Central League Preview: Springfield’s season is about finishing ‘what we started’
For two-time defending champion Springfield, there is no such thing as taking two steps back.
Despite graduating their entire offensive and defensive lines, and a few key skill position players, the Cougars will lean on a winning culture in 2018.
“We know this is a new year and we have a lot of new guys who are stepping up,” senior quarterback Jack Psenicska said, “but that doesn’t mean anything about us will change. We are going to be ready.”
Last year the Cougars ran the table in the Central League en route to a 13-1 overall record. Their lone blemish came in the District 1 Class 5A final, falling to Unionville, 35-25. Springfield won the conference title outright after sharing it with Ridley and Marple Newtown in 2016.
They have lost the district final in back to back seasons.
They have not lost their hunger.
“It’s something we keep in the back of our minds,” senior wide receiver Jack Spence said. “I think everyone here wants to go all the way and finish what we started.”
Psenicska returns as a 2,000-yard, 25-touchdown quarterback, and he will rely upon familiar faces such as Spence and Frankie Bullock, who will lead the receiving corps. Geo Dotscias and Ben Konah, both seniors, will get most of the carries in the backfield. While the offensive and defensive lines figure to be a weakness, based only on lack of experience, Springfield features a collection of excellent linebackers, headlined by senior Pat Clemens and fellow senior Jeff Biancaniello. Springfield also must replace its top playmakers from a year ago, wide receiver Kyle Long and running back Ja’Den McKenzie, both of whom were All-Delcos.
Whether the Cougars enter the 2018 season as a slight favorite in the Central is debatable. Needless to the say, there are several programs vying for the team-to-beat label.
First, there is Garnet Valley. Longtime coach Mike Ricci has the biggest team in the county, in terms of overall numbers. Back in the saddle is quarterback Cole Palis, who played well in limited action last fall. When Palis, who replaced starting quarterback Ryan Hamby, suffered a knee injury in the regular season, third-string QB Ryan Gallagher helped lead the Jags to three District 1 Class 6A playoff victories. Gallagher, a junior, will back up the senior Palis this fall.
The Jags have made the District 1 Class 6A championship game the last two seasons.
Colin Robinson is among a slew of options that will look to replace 1,000-yard running backs Danny Guy, who was the 2017 Daily Times Player of the Year, and Matt Lassik. Robinson ran for nearly 500 yards as the Jags’ No. 3 tailback last year. Senior Dom LaBricciosa and junior Greg Reynolds will also receive touches.
The offensive line is headed by senior Kyle McCullough, who is the lone returning starter up front. All-Delco defensive end Cade Brennan, a Bucknell commit, is among the top returning players on defense along with cornerback Nick Westburg, a three-year starter.
Garnet Valley, ranked No. 15 in the PA Prep Live preseason Top 20, should once again be a favorite in the Central League.
“We’re not changing anything we do,” Ricci said. “We are very simple, but very fundamentally sound. That’s the biggest thing for us. If we can be fundamentally sound … and just execute what we set out to do, we’ll be fine.”
Marple Newtown should be in the mix, too.
The Tigers are coming off their most successful three-year run in program history, compiling 28 wins, including five postseason triumphs. Eight of Marple’s seniors from last year’s squad are playing college football, including two-time All-Delco quarterback Anthony Paoletti, who is beginning his collegiate career at the University of Delaware. Paoletti is the Delaware County record holder for yards in a single season (2,739) and career (6,944). Also gone is wide receiver Dash Dulgerian, who owns the Delco record for most catches in season (87).
The good news for the Tigers? They welcome back their outstanding senior running back, Marlon Weathers, a three-year starter. Weathers ran for more than 1,500 yards and totaled 25 touchdowns last fall. Alden Mathes, a Richmond commit for baseball, is the team’s most versatile player. He should see action from a variety of positions, including quarterback, wide receiver and defensive back. He had 39 catches for 460 yards last fall. Senior linebacker Tom Tobin, who notched 100 tackles as a junior, leads the defense.
Although the Tigers graduated several key players, it would be foolish to think they will not — or cannot — compete for a Central League title this fall.
Speaking of annual contenders, one could argue that Haverford is the frontrunner. Back for his third season at quarterback is senior Jake Ruane, who passed for 1,925 yards and 23 touchdowns a year ago. Ruane is a dual threat, as evidenced by his 10 rushing scores in 2017.
Ruane has many weapons to utilize, perhaps none better than Trey Blair, whom coach Joe Gallagher considers one of the top all-around players in the area. The junior is an amazing athlete who can play running back, wide receiver, defensive back and punt. Seniors Paul Denman and Sean Leyden are two-way starters on the line, and senior Shane Mosley is a top returner at defensive back. Mosley is the brother of former Haverford High standout Jordan, who is playing football at Maryland. Haverford was eliminated in the first round of the District 1 Class 6A playoffs last fall.
Strath Haven is coming off its most successful campaign since the 2010 season, the last year it won a district title. The 2017 season was highlighted by coach Kevin Clancy’s 300th career victory, which happened to come against Bishop Shanahan in the first round of the District 1 Class 5A playoffs.
Senior Jake Fisher returns for his second season as the Panthers’ starting quarterback. Zach Hussein, a senior fullback, ran for more than 1,100 yards with 14 touchdowns last year. Senior linebacker Ethan Belville leads the defensive unit.
Upper Darby is never short on talent, either. Despite missing the district playoffs, the Royals finished 6-5 overall. They said goodbye to several starters, including quarterback Josh Gouch and defensive lineman Derrick Korboi, but coach Rich Gentile remains optimistic. Kevin Kerwood takes the reins at quarterback. The junior is a good athlete with quick feet and a strong arm. Other players of note include junior running back Kareem Davis and senior defensive lineman Eric Miller.
This figures to be a rebuilding year for Ridley, which is one of the most inexperienced teams in the Central League. Tommy Bramwell, a 6-5, 280 lineman, heads a small returning group of starters that also includes senior running back Hassan Chandler and senior defensive back Elijah Yakpasuo. John Bakey, a 5-10, 175-pound senior, is the Green Raiders’ new quarterback. Bakey saw limited playing time as the backup last fall.
Penncrest aims to get better as coach Andrew Pidgeon begins his second season at the helm. The Lions, with new quarterback Nick Benecke and athlete Giavanni Antonelli showing the way, believe they are a better team that finished 3-8 in each of the last two seasons.
Radnor could be ready to take a big step as a program. For years the Raiders have finished in the bottom or middle of the Central League standings, but they are loaded with experienced talent this season. Longtime coach Tom Ryan has 26 players in his senior class, including seasoned quarterback Sean Mullarkey. Overall, the Raiders have eight starters returning on defense and seven starters returning on offense. Last season Radnor finished 6-6 overall and qualified for the District 1 Class 5A playoffs for a second year in a row.
Conestoga’s Matt Diamond, an assistant for the Pioneers the last two years, is the new man in charge. Once a perennial Central League contender, ‘Stoga is 3-18 since the start of the 2016 campaign.
Harriton and Lower Merion are also looking to make headway. The Rams hope for big things out of senior linebacker Harry Thomas. The Aces will build toward their first winning campaign since 1992 under new boss Evan Breisblatt, the former Phoenixville head coach.
By Matt Smith, email@example.com, @DTMattSmith on Twitter
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