Cage Bros. will try to make Lions’ latest transition easier
MIDDLETOWN >> Any time Penncrest’s David Cage wants to work on his skills as a wide receiver, he doesn’t have to travel far to find a QB to throw him the ball. All Cage has to do is go grab his kid brother, Jimmy, and go to the field near their house in Media or meet up with other friends at Rose Tree Elementary School to get some work in.
Because of their two-year age difference, though, that was the only time the brothers were on the football field at the same time. The Cage brothers have been teammates in basketball and baseball, but never football, until now.
David Cage, a 6-1, 180-pound senior wide receiver-linebacker, is one of the key returnees from last year’s Lions team that went 1-9 overall and 0-8 in the Central League.
“It’s awesome,” David Cage said. “We’re comfortable with each other. He knows my speed. We know each other really well. It makes my job easy.”
Jimmy Cage is locked in a battle with fellow sophomore Nick Chelo for the starting job at quarterback. First-year coach Ryan Smith said the competition could go right up until the opener against Wissahickon Aug. 30.
“They both want it,” Smith said. “They’re pushing each other very hard.”
This is a season of change for the Lions due to the coaching change. Smith comes to Penncrest after nine seasons as the head coach at Chichester and he knows that transition can be a challenge for the players.
“All the plays that we have to learn, all the terminology we have to learn,” said Jimmy Cage, who did see a little varsity action as a freshman. “Learning a new playbook last year and then having to learn a new one this year, it’s a lot to grasp.
“These kids have been through a lot,” Smith said. “I’m their third head coach in four years for these seniors. That’s a lot. This is their third voice, their third scheme, their third philosophical approach, so they’ve been through a lot. We’re just trying to slow it down for them.”
Smith has been on the job since March and while the team is still a work in progress, he likes what he sees.
“It’s a learning process,” Smith said. “Getting into a new program, getting into a new culture and getting the kids to buy into the program and so far the kids have been outstanding. They’re buying in. It’s just going to take a little time to get them up to speed.”
David Cage caught 21 passes for 273 yards and three touchdowns last season and recently took a visit to Moravian. Junior running back-cornerback Kam Vaughn (5-9, 165) saw some action on offense last season. Senior wide receiver-cornerback Austin Hines (6-0, 155) is another key returnee.
The strength, though, lies up front. Smith has high expectations for junior tackle-defensive end Jeremy Lehman (6-4, 245). Senior guard-defensive tackle Josh Reyes (5-7, 210), senior guard-defensive tackle Jerry Collins (5-10, 220) and senior two-way tackle Jacob Cropper (6-0, 250) also bring experience.
“We have some beef up front,” Smith said. “We have to get those guys playing a little faster and thinking a little less. Right now, that’s been a struggle for us. We have to get to that point to use their strength. We have some aggressive kids and again, I mean this from the bottom of my heart, it really doesn’t matter how athletic they are, and we have some good, athletic kids, we have to do a good job of getting them to know what we’re trying to do so that they can just play fast. And they’re just not there right now.”
Jimmy Cage, Chelo, linebacker-tight end Brennan Kaut (6-2, 175), two-way lineman Connor McCarney (6-2, 240) and tight end-linebacker Dylan McDougall (6-0, 185) are part of a talented sophomore class that Smith expects to make major contributions this season.
“We’re pretty strong,” Kaut said. “We have two good QBs in our grade, good linemen and a solid running back. … We’re hoping to surprise some people.”
Penncrest 2019 Schedule
Offensive Player to Watch
David Cage, Wide Receiver >> A speedy receiver with good hands, the elder of the Cage brothers will be the primary target in the passing game. He also doubles as a linebacker and brings experience to both sides of the ball. He also plays basketball and baseball for the Lions.
Defensive Player to Watch
Brennan Kaut, Outside Linebacker >> Kaut’s strength is his athleticism and his aggressive nature. He likes to hit, which fits in well with Smith’s aggressive approach on defense. He also is an outstanding lacrosse player.
By Terry Toohey, firstname.lastname@example.org