It figures that Phillipsburg's four football captains play in the trenches.
It figures that Phillipsburg’s four football captains could all be described by the same words – rugged, intense, passionate. And perhaps most of all – physical.
It figures because what makes Phillipsburg football special, what has made the Stateliners the winningest program in New Jersey, what draws the fans to pack Maloney Stadium every Friday (and one Thursday this year), comes from the heart and soul of football players like these senior captains.
Patrick Sharpe. Sean Morro. Zach Leong. Nick Josselyn.
No pretty-boy wide receivers or ego-driven running backs or me-first quarterbacks here.
They’re all two-way linemen, except for Morro, who plays tight end and linebacker, and in the P’burg scheme the tight end is often a third tackle. They all look like linemen – a little beaten up, sometimes, but with a hard, gritty toughness that they wear as passionately as their uniform, which they will put on for-real for the first time in 2017 when Franklin visits Friday night (7) for a Mid-State 37 Delaware Division game.
The foursome love football.
The only thing they may love more is Phillipsburg.
“Being elected captain is the greatest honor a Phillipsburg player can have,” said Leong, who plays guard and defensive end. “I never saw myself in this position. It’s so great to see that my teammates see me as someone who can lead the team. I see myself as someone who leads by example, by going 100 percent in drills and in team periods, and someone who can show the younger players how to do things.”
Josselyn, who plays guard and tackle, said despite the captainship he doesn’t feel above anybody.
“I don’t see myself as better than my teammates, I see myself as an equal,” he said. “I am honored to be elected captain, but I’m just as much just a teammate. I see myself doing the same things as in past years – going 100 percent.”
It’s that work ethic that makes the Stateliners stand out. As head coach Frank Duffy said. “how we practice is our edge.” And it has to be, because, frankly, most teams the Stateliners play boast as much, if not more, physical talent than Phillipsburg.
Without that edge, delivered every day on the well-worn practice fields above Maloney Stadium where generations of Stateliners have prepped for games, without the edge delivered by the leadership of the captains, Phillipsburg might well be just another football team.
“We want kids to buy into our strength program, buy into our running and dominate other teams,” Sharpe said. “As linemen, we don’t care where we line up, we just have to dominate the opponent in front of us.”
Sharpe might be the prototype for a Phillipsburg lineman; one look at him and you where he spends his time on the gridiron. Of course he wrestles too and is a real fan favorite on the mat. He plays center, the toughest place on the offensive line. He takes snaps before, during and after practice so “it becomes automatic and I don’t even think about snaps.”
Sharpe also mans the nose tackle spot, an enormous responsibility in the Stateliner system and probably the most physically punishing position on the field.
Of course, Sharpe wants to be the one dishing out punishment.
“You have to have an alpha-dog mentality,” he said.
Speaking of alpha dogs, Morro might be the one of the four who gets his name in the paper the most. Not because of any talent difference, but tight ends occasionally catch a pass (maybe more so this season for P’burg as offensive balance is the word) and linebackers get to finish off the plays the linemen make.
And also because Morro, to our eyes, looks set for a powerhouse season.
“I think I have grown as a player,” he said. “I think I can start making more plays now. I have always liked being a leader and I am a captain now. It’s an awesome feeling. Only so many people get to be captains of a program like Phillipsburg. It’s overwhelming.”
The four captains together can carry the burden that might well be too much for one senior. Their team sense allows the foursome to carry a community’s hopes with them.
“As long as we stay together as a team and as a family we’ll be fine and it’s naturally happening,” Josselyn said. “Guys are buying into it – we all love each other and we’re ready to kick ass and meet our goals – beat Easton, win a state championship, win a division championship. We have to lead every day to achieve our goals.”
Brad Wilson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.