Unless he was prescient, he couldn't have known anything about school nicknames or the agony of an 0-11 football season. But Noah Webster's dictionary gives one definition of the word crusade as, "vigorous, concerted action for some cause or idea, or against some abuse."
The Cardinal Gibbons Crusaders certainly experienced abuse last year. After swapping its Maryland Scholastic Association B Conference schedule to an undermanned Dunbar team just before the season opened, Gibbons, with only 200 boys in grades 9-12, went winless against A Conference opponents.
But, as Gibbons fullback David Harris said in the locker room after Friday night's come-from-behind 16-12 win over then 10th-ranked City (0-1), "The monkey is off our back!"
Indeed it is. City coach George Petrides said, "At the end, they got their confidence . . . They're gonna beat a lot of teams this year."
If they do, it will feel like justice to the 11 returning starters and third-year coach Frank Trcka, who was an assistant coach on the team that went winless in the A Conference. In 1988, the team dropped to the B Conference and won the title before moving back to the A Conference last year.
"It was extremely tough on the kids," Trcka said of 1989. "They wanted to play in B Conference. Moving up destroyed their confidence." And the staff, which began to question the wisdom of the jump in competition, became apprehensive of its own effectiveness. "I had two seniors quit," Trcka said. "You start doubting yourself, how much input you have with the kids."
This year several kids are making a difference.
Harris, a 235-pound senior fullback and linebacker, didn't have a good game against City, his coach acknowledged, but "he has 4.6 speed; he's a tough boy who could play Division I [in college]."
Eugene Marshall, a 6-foot-1, 174-pound junior, gained 126 yards on 26 carries. When City came up to stop one fourth-quarter sweep, Marshall fired a perfect 24-yard pass to Rodney Manigo for Gibbons' first touchdown. Then he knocked down City's last-gasp, fourth-down pass in the closing seconds to ensure the win. "He's going to be one of the top players around," said Trcka.
"I played quarterback, running back and wide receiver in Pop Warner," Marshall said. "It felt good as it left my fingertips, and I just watched until it fell into my little receiver's hands."
That "little receiver," the 5-7, 142-pound sophomore Manigo, also intercepted a City pass to set up a 21-yard Wally Lowery field goal in the second quarter.
Lowery gives Gibbons (1-1) a dimension many high school teams lack -- a kicking game. In addition to his field goal, he boomed punts of 46, 48 and 51 yards and put his kickoffs deep, two into the end zone.
The 26-man Crusaders squad lacks depth, but "this is a talented bunch," Trcka said. "We have size and speed. We have a quarterback, Jason King, who can throw the ball; we just haven't given him time yet."
L That, too, may change. For the Crusaders, the time is right.