Football Preview: Chichester seems just a gator’s reach from success

UPPER CHICHESTER >> When a quick joke and a few gator claps are needed to push a weathered Chichester football team through a tough day, Martin Frempong has it covered.

The 5-9 receiver/strong safety gives the Eagles some speed and spunk on both sides of the ball. He can catch it, he can run it, he can throw a block downfield and he can hit.

His motivated, all-smiles way of doing things is another trait in Frempong’s arsenal that he tries to pass on to his teammates when the going gets rough, particularly on a hot day of summer camp.

And in this new, unfamiliar role as a senior and returning starter among an experienced group of Chichester players, he’s happy to help — so long as he can do it his own way.

“I’ll tell them, ‘It’s time to eat,’” Frempong said. “I’ll start doing the gator claps with my hands. I’ll start dancing, just playing around. I try to make them enjoy why we’re here. Of course, take football seriously. But I also try to make it fun for them out here.”

For quite some time, “fun” was hardly a term associated with Chichester’s football program.

After a 9-2 season in 2005, a quick plunge ensued, one in which the Eagles compiled 31 consecutive defeats — starting in 2008 — and failed to log a Del Val League win from 2007-10. Both of those skids were put to bed with a 42-0 thumping of league rival Penn Wood in 2011 under then-second-year head coach Ryan Smith, who has explored just about every avenue in the book to get his program away from such notoriety through his five-plus seasons in charge.

Chichester defensive back and receiver Martin Frempong, right, the laughing leader of an experienced and optimistic Eagles team, goes through the drills during a recent practice. (Times Staff/Robert J. Gurecki)
Chichester defensive back and receiver Martin Frempong, right, the laughing leader of an experienced and optimistic Eagles team, goes through the drills during a recent practice. (Times Staff/Robert J. Gurecki)

“I hate to keep talking about all that,” Smith said. “I hate to keep referring back to seven or eight years ago because we’re not there anymore. We are a new era, a new culture of Chichester football.”

Though the Eagles have averaged nearly four wins per season over the last four years, they’ve only scratched the surface of Smith’s expectations, which start with putting together a winning season for the first time since that 2005 campaign. Smith’s staff and his players have also made an effort to match speed and skill on offense with a new emphasis on cleaning up a dirtied reputation, marred by a penalty-heavy past.

“Everybody’s playing within the rules (this year), and we’re cleaner,” senior Maurice Martin, who plays on both sides of the line, said. “All of the stuff that people know us from in the past — playing dirty and (taking) penalties — all of that is getting cut out this year. We’re looking to be clean, and to play as a better team altogether.”

Winning a few more games could help temper attitudes and prevent penalties.

Weapons like senior running back Kevin Miller, a Jamaica native who finished last season as the county’s eighth-most prolific rusher with 990 yards on 146 carries in his second year of playing football, could help.

Along with Miller, the Eagles will return another reliable back in senior Jahmad Lockett and receivers Frempong and senior Ray Argro.

Newcomers like junior running back Jerrod Jennings and senior receiver Mike Lo could also contribute to a speedy offense. Though Smith was still weighing his options at quarterback among competing candidates CJ Horne (senior), Clarence Bowens (senior) and Andrew Rodriguez (sophomore), Smith said Bowens will start Chichester’s opening game Friday night at Lower Merion.

“The main thing I’m looking for (in a quarterback) is leadership,” Frempong said, before Smith appointed a starter for the opener. “We all know that starts with the quarterback. If the quarterback can lead the offense, he can lead the team.”

There’s little doubt that Chichester’s group of 19 seniors will be the team’s heart and soul. With several returners from last year’s three-win campaign, Martin and company are hoping potential contributions from the Eagles’ newcomers will yield new, winning results.

“Everybody’s expecting us to be the same, mediocre,” Martin said. “I just want our team to show that we won’t give up and that we can have that winning record, that Chi isn’t always going to have the bad record. We can change that.”

“I want to know what it feels like being on a winning team,” Miller added. “This year is definitely the year to have the opportunity to feel what a winning season feels like.”

Only time will tell.

This story appears in the Delco Times Football Preview, available on newsstands Friday.

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