Reis Hoxha wants one more kick in the playoffs.
The senior Palumbo Academy got a taste of post-season football in its sophomore year when the Griffins won their division and won two Public League playoff games before wrapping up the season.
All of the work the Griffins have done ahead of the 2022 season is underpinned by the inspiration of another playoff series.
“We felt that once and we want to do it again,” said Port Richmond native Hoxha. “It was fun. We just get back on the pitch together and try to get our chemistry back. There’s a lot of new faces this year. We’ve lost about six players (until graduation) so that’s really useful to have a few games, improve and prove yourself with each game.
The Griffins have had mixed results in their first four games, but look set to turn the page. A 3-0 win over Bodine on day one set the tone and a 9-1 victory over Franklin Learning Center showed just how dominant they can be. But the Griffins are still learning some early season lessons by losing a goal to Olney and Bartram.
“We think we have a good chance of going to the playoffs,” said senior Denilso Diaz, who lives near 10th and Oregon. “We went to overtime with Olney and that was new for us. I’ve been playing for four years and that never happened.
The regular season is all about learning and Hoxha, Diaz and fellow four-year-old starter Carlos Perez are the guys to lean on to gain experience.
“It’s new for me because I’ve never played this role before,” said Perez, who lives in the Italian market district. “I’m behind with two new guys in defense and just trying to show them how it’s done.”
In the first four games, Palumbo’s Academy showed plenty of attacking sparks from all corners as seven different players scored at least one goal, with Hoxha leading the team with four, courtesy of a hat trick against Franklin Learning Center.
“Everyone was passing the ball to me and I had a lot of chances,” Hoxha said. “When everyone creates so many chances, everything goes well.”
They hope all is well. The Griffins are young, aside from their three seniors, but there’s plenty of optimism about this season and beyond.
“We have a very young squad,” said Licinio Ferreira, who is entering his fourth year as the team’s coach. “We only have three seniors and we have a lot of ninth graders which is great for the future of the program but they are raw. They have a bit to learn about positioning, but I’m very confident.
The conference schedule is kicking into high gear in the coming weeks. The Griffins welcome the challenge.
“Everyone is playing really well,” Diaz said. “I like how our chemistry has developed since we started playing. I really like the way we play.