Wolves enjoy playing villains to the end

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You don’t have to like Grand Street, but that doesn’t change the history it made winning its first city championship.

“Through all our ups and down, trials and tribulations, everything came down to this,” said Grand Street coach Bruce Eugene. “My kids fought. They clawed. They scratched. It was well worth it.”

The Wolves feed off playing the villain, fully embracing it. The coaches wear all-black hoodies that say “NY’s Most Hated” with pride.

The boisterous Eugene enjoyed his championship moment by grabbing television microphones after his clubs’ 28–26 victory against Erasmus Hall at Yankee Stadium on Dec. 6, swaying back and forth, and yelling “At the end of the day, it says 28–26 — 28–26 Grand Street!” as his team chanted along. It was the Wolves’ first-ever title, and Eugene is the first African-American coach to win one at the league’s highest level.

His team didn’t get there by playing nice or making popular choices.

Eugene took heat for all the transfers he brought in, including senior quarterback Sharif Harris-Legree from Fort Hamilton. The coach was suspended two games for breaking the league’s rules regarding scrimmages when his club played Jersey’s Pope John Paul XXII Academy at Rutgers University.

Most recently, he and the school took flak for allowing senior Rahmel Ashby to play after police arrested the running back on Oct. 30 on gun possession charges. Ashby, who was eligible to play by league academic and attendance rules, was also arrested in April 2014 for attempted murder, court records show.

“It’s always daggers,” Eugene said. “If it ain’t one thing it’s another thing.”

Eugene praised how Ashby (24 carries, 116 yards) played after the story broke days before the big game.

“You saw the way he ran the ball,” he said. “Everything else was blocked out. He played his tail off.”

Eugene should be more concerned with Ashby’s actions off the field — and teaching the young man a lesson by sitting him and showing there are consequences for your actions, whether he is eventually found innocent or not. That is the very essence of high school sports.

But that wasn’t Grand Street’s operation during its undefeated season.

It overcame Harris-Legree sitting out two games over eligibility issues. It overcame 14 penalties for 141 yards to beat defending champion Abraham Lincoln in the regular season. Grand Street got the benefit of an offensive pass interference call against Curtis that wiped away a potentially game-winning touchdown in the semifinals after 15 total Wolves penalties.

Nothing mattered in the end, thanks to the team’s unity.

“When everyone wants the same thing, it’s easy,” receiver Taysir Mack said.

Things ended exactly as planned, and what others are saying matters less now than ever. The celebration at Yankee Stadium ended with Eugene — trophy in hand — singing “We are the Champions” with his coaches as he walked of the field.

You don’t have to like Grand Street, and you don’t have to agree with the way it goes about its business, because it could care less — the Wolves are champs.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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