Before Paul Standard took over as head coach at St. Pius in 2001, the school’s winning tradition under the late George Maloof had become a distant memory.
St. Pius had only four winning seasons and one playoff appearance (1999) in 17 seasons between the retirement of Maloof in 1983 and the hiring of Standard. Under Standard, the Golden Lions are 71-23 and heading to their seventh playoff appearance in nine seasons.
Standard calls 2003 and 2006 special seasons, with the Golden Lions’ appearance in the Class AAA semifinals the crowning achievement – so far.
This year’s team could be Standard’s best. The Golden Lions are 8-0 and have clinched the No. 1 seed in Region 5-AAA, Division B after Saturday’s 37-13 win over Grady. St. Pius held Grady to 118 total yards and 18 in the second half.
The team is two wins away from the school’s first undefeated regular season since 1967.
“Hopefully, we’re seeing the fruition of the system that has been in place,” Standard said. “Every successful program has a system, and ours is a 4-3 defense and a wing-bone offense and great special teams. And I think we came full circle with our 2006 team that went to the Dome. We had a special year in 2003 when we went to the quarterfinals and beat Marist.”
The Golden Lions were 9-0 last season before losing the final regular season to Dunwoody, then a first-round playoff game. The total margin of defeat for both games was nine points.
While Standard isn’t jumping to conclusions just yet about a 10-0 season, he and his players are well aware of the possibilities.
“This in one of the top three teams I’ve had,” Standard said. “Last year we were good on offense, this year we’re really good on offense. This year we have an outstanding defense. The big difference this season is defense.”
A year after holding four opponents to less than 10 points with no shutouts, the Golden Lions already have held five teams to seven points or less with two shutouts. St. Pius is allowing only seven points a game.
“It really started in 2006, when strength and conditioning and the intangibles started to show itself,” Standard said. “We’ve been able to build off that.”
The defense is led by senior middle linebacker Robert Lucisano, the team’s top tackler. Seniors Brian Gee, Reed Callahan, Andrew Butler and Ryan Northcutt also started last season.
“Defense helps you win big games and that was a big reason why we went to the Dome in 2006,” Standard said. This year we have a special defense. There are a lot of returning starters, plus the addition of some young kids and some outstanding seniors.”
One of the top underclassmen is sophomore defensive back Geno Smith, who leads the team with four interceptions.
“He’s the one we put on the other team’s best receiver. He’s a special player,” Standard said.
Offensively, senior running back Cole Moon is the engine that makes the Golden Lions go. Moon has rushed for 772 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“The remarkable thing about Cole is that he’s very durable and on Fridays he gets hit whether he has the ball or not,” Standard said. “He knows other teams key on him. Early in the season teams took him out of the offense but that opened things up for other players. He’s unselfish and he doesn’t like the limelight.”
The depth and experience on both sides of the ball have set up the Golden Lions for another special season under Standard.
“Last year was the first time since I’ve been here that we had a shot (to go undefeated),” Standard said. “We went 9-0 and lost in the play-in game. The kids understand what’s at stake.”