The annual sports banquet at St. Joseph Catholic School was not able to happen this year because of the coronavirus, but Fighting Irish coaches still found a way to honor these athletes who accomplished so much for their school.
On Thursday, St. Joe athletes drove their cars and made a line at the Fighting Irish field house. One by one, the players then rolled down their windows and received their awards, plus plenty of congratulations, from their coaches.
Perhaps no players were happier to join the car parade then the St. Joe football players, who each received their state championship ring Thursday. It was the third straight state championship ring picked up by seniors from last year’s team. On Nov. 11 of last year, the Fighting Irish defeated Indianola Academy 55-24 to claim their third straight state championship.
“This ring looks really great,” said Cliff Courtney who was a senior on last year’s team. Courtney said he planned on keeping the ring for the rest of his life.
As well as picking up his championship ring, Courtney also received a plaque from coach and current St. Joe principal Craig Mandolini. The plaque was awarded to Courtney for being the Most Valuable Player on the school’s soccer team.
St. Joe head football coach John Baker said it was great to see his players again, if only for a few moments.
“I hope they always remember where they came from, and I hope they will always remember that they are St. Joseph Fighting Irish,” Baker said.
And, while Baker said he will miss his former players, he has now looking towards the future and what it will take for the Irish to win their fourth straight state championship.
The Irish begin their quest for a 4-peat on August 21 at Riverside.
Baker said his 2020 team will definitely miss the services of the dynamic duo of Dillon Johnson and Trey Benson, who both begin their college football careers in the fall. But, there is still plenty of talent on the St. Joe roster, Baker said, to contend for a state championship once again.
Baker points out that starting quarterback Mekhi Norris is returning for his senior year. The Irish will also have their full compliment of wide receivers, like Kaleb Lockett, back and ready to take on more leadership roles.
“If we are being overlooked right now, then that is a good thing,” Coach Baker said. “I want people to overlook us.”