CINCINNATI -- There is little surprise as to the preferred allegiance in Super Bowl LII for longtime supporters of Lakota West and La Salle.
The Philadelphia Eagles have two former area high school football standouts on its roster -- tight end Brent Celek and linebacker Jordan Hicks -- as the NFC champion prepares to play the New England Patriots at 6:30 p.m. Sunday in Minneapolis.
Celek, an 11-year pro and former University of Cincinnati standout, is a 2003 La Salle graduate. He’s also a fan favorite in the City of Brotherly Love. He appears to have a fan at the Vatican, too (The connection was made through a Philadelphia-area priest).
Steve and Debbie Celek, Brent's parents, arrived in Minneapolis Friday. The Celeks, who live in Miami Township, are among the six family members expected to attend the game.
"I guess the most enjoyable part is the fact you know you are waiting to see your son play in the greatest game of his life," Steve Celek said.
Hicks, a 2010 Lakota West graduate, is one of the NFL’s rising stars in his third year. He’s on injured reserve after rupturing his Achilles tendon in late October. He played in seven games this season and recorded 28 tackles.
The Greater Miami Conference and Greater Catholic League football programs couldn’t be more proud of each player.
Dan Flynn, the former longtime La Salle athletic director, sent a congratulatory text to Celek after the NFC title game. Flynn, who works in the La Salle Advancement Office, was a Lancers assistant football coach on the defensive side when Celek was at the school.
Flynn also coached Celek in the shot put and discus.
“He was an extremely hard worker,” Flynn said. “He really made himself in the weight room. Some kids are just winners. They want the ball. They have the ‘it’ factor. That was Brent.”
Celek, 33, inducted into the La Salle Athletics Hall of Fame in January 2017, is the third La Salle player to be in the Super Bowl.
"Football has been his passion since he was a little kid," Steve Celek said of Brent. "For him, football has been everything."
Solon (Ohio) High School football coach Jim McQuaide said Brent Celek is an excellent representative of Cincinnati.
McQuaide, who coached the Lancers from 1999 to 2002, remembers Celek as a relentless worker who played tight end, defensive end and linebacker.
“He always said he wanted to go the NFL,” McQuaide said. “As a sophomore I remember he said he wanted to play in the Super Bowl.”
Celek verbally committed to the University of Cincinnati before his senior season. Flynn said Celek showed no other interest in any other college program.
“He was a hard-nosed, tough kid who had a great work ethic,” said Milford coach Tom Grippa, who previously coached Garrett Celek at La Salle. “When you meet the family you see where he gets his grit and toughness. I don’t think anybody is surprised at La Salle with the success Brent has had.”
Coaches and administrators aren’t surprised at the success of Hicks -- the first Lakota West alum to be on a Super Bowl roster.
An Under Armour All-American, Parade Magazine All-American and Gatorade Ohio Football Player of the Year his senior season in 2009, Hicks was one of the most recruited football players in Greater Cincinnati in the past decade. He was also a basketball standout, earning multiple scholarship offers on the hardwood.
Hicks won the Dick Butkus Award -- given to the nation’s top high school linebacker -- in December 2009. The NFL legend spent the day at Lakota West and ate lunch in the school cafeteria the same day University of Texas coach Mack Brown and Longhorns assistant Will Muschamp spent the day recruiting Hicks.
“That’s the day I knew (Hicks) was going to Texas,” Lakota West coach Larry Cox said. “…By the end of the day I still remember (then Ohio State coach) Jim Tressel calling me and said, ‘how does Mack Brown and Will Muschamp get this kind of in? And I said, ‘it was the luck of the draw.’”
The Lakota West linebacker announced his verbal commitment to Texas the following month, ending months of speculation, including offering updates on his scholarship offers and visits during a weekly media teleconference.
“You don’t appreciate how great of an all-around athlete he was,” Cox said. “He was just smooth about it.”
Hicks starred at the University of Texas and was selected in the third round by the Eagles in the 2015 draft.
Despite Hicks' injury this season, Cox told his former standout to enjoy the experience even if it’s not total unbridled happiness about being on the sideline.
“To know one of your guys is at the pinnacle of what football is -- the Super Bowl -- but it’s sort of like that record with an asterisk,” Cox said. “But, as I told him, you have to put yourself in the fact that for seven games you were the leader of that defense.”
Cox says he knows Hicks would like to be on the field for one play but he also has the proper perspective of his long-time career prospects at the forefront of his mind. Cox is proud of what his former standout has accomplished on and off the field.
“It’s cool because I know the person that he is,” Cox said. “I think that’s the thing. You are happy for him because you know the type of person he is and how he handles his business.”
Hicks often returns to West Chester to speak with the Lakota West players. He will be a part of the second annual Hicks/Kelly Camp (named for Hicks and Colts center Ryan Kelly) June 24.
“He’s such an ambassador for the program because as I tell people he’s got his places in Austin and Philly but he still comes back here and spends time,” Cox said. “When you talk to him (he says) I live in Austin and Philly but West Chester is my home. He will come around and talk to the kids.”