By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Kurt Driscoll didn’t enter Holy Spirit High School four years ago with a lot of fanfare. He knew as an undersized offensive lineman his chances of landing a starting role his freshman year — or even as a sophomore — were remote. But that didn’t discourage the Egg Harbor Township resident. Former head and assistant Spirit football coach Bill Walsh, who passed away last fall after battling ALS, told Driscoll that if he stuck his nose to the grind and worked his tail off, he could be an impact player as a junior and senior.
And anyone who knew coach Walsh knew that he was a straight shooter. He wasn’t going to sugar coat a kid’s potential. So, Driscoll believed him when he gave his analysis, and went about doing his job every day, both on the football field and on the wrestling mat.
Now, looking back after recently graduating, Driscoll can proudly say that coach Walsh was right — he did make an impact. With Driscoll wearing the Navy and gold, Spirit’s football team made three state championship appearances and took home the title this past December with a dominating 38-0 win over rival St. Joseph-Hammonton, and Driscoll also was a lynchpin in the resurrection of the Spartans’ wrestling program, which went from having only a handful of guys in the room to winning a couple of sectional titles.
“All I can remember was coach Walsh telling me in eighth grade, ‘hey man, you gotta come out here and help out. You might not start your freshman and sophomore years but you’ll definitely become a starter, and (in the meantime) you can be helping us out on the scout team and giving us the best look possible for the starters.’ And that’s exactly what I did, I went out there and did everything he told me to,” Driscoll said. “I worked so hard all the time. I would get in the game sometimes as a freshman when we were blowing people out, and it was just nice to get into the game because I had worked so hard in practice.
“Going from losing a state championship with seven seconds left to winning one 38-0, that’s quite a difference.”
Four years ago, the Spartans had their hearts broken when Mater Dei scored on a hook-and-lateral play with seven seconds remaining at Kean University to win the Non-Public Group 2 state championship game. The following year featured another round of heartbreak, as Mater Dei beat Spirit 35-34 in the state semifinals. As a junior, Driscoll’s Spartans lost to St. Joe after making it back to the state final.
“We were struggling at first. We lost three really good offensive linemen from the year before, so we just had to help out the younger kids. And they listened, did what they were told and did everything correctly. Once October hit, it was nice because we were clicking so much,” Driscoll said about this past season. “We put a lot of new plays into the playbook in the playoffs and we got a lot done. It was nice that Cheeks (RB Patrick Smith) had that seven-touchdown game, that was awesome and made us look really good. All I can remember is on Monday morning (of championship week) we came in and looked at nj.com and six of the seven guys had picked St. Joe to beat us. That was hung up in everybody’s locker, and I bet it’s still sitting there today. Nobody was going to clean that out. We just kept that in the backs of our minds and we had the best week of practice. That was the best week of practice in my four years of high school. Everything was so crisp and so clean — it was just meant to be.”
Spirit’s 38-0 win over St. Joe was eye-popping, not only because of such a lopsided score against one of the best teams in South Jersey, but also because of how Spirit won that game. The Spartans dominated the line of scrimmage, and that was no easy task considering the Wildcats had veteran defensive players such as Ethan Hunt, Brad Lomax, Ahmad Ross and Keshon Griffin, among others.
“We did the best we could. Those kids (on the line) are big — all of them are over 6 feet tall and well over 220 pounds, and they were all fast, too. We knew what we were going up against, and the line they came out with was really difficult because we didn’t expect them to come out in a six-man front, but we adjusted to it, especially in the second half. The big thing was to be able to create a pocked for Trevor (Cohen) to throw from in the first half, that was the whole game plan,” Driscoll said. “To finish off as that being my last high school game, and my last game ever of football, it was nice. Going through all those ups and downs — losing to Mater Dei twice in the playoffs, and we only beat St. Joe twice in my career, but it was the first time and the last time. It wasn’t like we were playing bad teams (in the playoffs), we just lost to some really good teams. Mater Dei ended up getting pushed up to Non-Public Group 3, and St. Joe always gave us a run for our money. Even though it ended up 38-0, we were brawling out there until the end.”
“He’s a good kid. He’s down to Earth and wants nothing but the best for everyone involved with this team. He worked his tail off to earn a starting spot the last two years. His freshman and sophomore years he was a backup, and junior and senior years he was able to jump in as a starter because of the effort he put in,” said Spirit coach A.J. Russo. “As a senior leader this year on the offensive line, those guys really solidified us going into the playoffs. And it’s great to have kids like that who are so enthusiastic about the program. They worked hard the first couple of years and didn’t see the field too much, and some kids quit when they don’t get playing time. But those guys stuck with it and Kurt is a tribute to that. He’s a great kid who really held us together.
“That’s what’s good about our kids, they are all so humble and they do a good job of complimenting the other guys around them, and that’s what a team is all about. And Kurt in particular, emphasizing that all the time.”
Driscoll’s wrestling career was very similar. He got off to a rough start as a freshman, as a skin issue limited his mat time, suffered a couple tough losses at districts as a sophomore but really came on strong as a junior and senior, winning more than 30 matches each season to finish with 94 career victories and coming within an eyelash of qualifying for the state championships as a senior.
“I just can’t wait to pursue my athletic and academic career at Elizabethtown (College). I can’t wait to get back on the wrestling mat. I know I’m going to miss the football field a ton and I think about it every day. I look at pictures and reminisce about it all the time. But now I’m getting ready to wrestle again,” Driscoll said. “I came in and had guys like Mike Waszen, Alec Harper and Tim Fitzpatrick who were pushing me in the room. I didn’t have too good of a freshman year because I had a skin issue and was in the hospital for 10 days. I missed half the season, and then sophomore year I did completely terrible in districts, but I ended up being 18-12 and lost in the consolation finals. But to come back my junior and senior years and have more than 30 wins in both seasons was nice, just to rebound. Unfortunately I was six matches short of 100 wins and I was two pins away from breaking Holy Spirit’s pin record held by Pat D’Arcy. And I came up short at regions (this year), which was tough, but I’ll just have to get to the podium at the (NCAA) nationals at the Division III level.”
Russo believes that Driscoll’s dedication to wrestling helped him become a better offensive lineman throughout his career.
“I think that has a lot to do with his wrestling mentality. Wrestling is the type of sport where sometimes you’re going to get whipped and sometimes you’re going to whip other guys. And he knows that. On the offensive line, it’s four or five seconds each play of smash mouth football, and you’re going to win some and you’re going to lose some, but you don’t quit, you just keep going. I think that’s a tribute to Kurt and his wrestling background and being tough. He knew he was going to win sometimes and he was going to lose sometimes, but at the end of the day he won more than he lost,” Russo said. “Having that confidence yourself and being able to push other guys play-to-play is something Kurt brought to the table, and our kids definitely fed off that.”
Driscoll, who said he may major in accounting once he gets to Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, said he is proud of everything he accomplished at Holy Spirit and plans to return as a proud state championship-winning alumni in the years to come.
“If you talk to every single person at Holy Spirit, it’s just the family and the community. Everything they give you is unreal. They give you the best resources and they are behind you no matter what, it doesn’t matter what sport it is. It was nice being one of the faces of the school because I put in all that hard work and it finally paid off. It’s nice to say now that I’m a Holy Spirit alumni and that I’ll be able to be one of those people who comes to games wearing a state championship jacket. All the people who donate to us, that’s awesome, and I’m proud to say I’m now a Holy Spirit alumni,” he said. “I’m going to think that this was the greatest four years of my life, at least so far, but I don’t think much can top being a state champion (in football) and finishing with 94 career wins as a wrestler. For everyone out there, if you put in the hard work, the odds may be against you, but if you put in the work you’ll have success.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays