BRISTOL BORO – Reflecting back on last season, Bristol football coach John Greiner thought twice about ruminating over what could have been.
“I try not to look back on the past too much,” said Greiner. “If you look back too much, you’ll be blindsided by the present and the future.”
Coming off a 6-4 campaign in 2016, all of the Warriors’ defeats were close ones including a 7-6 loss to Valley Forge Military Academy (VFMA) in the District 1 Class AA Tournament.
“We lost four games by a combined 12 points last year,” the coach added. “We didn’t get blown out; we were competitive in every single game. Two games, we lost by one point, which are heartbreakers.”
If Bristol can turn a few of those narrow losses around, it could be on the verge of a huge season.
“This is the year,” said Greiner. “We have 10 to 11 starters back and they are a great group of kids.”
Senior Eric Bell returns at running back while former flanker Samir Brisbon is the new starting quarterback. Both earned first team All-Bicentennial Athletic League (BAL) honors in 2016. Brisbon is a very good athlete and has the speed to rip off big chunks of yardage in the open field. Bell rushed for over 1,000 yards last season.
The defensive backfield is in good shape with the likes of Bell and Brisbon at the safety positions along with junior Deon Jackson and freshman Khian Dre Harris on the corners.
Among the top linemen are seniors Danny Collins at center and Tom Wallick at left guard. Both earned All-BAL honors last year with Collins tabbed for the first team.
Senior Xavier Corbin is at right guard with junior Leon Newkirk at right tackle. Left tackle is sophomore John Burnett and tight end is senior Jacob Wright. Burnett was tabbed with ALL-BAL Honorable Mention accolades in 2016.
“We’re pretty solid at all the positions,” said Greiner. “These kids are a year older and most of them have been starting since they were sophomores. All that experience should pay off.”
“Our line looks great. The only one we lost was Arren (Pulinario) and we still have lowerclassmen coming up. They’ve been practicing and practicing, hitting the dummies, doing footwork drills, hitting the weight room – doing all the little stuff that matters.”
As with any small school, Bristol cannot afford injuries. Although that is always the case, it is particularly true this season because during the first week of practice, it had only 25 players on the roster. That’s about what the Warriors finished with last year but 11 less than the number of players they started with last year.
Considering 11 of those 25 are seniors, it’s another reason this is the year Bristol needs to make it happen. Still, Brisbon says the Warriors are a work in progress.
“We still have a ways to go,” admitted Brisbon. “We don’t have a practice team to go against right now, since we’re so small. So we’re just practicing against ourselves.”
In addition to Bell, Bristol will utilize juniors Allen Reyes and Lucas Bogarde at running back. At 5-11, 165 Bogard has some size so he may be employed more so in the red zone. The wide receivers are juniors Michael Are and Jackson. While Jackson played some varsity last year, Are is new to the team this season.
While FB/LB Rodney Courtney and QB/S Parker Kelley have graduated, a big hole in the roster is that left by the departure of guard/linebacker Arren Pulinario. Finding a suitable replacement will be no easy task.
“Arren was one of our biggest losses,” admitted Brisbon. “Playing guard and linebacker, knowing what to do on defense. He had an instinct to just hit anyone and we need that back with this year’s team.”
The linebackers this year are Reyes, Bogarde and Are. All three are juniors, though Are is brand new to the position, at least at the varsity level.
Chuckie Collins and senior Danny Collins are the interior linemen with Corbin and Wallick flanking the Collins’ boys on the D-line.
On special teams, junior Kevin Ferrell will step in to replace the departed Kevin Buck while Brisbon will take over the punting duties previously performed by Kelley. Brisbon and Bell will take turns returning kicks.
In addition to Harris, up-and-coming freshmen include RB/LB Casson Winder, guard Scott TriSie, DB A.J. Brown and DB Ryan Kelly.
With just 25 players, Greiner isn’t making any predictions, taking it one game at a time, as they say.
“I don’t want to overlook anyone or underestimate anybody,” the coach said.
Meanwhile, Brisbon is talking like a senior.
“I just want us to do better than last year,” he said. “It should be one of the best seasons since I’ve been playing. That’s all I’m hoping for.”
The Warriors open the season Friday, Sept 1 at home against Independent League rival Academy of the New Church. The last time the two sides squared off was 2014, Leo Plenski’s last as head coach. ANC won the 2014 matchup, 28-27.
Then, it’s on to Pennington for a Saturday afternoon matchup on Sept. 9. The Red Raiders won last year’s gridiron duel, 21-14. Week three, Bristol travels to New Hope-Solebury, where it almost never wins (Bristol won 42-0 in 2014 but that was at home).
The Warriors could get a break week four when they travel to the South Philadelphia SuperSite to take on Academy at Palumbo, though that’s a charter school in its infancy, so that’s a great unknown.
Then it’s back home to face BAL rivals Springfield and VFMA. Both those teams have beaten Bristol the last two times out.
Offensive Player To Watch
Bell isn’t the biggest back around and was listed at 5-6, 145 on last year’s roster sheet, but he ran for over 1,000 yards and has a nose for the end zone. Bell has speed and is adept at reading his blocks before bursting up field.
Defensive Player To Watch
A defensive end who also is a very good blocker, Collins has excellent size at 6-1 and 270 pounds. “Danny is a very strong kid,” said Greiner, of one of his returning All-BAL players. “He’s a very good player and just a great kid.”
BRISTOL FOOTBALL SCHEDULE 2017
Sept. 1 Academy of the New Church 7 p.m. at Bristol
Sept. 9 Pennington 2:30 p.m. at Pennington
Sept. 15 New Hope-Solebury 7 p.m. at NH-S
Sept. 22 Academy at Palumbo 7 p.m. at South Phila. SuperSite
Sept. 28 Springfield 7 p.m. at Bristol
Oct. 6 Valley Forge Military Academy 7 p.m. at Bristol
Oct. 13 Jenkintown 7 p.m. at Bristol
Oct. 21 Delaware County Christian 2 p.m. at DelCo
Oct. 28 Lower Moreland 2 p.m. at L.M.
Nov. 23 Morrisville 10:30 a.m. at Bristol
Trentonian reporter Rick Fortenbaugh contributed to this newspiece