Roman Catholic High School's football team spends hundreds of hours together throughout the year, and this season, it's paid off – in the form of an impressive 7-1 start to the season.
Whether it's practicing, lifting, enjoying team dinners, participating in discussions about current events, and even taking team bonding trips to play paintball or visit Eastern State Penitentiary's haunted house, the team is committed to constantly growing closer.
It's reflected in the team's best season in more than a decade.
"I think it always starts with our kids, and I think we have a great group of kids. When the character and talent match up, I think that's what we see now," says Roman Catholic Head Coach Rick Prete, who was selected as the Philadelphia Eagles High School Coach of the Week, presented by Hyundai.
"What's exciting about this team is that they really love each other, and they care about each other."
And that's just how Coach Prete wants it to be.
Prete has spent his four-year tenure at Roman Catholic building a culture of camaraderie by fostering trust all year round through team activities on and off the field.
On Friday, the team overcame Philadelphia Catholic League rival La Salle College High School in a contested 31-14 matchup; the team works towards moments like that all year round. Its record is tied for first with Saint Joseph's Prep in the conference, but still, the scoreboard isn't Prete's focal point.
"We try to give them assistance towards life, in general. I think when the kids know that this is bigger than football, this isn't about wins and losses, it's not about what I can do on the field, they see this is really about a school and a program that'll actually care about me 40 years down the line. That's genuine. Really, we want to try to help put better men into society," Prete said.
"I think you just need to be around your kids a lot and show them that you care about them. I think our guys know that outside of football, we'll do anything for them, and we build a certain level of trust."
Prete has more than 20 years of coaching experience at high school football programs across the area, including Malvern Prep, Imhotep, and Plymouth Whitemarsh.
A former Norristown High School football player himself, he says he's drawn on his time playing high school football in the area to help guide his players through all aspects of their life.
"With my upbringing, just having a mom (Patty) that really worked her tail off to get us through and not having a dad involved, I know a lot of our young men are in a similar situation. So, I kind of know what they go through, and I just want to be there to assist them," he said.
Prete's experience with Pennsylvania high school football is vast, but he admits that Philadelphia athletes have an unrivaled drive dissimilar to any other. He says one of his favorite parts of the job is using his platform to help his students maximize their potential.
"The most rewarding thing is being able to help change lives and impact lives. And I think you can do that anywhere. It doesn't have to just be Philadelphia," Prete said.
"But I think the kid in Philly has such a hunger to be great and just needs a little guidance from time to time, which all kids do. I just think there's a special hunger being from Philadelphia that I don't think is everywhere across the country or across the world. I think it's a special place."
Broad and Vine is a special place indeed, but Philadelphia high school football comes with a unique set of challenges like a lack of resources and growing gun violence in the city. Prete spends every day combatting those roadblocks, so they don't inhibit his team's opportunity for success.
"The hardest part for us, in particular, is that our kids don't really have a turf field to practice on or anything like that. So, logistics have been tough for us. You know, that's really tough. Another thing that's really tough is to see the level of violence that's going on throughout the city, seeing how our kids are impacted by it," Prete said.
"Just this past year, I had a former player that was shot and killed a week after I spoke with him. He was on his way back to college. I think the violence overall is very frustrating. I know it's frustrating for every single coach, parent, and player in Philadelphia."
Prete has found purpose in protecting his team through football and teaching them to use their adversity as fuel. They've done so in a big way this season, and Prete is confident that the best is yet to come.
"We just, kind of, wrap our arms around them and shield them from that. Being able to help them not just stay safe, but be in an environment where they can, where they can be better," Prete said.
"We're just getting started with this. We have not reached the ceiling."