Pan­thers game a loss, but the trip’s a win­ner

Baltimore Sun - - VARSITY FOOTBALL - By Jake Lourim

ANN AR­BOR, MICH. — Un­til Fri­day night, the big­gest sta­dium in which B’Ah­mad Miller had played was the Alam­od­ome in San An­to­nio, ca­pac­ity 72,000. For Gary Brightwell, it was Delaware’s 22,000-seat home sta­dium. Both marks fell Fri­day, along with all the oth­ers for the St. Frances foot­ball team.

The Pan­thers made the 500-mile trip from Bal­ti­more to play Fri­day at Michi­gan Sta­dium, the big­gest foot­ball sta­dium in the United States with an of­fi­cial ca­pac­ity of 107,601, though it reg­u­larly holds more.

Fri­day’s game drew only about 300 fans, but St. Frances play­ers raved about the ex­pe­ri­ence of play­ing on one of col­lege foot­ball’s big­gest stages. Af­ter en­ter­ing half­time with a chance to pull off an up­set, the Pan­thers lost to Para­mus Catholic (N.J.), 38-20, as part of the Ge­ico ESPN High School Foot­ball Show­case.

In coach Henry Rus­sell’s first sea­son, No. 10 St. Frances (1-1) put forth a strong show­ing as an un­proven team. Rus­sell and most of the old staff at Gil­man are start­ing over at a St. Frances pro­gram that fin­ished 2-10 last year. In their first year, they have brought in sev­eral trans­fers, in­clud­ing Miller from Eastern Chris­tian in Elk­ton and Brightwell from St. Ge­orges Tech in Delaware.

“Coach Rus­sell, he’s a great man. I had no place to live for a while, and he brought me into his own home,” said Miller, who moved from Delaware for an eas­ier com­mute to St. Frances. “Like I said, I love that dude. And I’m just now meet­ing him this year.”

The Pan­thers have made progress quickly this sea­son, and no ex­pe­ri­ence will come on a big­ger stage than Fri­day’s. News of St. Frances’ game at Michi­gan Sta­dium broke in June, one of a num­ber of un­con­ven­tional moves by Rus­sell since he took over the pro­gram.

About the same time, St. Frances hosted a satel­lite foot­ball camp at Pat­ter­son Park, draw­ing Michi­gan coach Jim Har­baugh, Mary­land coach DJ Durkin and a num­ber of other coaches.

“Michi­gan has been un­be­liev­able for us,” Rus­sell said. “Coach Har­baugh has been great, and reach­ing out, whether we need coaches clin­ics or help with any­thing, they’ve been a tremen­dous re­source for us. It’s an honor to be able to play here and play in their sta­dium.”

In fact, both schools have re­cent ties to Michi­gan. For­mer Gil­man coach Biff Poggi, whose son Henry is a red­shirt sopho­more full­back for the Wolver­ines, ac­cepted an as­sis­tant coach­ing po­si­tion at Michi­gan a month ago. For­mer Para­mus Catholic coach Chris Par­tridge is also on Har­baugh’s staff at Michi­gan as the lineback­ers coach, and two of the Wolver­ines’ top re­cruits in the past three years, Jabrill Pep­pers and Rashan Gary, are from Para­mus Catholic.

Though this year’s team lacks the star power of Pep­pers and Gary, the Pal­adins are still one of New Jer­sey’s foot­ball pow­er­houses, ranked No. 5 in the state by USA To­day. The Pan­thers led by one at half­time af­ter eras­ing a 13-point first-half deficit with a pair of sec­ond-quar­ter touch­downs. The teams traded scores early in the third be­fore the Pal­adins ran away with the game, putting up 17 unan­swered points.

“We’re ahead of where I thought we’d be,” Rus­sell said. “It’s tough to bring a whole new pro­gram and get kids to­gether and on the same page in a short amount of time. Para­mus, they’ve got tremen­dous ta­lent, na­tional play­ers, and for us to com­pete, I think we’re right where we need to be and we know where we have to get bet­ter. But we’re close. We’re go­ing in the right di­rec­tion.”

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