Wednesday February 8, 2012 | By:Michael J. Petro | Sports
St. Francis seniors, from left, Matt Morcio, Joe Smith, Akeel Lynch, Miles Bartholomew and Alex Cauley, will play college football next year. They sign their Letter of Intents while surrounded by family. (Photo by Michael J. Petro) Lynch chooses Penn State, many teammates also get in on act
Akeel Lynch may have been the star of the show at St. Francis’ National Letter of Intent Signing Day press conference on Wednesday (Feb. 1), but the Monsignor Martin record-breaking tailback had plenty of company front and center inside the high school’s library.
It became a testament to this year’s varsity football team that so many seniors, including Lynch, were brought up to sit at and surround a busy signing table to celebrate the opportunity to play football at the next level. There were 17 in all and another student-athlete who was signing to play Division I lacrosse.
While Lynch made it official that he’ll play at and attend Penn State, Joe Smith and Miles Bartholomew signed on at Ivy League schools Princeton and Penn, respectively, and Matt Morcio (Monmouth University) and Alex Cauley (U.S. Military Academy at West Point), both inked commitments at the Division I FCS schools (formerly known as I-AA).
Signing on to play at Division III programs included Mike Neville (Alleghany), Zach Wells (St. Lawrence) and Pat Schichtel (Catholic University). The nine other St. Francis football players having their named called at the press conference are still considering college options. That means 17 of the 21 seniors from this season’s Monsignor Martin title-winning team plan to play in college.
“It was fun to be around a group of guys who were so dedicated,” said Lynch, who noted that throughout the summer, 20 or more players were together in the weight room readying for the season and building camaraderie. “Being a leader on this team was fun, but I definitely didn’t do this alone. As you can see there will be a lot of guys playing college football, too, at a lot of different places. It was a great year and I’m glad we ended it the way we did.”
Bartholomew, a 6-foot-5, 275-pound offensive lineman, and Smith, an outside linebacker and three-year captain, decided to forego scholarship offers at similar level schools in deciding on the prestigious academic institutions. Smith also mulled over schools such as Hamilton, Amherst, Williams and St. John Fisher, while Bartholomew had offers from Akron, Maine and Albany, considered other Ivy’s like Columbia and Brown and even had spoke with Stanford about a walk-on opportunity.
“I thought it would be the best decision for my future,” said Bartholomew, who plans to major in math then pursue business. “Being up here next to Akeel and having a bunch of us go Division I, others playing Division III and some guys who will decide later, it shows the season we all had, how hard we worked and what we accomplished. This is the last time for all of us to show that our hard work paid off.”
Along with the two, Cauley and Morcio were also leaders of a well-rounded defensive unit. The 6-foot-5 Cauley finished with 78 tackles and four sacks at defensive end, while Morcio racked up 43 tackles, three for losses, as an outside linebacker.
“I feel as though we’re one of the best teams around and it really shows by how many guys will be playing college football,” ” said the 6-foot-4 Morcio, also a standout basketball player. “A
Smith, a relentless student of the game, actually led the defense with eight sacks (27 in a four-year varsity career), along with recording 67 tackles. Using a quick first step, Bartholomew added 31 tackles and four sacks, along with recording a dominant 117 pancake blocks over his junior and senior seasons on offense.
Other St. Francis football players still deciding include offensive linemen Jeff Basty, John Denecke and Dan Mangino; wide receivers/defensive backs Tap Tasker, Dave Call and Will Hudson; linebackers Derek Freitas and Rau’Dric Parks; and kicker/punter and receiver Dominic Buccieri.
“It was my privilege to coach all of these guys and be a small part of all of their lives,” said Jerry Smith, who spoke, along with athletics director Steve Otremba and Fr. Michael Sajda, to begin the event. “I know they won’t forget St. Francis and what it means to them and the commitment they made when they first stepped on to this campus. Hopefully, this is an experience they’ll cherish.”Lynch’s journey to Penn St.
In going to play at historic Happy Valley, Lynch will be living out a childhood dream that began as a fifth grader when his mother, Donna Mckoy, returned home from a trip to Pennsylvania with a Penn State varsity jacket for him to wear. The Toronto native helped make that dream a reality by transferring to St. Francis before his junior year, a move that helped garner him increasing attention from colleges.
“She said, ‘I didn’t know what school this was but it’s a big school and I should probably get this jacket for you,’” Lynch remembered of his mother’s return that day. “We did some research on it and found out it was one of the biggest football universities in America. The day before, I came (to St. Francis), my mom said wouldn’t it be funny if I wound up going to Penn State.”
Lynch actually committed to Boston College over Penn State in July, but reconsidered once the Nittany Lions named a new coach and staff in the wake of child a sex scandal that rocked the university in November and after a visit he took the university the weekend that legendary head coach Joe Paterno passed away.
“Going down there for a weekend — unfortunately it was the weekend Joe Paterno died, the atmosphere and with talking to the coaches, I felt like it was the best fit for me athletically and academically,” said Lynch, who noted that the stature of alumni from the college was also enticing. “As soon as I got to that campus, it was surreal. I felt like it was an opportunity to prove to my mother and everyone back home that I can make it.”
A monster senior season with 2,136 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns brought Big 10, SEC and Big 12 schools calling. The attention was too much to resist and Lynch reevaluated his decision. Once current New England offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien was named coach last month, Penn State came after Lynch even harder this time around.
“Akeel is the best running back ever to come out of St. Francis, arguably the best player ever,” his head coach noted. “We expect him to continue to work at what he’s been blessed with.”
Now that the decision is made, Lynch’s focus is being the best he can be at his next stop. He’s already made a good decision in surrounding himself with teammates and coaches striving for the same goal at St. Francis. He believes he has done the same with deciding on Penn State.
“It’s exciting,” said Lynch, who realizes he’ll be constantly pushed by the amount of talent around him at that level. “It’s a new chapter in my life. I’ll keep working hard and see where it goes. The sky is the limit...I definitely want to be remembered when my career is over.”Smith, Bartholomew go Ivy
With the continued support of his father and head coach, Joe Smith chose Princeton because he felt surrounded by a family-like atmosphere and coaches who truly cared during his visit to the campus. His father has known members of the Princeton football coaching staff for years. When Joe leaves for school, it will be the first time in several seasons the fourth year varsity letterman will be playing for a coach other than his father.
“It’s going to be interesting and totally different, but it also should be good for me to experience,” Joe said. “My father has only expected the best. I did whatever I had to, no questions asked. He’s got to be the one of the best coaches I’ve ever known.”
Joe is thankful for what his father has helped him accomplish. He has found out over time that many past St. Francis players feel the same way. Over the past two years, Lynch has also expressed his gratitude for what Smith and his assistants have helped him reach.
“He just cares so much about everyone,” Joe said of his father. “Anyone that I talk to who comes back says, ‘If you have a chance to play for him, you’ve got give him everything you can.' This was four years I’ll cherish.”
Speaking of family, both Smith and Bartholomew will continue a sibling tradition of playing high level football in college. Miles’ brother, Anthony Bartholomew, plays offensive line at the University at Buffalo, while Joe’s brother, Chris, played Division I-AA at Holy Cross and now is a graduate assistant on Jeff Quinn’s coaching staff at UB.
“My brother Anthony told me just make the decision that’s best for your future,” Miles said. “He and my brother, Mark, who’s at St. Luke’s and could have played football, too, told me to make sure academics comes first, so that was my focus and that’s what really drew me to the Ivies.”
“It was real nice that my brother let me know what’s going to happen and what it’s going to be like at the next level,” said Smith, who happened to break his brother’s school records for career solo tackles with 137 and tackles for losses (51.5). “He tells me it’s manageable. If you’re organized, athletics and academics are easy enough to get a handle on. I know he wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world.”