Win or lose in this season's opener against juggernaut St. Frances Academy (Md.), St. Joseph's Prep coach Gabe Infante says it will be a positive experience.
That's because, no matter the result, the Hawks will get a gauge on how good they are and become better prepared for Catholic League Red Division action and postseason play.
"The first five weeks of the season are an opportunity to challenge ourselves and determine our strengths and weaknesses," Infante said.
St. Joseph's Prep, which was ranked No. 17 in USA Today's most recent Super 25, will take on No. 8. St. Frances at 7 p.m. Friday at the University of Maryland.
East Baltimore's St. Frances went 13-0 last season and outscored foes 534-61. The Panthers went undefeated in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference the last two seasons.
Controversy arose during the spring when MIAA rivals Calvert Hall, Gilman, McDonogh, Mount St. Joseph, and Archbishop Spalding announced they would not play St. Frances this fall over concerns for their players' safety and the Panthers' player-transfer policies.
Nineteen starters from last year's squad received Division I scholarships from the likes of Alabama, Maryland, Mississippi State, and West Virginia, according to a recent ESPN article.
St. Frances has since opted to play a nine-game independent schedule that begins with St. Joe's Prep and includes three teams from Canada.
The Panthers are guided by co-head coaches Henry Russell and Biff Poggi. Poggi, a former University of Michigan assistant, is an investment fund manager, has his own jet, and lives in a sprawling estate in an affluent Baltimore suburb.
St. Francis is led this season by a pair of Alabama recruits: 6-foot, 250-pound inside linebacker Shane Lee and offensive lineman Darrian Dalcourt (6-3, 290).
Also in the mix for the Panthers is 6-3, 210-pound defensive end Chris Braswell, a five-star prospect with offers from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Maryland, among others.
"They're a very good football team," Infante said. "Looking at some of their film from last season, they're big, physical, and athletic."
St. Frances has two former Public League players: junior offensive linemen Micah Mazzccua (Simon Gratz) and Mike Statham (Imhotep Charter).
Last year. The Hawks went 13-1 and reached the PIAA Class 6A final before losing to District 7's Pine-Richland,
Commitment. Prep senior cornerback Zach Bouggess pledged Thursday to play at Princeton. He is the fifth Hawk to commit to the Tigers in the last four years.
Rising QB. The Hawks' Kyle McCord, a 6-3, 195-pound sophomore and first-year starter, has scholarship offers from Arizona, Baylor, Boston College, Michigan, and Penn State, among others.
Up front. The Prep's offensive line features a trio of second-year junior starters: Matt McGeary (6-1, 310), R.J. McKee (5-10, 245), and Casey Stephenson (6-1, 310).
Roaming the middle. The Hawks' linebacking corps is anchored by Liam Johnson, Cooper Kim, and Jeremiah Trotter Jr.