Cardinal Hayes isn’t phased by its step up in competition. It believes the program is just going where it belongs and plans on staying.
The Cardinals, after winning their first CHSFL Class AA title since 1981, will get a chance to compete at the league’s highest level for the first time since the late 90’s this season in the ‘AAA’ division. Hayes was picked seventh by the league’s coaches and and will get to test itself against perennial powers like St. Anthony’s and Chaminade.
This group of Cardinals feels they have the talent to do so week in a week out. They hope teams aren’t underestimating the new kids on the block.
“People should already know something is cooking in the South Bronx,” senior defensive end Albert Smith said. “People don’t really look for football in the South Bronx. We are coming to make a statement and to let everyone know we are really here.”
The players understand the pressure and the expectation on them. They want to make a strong showing to validate themselves to the rest of the league and to keep the program moving up. There are no more easy wins or “exhale” games like they had in the “AA-A league in recent years, according to coach C.J. O’Neil.
“It where if we don’t bring our ‘A’ game we can be beat bad and if we bring out A-game I think we can compete with anybody in there,” he said.
Hayes’s biggest weapon, like last year, remains its running game. Timothy Poindexter, a 5-foot-10, 205-pound junior, is coming offseason that put his name among the best backs in New York City. He rushed for more than 1,300 yards and 15 touchdowns and garnered scholarship offers from Rutgers Ohio, Toledo, Old Dominion, Stony Brook and Fordham, in the offseason. His play and the possible 1-2 combination of he and fellow junior Justin Covington in the backfield, should open everything up the Cardinals’ offense.
“Defenses are always gong to be worried about him,” senior quarterback Roberto Nunez said. “It makes our offense really balanced.”
Nunez is confident coming off a three touchdown performance, in place of the injuried Juan Cruz, in last year’s ‘AA” title game and Turkey Bowl win over rival Mount St. Michael. He will work behind an experience offense line led by Old Dominion commit Jaelen Vazquez, Ariel Torres and Aaron Gardener. He will have new targets to throw too in twin brothers Jordan Ingram and Jayvon Ingram and tight end Isaiah Williams.
“They can go up for the ball with the best of them,” Poindexter said of the Ingram twins. “They are very technical in their routes. I’m looking for a big season out of those two.”
Poindexter will also play defense at safety this year and Vazquez could see time on the defensive line with Smith. Starting inside linebacker Calvin Millner has battled some hamstring issues and fellow linebacker Justin Collins and athletic cornerback Aston Toliver returns to a group that plans on being fast and physical.
“Our defensive line is unblockable,” Smith said. “Are going to to get through the line and penetrate anything, sacks, tackles anything. No running back or quarterback are running the ball on us.”
The team’s confidence, skill and maturity has O’Neil excited about having them take on the task of tackling a ‘AAA” schedule. He, feels they have the tools to do so and can’t wait to see how it all plays out.
“It’s a challenge,” O’Neil said “We’ve never had this challenge. I’d like to see what we do and this is the group to do it with because we have the bigs up front. That’s what you need to compete at that level. And we have skill.”