BRYN ATHYN >> Academy of the New Church football coach Ty Klippenstein is in an unusual spot as his Lions gear up for their season opener on Sept. 3.
Nearly half of his 33-man roster is made up of freshmen. He has no juniors. Six or seven guys he was planning on having as contributors either left the school or are playing a different sport. So, there’s a lot for Klippenstein to worry about and contend with as the season opener draws near.
What he does have in his corner is his seniors, especially the core four of Matt McCabe, Jack McCabe, Kam Kittrels and Kyle Mattison. They understand better than anyone what playing for ANC entails and they’re determined to have a memorable senior season.
“We have a pretty good foundation,” Klippenstein said. “No two ways about it, it’s tough, but we’re in a new season so we’re trying to put our best foot forward. We have about 15 freshmen and at least two or three of those guys are going to have to step up for us, that’s the reality.”
The Lions went 3-5 last year in a campaign that was marred by numerous injuries, a potential death knell for a team with roster limitations like ANC’s. But the team closed out the year well and got a huge victory in the final game of the season over traditional rival Pennington School out of New Jersey.
With so many new faces on the field, the senior quartet said there’s been a lot of enthusiasm so far, along with a lot of questions. But both of those are good things. The energy from the young guy fuels the seniors and they in turn, make sure their attitude keeps the freshmen motivated.
“It’s a new challenge trying to get everybody to know the plays but things are coming together and it looks like we might have a pretty good season,” Kittrels said.
“The enthusiasm we had toward the end of last season was phenomenal,” Mattison said. “If we can continue to bring that, as in us who were on the team last year, we can feed that into this team, this year and this season and I’m sure we can have a good result.”
Matt McCabe enters his first full season as the starting quarterback but got some experience last year when then-senior Charlie Coyle broke his ankle late in the season. McCabe grew quickly in the role and had a great game against Pennington and said he feels plenty confident entering the season but also expects the offense to be versatile and productive from any spot.
Up front, Jack McCabe anchors both lines as one of three returners in the trenches. With Klippenstein preferring to spread the ball around, McCabe and his mates know they have to only open up a hole or give Matt McCabe a little window to throw and the skill guys will do the rest.
“We have another senior who’s been playing all four years and a sophomore who played well there last year, so we have the talent there,” Jack McCabe said. “We open the holes for these guys and let them do the rest. It’s fun to watch, these guys outrunning all the other guys, it can be a little crazy.”
If there’s been an abundance of anything at practice so far, it’s been questions for the veterans. But they don’t mind at all. Kittrels said they’ll show up early to put some young guys through the paces and they’ve been helping the freshmen learn the playbook and philosophies on paper so it makes more sense on the field.
“I’ve been kind of surprised with how many questions I’ve been asked this year at camp. They’re not bad questions, they’re smart questions like if I’m supposed to block this way, how should I have my body turned so our guy can run through the hole?” Mattison said. “The questions are directed in the right place.”
Klippenstein said he thinks Mattison could be the featured player for the Lions and approach 20 or more touches every game. But he isn’t planning to ignore the other talented athletes on the roster and expects to still spread the ball around to keep defenses guessing.
The Lions don’t want to put a number or record out as a successful season. Mattison and Kittrels said it’s more of a week-by-week thing. If ANC has a good week, from practice up to game day, then it can build on that the next week.
“It’s an honor to play for this team,” Jack McCabe said. “We’re a small team and we know that. It puts a chip on my shoulder when we play against bigger teams. And when we’re able to beat them or hang with them, it’s a big accomplishment for us.”
“It’s something that pushes you to work even harder,” Matt McCabe said. “You know there are bigger teams with way more kids on the other side. Knowing that, we know we have to work so much harder.”
The core four seniors know the team is a serious injury or two away from looking at a major setback. They saw it last season and are doing everything they can to make sure the sophomores and freshmen are ready if they’re called upon.
“To be a part of such a small team you have to have a lot of heart to be able to keep going when you’re tired and to keep grinding, make that tackle or make those extra five yards and get a vital first down in the fourth quarter,” Mattison said. “Playing here means you have a lot of heart.”
“It’s like a family setting because the way the school works, we see each other every class, every day,” Kittrels said. “We see each other every day, all day and it brings everybody closer together.”