By ANTHONY SPAULDING
Director of Communications
Pope John XXIII Regional High School
SPARTA — Ireland Burke, Louis Montana and Giovanni Potente have been big parts to the growth of Pope John XXIII Regional High School’s football team since each one of them stepped on campus.
The hard work, passion and dedication put into the program by these three Lions student-athletes led them to one of the best moments of their young lives on Wednesday, as they each signed their National Letter of Intent to compete and continue their education at a NCAA Division I university.
Burke signed his letter of intent to play for Boston College; Montana signed his letter of intent to play for the University of Richmond; and Potente signed his letter of intent to play for Fordham University.
“It was another wonderful day in the history of Pope John XXIII Regional High School with these three young men signing to attend great academic schools and great athletic programs,” Pope John XXIII Regional High School President Father Kieran McHugh said. “It is rewarding to see their achievements and all the work (Pope John head coach) Brian Carlson has done to help them to get into these schools. We’re very proud of the kids, parents, families, Coach Carlson and everyone that was involved in making this a great day.”
"With the tradition we have going here, it’s great to see Ireland Burke go to Boston College, Louis Montana go to the University of Richmond and Giovanni Potente go to Fordham University," Pope John head coach Brian Carlson said. "They are great academic schools and like-minded institutions. We’re happy for the players and their families.”
Burke, a 6-foot-3, 290-pound defensive lineman, earned his commitment to Boston College after being an anchor to the Lions’ defense. He made 52 tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble and one blocked punt return for a touchdown this past season, but demanded double-teams by opposing offenses because of his great size, strength and quickness on the line.
For Burke, who became Pope John’s 10th player to sign with a NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision school since 2012, his commitment meant a lot because of what he had gone through to get to this point, including bouncing back from a season-ending knee injury as a junior after he tore his anterior cruciate ligament following the first game of the 2017 season.
“It means the world,” Burke said. “It’s been a roller coaster ride for the last couple years. Everything I have done has paid off. It’s just a special feeling.”
Montana will head to the University of Richmond after being one of the Lions’ top defensive linemen over the last three seasons. The 6-4, 260-pound lineman had nine sacks along with 69 tackles, with eight of his sacks coming in the last two seasons.
Montana was thrilled to make this commitment official after making a verbal commitment to the Spiders in October.
“It feels great,” Montana said. “My dream of playing college football is going to be a reality. It’s great because only 1 percent of high school students get to experience this, so I am happy to be part of that.”
Potente made his commitment to Fordham after having a strong season as a offensive and defensive lineman in his only year on the field with the Lions. The 6-4, 290-pound lineman earned All-NJSFC United White Division and All-New Jersey Herald first team selections while being the primary anchor to the offensive line.
Potente was so happy with his official commitment after verbally committing to Fordham back in September.
“It’s truly a blessing to be able to play football at the next level and do at such a prestigious school at Fordham,” Potente said. “I picked the perfect school for me.”
Though they have their futures set, these three will always remember their time on the field, especially the end of this year when they helped lead the Lions reached the Non-Public, Group 3 semifinals for the third straight season.
“On the field, we had a great time,” Burke said. “We went through a lot together and helped the program play great competition.”
“It was such a great experience,” Potente said. “I had fun playing against great competition and I gained a lot of brothers at Pope John. It was something I will never forget.”
Carlson said he hopes to have more players earn offers over the next few months so they can join these three players as well as the Lions’ lengthy list of graduates who have gone on to play at the college level. Since 2012, the Lions have had 53 players play college football and currently have 34 alumni competing at all three levels of the NCAA.
“We always preach academics first and we always talk about how football can use you or you can use football,” Carlson said. “We do a great job here institutionally to help kids get opportunities through football and other sports. These guys don’t go to great schools without a great academic institution behind them to make it happen.”