Unique senior class expecting to maintain Jaguars’ record of success
CONCORD >> Mike Ricci coached 32 Garnet Valley football teams with 32 unique senior classes. Some were good. Some were average. Few were like the group he will coach in Year 33.
“Surreal,” he calls it.
Whether it matters in the Central League, District 1 or in the PIAA playoffs will be determined later. But that was Ricci’s conclusion after his annual half-hour meeting with each of the incoming seniors and their parents.
“As I was meeting with this year’s seniors, it just seemed there was one great kid after another,” Ricci said. “They were really high-functioning students. Character kids. Just really one great kid after another.”
It was only four years ago that the seniors who will represent the Jaguars this season were literally standing outside the weight room, just waiting for a turn to lift iron. Such is the nature of Ricci’s program, which often enjoys strength in numbers. Each senior class effectively waits its turn, then tries to ensure that the program is left in good shape for the next one. This class will have a particular challenge to build on a 12-1 season that included a 9-0 Central League record.
Then again, the momentum may have just begun.
“Yeah, definitely,” said senior offensive lineman Lance Schwartz. “It kind of marinates with us, the successful culture we have and want to maintain. So definitely within our grade, we want to keep that going.”
There will be challenges. Among them will be to replace graduated honorable mention All-Delco quarterback Cole Palis. That chore will go to senior Ryan Gallagher, who filled in as a starter late in his sophomore season and helped the Jags rally from a 35-7 deficit to defeat North Penn, 36-35, in the District 1 Class 6A playoffs. As a junior, Gallagher logged some more time as Palis recovered from an in-season injury.
“He is a very smart football player, very talented, very fast,” Ricci said. “He is probably one of the most experienced seniors that we have had to start at quarterback.”
Gallagher is ready.
“We’re very excited,” he said. “It should be a good year. We have to keep getting better each week and by the end of the season we will be playing our best football.”
Gallagher should be flush with options, including three good tight ends in Kevin Craig, Nick Wiesendanger and Alex Olsen. The Jags will be typically deep at running back with seniors Greg Reynolds and Max Bruette. Jake Morin, while not creating a stir at linebacker, will also do some ball carrying.
Sam Morin will add backfield depth after he recovers from an injury that limited his training-camp activity.
Receivers Jack Wootten, a senior, and junior Brandon Smalls will provide deep threats.
The Jags will have size on the offensive line, including the 6-3, 260-pound Schwartz, 6-5 Zac Green, 6-2 senior Blaze McDaniel, Deven Padgett and 6-1 center Tyler Sparks.
Jake Morin will fuel the defense from the edge and will be bolstered by returning middle linebacker Matt Gabel, senior defensive lineman Evan Hrivnak and lineman Alex Westburg. Desmon Perry, Mitchell Mesaros and Aiden Sanders will also rotate into the deep Jags’ line.
Seniors Bryce Stansfield and Reece Malek will man the corners. Greg Reynolds, Brian Bradley and Cullen Mink will be the safeties, with Cole Parsons and Ryan Doherty vying for spots in the secondary.
Junior Brendan Henry will help on both lines. Junior Alex Nicolaides will provide pressure from his outside linebacker spot.
“Last year’s team was really good but I think we have a lot of kids to fill in those spots,” Morin said. “I think we have a team that can replicate what we did last year.”
The Jags swept through the Central League before being stopped in the playoffs by Coatesville. That left a sour taste … and a state-championship goal.
“Hopefully, yeah,” Schwartz said. “Everything is going to have to be fine-tuned. The only thing that is stopping us from being a championship team are the really small, fine details. We have good athletes on the team.”