Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.) has held on to the No. 1 spot in the POWERADE FAB 50 ESPNHS Team Rankings all season long thanks in large part to its dominant defense, which has held opponents to just 78 points through nine games (9-0).
Spearheading that effort is senior defensive end Mike Strizak, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound Boston College commit. Strizak is projected to play inside linebacker at BC and is rated No. 39 nationally at the position by ESPNU.
This weekend Strizak returned his third fumble for a touchdown, setting a single-season team record, in a 42-3 win over Paramus Catholic (Paramus, N.J.) in the Non-Public Group IV state semifinals. The Ironmen will go for their sixth straight state title when they face Bergen Catholic on Dec. 2.
But before they do that, they’ll battle rival St. Joseph Memorial (Montvale, N.J.) in their annual Thanksgiving Day matchup. While the game has no postseason impact, it does have POWERADE FAB 50 implications and there are bragging rights on the line. And St. Joseph Memorial (9-1) is certainly no pushover — the Green Knights will be playing for the Non-Public Group III state crown on Dec. 3.
So what’s it like playing in such a high-pressure atmosphere on Thanksgiving Day? Get Familiar with Mike Strizak to find out.
ESPNHS: What does it mean to you to play on Thanksgiving Day?
Strizak: All the alumni come back. It’s fun to show what legacy we’ll be leaving behind while following in their footsteps. It’s a different atmosphere, but it’s a great rivalry and that gets you up for it. If we don’t beat them, what’s the season worth? But there’s never really trash talk. It’s more respect (for each other).
ESPNHS: Can you sense opponents are amped to play Don Bosco?
Strizak: Around here, we’ve basically been the best team the past few years. So teams treat playing us like it’s their Super Bowl. Every team comes to play and goes their hardest. Even in the pre-game warm-ups you can tell how excited teams are to play us. It gets us pumped up to see people trying to take away what we’ve worked so hard for and we’re trying to protect it.
ESPNHS: How did it help you to make your commitment prior to the season?
Strizak: I really liked the process. Growing up and watching these teams and knowing that they now wanted me was an awesome experience. These guys deserve my 100-percent focus, so from a team standpoint it was beneficial to get the process over.
ESPNHS: Has BC’s struggles this season caused you to rethink your decision?
Strizak: I know they’re a young team. They’re struggling, but for myself, it doesn’t really change much. Every student-athlete is taught that education comes first, and for me having a Boston College education, it’s one of the best combination schools for sports and education in the country.
ESPNHS: What would it mean to learn from Luke Kuechly at Boston College?
Strizak: He’s the best linebacker in the country. Being able to learn the game from his eyes and learn the habits and work ethic it takes to be great, it would be an honor to learn from such a great player and person.
ESPNHS: You have committed to BC and your teammate Leonte Carroo has committed to Rutgers. Do either of you talk to your fellow top senior teammates Darius Hamilton, Yuri Wright and Elijah Shumate about going to your school?
Strizak: We make our pitches to the guys, but overall it’s where they want to go. It really depends on what they like and what they want to do with their options.
ESPNHS: Do you feel confident the younger guys on the team will continue the legacy at Don Bosco?
Strizak: There’s definitely skill. You work to become as good as you want to be at Bosco. They’ll give you the tools to succeed; you just have to want it more than anything else. These tools aren’t just for football — it’s life skills and how to treat others. I don’t think anybody works harder than us. We’re all family and all love each other.
SCHOOL: Don Bosco Prep
POSITION: Defensive End
TV Show: “SportsCenter”
Movie: “American Gangster”
Athlete: Muhammad Ali
School Subject: Science
Video Game: “NCAA Football 12”
Hobby: Pickup basketball
NEXT UP: Strizak and Don Bosco Prep play St. Joseph Regional (Montvale, N.J.) on Thanksgiving Day.
Jon Mahoney covers football for ESPNHS.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org to let him know which high school football player he should Get Familiar with.