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Don Bosco finishes season atop Super 25 rankings

The Ironmen were No. 1 in the preseason Super 25 and went 11-0 to end the year as the nation’s top high school football team.

“It’s absolutely huge,” Don Bosco coach Greg Toal said. “It was great starting out as No. 1, but the most important thing is finishing No. 1. That was really our goal. It was a great year and a great journey.

“I was real proud the way our kids seemed to get better and better as the season went on, too, which I was really happy about.”

Among the challenges for the Ironmen were three games against heralded out-of-state opponents. They ended the 35-game winning streak of Mission Viejo, Calif., in the season opener and also defeated St. Edward (Lakewood, Ohio) and won at Manatee (Bradenton), which went on to capture the 7A Florida state title. St. Edward and Mission Viejo were fourth and 11th, respectively, in the preseason Super 25.

Don Bosco wrapped up its season earlier this month with a 42-14 defeat of Bergen Catholic (Oradell) in New Jersey’s Non-Public Group 4 championship game. It was the sixth consecutive state title for the school.

Don Bosco was not thrown off track despite carrying the burden of being No. 1 and protecting a winning streak that’s at 46 games. They dealt with the pressure by not looking too far ahead.

“You’ve got to take it day-to-day,” Toal said. “It’s a journey. It’s not going to be won or lost overnight. You need to stay focused on the prize and just keep working and hopefully get better each day. You can’t look too far down the road. You can’t waste a day when you could get better.”

It is the second time in three years the Ironmen have finished No. 1 in the Super 25. Toal pointed to the continuity of his coaching staff as the main reason Don Bosco was able to accomplish the feat with no players on this year’s squad being major contributors on the 2009 squad.

“We haven’t had much of a turnover in our coaching staff,” Toal said. “We have a lot of guys that have been together for a long time. I think that’s huge.”

The strength of the team was a defense that features defensive end Darius Hamilton, the son of former NFL defensive lineman Keith Hamilton, and defensive backs Yuri Wright and Elijah Shumate. All three are ranked among the top 150 prospects by Rivals.com.

The Ironmen allowed more than 16 points just once and only 92 points for the entire season.

The road to No. 1 was not without drama. In its regular-season meeting against Bergen Catholic and the game against Manatee in Bradenton, the Ironmen rallied from deficits in the fourth quarter.

“That’s the mark of a great football team,” Toal said. “As soon as they’re challenged, they respond.”

As confirmation of its accomplishment, Don Bosco is one of just three teams that started the season in the top 10 of the preseason poll to finish in the top 10. Armwood (Seffner, Fla.) finished third after starting at No. 10. De La Salle (Concord, Calif.) slid back from sixth to seventh.

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