Teammates help rebuild San Diego Jewish Academy football program
No wins, five losses and a tie. Without context, a lousy year.
Anyone associated with San Diego Jewish Academy’s football program last season, however, will tell you otherwise.
And considering the extent to which the program’s future was shrouded with uncertainty in the months leading up to the start of the season, it’s hard to blame them.
During the spring of 2014, rumors flew around the SDJA campus that there would be no football team later that year. Heavy graduation losses, along with some attrition, helped fuel those rumors. For students already invested in the program, all it took was a simple head count to know the program’s outlook was grim.
“We didn’t know if we would have enough players or who was going to play,” said Rami Lieberman, a placekicker/punter/running back who’ll be a senior next month.
“It was really cloudy whether we were going to have a football season.”
That uncertainty didn’t sit well with Rami and his SDJA teammates.
“Most of the people who played the previous year were determined to get a team,” said incoming junior quarterback Jordan Battaglia, who with Rami spearheaded a drive to keep the program alive.
The two players coaxed students who’d never played football before to give it a try and cajoled some of those who considered abandoning the program.
Both knew that the school’s days of fielding an 11-man team were probably numbered, but a return to 8-man football was possible if they pushed hard enough.
“We were just like, ‘Football’s really fun, the people who are leaving it, they just weren’t cut out for football. You should definitely try it,’” Rami said.
The pitch worked.
They helped generate enough interest in the sport to allow the Lions to return to their 8-man football roots after a five-year foray into 11-man football (the Lions fielded 8-man teams from their 2002 inaugural to 2009).
Fielding a team was important because it gave the Lions something to build on this year amid an expansion of 8-man football in San Diego County.
They’ll compete in the five-team Coastal League Ocean in the newly formed Division VI under first-year coach Skip Carpowich.
In Jordan Battaglia, the Lions feature a dual-threat quarterback, considered one of the best at his position in his division.
Fielding a team last season was also important for Rami’s collegiate aspirations. A converted soccer player who went out for the team as a freshman a year after trying to kick field goals for fun in eighth grade, he has emerged as a collegiate prospect with interest from several schools including Claremont McKenna, a Division III program.
“It meant a lot for me especially,” he said.
“At that point (as a sophomore), I knew I wanted to play football in college and there was no way that was going to happen if we didn’t have football in high school, so to me specifically it meant a lot. If there’s no football (that) year, my goal of playing college football definitely isn’t going to happen. That was a very direct effect of what could have happened, but we did have a football team we played.
“We might have not done that well, but right now I’m hopefully going to play college football.”
Rami and Jordan are both three-sport athletes. Rami also plays soccer and tennis. Jordan is a collegiate basketball prospect who also plays baseball.
Rami recognizes Jordan as an inspirational player who plays hard and plays hurt and who “has the heart of a football player.”
Jordan played part of last season with a broken finger.
He prides himself for his competitiveness, which he attributes to his upbringing. As one of the few Jewish players competing on club teams, he felt he always had to prove himself. He relished the opportunity.
“As a leader, it’s really important to play hurt and play hard every play. That’s what I love to do,” he said.
The respect between the two players is mutual.
“Besides his amazing ability to kick the ball out of the end zone every time ... he’s really fast,” Jordan said of Rami, who also plays running back and wide receiver. “His quickness and agility really helps him move around and (avoid) getting hit.”
Although Jordan is more of an impact player at the high school level, Rami has a higher football ceiling because his special teams skills translate better to the college game.
“(Rami) should play college,” Jordan said. “He’s better than (some) college” place-kickers.
Both players pride themselves for their leadership. Rami is the quieter of the two, preferring to lead by example. Jordan is more of a vocal leader.
Their leadership at the program’s time of greatest need, however, can’t be understated.
“Our program was definitely at risk,” Carpowich said. “They both love football, and they’re the types of kids that when they see adversity like that, they’re going to try to rally the kids around them. I think it just kind of epitomizes who they are in terms of their leadership and determination.”