The St. Pius football team didn’t need to waste a lot of time on conditioning when spring practice rolled around this year.
The Golden Lions had only about a three-week break between their season-ending loss to Buford in the Class AAA championship game and the early start to spring workouts, so the players were already in good shape.
St. Pius held its “spring” practice from Jan. 7-18, getting approval from the GHSA to start earlier than the state-allowed date of Feb. 1 because of a lack of field space on the Atlanta private school’s campus.
“The advantage for us in having spring practice in January is that if you were to get somebody hurt, which we were thankful we didn’t, you might get them back,” Golden Lions coach Paul Standard said. “The other thing is that we were able to get most of our kids at spring practice. And we were not tired; they were still in football mode. We were fortunate enough to be playing until the middle of December, so it was really about three weeks from the day we got beat by Buford when we starting spring training.”
St. Pius had one of the most successful seasons in school history in 2012, tying the record for victories with 12 and reaching the state final for the first time since winning its only championship in 1968. The Golden Lions also won the region championship for the third time in four seasons and the sixth time overall.
“We didn’t have one scholarship kid on a team that played for a state championship,” Standard said. “That doesn’t mean that it was coaching, I don’t mean that at all. It just means that the kids worked extremely hard together. Now they had some younger kids that helped them out, but they did a good job of leading. So I think that’s the legacy that this group is leaving for every St. Pius team that follows them, is that it can be done without having the five-star athletes.”
Perhaps it lacked scholarship and five-star athletes, but St. Pius had several top-quality players who must be replaced. That’s particularly true on offense, where they will lose to graduation all-state running back Ryan Braswell, all-state lineman Phineas Andrews, all-region quarterback Jack Spear and all-region lineman David Marsau.
But the Golden Lions, who currently have about 90 players in the program, have what Standard called an outstanding rising senior class. Leading the way is Nick Ruffin, who was a first-team all-state selection last season as a defensive back. Ruffin will move to safety in 2013 and will see considerable time in the backfield on offense. Kicker Thomas O’Leary and linebacker Daniel Crochet, who were first-team all-state players, also will be back.
“We’re done with spring, and we feel like we’ve got the kids that are going to be able to be plugged into those missing spots,” Standard said. “Now we can just concentrate on trying to get stronger and work on our conditioning before we get to June.”
St. Pius Golden Lions
2012 record: 12-3, 5-1 in Region 6-AAA, lost to Buford 10-3 in the Class AAA championship game.
Starters returning: 6 offense, 5 defense
Key players lost: QB Jack Spear, FB Ryan Braswell, OL Phineas Andrews, OL David Marsau, DT Quincy Nioporte, CB Michael Sikorski
Key players returning: DB/RB Nick Ruffin, PK Thomas O’Leary, LB Daniel Crochet, LB/FB Dalton Wilson, RB/DB Branden Mitchell
Spring practice dates: Jan. 7-18
Aug. 30 – Westminster
Sept. 6 – at North Oconee
Sept. 13 – Thomson
Sept. 20 – at Lovett
Sept. 27 – at Towers
Oct. 4 – McNair
Oct. 18 – at Cedar Grove
Oct. 25 – Woodward Academy
Nov. 1 – at Blessed Trinity
Nov. 8 – Decatur
Outlook: St. Pius loses six players who made the all-state or all-region team last season. But participation in the program is high, 11 starters return, and the rising senior and junior classes are strong. Nick Ruffin could be a star on both sides of the ball, and all-state linebacker Daniel Crochet should anchor another solid defense. Coach Paul Standard has not had a losing season in 12 years at the school, and this isn’t likely to be his first.