Bok senior linemen Navarre Archie and Aaron Hayes traveled a rough road to the Wildcats' starting lineup, but now are ready to leave a legacy.
As a freshman, Navarre Archie briefly saw his high-school football career flash before his eyes.
After he played a season of junior varsity, the lineman's doctor told him his football days would be over without immediate knee surgery. Archie needed the operation to repair an orthopedic condition known as Blount's Disease.
Knowing that his best years at Bok were ahead of him, the player was ready to make sacrifices. And he did: The T-shaped rod inserted in his kneecap cost him his entire sophomore season. Now a senior, the 16-year-old is a returning two-way starter.
Archie said he takes his upperclassman status seriously as he prepares to help lead Bok to another postseason appearance.
"I love going to Bok and playing for the school," said the Southwest Philly athlete. "I am representing Bok in name."
He and the other Wildcats will put that pride on the line tomorrow afternoon when Bok hosts rival Bartram in a game that could decide this year's Division D champ. Both squads are 2-0 in league play. For Archie, this game has added importance, as many of his neighborhood friends play for Bartram.
To prepare, the player is going beyond practice. He's also been watching game films with senior teammate and good friend Aaron Hayes. The two-way players anchor the Bok offensive and defensive lines.
The linemen's contributions might not be measured in touchdowns and rushing yards, but their roles in helping the Wildcats reach the playoffs are clear. The blocks and tackles help set up the holes for the running backs and prevent the opposing team from putting points on the board.
On Saturday, both lines held their own in a 22-0 trouncing of Southern. The Wildcats, who enter tomorrow's contest as winners of three straight games, scored three first-quarter touchdowns.
Like his friend and fellow lineman, Hayes, 18, had to face a difficult test before becoming a starter.
During his sophomore year, he was trying desperately to catch coach Tom DeFelice's attention. Finally, the coach gave the varsity rookie a chance by inserting him on the kick return team against Central. This wasn't just any test -- this required trying to block Central's Tariq Sanders, who stood taller than 6 feet and weighed 300-plus pounds.
"My thing was, I shouldn't care how big the guy was," said Hayes, of West Philly, who admired former Eagles Pro Bowl defensive lineman Reggie White as a kid.
The rookie aced the test and earned a place on the Bok starting lineup junior year. DeFelice said the experience proved Hayes had tenacity -- and imparted confidence to the now 6-foot-1, 280-pound player.
"Aaron Hayes is one of the most dedicated individuals I've ever had as a coach," he said. "Putting Aaron in against [Sanders] was a real learning experience for him. Those experiences can sometimes be positive for that individual to further their career. It inspired him to be the football player he is today."
Archie faced a more extended challenge of spending four months during his sophomore year at home rehabbing his surgically repaired left knee. His pre-surgery condition stemmed from breaking his right leg in eighth grade, which caused most of his weight to shift to his left side.
"One bad hit to my knee and I would be finished," said Archie, who wears a black knee brace in practices and games. "I was looking forward to playing."
DeFelice was uncertain if Archie would be able to return to the game. And the player was a little timid at first, but he returned to the field as soon as he could. Two years later, Archie said he hardly feels the pain in his knee and has become a team leader.
"When he speaks, everybody knows to be quiet," the coach said.
No shortage of sureties
Boarding the L-Train