd (192 tackles, six sacks, four fumble recoveries, four picks), quarterback Trevon King (who passed for 2,620 yards and 25 touchdowns), running back Devan Roberts (1,087 yards rushing), receiver Marvante King (37 catches for 802 yards and nine touchdowns) and the line from the offense, have still outscored their opponents 115-55 on the way to the 3-0 mark. The Phoenix opened on the road by winning a 48-42 shootout at Eldon High in rural Missouri, then blanked league opponent Carnahan 37-0, before routing Cahokia 30-13 at its place.
Have the young, unsung Career Academy players surpassed Phoenix coach Sorrell Harvey's expectations?
"I'm not surprised by the play of this team," said Harvey. "We've had a successful junior varsity program for three years (at 21-1). Plus these guys I started with when I came to Career Academy."
Chief among the junior varsity call-ups who has made a sudden impact is junior running back Marquis Stewart who has rushed for 505 yards on 51 carries good for nearly 10 yards (9.9) per carry. Defensively linebackers- defensive ends Ra-Sheen Bolden, Valentino Armendaiz and Donovan Forest have been the most productive players.
"The defensive players are good athletes," said Harvey. "They are smart and tough players. That's what I like about this team."
Meanwhile the Wolverines are flourishing despite graduating their best all-purpose threat in Derrick Mitchell, Jr who rushed for over 700 yards, caught passes for just under 400 yards and amassed over 400 yards on kick returns and their two best defenders in Malik Joseph (99 tackles and 19 sacks) and Denzel Warren (75 tackles and seven sacks even though he missed time with injuries). The previous season they graduated an even more prolific receiver in Carlee Hemphill (see photo) but the likes of Mitchell, Anfernee McAtee and Brandon Jones picked up the slack.
In their season-opening 22-15 win over Gateway Tech, the Wolverines unveiled another lethal returner in Brandon Jones who took the opening kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown and the Wolverines never looked back. Sophomore quarterback Clifton Dickens subsequently threw a touchdown pass to receiver Chrisean Wrice and thus far has passed for 353 yards. In the season opener he made a couple of errant throws, but atoned for them later when he had to make plays to put the game away.
"He still has a lot to learn, " said Vashon coach Reginald Ferguson after the Jaguars win. "The kid is so eager to make plays that sometimes he tries to do too much. Overall I think we did a good job. Our defense
made a lot of big plays to keep Gateway from coming back."
For the season, Vashon's defense has been anchored by holdover Kenneth Harrell (club-highs of 19 tackles and four sacks) and Cardinal Ritter transfer Ian Hines (17 tackles).
Both Vashon and Career Academy were eliminated in the Missouri Class 4 state playoffs by St. Mary's last season, after Career Academy had posted a 9-0 regular season mark and won a first-round playoff game in a blowout. But a new season with a lot of new players isn't a bad thing , either for Harvey.
"We have all new kids on the offensive line, so we are encouraged by their commitment to playing together and putting in the needed work," said Harvey.
Both Vashon and Career Academy enter their respective games with 3-0 overall marks, with one of the Wolverines victories the virtue of a forfeit over the ROTC Commanders when they were forced to take a 1-0 loss to open the 2013 campaign as punishment in a bench-clearing brawl in the playoffs last year to Maplewood. Vashon won its first game physically the following week by surviving Gateway Tech 22-15 after a 14-0 half time lead.