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Nazareth football takes big step forward

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Nazareth taking the field as a Catholic High School Football League team again shows just how far the program has come since a year ago.

For close to a decade until last year, the Kingsmen football team was relegated to obscurity — and occasionally even in danger of folding altogether. Poor enrollment led to low numbers on the roster, and kept the program playing an independent schedule, something just like Poly Prep and Moore Catholic, now defunct, have done in the city in recent years. Back in 2010, Nazareth won just a single junior varsity game with one team playing a combined independent schedule.

“People don’t really see you,” fourth-year Nazareth head coach and second-year athletic director Anthony Barnes said of being independent. “They don’t understand it.”

Now there is no mystery to where Nazareth plays. All of its sports programs are again affiliated with a Catholic high school league now that baseball and football rejoined this year. It comes more than a year and half after the school nearly closed because of poor enrollment. Barnes is hoping the growth of the sports teams will help solve that problem going forward.

“It was the most important step for the school,” he said of the football team rejoining the Catholic High School Football League. “Being in the league is going to help our enrollment. Independent doesn’t help the school at all. It kills enrollment.”

It hasn’t been an easy adjustment for a team that has just two seniors who see playing time. Nazareth is 2–4 overall and 1–4 in league play, including a 35–0 loss to league stalwart Cardinal Hayes last Saturday. Despite the rough start, the Kingsmen’s players on a junior-heavy squad are happy to be facing the competition they do week in and week out.

“We are getting a better experience than last year,” senior receiver-defensive back Steven Claxton said. “We have more of a challenge.”

Added Hayes coach C. J. O’Neil: “Coach Barnes is doing a great job. They are going to come along.”

Barnes is ready to take on his task of building the program back up as well in a league where the Kingsmen won the 1984 and 1985 Class AA city titles. The game balls still sit in a trophy case at the school and commemorative banners hang in the gym.

The school already has high-level boys’ and girls’ basketball programs. Barnes would like to add football to that category as well. Returning to the Catholic football league is step one to getting it done.

Reach reporter Joseph Staszewski at jstaszewski@cnglocal.com. Follow him on twitter @cng_staszewski.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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