Mike Ricci and Rick Stroup are dear friends, and anybody who has followed Delaware County football well enough would know a little about their history.
Stroup was Ricci's defensive coordinator at Garnet Valley for several years before taking the head coaching position at Penncrest prior to the 2011 season. Members of Stroup's staff, including his son, Jon, have ties to Ricci's program.
Now, for the first time coaching opposite one another, Garnet Valley and Penncrest will play with first place in the Central League at stake. The Jaguars (5-0) and Lions (5-0) are ranked first and fourth, respectively, in this week's Super 7.
Ricci has nothing but great things to say about his buddy, and isn't the least bit surprised that Stroup has transformed Penncrest into a viable Central League contender.
"First of all, Coach Stroup is one of my best friends and I'm so proud of him and all he's been able to accomplish. I'm not the least bit surprised by what he's been able to accomplish,' Ricci said. "He's a great teacher, he's a great motivator, he's always prepared and he has a great plan for the program. I'm so proud to watch him and all the guys that are out there, all the guys who used to coach at Garnet Valley and play at Garnet Valley, what they've been able to develop and establish in their short time there. They're playing at a very high level. They're playing great defense and are physically strong. The kids believe in the system, believe in what they're doing, and as an outsider it's fun to watch.'
Something has to give Friday night at Moe DeFrank Stadium. While Penncrest's defense is the top-ranked unit in the county, averaging only 116.60 yards per game, Garnet Valley has shown it is the complete package. The Jags are averaging 38.8 points and 351.8 yards, and are plus-six in turnover margin.
"We have to play faster and clean up our mistakes,' Stroup said, moments after Friday's 19-6 win over Springfield. "It's going to be a huge, huge test for us.'
The two teams that decided the Del Val League title on the final weekend of the 2012 regular season open the schedule Friday night.
Academy Park and Interboro provided fans with two memorable showdowns last fall. The Knights claimed their first Del Val title in 18 years with a lopsided victory at South Avenue Athletic Complex. Two weeks later, with a trip to the District One Class AAA final on the line, the Bucs stormed back from a late double-digit deficit to stun the Knights on their home turf.
Academy Park (3-1) and Interboro (2-2) were off last weekend.
Sun Valley hasn't been the same team that took the Delco football scene by surprise in 2012, coming within striking distance of a District One Class AAA tournament berth.
"I feel like we're Chichester from last year,' coach Jim Grugan said. Last fall, Chichester was pounded with injuries to several key starters, and the Vanguards are dealing with similar problems.
Mike Fisher, who was slated to be the Vanguards' starting fullback, is out for the season. Junior athlete Juwan Chandler, the team's most dynamic player, hasn't been right since suffering a high-ankle sprain in Week 1 at Lower Merion. As a sophomore, Chandler was a tremendous threat in all facets, but has been limited to scarce playing time because of the sore ankle.
Brandon Williams is a senior who was new to varsity. Williams, though, has answered the call, filling in at one of the starting linebacker spots.
"He's played his tail off,' Grugan said.
Kijana Gordon was originally tabbed at receiver, but has since turned into the team's No. 1 running back. Gordon boasts an 8.9 yards-per-carry average and has rushed for six touchdowns.
Sun Valley is reeling after losing three straight games, including back-to-back to Ches-Mont American Division opponents, Unionville and Kennett.
"We're banged up and we're dealing with inexperience with our seniors,' Grugan said. "We just have to keep going and figure out a way to turn this around.'
John Ruza, a senior defensive back/receiver at Strath Haven, has been one of coach Kevin Clancy's top all-around players. Ruza, a newcomer to organized football, is atop the county leaderboard in interceptions with four, tied with Radnor's Chris Galloway. He leads the Panthers in receiving with eight catches for 151 yards.
"He didn't play football until his junior year,' Clancy said. "He has good speed, he's a fast kid. He really loves the game. He went to all the clinics in the summertime to improve himself, and it's paying off for him. He's having a very good year.'
Around the State: West Chester East pulled off a huge upset over the weekend, nipping Downingtown East, 28-27. The Cougars, the No. 1 seed in the District One Class AAAA tournament last season, were considered one of the top teams in the area coming into the season. However, after a 2-0 start, the Cougars have dropped three consecutive decisions
West Chester East (3-2) could be a team to watch in the district over the next couple seasons. Led by former Springfield head coach, Dan Ellis, East put itself on the map with last weekend's stunner.
Quick Hits: Springfield's offensive line has been rock-solid through the first five weeks. So steady, in fact, that the Cougars' linemen finally yielded their first sack in Friday's 19-6 loss to Penncrest... Episcopal Academy junior quarterback Ryan Whayland has completed no fewer than eight passes in each of the Churchmen's five games... Delco Christian amassed 452 rushing yards, including 176 by David Goines, in Saturday's blowout win at Jenkintown.
Football Super 7
1. Garnet Valley (5-0)
2. Episcopal Academy (5-0)
3. Academy Park (3-1)
4. Penncrest (5-0)
5. Ridley (3-2)
6. Interboro (2-2)
7. Upper Darby (3-2)