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Central League Preview and Team-by-Team Breakdowns

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Penncrest

Penncrest receiver Aidan Conmy carries the ball during practice last Thursday. (Pete Bannan – DFM)

MIDDLETOWN >> Following a practice in early August, Penncrest coach Andrew Pidgeon showered new starting quarterback Nick Benecke with praise.

“We love him,” said Pidgeon, an All-Delco quarterback at Ridley High 10 years ago. “I like to call him a walk-by quarterback, where he can learn the offense by walking by the white board. He’s probably the smartest player I’ve coached.”

Benecke dedicated himself in the weight room to prepare himself for the rigors of a long season.

“Last year I might have weighed 155 pounds and now I’m at 175-180,” he said. “That was my goal this past offseason, to gain weight and to get stronger and hopefully it pays off.”

Primarily a JV player last fall, Benecke is expected to lead Penncrest to a winning season all the while proving he’s got the skills to stick on varsity. Although the Lions have qualified for the District 1 Class 5A playoffs in each of the last two campaigns, they finished 3-8 overall, losing to Central League foe Springfield in the first round in back-to-back years.

“We’ve got nothing to lose, basically,” Benecke said. “We’re known for losing and we’re known for not being the greatest team in the league. Maybe we can shock some teams who aren’t expecting a lot from us. That will be the best thing for us. I think we have the talent to do it this year.”

The Lions will run a spread offense. Aidan Conmy and Jayden Brown have playmaking ability at wide receiver. Giavanni Antonelli can line up anywhere on the field as the Lions’ top multi-purpose player. The senior caught three touchdowns last fall. Senior Vinny Brown should get the bulk of the carries at running back.

“Jay has the speed of a track runner, Big G (Antonelli) is an athlete who can play anywhere on the field, and Vinny in the backfield with me, he was a beast last year. We’ve got some young guys on the outside who are very good players, too,” Benecke said.

It’s safe to say the Lions need more production of the quarterback position in 2018. Last fall their QBs combined to throw for 16 interceptions and only seven touchdowns.

PETE BANNAN-DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA Penncrest receiver Brennan Kaut pulls down a ball during practice Thursday.

“We’re excited about him, he’s a nice leader and he has a good arm,” Pidgeon said of Benecke. “A lot of our success will rely on him, which is a good thing.”

Penncrest will run a 4-3 defense. Antonelli, Sterling Crawford, Dave Cage and Josh Reyes will comprise a very talented front four on the line.

“There’s more energy here, more than ever before,” senior linebacker Luke Bauwens said. “It’s a new year and it should be fun. I’m excited for the defense, excited to get going. We’ve got some wrestlers on the team now, so that will only help us.”

Overall, the Lions believe they are going in the right direction.

“There’s definitely a positive atmosphere around here and people are stepping up,” Pidgeon said. “We have a lot of work to do. Every day is going to be tough, especially in this league. Every game is huge, every team is very well-coached, every day is a headache. When you play in this league for so long, playing in it and now coaching in it, you know that everyone you face is so tough. We feel we can win any game when we play our best.”

MAKING STRIDES

Penncrest folded its freshman team last year due to lack of numbers and in an effort to strengthen the JV program. Pidgeon was very pleased to see more first-year players in camp this summer.
“We have 17 freshmen, which is great,” he said. “We have a lot of very good football players in that group, too.”

STAYING HEALTHY

Jayden Brown has the talent to be a star wide receiver, but the senior hasn’t been able to show what he can do. He was sidelined all of last year due to a back injury, but Pidgeon is hopeful that Brown can get on the field and be an integral part of the team in 2018.

Penncrest defensive lineman Giavanni Antonelli

OFFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH

Giavanni Antonelli >> It’s not often you see a player as big and tall as Antonelli be considered a multi-purpose player. He would fit right in at left tackle, but Pidgeon views him as a player who can make things happen with the ball in his hands.

Antonelli was a key role player on the Penncrest basketball team that captured a District 1 Class 5A title last winter.

“My biggest thing I worked on is my attitude,” Antonelli said. “My attitude in recent years, in this sport and other sports, has always been down. Now that I’m a leader, I’ve got keep everyone up and motivated. I have to lead by example.”

Penncrest running back Vinny Brown

DEFENSIVE PLAYER TO WATCH

Vinny Brown >> He is the No. 1 running back and will be a starter in the defensive secondary. Brown has a quick burst and shows good instincts on both sides of the ball.

“Last year I played the slot as a starter and followed behind Caleb Mahalik at running back,” he said. “I got some snaps, but now taking over as the starting running back I have to expect to get 30 snaps game. I’m excited.”

By Matt Smith, mattsmith@21st-centurymedia.com, @DTMattSmith on Twitter

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