It’s crunch time as high schools throughout the archdiocese, including last year’s state football champion Christian Brothers College High School, get ready for the fall sports season. CBC began practices Aug. 6 to prepare for a varsity football jamboree at Francis Howell High School Aug. 17 and the home opener against O’Fallon at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 24.
Niko Hea, a senior receiver and tight end, said in the offseason he works in the weight room and in conditioning to get in shape. He also studies the playbook extensively. “You have to make sure you’re ready at any moment to step up and make a play for the team,” Hea said.
Going back to the state playoffs and winning back-to-back championships is the aim, he added. CBC defeated Blue Springs 31-14 in November to win the Class 6 football championship. CBC ended the season 13-1, with a 12-game winning streak after losing to CBC of Memphis. The team was a champion in 2014 and a runner-up in 2015 and 2011.
Hea enjoys being on the field, especially connecting with the other receivers and quarterbacks. And, “being able to score touchdowns and celebrate with your teammates is the really enjoyable side,” he said.
His teammates make practice fun, Hea said. “It goes by easy. It’s the part of my day that I like most because I’m able to be out there with the guys I love who are like brothers to me and I can rely on for anything I need.”
Hea was interviewed while gathering with teammates before volunteering Aug. 10 at a barbecue for incoming freshmen and their families. It’s one way the players, among the faces of the school, show they care about the community and school, he said. A parishioner of Queen of All Saints in Oakville, he thanks God every night for keeping him healthy.
On the defensive side, another senior, Anthony Tillman, said that as a captain he helps guide the younger players, “making sure they step up because we’re all needed to win games,” he said.
Even players who don’t see much time on the field during games are of critical importance to a team, Tillman said. They have roles in practices to simulate the opposition, helping the starters prepare for games. “Without them, we’re not anything,” Tillman said. “We need them to make it back to state and win a title. They make us go harder and make us better as a whole.”
An outside linebacker, he chatted with younger teammates about positioning while waiting for his turn during drills at a practice Aug. 13. He was especially active as the team went through plays in the red zone, the area between the 20-yard line and the goal line.
Tillman, who attends St. Alphonsus Liguori (Rock) Church in north St. Louis, said he appreciates attending a Catholic school, noting that sometimes after school he and other players go to the chapel to “pray and let our mind relax, cool off and talk to God. That’s a great help.”
Also helpful, he said, is that before games the players hold hands and pray as one.
CBC coach Scott Pingel, who last season notched his 100th victory at the school, said his approach each year is to set his players on a path to becoming honorable men.
“We always talk about developing the person first,” he said. “We understand that Xs and Os are a part of the game. We try to get our guys ready there, but we realize that is not the most important thing at the start. So we try to get to know these guys, get them to buy into what we are trying to do.”
The idea is to use football to teach accountability and responsibility, Pingel said. “We stress being on time. We are constantly on these guys about the small details. We talk football most of the time, but it’s just about life most of the time, too.”
Practices started Aug. 6. A three-hour slot is set aside for practice, but it often takes less time, Pingel said, with the idea of keeping the players moving. “We walk through some sessions, we go fast through some sessions, we teach teach through some sessions. We just try to mix it up so it never gets too stale.”
The coach believes the St. Louis area has quality football competition. “I’ll match our athletes against anywhere in the nation. We have a lot of high schools, so the athletes are pretty spread out and you don’t have that one dominant team. We’ve been pretty fortunate the last few years to have such good teams, but St. Louis has so many good teams.”
Pingel enjoys being at a Catholic high school and talking about God every day. “We talk about Jesus, about what we’ve done to make ourselves better persons, about being good to mom and dad. It’s nice to include the faith piece into it, too.”
>> Winning teams
Valle Catholic High School’s powerful offense led it to the Class 1 championship game last season before falling in a 12-7 defensive battle with Monroe City. Valle ended the year 12-2. The team is tied for the most state championships, with 14. Valle had a 51-game winning streak before it ended in 2016 amid a run of three straight state championships.
Last season, St. John Vianney lost in the quarterfinals of Class 5 for a 10-2 season. Vianney won the state title the previous year. Also last season, St. Francis Borgia won twice in the Class 4 playoffs before ending its season at 11-1. St. Mary’s lost earlier in the Class 4 playoffs to finish at 8-3; Trinity Catholic, which went to the state finals the previous year, had a 9-1 season in Class 2 and Cardinal Ritter College Prep had a 9-2 season in Class 2. Chaminade was a runner-up in 2015 in Class 5.