St. Thomas More Collegiate found a perfect set of bookends to showcase the gridiron Knights' star-laden past.
Senior linemen Dante Vigini and Nico Repole have brought a twin pillar of strength to a stout STM defence that has been known for years around the league for its unwavering conviction to make the tackles.
Both six-foot-plus AAA conference all-stars were among the leaders in that category this season - Vigini had a second-best 76 stops, while Repole was close behind with 68 solo tackles.
The two were also the runaway sack leaders, combining for 28 quarterback muggings between them, including 16 by Vigini, who was named the All-East defensive MVP.
Vigini and Repole also made three and two fumble recoveries, respectively, this season.
"In past years, we had the talent aspect, but this season we have the toughness we need to bring us to the championships," said Vigini. "What we bring every play has a lot to do with what our conditioning coach (Jared Power) has brought us."
"Stopping the run is our main priority, and with our line right now, we've been able to achieve that," Repole added. "With our coaching, we've been able to become the hardest working line in the league."
That is good news for STM supporters and bad news for opposition teams, who have had the slow-starting Knights in their cross-hairs on a number of occasions this season, only to fail in key situations to put enough points on the board.
And it's the physicality and speed of Vigini and Repole that have been leading the assault.
"In my time at STM, they are the best tandem of defensive linemen that I have coached," said varsity Knights head coach Bernie Kully. "The thing that separates the two of them is that they do both a good job against the run and the pass. . They each bring a different skill set to our team, but the fact is that they both are aggressive and play with great energy and anticipation on every snap . and get nasty when they need to be."
Both 200-pounders have sparked interest from collegiate coaches, and why not?
The two senior starters clearly love the game and are the best of friends both on and off the field.
"I'd say we definitely have chemistry. We talk a lot. We're good friends off the field, and it has made us better communicators on the field," said Vigini.
"We're both having fun out there and when we're having fun, the sacks just come," Repole added. "Every down is a battle in front of you. It's a sense of achievement. It's a good thing."
But both young men believe that the best STM has to offer is still yet to be seen. There is something more that motivates them to make this final push into the playoffs a special one - both have yet to taste victory in a provincial final in their high school careers.
"It all comes down to character. . This season, we've been able to play in the second half. We have to stretch it out. This won't be enough in the playoffs," Vigini said.
"I believe in all the games we've had so far, we haven't played four quarters," Repole said. "We've only shown glimpses of what we can achieve. . We've got to take advantage of the bye week and play with our heart."
And that should be easy for the varsity Knights, who graduate 16 seniors this year, including a dozen who have played five full seasons in the STM scarlet.
"We have to play each game like it was our last - every play, every down, every time we touch the ball. We played good in the regular season, now we have to play better," said Repole.
Playing better as the game goes on is an asset that both Vigini and Repole possess in spades, said Kully.
"They are always playing, competing and doing their jobs to contribute to our success," Kully said.
"(A B.C. title) would definitely mean the world to us," Vigini said. "It's something we have worked for from Day 1, and all the two-a-days. It's a dream of all of ours."
Trust in each other and amongst the entire team is something real and tangible, Repole said.
"Without any one of those players we wouldn't be able to achieve what we can achieve," Repole added.
"It would definitely be something we would cherish for our whole lives," Vigini answered. "We just have to show it."
STM will get that chance against the Notre Dame Jugglers in its quarter-final matchup at the University of B.C.'s Thunderbird Stadium on Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m.
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