There is an athlete who has started every game in his Penn career, who has made All-League honors twice and who is close to breaking a school record. And he's all but unknown. He is sprint football quarterback John Kernan. "There is really no glory in [sprint football]," Penn captain Robert Reeves said. "You walk around campus, people don't see Kernan on the sidewalk saying OOh My God I heard you threw 400 yards passing,' even though it's a great thing. "We play for the love of the game." The soft-spoken, All-Conference South Jersey kid from Moorestown thought his football career was over after his high school team's trip to the State finals. But he never could quite come to terms with the thought of not playing. He thought of trying to walk on with Al Bagnoli's team, but realized that even if he made it, he'd get as much playing time as he would if he didn't try out -- zero. After accepting the fact that his career was over, Kernan was pleasantly surprised to learn of the existence of a sport then called lightweight football. Deciding to simply give it a try, the rookie earned the starting job that was up for grabs after the team lost All-League quarterback Matt Veneri to graduation. Although the Quakers had lost five other seniors, they were hungry to win the Eastern Lightweight Football League title, hands down. Despite the fact that the 1996 team had the best season it had had in years, the Quakers only shared the ELFL title. With two All-ELFL honorees, Tim Ortman and Greg Grabone, back for the offense and a quartet of defensive backs returning as well, the 1997 squad was ready to win the title outright. But the high expectations for Kernan's freshman team were not met. Penn fell to 3-3 overall (2-2 ELFL). Despite a disappointing year for the team in his first season, the year of experience generated huge payoffs for Kernan in the 1998 season. In addition to basking in the glory of winning the title of the newly ordained Collegiate Sprint Football League and posting the best record in the history of Penn's program, 5-1 overall (3-1 CSFL), Kernan earned his own personal accolades. The sophomore was named to first team All-CSFL and was the league's top passer. He completed 28 of 65 attempts for 451 yards and had six touchdown passes, tying for first in the league. Needless to say, the traditional sophomore slump didn't hit Kernan. Despite the fact that he led the Quakers in efficiency and once again tied for the highest number of touchdowns, six, in the league, Kernan earned second, not first-team honors in the following 1999 season. With one season left, the senior captain is 519 yards behind Tommy Frankel's and Bob O'Brien's career records in passing. "Statistically he's got some real good, strong numbers," Penn coach Bill Wagner said. "He's in the position to break some records here." But individual honors and records are not the driving forces behind Kernan's will to win. "To be 7-0 is the No. 1 thing," Kernan said. "As long as we finish 7-0, I'll end up breaking the passing record and one of these guys [referring to Reeves and senior Scott Moore] will end up breaking the receiving record." His goal is no lofty one. Penn's offense is returning all but one of its starters -- but the one loss, Ortman, is enormous. "[Ortman] was the best player we ever had," Wagner said. Wagner believes that in order to reach the heights of an undefeated season, his team is going to have to "throw the ball more than we did in the past." Kernan is the player who must delegate those changes. "John needs to do what I think he is ready to do, and that is take charge of the offense, be able to look through the line of scrimmage, make audible calls, go from a pass to a run from a run to a pass," Wagner explained. Kernan, quiet by nature, lets his actions speak louder than his voice. Even though Wagner is expecting his starting quarterback to be more vocal, Kernan's teammates have faith in his ability to lead their team back to the top. "John is a great leader," Moore said. "He takes charge of the offense and pulls everyone together for us."Comments powered by Disqus
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