by Sheldon Ocker
The St. Barnabas Catholic School football team won the seventh/eighth-grade Greater Cleveland CYO championship, marking only the third eighth-grade football championship in the school’s history. However, their achievement also came with a unique addendum.
With a 9-0 record that culminated in a 21-20 win over Stow Holy Family, St. Barnabas was the only team in the diocese among more than two dozen seventh/eighth-grade teams – stretching from Avon in the west to Chagrin Falls in the east and Akron to the south – that completed the season without a loss.
The clinching extra point came late in the fourth quarter on a run from the “jumbo [power] formation” by Nathan Allen.
“Nathan is a very mobile quarterback,” said head coach Dave Priebe. “I want to say he’s 115 pounds, but he played like he was 170 pounds. He is so much stronger than his size. If you saw him on the sidelines, you wouldn’t think much of him, but if you saw him in a game, you’d say ‘wow, he’s a pretty good athlete.’”
Priebe recalled the winning touchdown coming on a dash of about 8 yards by Jackson Pirman, the team’s No. 1 running back.
“We overcame some adversity in the finals; we had some unexpected turnovers and were trailing in the fourth quarter,” Priebe said. “And hats off to the defense, too, because Holy Family got the ball back with a couple minutes to go.”
Most of Priebe’s key contributors are eighth-graders, and the norm is for kids to play on both sides of the ball.
“We have 29 kids on the roster,” Priebe said. “That might not seem like a lot, but for a youth football team, it is.”
The roster includes students from St. Joan of Arc in Chagrin Falls and St. Rita in Solon alongside St. Barnabas players.
His core group includes Cam Kusinic and Eamon O’Connor, who play offensive and defensive line.
Priebe calls Joey Holmes a “sure-handed receiver who is tall, strong, fast and physical.”
Ty Blaugh is another reliable cornerback and receiver.
“He always knew his plays and was almost like a coach on the field,” Priebe said. “He helped other kids if they didn’t know where to go or where to line up.”
Luke Walter “made some critical conversion catches and did a nice job at cornerback,” Priebe said.
“Santino Rizzo was a very sure-handed receiver and a very good cornerback against the pass sand run,” the coach said.
Priebe described Ryan Johanson as a “reliable receiver and a steady defensive end.”
Priebe is a veteran football coach and the rare youth coach without a son to play on the team. He began coaching kids in the Nordonia-Twinsburg Youth Football League in 2008.
“My daughters were cheerleaders there and ended up on my college football coach’s team,” Priebe said. “One day he says, ‘Hey, you want to come out and help us?’”
Priebe played football at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania, but his coach lived in Northfield when he induced Priebe to be his assistant.
Since 2012, Priebe has coached kids from fourth- to eighth-grade, but has stuck with the older kids the past several years. He recently decided to sign up for another season. ∞
Photo: The St. Barnabas seventh and eighth grade football team won the CYO Championship for the third time in school history. Photo courtesy of Dave Priebe.