Happy Valley: Garnet garnering attention as Central League favorite
The road to the Central League championship runs through Garnet Valley.
The general feeling among Central League coaches is that the Jaguars should always be considered the team to beat due to the program’s track record of success under longtime coach Mike Ricci.
This season is no different. Not by a long shot.
Last season, Garnet Valley posted a 12-1 record, falling to Coatesville in the District 1 Class 6A semifinals, and captured the Central League crown for the first time since 2013.
“It’s like they don’t ever rebuild,” Haverford coach Joe Gallagher said. “They just reload.”
Leading the way for the senior-laden Jags is veteran quarterback Ryan Gallagher, who has seen action on the varsity club since his sophomore campaign. Seniors Greg Reynolds and Max Bruette will spearhead the Jags’ option-based, run-first offensive attack in the backfield. Lance Schwartz anchors an offensive line unit that is traditionally an area of great strength at GV.
Evan Hrivnak and Alex Westburg are returning starters on the defensive line, while Bryce Stanfield and Reece Malek are among the experienced group of defensive backs.
If any team is ready to dethrone Garnet Valley, it’s Haverford High. The Fords will replace the program’s all-time leading passer, Jake Ruane, with three-year starter and University of Buffalo commit, Trey Blair. A multi-purpose player since debuting on varsity, Blair will take over under center and is a threat to take off with the ball at any time. He’ll have weapons in running back Chasen Wint and wide receiver Shane Mosely, who is bound for Maryland next fall. John Cunningham, a two-year starter, will anchor the offensive line.
On defense, Will Higson and Sean Reynolds are returning starters at linebacker. John Burgess is a playmaker in the defensive secondary, where he will start alongside Blair and Mosley.
Still in search of the program’s first District 1 tournament victory, the Fords are coming off a 9-3 season.
Conestoga will build around a solid offensive line unit that includes four returning starters in Mitchell Benjamin (6-2, 265), Casey Campbell, Andrew Guillocheau, and Matt Hamilton (5-11, 195). Chris McGovern and Mike Costigan, both seniors, were competing for the No. 1 quarterback role throughout the summer.
Scott Smith earned All-Central League honors last season for his outstanding play on the defensive line. The Pioneers have won only three games since the start of the 2016 season.
Despite a 1-10 record last season, Harriton coach Justin Mellor is hopeful his program will make big strides in 2019. Mellor had more than 50 players in summer camp, the most he’s ever had in his six years at the helm.
The Rams will lean on their versatility at the running back position, led by seniors Max Copley and Daral Cresswell. Senior Will Brannau was among the candidates vying for the starting quarterback job.
Lower Merion lost 22 seniors to graduation, including quarterback Matt O’Connor and Jalen Goodman, two of the best players in program history now beginning their college careers together at Villanova. The Aces have won just two games in each of the last five seasons.
Coach Evan Breisblatt hopes for good things from running backs D’Shawn Jemison, Abdoulie Sahor, Jay Zheng, Kaden Blackwell, Brandon Desper and Isaiah Scott-Deshields. Jemison is a top returning player at defensive line and linebacker.
Marple Newtown was in the throes of a quarterback competition during summer camp, with junior Brian Joslin and Joey Paoletti competing for the coveted starting role in coach Chris Gicking’s offense.
By and large, the Tigers offense will look vastly different with the graduation of All-Central and All-Delco running back Marlon Weathers, as well as many of the top pass catchers that made the Tigers one of the highest-scoring teams in the league the last few seasons. Marple will look to improve upon a disappointing 5-6 record in 2018.
Penncrest ushers in a new era with Ryan Smith, who spent the previous nine seasons as head coach at Chichester. Smith takes over a program that is very much in a rebuilding phase, as the Lions owned the worst record in Delaware County last fall (1-9), failing to win a league contest, and have managed a 4-17 mark since the start of 2017. Sophomores Nick Chelo and Jimmy Cage were battling for the No. 1 quarterback job in practice this summer.
Radnor is beginning a new season with a slew of first-year starters. Twenty-four seniors graduated from coach Tom Ryan’s 9-3 team in 2018. The Raiders, though, expect to be competitive as senior quarterback Sam DiLella takes charge of the offense.
Taylor Margolis flourished as a No. 2 running back and standout linebacker last fall. The offensive line is headed by Pat Boujoukos, a 6-3, 240-pound senior who is garnering plenty of interest on the recruiting trail.
Cam Williams, who has committed to Penn, will star at tight end and free safety for the Raiders.
Ridley welcomes back only five starters from last year’s team that started 0-4 before reeling off six straight victories to qualify for the District 1 Class 6A playoffs. The quarterback position was an open competition during summer camp, with junior Shaun Kennedy among the candidates fighting for the top spot.
Sean O’Doherty and Mike McConnell, both senior linemen, will lead a team that is loaded with first-year starters and underclassmen. Dylan Staley, a two-year starter, will be the Green Raiders’ primary running back. Junior Nate Desmond returns after a strong sophomore season at linebacker, while senior lineman/linebacker Tahmir Wilmore looks to build on an outstanding junior year.
For nearly a decade Springfield has been one of the top programs in the Central League. With superb skill talent, tough and gritty linemen, and all-league linebackers that seemingly grow on trees, the Cougars are used to contending for league and district titles on a yearly basis.
But this could be one of the most challenging seasons in quite some time for Springfield, which will play all of its home games on the road due to the ongoing reconstruction project on campus on Leamy Ave.
Most challenging of all, perhaps, is the fact the Cougars lack veteran, returning talent. Twelve players comprise coach Chris Britton’s senior class, including Nick Cariola, who is back on the offensive line. Kevin Rechner is the Cougars’ first-year starting QB.
Strath Haven hopes the return of defensive coordinator Jim Connor, who helped guide the Panthers to multiple district and state titles in the 1990s and early 2000s, will only benefit a team that believes it has the pieces to win a lot of games this fall. Ibo Pio (running back/safety) and John Prochniak (fullback/linebacker) are coach Kevin Clancy’s top returning players. Junior Jack Ryder begins his first season as the Panthers’ starting quarter. Strath Haven is hoping to take a big step forward following a 5-6 season last year, which ended in the first round of the District 1 Class 5A tournament.
Rich Gentile begins his final season as head coach at Upper Darby. The school district announced in the offseason its plans to move on from the longtime and well-respected coach after this year.
The Royals have what it takes to give Gentile a memorable farewell tour. Put simply, the Royals should be among the upper-echelon of Central League squads. They are the only team in the conference that returns both its starting quarterback and running back. Kevin Kerwood passed for 1,388 yards and 14 touchdowns a season ago, while Kareem McAdams ran for 1,377 yards and 16 scores on the way to All-Central League and All-Delco honors.
The Royals will rely mostly on their experience. In addition to senior Kerwood and McAdams, defensive backs/wide receivers James Tuayemie, Jacob Gouch, and Fakur Stewart (6-1, 180), as well as offensive lineman/linebacker Delva Jean-Baptiste, all return from a team that finished 7-5 overall last fall.
By Matt Smith, firstname.lastname@example.org