The Kensington Tigers ended their 2012 season with a matchup against Northeast High School in the blistering cold of a nor’easter. While the game ended in a loss and left the Tiger’s without a win for their entire season, the game was an everlasting and fond memory of not only that snowy day on Cottman Avenue but of the season where a team stuck together to bring a community to new heights.
“The game was a cold and wet mess,” Coach Ellwood Erb said. “But our guys stuck together like they have all season and kept fighting until the last whistle. I’m proud of the team for not giving up despite the fact that this season didn’t seem to go our way.”
“That last game it was cold and snowing, but I was focused on playing,” linebacker Christian Cruz said. “My hands were freezing, I couldn’t feel them, but I wasn’t complaining about the cold.”
“We never gave up. Don’t ever underestimate us. We may be small but we can hit,” linebacker Melwin Santiago said after the last game of his high school career. “We alway came out with big hearts.”
While football won’t start up again for Kensington students until the spring, two senior members of the Tiger football team are eyeing the next level of competition and education. Santiago and Rafiq Johnson both have plans to attend an NCAA Division III college next fall, with Albright College at the top of their short lists. But while they both wish to continue their playing careers, they are also eager to make their way out of Kensington and start paving the road toward a successful future.
“The mindset of going to college was set in me by my mom,” said Johnson, senior at Kensington High School for International Business. “She always said you don’t just stop at high school but that you have to go straight to college.”
Johnson said he hopes to major in mathematics and teach elementary school students, ultimately aiming to give back to the community that he grew up in.
“Hopefully, I can even come back and coach my former team. I was on the first Kensington Tigers team and would love to give back to them,” Johnson said.
Santiago, who was born in Puerto Rico, came to Kensington when he was 8 years old. He first discovered football in elementary school where he learned the game by tackling on concrete.
“Hitting on concrete was awesome, such an awesome feeling. I didn’t end up putting pads on until middle school and I started that year. I am getting chills just thinking about it,” Santiago said.
Santiago, the Tigers captain and emotional leader, initially didn’t want to play college ball but has since changed his mind. One thing that has not changed is his desire to own and operate his own business after graduating from college.
“I want to start a sporting goods business—‘Mel’s Sporting Goods.’ I’ll compete with Modell’s, Dicks, anyone,” said Santiago, who is also a senior at Kensington High School for International Business. He even has a motto for his dream business already prepared. “If we don’t have it, then they sure don’t.”
As these two seniors move on to the next phase of their lives, coach Ellwood Erb looks forward to the future of his budding program. He hopes that next year his team is one step closer to a varsity team and his dream of Friday night lights under the El.
Additional thanks to videographers Steve Reitz and Jess Ruggierio. For more about the story of the Kensington football team, visit RiseoftheTigers.com.