Football Preview: Powel trying to build solid foundation at Carroll

RADNOR >> Cones dot Archbishop Carroll’s practice fields as well as its parking lot. The Patriots are building something in Radnor — a stadium to host home games in 2015 and a football team that can compete with the best of the Philadelphia Catholic League. Both are still early in construction.

“(School president) Frank Fox has done a tremendous job in helping us and starting that process. And the Carroll community has always been supportive,” says head coach Joe Powel. “I think they have a vision of being competitive and winning games just as we do. And they know we need the facilities in order to do that. They’ve helped us with that. We’re going to be playing out back of our school this year, which we’re excited about. I think the kids realize that people really do care.”

The good vibes started after what was a trying 2014 campaign. The Patriots won just two games (2-8) and none in the Catholic League. But the returning leadership, as well as Powel, emphasized the importance of offseason workouts. The weight room was routinely filled by returning starters as well as an eager group of underclassmen. August camp opened with a fresh spirit.

“We’re working hard. I can tell these guys are really coming out with a different mindset than we’ve had these last few years and that showed in the weight room,” says senior Harry Rohlfing. “We’re just coming out here and working hard in camp and I think we’re all coming in with a good mindset.”

Archbishop Carroll’s Jay Smiley will have the ball in his hands a lot this season. As a two-year starter at running back, Smiley brings experience to the position this fall. (Times Staff/Tom Kelly IV)
Archbishop Carroll’s Jay Smiley will have the ball in his hands a lot this season. As a two-year starter at running back, Smiley brings experience to the position this fall. (Times Staff/Tom Kelly IV)

And competition at nearly every position, a luxury that Carroll, with a small roster, hasn’t necessarily had the last few seasons.

“I don’t think that was there in prior years when kids kind of knew they were the No. 1s and the guys behind them were either too young or not able to compete with them,” says Powel, in his fifth year at the helm. “And now we have some competition, which hopefully breeds a better football team and better competition in practice and in games.”

The Patriots will install a pro-style offense in 2015 instead of the spread they’ve used in the past. Two-year starter Jay Smiley returns at running back, while sophomore Eric Tansey will add a power element to the ground game. The duo will have a stout line to run behind, too.

“I see a lot more run, right up the gut, isolation, power, right in the heart of it,” says senior linemen Brian Steinmetz, “When it comes to it, we’re just playing hard-nosed football and trying to score some points.”

The hope for Carroll is that the simplicity of the attack will ease the transition for some inexperienced players. By Week 4, Powel would like to reduce the number of players he has playing both sides of the ball, including Steinmetz and Rohlfing, who made his mark as a tight end and linebacker a year ago.

The coach wants to keep his core fresh, something that derailed the Patriots in 2014. They beat Bishop Shanahan and Penn Wood in consecutive weeks to get to 2-2. They lost six straight contests after that.

“The biggest thing is for us to play as a team, incorporate the young guys in situations so that they can help out the guys who are playing both ways,” says Powel, “Take some time away and grow as a football team so by Week 3 or 4 we don’t have the four or five guys going both ways. We can start eliminating that process and start putting it together and being consistent.”

Process and consistency are two words one wouldn’t associate with a program that’s won just five games over the last two seasons. But the group at Carroll wants to make its mark, to be the start of something special.

“We’ve been working hard all offseason as a team,” says Steinmetz. “We’ve worked harder here in the last year than we have as long as me and Harry have been here and I think that’s going to pay off on the field when it comes time to play.”

The Patriots travel down the shore to play Conwell-Egan in their opener. The following week, a new-look Carroll will host Upper Moreland at their new-look field.

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

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