Billy Hart and Marquise Bridges have been playing football together since they were fourth-graders in the Minneapolis Park Board system.
Playing for Corcoran Park, the wonderfully athletic Bridges was always the superstar. Hart, scrappy and undersized, made his mark largely on desire.
Friday, the two DeLaSalle juniors and old friends helped the Islanders to a convincing 40-8 victory over St. Croix Lutheran in the season opener for both schools.
This time Hart, the Islanders' quarterback, was the standout. The 5-11 bundle of spunk completed 10-of-17 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns. He rushed 13 times for 87 yards and two scores, including a weaving 44-yard scamper in the fourth quarter.
"I love Billy. We've been playing together since fourth grade," said Bridges, who caught four passes for 68 yards and a touchdown. "It's good to see him grow. He used to be weak and couldn't throw. Now he's got the arm."
The victory was Hart's chance to finally step out of a large shadow and into the spotlight. He was a backup quarterback to Reid Travis in 2012. He quarterbacked the Islanders to a pair of championships in summer 7-on-7 leagues. Coach Sean McMenomy's preseason plan was to play Hart at quarterback and move Travis, a highly coveted basketball player, to tight end.
Travis' decision not to play football, which dominated summer talk about DeLaSalle, left it to Hart to make his name on the field.
"I have been practicing with the guys, all my linemen know me,'' Hart said. I feel comfortable now."
Said McMenomy: "He's a fearless kid, a blue-collar kid. He's somebody everybody can love. He's put in his time. He's not afraid of anything."
The DeLaSalle defense forced an uncharacteristic eight turnovers by St. Croix Lutheran, a team whose reputation has been built on execution and discipline.
"We always say that DeLaSalle starts with the 'D,' " McMenomy said. "The defense really came to play. We put a lot of pressure on them. St. Croix Lutheran is a team that always plays us tough. They keep grinding, grinding. We stepped up, flew around. We really take pride in that."
St. Croix Lutheran's only touchdown was a 32-yard blast by senior running back David Ponath in the fourth quarter.
"We didn't get the zero that we wanted," said Bridges, who also played defensive back. "But it was great to be able to get turnovers and stop a great team like St. Croix Lutheran."