By Wayne Witkowski
Allentown High School football standout Joe Pritchard admitted he did not expect to be selected for an all-star game on the offensive line, let alone in the prestigious North-South High School All-Star Football Classic game June 27 at Kean University.
“I’m really happy about it. I’m honored to be a part of the biggest all-star game in New Jersey,” Pritchard said.
The Millstone resident will lead four teammates into all-star action before he embarks on a college career at Merrimack College.
“People look at my physicality. I’m [only] 6 feet [tall], but I go 100 miles an hour on every single play,” the 260-pound guard said. “My best element is my quickness and footwork. I pull and lead block very well.”
And then there are the intangibles.
“I gave my heart and contributed all my efforts to the team,” he said. “I really cared a lot and wanted to win.”
Last season, Allentown ended 6-5 and had a three-game winning streak before a 28-7 loss to Brick Memorial High School in the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV semifinals.
Three other Allentown players will suit up for the 20th Sunshine Classic at 7 p.m. June 30 at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ): Ian Grant as an offensive lineman, Shane Duffy as a wide receiver and Matt Hahn as a running back. Grant, a 6-foot-2, 287 pound left tackle who also played on defense, is headed to Marist College.
Pritchard and Hahn started for three years on the offensive line, including on the NJSIAA South Jersey, Group III finalist team in 2014. They both train at Nicola Performance Training in Hightstown.
“They’re all very hard workers, and it’s deserved,” Allentown coach Jay Graber said of all four players. “A lot of things they did were not on the stats. They all contributed a lot for our team.”
Grant also made eight tackles on defense, while Duffy caught five passes for 58 yards and made 16 tackles. Hahn did not carry the ball but was valued for his relentless and reliable lead blocking.
Wide receiver Rob McClees is the only other Allentown graduate committed to a college football career. He’ll play at Walsh University.
As for Pritchard’s next career stop, Merrimack was 6-5 last season and 6-3 in the Northeast-10 Conference for a third-place finish — its best finish in the conference in six years. Merrimack opens its season at NCAA Division I Bryant University and plays its home opener Sept. 10 against conference opponent American International College.
Pitchard said he narrowed his choices from among Moravian College, Ursinus College, Franklin & Marshall College and TCNJ because of the atmosphere at Merrimack and it being the only college offering him a financial package.
He said he’ll concentrate this summer and at the North-South practices and game on his pass blocking.
“It’s not one of my strongest things,” Pritchard said. “It can improve, starting with the [all-star] game and beyond.”
“He’s versatile and dynamic, playing on both sides of the ball. He’s very durable,” Graber said of Pritchard, who made 17 tackles and had assists on 27 others on defense.
Pritchard also was credited with 1.5 sacks on a tough Allentown schedule that included an opening game at perennial power Archbishop Wood Catholic High School of Philadelphia, as well as NJSIAA South Jersey, Group V semifinalist Lenape High School and West Jersey Football League powers Rancocas Valley Regional High School and Hopewell Valley Central High School.
Grant, who moved from guard to tackle after his sophomore season, credited avoiding serious injury and hard work in the weight room as keys to his effectiveness and eventual all-star selection.
Grant heads to a Marist team under coach Jim Parady — starting his 24th season — that plays its first two games at home Sept. 3 against Bucknell University and Sept. 10 against Georgetown University before traveling to Sacred Heart University Sept. 17. The team plays its Pioneer Football League (PFL) opener Sept. 24 at home against Campbell University. The Red Foxes were 5-6 last fall after winning the PFL championship in 2014.
“It’s the best of both worlds — the academic side and it plays top-notch football,” Grant said of his selecting Marist, where he’ll study business. “I was recruited by the head coach himself and when I went there, I felt right at home.”
Grant said he will concentrate on his footwork this summer.
“Definitely [concentrating on] that and my mobility. Strength is already there. I want to get faster,” Grant said. “[Marist] looked at me as an undersized guard and center, as more of an inside guy.”
Allentown will do a lot of rebuilding on the offensive line, as summer workouts began June 20 and take place four days a week until the official opening of preseason practices in mid-August. Tall, lean tackle Ryan Huth is the lone regular starter returning. Matt Schreck, who overcame injuries last season to perform consistently at center, and right guard Dan Whalen will be lost to graduation.
That means a different feeling for 1,000-yard rushers Jordan Winston at quarterback and Joe Mannino at running back, who scored 17 and 10 touchdowns, respectively, last season. Winston rushed for 1,676 yards on 239 carries, and Mannino gained 1,163 yards on 199 carries.
Rick Mottram will anchor the defense again at middle linebacker and could see an expanded role as tight end. Ryan Locke also bolsters the defense at safety.
Allentown opens its season Sept. 3 at defending NJSIAA Non-Public, Group II champion St. Joseph High School of Hammonton, which was 10-2.