De La Salle Football: A Continuing Legacy
Posted by Atif Lodhi on Feb 03 2001 at 04:00PM PST
The Beginning Years and Early Dominance: 1927 - 1959 The De La Salle Collegiate High School football program began in 1927 with Junior Varsity football, with varsity football beginning in the 1928-29 school year with Mr. Robert "Bob" Maniere as the first head coach. In his first year, the DLS football team excelled and surprised many people by finishing the year at 6-2-1, good enough for 3rd place in the Eastside Division of the "SEMCHSL" (Southeastern Michigan Catholic High School League). The very next year saw the Pilots win their first division and league title in the SEMCHSL with a 6-0-3 record. In 1931, the Pilots accomplished something no other De La Salle football team has accomplished (so far): An undefeated season. The 1931 season saw the Pilots win their second division and Catholic League title with a 7-0 season. Since the first days of the football program, regardless of the coach, De La Salle frequently produced all-area, all-league, all-state, and even all-American football players in the beginning years. From Anthony Brune, Donald Carter, Alphonse Chase, and Dick McClellan in the 1930s and 40s to all-American quarterback Bill Henneghan and his 1956 De La Salle football team that stormed through the Catholic League and beat Detroit Denby for the city championship in one of the most remembered comebacks in Goodfellows game history, De La Salle football was always a force to be dealt with, whether it be under Bob Maniere (1928-1934), Ray Navin (1935-1937), Rocky Parsaca (1938-1940), Alex Chesney (1941), Robert Keane (1942), Stanley Heremski (1943), Walter O'Brien (1944), Ed White (1945), or the dean of De La Salle football coaches, Tom Bonino (1946-1962). From 1928 to 1959, De La Salle football teams won 11 division titles, three Catholic League titles, and won over 70% of their games. Tough Times Ahead: 1960 - 1978 After enjoying such prominent success during the first thirty years of the program, the program suffered a decline, enjoying only seven winning seasons during this 19 season span, with no division or Catholic League titles. Also during this time, Tom Bonino retired, which accelerated the decline of De La Salle football in the 1960s. But with the hiring of Al Baumgart (1969-1973) in 1969 and John Maronto (1974-1984) in 1974, a new era of De La Salle football was ushered in, but even these coaches took their lumps as the Pilots battled in the Central Division against schools with 300-500 more boys than their own school. But even in these times, there were still De La Salle football players who were achieving greatness, helping the Pilots battle against their Central Division foes. Players like Bob Ziolkowski, Anthony Gazzarato, Mike Sheridan, Ted Colo, and Jim Murphy did all they could in trying to lift the Pilots to loftier heights. Future NFL players Chris Godfrey and John Sokolosky started off their careers at the Collegiate, battling for the Purple and Gold before ascending to further heights in college and the NFL. But even during these down times, there were still some memorable contests the Pilots participated in, such as defeating Detroit Catholic Central on homecoming in 1964 27-7, “The Tie” against heavily favored Harper Woods Notre Dame in 1969 8-8, edging Allen Park Cabrini in 1972 on a school record 48-yard field goal by Mike Decker 9-8, and beating Harper Woods Bishop Gallagher and Detroit Catholic Central in overtime games in 1975 brought excitement and pride into the program. But after a dismal 1978 season in which the Pilots suffered through a 2-7 campaign, a new dawn of De La Salle football was approaching. A New Era: 1979 - 1999 Starting from 1979 until 1999, under the leadership of head coaches John Maronto, Ray Barr (1985-1988), and Ross MacDonald (1989-1999), the De La Salle football program experienced success similar to what the program experienced in its early days. Starting in 1979, the Pilots fielded winning teams in 19 of the next 21 seasons, highlighted by a span from 1979 to 1986 when the Pilots won five division titles (two Double-A division titles, three Central Division titles) and went 59-13. This time was also a time of transition as the school moved from Detroit to Warren and the site of their home football games moved from Br. George Synan Field next to the Glenfield campus to Roseville Memorial Field. Players like Steve Phillips, Jerry McCabe, Keith Karpinski, Bud Gereg, Eric Ford, Allen Jefferson, and Sean Guerin lifted the De La Salle football team to new heights in the early to mid 1980s, garnering statewide and national attention for the De La Salle football program, especially after the Pilots upset the #4 team in the nation, Birmingham Brother Rice, in 1984 in an epic battle at Roseville Memorial and with De La Salle being ranked #13 in the nation by USA Today in 1985. With the resurgence, the De La Salle football program found itself sending players off to notable colleges such as the University of Michigan, Penn State, and Wisconsin. After a bit of a lull in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Ross MacDonald with players like Stephen Teodecki, Jim Cunningham, John Superson, Jim Kerr, Mark Julien, Matt Mlynarek, and Vince Thomas brought back De La Salle to Catholic League prominence in the 1990s by going 18-6 in league play from 1991 to 1996, winning the Central Division in 1994, being ranked in the USA Today Top 25, and getting the football program’s first ever MHSAA playoff berth and playoff win in a classic battle between De La Salle and Cass Tech where the Pilots defeated the Technicians on a fake extra point play in overtime. The Present: 2000 - Present After a slow start in the beginning of the new century, the 2002 season saw another rebirth of De La Salle football and a return to its winning ways. With Paul Verska (2002-Present) at the helm, the Pilots made a 6 game turnaround from the 2001 season, finishing 8-4, winning the school's first ever MHSAA District title in football, and returning the pride and heart to Pilot football and giving hope for the future. After another playoff appearance in 2003, the football team went through two consecutive 4-5 seasons before breaking through in 2006 when De La Salle again took the state of Michigan by storm, breaking school records and leading the program to new heights. The 2006 season saw the Pilots defeat all of their league foes for the first time since 1994, the football team's first ever MHSAA Regional title with a win over Birmingham Brother Rice (which was the USA Today National Game of the Week), and the first ever MHSAA Finals appearance in what was arguably the most exciting MHSAA State Finals game ever. In 2008, the Pilots set the state on fire, winning their first 13 games, including the team's first CHSL title since 1956. Even though the Pilots came up short in accomplishing their final goal, the state title runs of 2006 and 2008 set the standard by which future De La Salle football teams will be judged. Whether the coach has been Bob Maniere or Ross MacDonald, Al Baumgart or Ray Barr, De La Salle football continues to live on with pride and great tradition started in 1927. Under Paul Verska, De La Salle looks to maintain its position as a contender in the Catholic League and the state of Michigan, as well as to carry on the excellence and tradition brought to the school by the players and coaches who gave their blood, sweat, and tears for over 80 years to make De La Salle football what it is today.
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