High School football preview

Health is key for Lions after ‘16 stumble

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There was a lot of optimism surrounding the Horace Mann football program last season. With a talented junior quarterback in Marc Murphy running the show for coach Matt Russo, confidence was high for a solid year for the Lions.

But one week after losing to neighborhood-rival Riverdale to open the season, things went from bad to worse for Russo’s crew. A victory over Dwight Englewood in the second week proved costly for one for the Lions after Murphy suffered a concussion that would knock him out for the remainder of the season.

The result was a 2-4 swoon by Horace Mann down the stretch as the Lions ultimately finished with a 3-5 mark. Not exactly what Russo and his squad had in mind.

This year, however, that optimism is back — and so is Murphy. The now-senior signal caller is fully recovered from his concussion, and Russo thinks his team is ready to open some eyes this season.

“Marc is back at quarterback, so that’s a huge plus for us,” Russo said. “He missed a ton of games last year with the concussion. Now he’s good and healthy, so everything is looking good.”

But Russo will not only look for big offensive numbers from Murphy, he also needs the senior to be a vocal leader and help keep the Lions focus on the task at hand — mainly making sure last season was just a blip on the radar.

“We want him to take the next step as a leader,” Russo said. “It just comes with the territory. We’re just trying to get him to understand that part of it and make sure he knows how much kids are naturally going to look up to him.”

But Murphy alone will not be responsible for a turnaround season for Horace Mann. He’ll get by with a little help from his friends, namely big Ray-Ray Silverman.

“Ray-Ray is a junior this year, and we normally have him on the D-Line, and he’ll also play a lot of tight end for us,” Russo said of the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder. “And he’s also our kicker. He’s one of the guys who can really make an impact on both sides of the ball. He’s a real tough kid, and he’s very coachable, so we’re hoping he’s going to have a big season for us.”

Two seniors who will look to go out on a high note will be Teddy Keegan and Jahmire Casanova.

“Teddy is our senior captain,” Russo said. “He’s a linebacker and he’s also our right tackle on offense. He’s a very good player. At middle linebacker he really sets the tone for us. We love having him there. And Jahmire is also a senior who will play cornerback and wide receiver, and he’s a nice player as well. He’ll be Marc’s main target when we pass the ball. He can definitely help spread a defense out.”

If there is one area in question right now it’s at running back where Russo said he has yet to make a definitive decision as to who his starter will be.

“We have a couple of options, but probably a kid named Kyle Bernardez might win that job,” Russo said. “He’s doing a nice job in camp.”

Horace Mann will get tested right away when the season starts as the Lions host neighborhood-rival Riverdale in the season opener before entertaining the other area denizens, the Fieldston Eagles, in Week 2. That should get the juices flowing early for the Lions.

“It’s about as tough an opening schedule as we’ve had,” Russo said. “But it’s an equal playing ground. It’s early in the season for them as well, but it’s a rivalry, so both teams are usually pretty pumped up. It’s not a game that you have to worry about the guys just going through the motions.”

But what it does comes down to is can the Lions — and Murphy, in particular — stay healthy this season?

“We have a little bit of everything,” Russo said. “It’s just that we have to put it together. But yeah, I think if we can stay healthy, we’ll have a pretty competitive team.”

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