- HIGHSCHOOL - Legends of the Fall

Wednesday, July 16
Legends of the Fall

Phil DiGiacomo was participating in one of his first offseason practices with the Central Bucks West High (Pa.) football team in the spring of his freshman year. It was a seven-on-seven passing drill with no pads. Suddenly, somebody zigged when legendary coach Mike Pettine told him to zag.

DiGiacomo, his teammates and
Mike Carey
Mike Carey has inherited the vaunted Central Bucks West High (Pa.) football program from legendary head coach Mike Pettine.
most of Bucks County heard what happened next. Pettine began yelling at a decibel level that could melt locker room paint, and DiGiacomo was wondering what he had gotten himself into. It was also the first time he came face to face with the power, the glory and the pressure of playing for the Bucks, one of the nation's elite high school football programs.

"The first time I heard Pettine scream," says DiGiacomo, now a senior, with a laugh, "he scared me so much."

Most people involved with the C.B. West football program will admit that fear plays a large role on the team - that is, the fear of losing and ending a legacy of success rivaled by few programs in the nation. In the 32 seasons C.B. West High has fielded a football team, the Bucks have finished the season unbeaten 15 times, captured 23 league titles and currently own a state-record 58-game winning streak.

Pettine retired after last season's third straight PIAA Class AAAA state title, but the Bucks haven't missed a beat. Led by new head coach Mike Carey, an assistant of Pettine's for 21 years, the Bucks are 13-0, ranked No. 8 in the National Top 25 and will play Bethlehem Catholic High in the Class AAAA state semifinals this Saturday (Dec. 2).

For C.B. West football, all things began with Pettine, who started his head coaching career at Central Bucks High in 1967 and took over the new Central Bucks West High football team when the school split in 1969.

Over the next 31 seasons, C.B. West has never lost more than four games in one year. After going 11-9 in the first two years, the Bucks finished undefeated in both 1971 and '72. Pettine's troops won the "mythical" Pennsylvania state title four times - 1980, '84, '85 and '87 - and were crowned PIAA Class AAAA champs in 1991, '97, '98 and '99.

According to the dean of C.B. West football, the key to the Bucks' success lies in the past. Generations of Bucks County kids have won titles in C.B. West uniforms, so nobody has to tell the rookies what's expected of them.

"You have to have good talent," says Pettine. "But tradition is important. Kids come in knowing the tradition. They know the yardstick they'll be measured against. It's almost like if we don't win it all, it's a disappointment."

If C.B. West had a mantra, it would be: "Championships are won in the offseason." While that might sound a bit trite, it really is that simple. The players are involved in an offseason weightlifting program designed to make them bigger, stronger and faster. According to Carey, the average Bucks player will add 20-30 pounds of muscle and drop his time in the 40-yard dash. Players work out four days a week, three hours a day during the offseason.

"They [have a] commitment to excellence," says William Tennent High (Pa.) football coach David Sanderson, whose team lost to West, 55-7, on Sept. 22. "Their conditioning program is second to none. Teams try to copy it, but so far nobody can."

DiGiacomo, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound senior running back/linebacker, is just one of the players who spent almost every day in the weight room after school during the offseason. Thanks to that kind of dedication, DiGiacomo is now a Division I-AA college prospect. But ask the teen the real reason he has worked so hard, and the answer has little to do with playing at the next level.

"We don't want to be the team to lose," says DiGiacomo. "That's the biggest motivation."

Material from
Visit their web site at