Gridiron Goals

Cardinal O’Hara’s B.J. Hogan aims to continue his team’s big turnaround.

B.J. Hogan

When B.J. Hogan was a kid, he never was afraid of a challenge. Beat him five straight times in one-on-one basketball? Better get ready for number six. While other guys in his neighborhood were trying to stack teams in their favor during games on the driveway, Hogan didn’t care who he played with, so long as he played.

And he played everything—well.

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Hogan was a two-time all-state football safety and one of the best ice hockey players in Pennsylvania. He could hit, field and throw on the diamond, too. Put a basketball in his hand, and you had one of the toughest point guards around. “Butch” thrived on competition and challenges.

That’s why when Cardinal O’Hara asked one of its finest all-around athletes to come back and resurrect the sagging Lion football program, Hogan left a job he loved coaching defensive backs at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and dug in. Now in his second season, Hogan has led O’Hara to a 9-0 record and the Catholic League Blue Division title. It’s the school’s first championship since 2004 and its first undefeated regular season since 1985.

Saturday, the Lions will host rival Bonner-Prendergast in the PIAA Class 4A Catholic League play-in game.

It’s quite a change from the 1-9 records O’Hara managed in 2014 and ’15. “I tell the kids all the time that I loved Chattanooga, and I could have stayed their forever,” Hogan says. “But it was important to me to come back. The program was in disarray, and I knew I could get it turned around. This is how it should be every single year. It’s a special place, and I wanted to come back and turn it around.”

Hogan credits the players’ willingness to do their jobs and trust each other with the reversal. Last year, the Lions struggled to understand what Hogan and his staff wanted from them, and it showed during the 1-9 campaign. This year, led by a defense that allows only 7.2 points per game and the steady quarterbacking of senior Tommy O’Hara, the Lions are a much different team. Should Hogan’s squad beat Bonner-Prendergast on Nov. 5, it will enjoy a bye week and then likely take on mighty Imhotep in the District 12 championship game. “Bonner-O’Hara is extra special,” Hogan says. “I’m not one of those guys who says, ‘It’s just another game.’ It’s a big game. I played in it, and I coached in it. It’s a big game.”

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The Lions’ success has created what Hogan calls “a positive vibe” around the school. He wants the team to do for Cardinal O’Hara what Temple’s football program has done for its university—spawn a rise in admissions and create a buzz that helps all parts of the school. He has already seen an increase in interest from alumni, and the local CYO parishes have been noticing the success, too. Not only will they be more amenable to sending football players to O’Hara, they will also feed other students to the school. At a time when Archdiocesan high schools are working to grow and improve, that’s a big deal.

Hogan graduated from O’Hara in 2001 and earned a degree from Widener. He started at Chattanooga as an assistant in 2009 before becoming a full-time member of the staff. He’s not sure whether he will return to the college ranks at some point, but he is certain that he wants the Lions to become a perennial Catholic League force. To do that, he must continue building—and winning. “Going into this season, our seniors had won two football games [as sophomores and juniors],” Hogan says. “We had to teach them how to win. We haven’t gotten respect around the county and the Philadelphia area, but that’s something else we’ll use to motivate the players.”

Meanwhile, Hogan will keep tackling whatever challenges come his way, just like he always has.

EL HOMBRE SEZ: A ton of local teams are in district playoffs this week. On Nov. 1 in Class AAA field hockey, Conestoga takes on Downingtown West in a semifinal, while Villa Maria and Merion Mercy meet in a Class AA semi.

Conestoga hosts North Penn on Nov. 2 in one Class AAAA boys soccer semifinal, and West Chester Henderson plays Council Rock North in the other. In girls’ soccer, Stoga meets Neshaminy on Nov. 2 in the AAAA semifinals, while Villa Maria plays Villa Joseph Marie in the AAA semis, and Delco Christian plays The Christian Academy on Nov. 1 for the A title.

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Football playoffs commence on Nov. 4, with many of local teams in action. Joe Gallagher’s 16th-seeded Haverford High squad visits top-seeded North Penn in Class 6A action. In 5A play, No. 1 Springfield hosts Penncrest, No. 3 Marple-Newtown hosts Upper Moreland,
No. 5 West Chester Henderson hosts Sun Valley, No. 8 Great Valley hosts Glen Mills, No. 11 West Chester East visits Unionville, and
No. 15 Radnor travels to Academy Park. On Nov. 5, Delco Christian tangles with Jenkintown for the 1A crown.

Our Best of the Main Line Elimination Ballot is open through February 22!