The 2023 season will mark a fresh start for the Kennedy Catholic football team.
With the addition of Newcastle native John Cox as their newest football coach, the Golden Eagles are looking to create a core programme.
Cox comes to Kennedy Catholic after spending years as an assistant in Lawrence County, specifically in the New Castle area. He’d always wanted to lead the program, so when John Ray left after a 2-7 season in 2022, Cox made his offer to Mercer County Catholic School.
Cox has 19 players on the Golden Eagles roster. And unlike last season when everyone rotated in different positions, Cox already has several positions full.
“We had to make them trust that we would be there for them,” said Cox. “That was one of the biggest concerns for the kids, if the coach was to stay.”
Rayvon Wilpon-Venable will be the starting quarterback after playing last season with Sharon. He will fill the void left by Simeir Wade heading for Farrell. Wade ran for 1,230 yards and 13 TDs while throwing for 430 yards and five touchdowns.
Levi Hallstock will line up at running back to balance an athletic group of receivers.
Damian Harrison joined in the middle of last season. He split time with Wade at the quarterback position, throwing for 567 yards with five touchdowns in six games. Senior Dominic Happen returns to join Harrison at wide, while Marcus Gunn plays tight end. Gunn played for Union last season.
“We have receivers who can catch the ball and tight end who can catch the ball, and he’s fast,” said Cox. “The midfielders will have some work in store for him because he can get out there and run a great route.”
Samuel Atkinson will play tackle along the rebuilt offensive line. Joc’Ko Lane will play in the midfield position. Lin played for Newcastle last year.
The linemen would be the most important project for Cox and his staff in their first season. The goal will be to increase the size of young adults while maintaining their athletic abilities.
“A lot of (linemen) are going to play on both sides of the ball, so we definitely need to make sure they’re set up so they can get up and down that field,” Cox said. “First things first, the strength we’re going to work on – two lifts a week to keep this line running and explain what we expect of them.”
Lane will be the nose guard, Timothy McIlroy will play defensive tackle, and DeShawn Gordon will hold a spot at defensive end.
Taijeire Chambers returns for his sophomore campaign after intercepting a pass last season. Wilpon-Venable will take over a safety position, but he can also play a corner.
Nicolas Merced will help lead the midfielders. Gunn can also see some side time with Merced.
“(The defensive players) already know the game,” Cox said. “We just have to show them what we want. Defending will be fine for us.”
The next step for Cox is to try to put together a nutrition team through seventh and eighth grades. He has already been in talks with sporting director Janet Taylor about adding the youth squad.
“It’s junior high next year, and we’ll be in good shape,” said Cox. “I’ll be here for a while, so we’ll be fine.”
(Editor’s note: Dan Hainer, sports editor for The Sharon Herald, compiled this story.)