They haven't tagged a nickname for themselves--you could call them the Fab Five or the Hungry Hounds or the Pizza Platoon--but St. Patrick's five offensive linemen have a lot to do with the Shamrocks going from 3-6 a year ago to 7-3 this season.
They are 6-foot, 265-pound senior guard Jon Hammond, 5-foot-11, 250-pound senior center Max Reider, 6-foot-2, 265-pound senior guard Jack Dardanes, 6-foot-2, 245-pound senior tackle Jimmy Young and 6-foot-1, 240-pound junior tackle Jack Donovan.
"I'm just a blue-collar kind of guy who loves to play in the trenches," Hammond said.
Hammond is one of the team captains, a returning starter and a member of the National Honor Society. He is getting looks from Cornell and Valparaiso. He wants to play football in college.
"If he was two or three inches taller, more people would be interested," coach Dan Galante said.
"It isn't frustrating not to be 6-foot-2 or 6-foot-3. And I don't worry about playing in college," Hammond said. "I love playing with my team. There is a great satisfaction of playing with my friends. Football is an equalizer. It isn't about who is bigger but who wants it more."
Hammond used to play soccer and baseball. He didn't start to play football until fifth grade, when he was 13. His mother didn't want him to play football because she worried he might get hurt. But Jon and his older brother Daniel begged her to let them play football. She finally relented.
"I love football. It's my passion, my favorite thing to do," Hammond said. "I love the team atmosphere. You have to work together for a common goal. I love playing offense and defense but I prefer offensive line because it's so satisfying to see a running back score a touchdown and know your block made it happen."
Imagine how Hammond and his offensive line mates felt last Saturday as they blocked and blocked for 5-foot-9, 210-pound junior Jeremy Molina. He set a school record by rushing 32 times for 303 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-15 victory over Glenbard South in the opening round of the Class 6A playoff.
Molina, who has rushed for over 1,300 yards, grew up playing for the Park Ridge Falcons (a training ground for Maine South players) and was brought up to the varsity as a sophomore. A week ago, he scored five touchdowns in a 42-30 victory over St. Viator.
The Shamrocks, who have won four games in a row since a 3-3 start, will play highly rated and unbeaten Cary-Grove on Saturday in Cary.
"Last year, we started 3-0, then lost six in a row. Three games went to the wire. We were better than our record. But we're playing in the East Suburban Catholic against great competition each week," Galante said.
"The difference this year is that we are playing well together in all three phases of the game, better than at any time since I've been here.
We're throwing the ball well, running the ball well, controlling the clock and putting points on the board.
"Defensively, we are playing physically. We have forced 31 turnovers in
10 games. Our formula is if you win the turnover battle and control the clock and put points on the board and your special teams do well...well, you can be successful. We've had four kickoff returns for touchdowns this year."
The offensive line protects and blocks for Molina and 6-foot-4, 180-pound sophomore quarterback Zach Fuller, who stepped in after the starting quarterback was injured in Week 8. Other standouts are wide receivers Steve Galiardo, a 5-foot-10, 155-pound senior, and John Dabe, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound senior transfer from Guerin who has returned four kickoffs for touchdowns.
The 4-2-5 defense is anchored by 6-foot-2, 250-pound senior tackle Brian Dillon, 6-foot-2, 230-pound senior tackle Joe Urso, 6-foot, 195-pound senior strong safety Nick Sandowski, 6-foot-2, 185-pound junior linebacker Cesar Almeida, 6-foot-2, 185-pound junior free safety Mike Warner, 5-foot-11, 170-pound senior cornerback Dan Henley and 5-foot-11, 185-pound senior cornerback Pat Gill.
"We have accomplished a lot. Eight players were named to the all-conference team. We finished third in the league after being picked seventh or eighth in the preseason," Galante said, noting St. Patrick's losses were to perennial powers Mount Carmel, Marist and Joliet Catholic.
"We've done more this year. We played our best players both ways. We used to platoon. When you play both ways, the players are invested in both sides of the ball and the team doesn't become offense and defense. Instead, it becomes one team and you keep your best players and difference-makers on the field."
Meanwhile, the offensive linemen understand that if they hang together and eat together, they will have success together. The four seniors have been together since they were freshmen. Donovan is the rookie.
They convened at Young's house last Saturday for pizza and to watch the Notre DameOklahoma game. They meet at Young's house every weekend to watch college games because Jimmy's mother is said to make the best queso dips.
"They are fun guys to be around, a lot of energy, like a brotherhood," Hammond said. "This team plays for each other. It is selfless. There is no me in this team. It's all about we. Molina will come up and say: 'Good block.' And we'll say: 'Tough run.'
"I tell him I won't help him up from under the pile unless he carries three guys with him. His favorite play is called skins, a counter play off a trap. He runs behind me and Donovan. It's been a blast this year. As a senior, I'm taking it all in and having fun. And success, too."