[tps_title]Strath Haven Panthers [/tps_title]
Sturdy foundation has Panthers primed for a deeper run
NETHER PROVIDENCE >> Two points is all that separated Strath Haven and a trip to the second round of the 2018 District 1 Class 5A tournament.
“Definitely a game we should have won,” said Ibo Pio, a senior running back/safety and one of the Panthers’ top returning starters. “It just makes everyone more hungry and we don’t want to lost in the first round like that again. Going back to two years ago, we made it to the second round and got crushed. We don’t want to go through that again, either. This year we want to get to the very end … and we are trying to get a home playoff game or two.”
Strath Haven boasts seven returning starters, all of whom will play on offense and defense. Pio will be the primary running back in coach Kevin Clancy’s classic Wing-T attack. Junior Evan Blake also plays halfback and Prochniak will set up at fullback. The offensive line consists of returning seniors Sam Burk, Mike Golay and Matt Doughty, as well as two other seniors who saw steady action last year.
Junior Jack Ryder (6-1, 160) begins his first season as the No. 1 quarterback. He is the son of former Strath Haven baseball great Derek Ryder, who was drafted by the California Angels and played several seasons of professional and independent baseball.
“To me it means everything to have this chance,” Ryder said. “I’m excited to get to work and get going. It’s a great group of guys and I feel we can do anything this year. … I tried to get a lot bigger than last year, I put on about 15 or 20 pounds and I’m still working at that. I feel my arm is a lot stronger, my footwork is getting better, the whole deal.”
Prochniak, Blake and senior John Wilson are back at the linebacker positions. Pio will start at free safety. On special teams the Panthers will rely on the strong leg of senior Emmet Young, who is one of the top kickers in Delco.
Overall, there is potential for the Panthers have their greatest season since their most recent District 1 championship campaign nine years ago.
“I can’t say enough good things about the veteran leadership of this team,” said Clancy, who is the winningest football coach in Delco history. “There are seven guys who started for us last year and most of them will go both ways, they know how to play and they’re hard works. Now we have to build the rest of the team around those guys. They’re setting a good example. As I was telling Ibo (during practice), he is doing a good job of being a great example for the young guys who are playing next to him in the secondary. We’ve got great leadership on this club and that’s what I’m excited to see.
“We’ve had great participation all offseason in the weight room. Coach (Erik) Hollingsworth does a great job with that. Now, we’re not naive, we know we have some challenges. But it’s been a real good atmosphere.”
Strath Haven welcomes home legendary defensive coordinator Jim Connor, who was instrumental to the program’s success when it was winning District 1 titles seemingly every season in the 1990s and early 2000s. Former Haven quarterback Mike Connor (Jim’s son) also joins the coaching staff.
“The new coaches have been great and everything is so organized,” Prochniak said. “We have guys that have a lot of experience and we believe we can be really good on defense. We all have the same goal.”
And that goals is to play deep into the fall season and return Strath Haven football back to its glory years.
“If you look back at last year, we have most of guys back, except for a few seniors who graduated. We have young guys who are working hard and who going to be starting players this year,” Pio said. “We know this can be an even better team than last. We just have to go out and prove it.”
Offensive Player to Watch
Ibo Pio >> Pio will perform yeoman’s work at halfback, free safety and kick/punt return. He ran for more than 600 yards as the No. 2 back last year and could very easy eclipse the 1,000-yard plateau this season.
Defensive Player to Watch
John Prochniak >> The senior is a three-year starter at linebacker. Prochniak will be the captain on a defense that could be one of the best in the Central League.
By Matt Smith; email@example.com