Lincoln, Erasmus Hall experienced bumpy roads to Yankee Stadium
Since the Public School Athletic League moved its city championship to Yankee Stadium five years ago, either Lincoln or Erasmus Hall has made an appearance every season. This year both teams will be there facing off against each other — just as they did in 2011.
Both teams dominated their way to the finals most of the past few years, but this season was a bit different as both teams experienced a bit of a transition year and needed to rely upon their big leaders — Luis Rodriguez for Lincoln and Deonte Roberts for Erasmus Hall — to help get them through it.
“I’m not going to lie, I didn’t see this coming,” Erasmus Hall coach Danny Landberg admitted at a press conference at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday. “Coming out of camp, we couldn’t even scrimmage ourselves. I ran into [Lincoln coach Shawn O’Connor] in a store and told him we’re going to take it on the chin this year. I did not see this coming.”
After Erasmus Hall stars Curtis Samuel and Kahlil Lewin graduated, Landberg was so sure that the team wouldn’t compete for a championship that he put 20 sophomores on the roster — players he might not have otherwise added.
Lincoln always expects a trip to the final, but the team experienced a huge roster turnover from a year ago when it lost many big stars — defensive end Thomas Holley, quarterback Javon Moore, and running backs Antoine Holloman and Leroy Hancle — and did not know how to replace them. Throughout the season, Lincoln used 11 different backs trying to find replacements.
Throughout the ups and downs of the season, Lincoln always had Rodriguez to rely on, and Roberts provided a steady direction for Erasmus.
“Without Luis Rodriguez, I’m not talking to you right now,” O’Connor said at the Yankee Stadium press conference. “We’ve had a lot of guys help out, but he’s one of the main reasons we are back here.”
“We’ve had superstars — we had Wayne Morgan, Curtis Samuel and Kahlil Lewin — it’s different when you have an inside linebacker who doesn’t score for you,” Landberg said. “But guys like Deonte are special. I don’t think there is a chance that we would be here right now without him.”
Rodriguez has primarily led Lincoln on the field with more than 1,500 yards and 20 touchdowns this season, but O’Connor said he has been a true leader, displaying selflessness all season.
“Last season I didn’t even start during the first few games,” Rodriguez said. “This year has been different. I have had to play a way bigger role. I was the focal point since the first practice on the field and guys start looking to you to set an example. It’s very different because you have to do a lot more for the team.”
Roberts has two sacks and 66 tackles this season, but most of the work he has done is behind the scenes. Landberg pulled him aside in July after he committed to Rutgers University and told him he had to be the face of the team, a leader. He has thrived in that role, running the defense and guiding a lot of the younger players.
“We spoke about it and [he] told me that I would have to play a bigger role,” Roberts said. “[Landberg] has changed my life so it really meant a lot that he had that kind of faith in me. Throughout this season, I think we’ve seen a lot of our players mature — guys like Jahsen Wint, Daevon Alvarez and Jahquel Webb. Those guys have really stepped up and helped us get to where we are now.”
It wasn’t easy for Lincoln to find consistent offense, and it was a big hurdle for Erasmus Hall to overcome getting such a young team to the final. Rodriguez and Roberts really stepped up to lead the way. Now it’s up to each player to lead their team through one more game on the big stage.
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