[tps_title]Archbishop Wood Vikings [/tps_title]
Vikings embracing youth movement after mass exodus
WARMINSTER >> Kyle Adkins stood in a ready stance a few yards behind his offense, scanning every bit of pre-snap activity.
The second year Archbishop Wood coach wasn’t about to take a handoff or run a play, but with perhaps the most inexperienced roster the Vikings have had in a few years, he has a lot to keep an eye on. After graduating 28 seniors from last year’s PIAA 5A semifinal team and with just six rising seniors this fall, things are a bit different at the PCL power.
Adkins and the Vikings may have more questions than answers this preseason but that doesn’t mean they’re not looking forward to the challenge.
“The effort and level of competition is there but we’re still trying to figure out who is going to play where,” Adkins said. “There’s a lot of position battles going on right now and they won’t settle themselves anytime soon most likely. It’ll take through the scrimmage and probably a couple games before we get a real good feel for who should play what spots.”
Senior co-captain Tom Pomponi noted the program’s strong tradition and the players who are competing for all those open spots understand what’s expected of them. An offensive guard/linebacker, Pomponi is heading into his first season as a first-string varsity player but doesn’t see the team’s lack of experience as a detriment.
“It’s nothing really different, the idea is the same to go out there, work hard and try to have fun,” Pomponi said. “I’m trying to lead by example and I’ve found when in doubt, hard work never goes wrong.”
Wood’s philosophy hasn’t changed and the Vikings still plan to control the clock by running the ball on offense and slowing teams down with a hard-charging defense. Making that happen requires a strong presence up front on both sides of the ball.
Chief among the Vikings’ departures was most of their depth on the offensive and defensive line, losing the likes of linemen Connor Bishop, Nick Vitelli, Brett Gross and Luke Stengel along with tight end/defensive end Bill Cook. Senior co-captain Charlie Mininger is Wood’s only returning starter on both lines.
“We have a lot of good young guys this year and they’ve been stepping up so far,” Mininger said. “I’m just trying to help them out as much as I can. A lot of it comes from experience.”
While the Vikings enter the season short on experience, they aren’t lacking in preparation. Almost from the day after last season ended against eventual state champion Penn Hills, Wood has been working toward its August 24 opener with Pope John XXIII (New Jersey).
Joe Hallman, a Wood alumni and former coach, returned as strength and conditioning coach and had the team working hard through the offseason. Pomponi and Mininger said team workouts were consistently well-attended, even with guys on the team participating in other sports.
Adkins is seeing the payout and like him, the players seem eager to get back to the routine of a game week in-season. However, the coach isn’t jumping too far ahead and noted he still has a lot of work to do with the eager but inexperienced team in front of him.
“We feel good about what is coming up but they’re going to have to prove themselves,” Adkins said. “These guys have been working since January and our strength coach Joe Hallman just does an outstanding job. You’re going to figure out pretty quick what you’ve got and we feel doing it the way we do it is a little bit better, let’s just figure it out right away.”
As in years past, the Vikings will face a challenging non-league slate before PCL play begins. Adkins knows it’s a risk with so many players getting their first varsity experience but he also knows the payoff can be huge later in the season.
Wood’s slate starts with Pope John, then Maryland Freedom, Central Dauphin East, Christ the King (NY) and the Peddie School before the PCL opener against Roman Catholic. There were other options, but the PCL isn’t going to sit around and wait for Wood to find its footing, especially 5A rival Archbishop Ryan and the 6A powers La Salle and St. Joe’s Prep.
Ryan gave the Vikings a major test in last season’s 5A PCL title game and the Raiders return some key skill position players on offense.
“You can’t look ahead, this year more than ever,” Adkins said. “No one’s going to feel bad for us and that’s not an excuse. We told these guys the expectation around here hasn’t changed. We’re not shy about it, we’re trying to win a state championship.”
Aside from the offensive line, Wood also has to replace three-year starting quarterback Jack Colyar and some of his top targets from last year. One player the coaching staff is looking at to fill some of the void on the perimeter is Cardel Pigford, a versatile player who can play out wide, in the slot or out of the backfield and also figures to feature heavily in the defensive secondary.
Senior co-captain Ryan DiVergilis, who returns as a starting safety, will also see his role increase quite a bit on the offensive side. Wood typically relies on a couple of runners every year but DiVergilis was getting the bulk of the carries toward the end of Thursday’s session during heat acclimation week. With a running back group also hit hard by departures, the Vikings need a new lead back and complementary players around him.
“We’re confident in our team, we have good leadership and with the young guys that are going to get experience, we hope it puts us on another state run,” DiVergilis said. “I’m confident they know their positions and plays, everybody’s been flying around looking to make plays so far. I’m just looking forward to the games starting up, playing in the Catholic League always makes for a tough schedule but I’m confident in the guys we have.”