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Lower Merion

Former Phoenixville head coach Evan Breisblatt has taken over at Lower Merion. (Barry Taglieber – For Digital First Media)

Lower Merion >> While Lower Merion High School football features more than a century of memorable moments and great teams, the LM squad has encountered rough times the past quarter-century. Not since 1992 has Lower Merion enjoyed a winning season.

New Lower Merion head coach Evan Breisblatt aims to reverse that downward trend.

“We’ve got to break some habits, and we’ve got to start a new culture here – it’s a collective bunch of guys getting together with one belief, and that belief is to do it the right way, that’s the only way,” said Breisblatt during the first week of pre-season practice. “Winners don’t become champions at the end of the season, they become champions at the beginning of the season when they do things the right way, There’s always a tendency for guys to not jump in [100 percent] at practice, to lose focus and to rely on the other guys, but losing focus at a practice is not what a winner does.”

The 45-year-old Breisblatt has extensive coaching experience, and his last two coaching assignments involved teams that had fallen on hard times. In 2011, he took over a Pequea Valley program that had gone 4-36 over the past four years, and guided it to 10 wins in the next three campaigns. From 2014-2017, he was the head coach at Phoenixville High School, creating a feeder program and linking the middle school football program to the high school program.

“Changing the culture isn’t going to happen overnight,” said Breisblatt, who is a special education teacher in the Phoenixville School District. “But we happen to be loaded with seniors (20) this year, so I told the seniors that they don’t have much time, and we’ve got to start right now with changing the losing culture. I want to emulate some mentors of mine, the way they do things – Mike Matta from Downingtown East, Rick Pennypacker from Pottsgrove, Mike Ricci from Garnet Valley, just to name a few. I really look at their programs as first-class programs, winning cultures, winning on and off the field, creating a culture in which you can count on the kids doing things the right way, and the community and school district being proud of us.”

On the first day of PIAA preseason fall practice Aug. 13, a total of 52 players came out, including 22 freshmen.

“We’re blessed with good skills position players,” said Breisblatt, who noted that Lower Merion has four good senior receivers – WR/DB Ian Goodman (5-9, 165), TE/SS Jalen Goodman (5-11, 185), WR/DB Marcus Green (6-1, 175) and WR/DB Jaden Helton (5-9, 165).

Lower Merion’s top runners look to be sophomore RB/LB Deshawn “The Tank” Jemison (5-11, 195), junior RB/LB Brandon Desper (5-8, 185) and senior RB/LB Ardontrelle Williams (5-10, 170).

“We will feature a lot of offensive formations; a no huddle-spread offense along with some pro-sets with multiple tight ends and multiple running backs – I want to keep the defense off-guard,” said Breisblatt.

At the helm of the Lower Merion is 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior quarterback Matt O’Connor.

“Matt is very smart and can read defenses very well,” said Breisblatt. “He gets everyone lined up [properly]. He’s an accurate passer who has worked hard on his mobility. He’s an outstanding leader, student and person – someone who you would want to have representing your team.”

O’Connor said, “This [season] is a great opportunity for us to improve.”

The biggest challenges Lower Merion faces on both sides of the ball are size and roster depth.

“We have 22 freshmen that we’re not counting on [for varsity] this year,” said Breisblatt. “We don’t have many guys on the defensive line over 220 pounds, and none on the offensive line. They’ll have to rely more on technique than size.”

Lower Merion features five seniors on the offensive line – center Bram Hollis (5-9, 185), right guard (and co-captain) Edward Zhang (5-10, 190), left guard (and co-captain) Will House (5-9, 195), left tackle Micah Buckman (6-0, 210) and right tackle Ryan Gillam (6-1, 185).

On the defensive side of the ball, Lower Merion appears strongest in the backfield, with Villanova commit Jalen Goodman at strong safety, Marcus Green, senior Niko Hahn (5-9, 170) at cornerback and senior DB Kahalil Devero-Williams (5-7, 150).

“Jalen is my first FCS recruit I have coached as a head coach, and he’s got length, size, speed and a nose for the football,” said Breisblatt. “He can play in the box as well as cover. He is also going to be a threat on offense, and we will line him up everywhere to take advantage of his skills set.”
Breisblatt added, “Kahalil has really impressed me as a cover guy.”

At middle linebacker, senior Jon Trainor (5-6, 135) is the team’s leading returning tackler from last year; and Ardontrelle Williams will be the strong side LB. Deshawn Jemison and Will House will hold down the other linebacker spot.

On the defensive line, Lower Merion will feature seniors Xavier Stockman (5-11, 215), Khalil Jackson (5-8, 260), Micah Buckman (6-0, 210) and Elijah Lane (6-0, 190) and junior Noah Prichard (6-1, 190).

Breisblatt said, “I’m working on building more relationships with the players, and trying to create competition – in the weight room, on the field, in the classroom. It’s important that we contact with the community, bond with the Lower Merion community.”

Matt O’Connor – Lower Merion

OFFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH

Matt O’Connor >> The 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior quarterback is noted for his intelligence, accuracy and ability to read defenses. Breisblatt said, “Matt is an outstanding leader, student and person – someone who you would want to have representing your team.”

Jalen Goodman – Lower Merion

DEFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH

Jalen Goodman >> The 5-11, 185-pound senior strong safety, a Villanova commit, has length, size, speed and a nose for the football. “He can play in the box as well as cover,” said Breisblatt. “We will line him up everywhere [including offense] to take advantage of his skill set.”

-By Bruce Adams, badams@21st-centurymedia.com

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